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‘The paradise of the world’: conflict and society in the Caribbean

Du Tertre on the Caribs

Scene showing natives at work with a figure pointing a weapon in the foregroundJean Baptiste Du Tertre. Histoire générale des Antilles habitées par les François. Paris: chez Thomas Jolly, au palais, en la salle des merciers, à la palme, & aux armes d'Hollande, 1667-71 [Rare Books Collection F2001 D95]Jacques Du Tertre was born in Calais in 1610 and as a young man served with some distinction as both a sailor and a soldier in Dutch service. In 1635 he entered the Dominican Order, taking the religious name Jean Baptiste. Du Tertre was sent to Guadeloupe as a missionary in 1640, returning to Paris in 1642, before spending two further periods in the Caribbean in the years 1643-7and 1656-7.

Du Tertre drew not only from his own experiences when writing his history but also upon a wide range of written sources, including unpublished manuscripts, civil and ecclesiastical records and official correspondence.

In his descriptions of the native people of the Lesser Antilles Du Tertre contrasts what he sees as their natural goodness with the rapacious and violent behaviour of the European colonists. While he is critical of the behaviour of the English and Spanish, he does not spare the French and recounts several incidents where the French settlers had massacred groups of natives.

Furthermore, he sees the violence done by Caribs on the colonists as part of a divine plan to punish the latter for their grave misdeeds against the indigenous people.

Du Tertre’s writings and view of the Caribs greatly influenced Jean-Jacques Rousseau who made reference to them in his discussion of natural man in Discourse on the origins of inequality (1754).

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