History September 11, 2018 at 02:30 pm

The intriguing story of 8 surviving slaves abandoned on an island for 15 years by French captors 

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson September 11, 2018 at 02:30 pm

September 11, 2018 at 02:30 pm | History


The intriguing story of how eight slaves were rescued from the Tromelin Island on the Indian Ocean after 15 years is a story that took the world by great surprise due to many factors. For one, the Indian ocean was a place of harsh living conditions and the Tromelin Island, where the enslaved Africans had survived, was an island which was frequently troubled by strong typhoons that whipped everything out.

During the Seven Years’ War, the importation of slaves had been banned by the Governor of Île-de-France, now modern-day Mauritius which was then a colony of France. His reason for banning the importation of slaves was because of the fear of having too many ‘poor people’ in the land who needed government support during the war.

The ban had little to no effect on importation, and in 1761, the Utile ship bought 150 Africans from Madagascar and set sail back to Île-de-France under the orders of the Captain.

Unfortunately, during the sail, the ship got caught in a massive storm which led to a shipwreck. More than 80 slaves and 20 sailors died on the ship. Many slaves were not able to escape because they were locked up below the deck.

The surviving slaves and sailors successfully sailed to the Tromelin Island, however, many slaves died due to harsh treatments meted out by the sailors who felt superior to them and kept the leftover food and water on the ship from the slaves.

Tromelin Island

After six months, the sailors abandoned the surviving slaves on the island with the promise that they will come back for them. They sailed on a craft they had built out of the remains of the ship and left the slaves to their fate.

For 15 years, the slaves lived under harsh conditions digging up wells for fresh water and eating surviving animals and fish on the island. They used utensils and other things that survived the shipwreck.

By 1776, there were only eight surviving slaves on the island made up of 7 women and one young boy who had been born on the island.

That same year, a French Sailor was shipwrecked on the island and discovered the inhabitants of the island. He helped build a craft which took him and three women from the island to Île-de-France where information about the other slaves still trapped on the island soon spread.

Despite being a discouragement, a nobleman from Île-de-France called Tromelin sent a rescue ship to the Island and the other five slaves were rescued. For his good work, the island was named after him.

Among the slaves was a family made up of a grandmother, mother and a child who were all later adopted by the new Governor of Île-de-France.

The Governor fought for the rights of the other slaves declaring them free because they were illegally taken from their country.

It has taken more than 230 years to reveal the story of these slaves taken from their homes in Madagascar and left on the Island by the French. To date, archaeologists visit the island to discover more details on how they survived and found out the mystery of why more women survived than men. The research was heavily funded by UNESCO.


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