Every 22 May is Abolition Day in Martinique, to look back to the day in 1848 when slavery was abolished on the island. Most public holidays in Martinique are the same as in France, but this one is unique.
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The French were the first to permanently colonise the island of Martinique in 1635, despite the Spanish having discovered the island in 1502. Soon after initial settlement, slaves were shipped in to work the new sugar plantations, and it continued to be off the back of slaves that Martinique’s sugar industry prospered for over 200 years.
There were numerous smaller, unsuccessful slave revolts in Martinique earlier, but these were but a lead up to final rebellion. Ironically, this final revolt occurred after slavery had already been abolished in the French Empire, but the commissioner sent to enforce the abolition of slavery had not yet arrived in Martinique.
A revolt broke out on 20 May, and the governor was unable to put it down. Only two days later, on 22 May, 1848, the governor abolished slavery in order to stop the chaos and bloodshed.
Today, Abolition Day is of major importance in Martinique, especially as a large percentage of the population has ancestors who were involved in the revolt.