Grey Room

How Slaves Indigenized Themselves: The Architectural Cost Logs of French Colonial Mauritius

Dwight Carey


In 1769 the French declared the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, which had been uninhabited before European arrival, a zone of free trade. From this point on, Mauritian merchants were able to conduct licit trade with ships from any country, any empire, or any region of the world. The economic boom that followed coincided with a massive upsurge in construction and a subsequent drive to document the money spent on building projects. Local notaries began cataloging the costs associated with the completion of buildings, most of which were two-story dwellings with wooden frameworks, stone and earthen foundations, and limewash coatings made of coral and sand. These structures generally contained storefronts on the ground floor and living spaces above. Colonizers created logs detailing the sums local traders paid to procure the tools, materials, and slaves needed to raise such structures. In generating precise records of the cost of Mauritian architecture at a time of unprecedented prosperity, French officials presented themselves as a competent and meticulous elite capable of overseeing architectural development in a burgeoning colony.