The French colonial empire was established in 1534 when an expedition was sent to colonize the New World. Although the bulk of the empire was in what is today Canada and the USA, the French also colonized some territorys in South America and a few Caribbean islands. The most notable of these islands was Saint-Domaing, which grew sugar, a luxury back then. By selling sugar, the French became very rich, and so Saint-Domaing became the most important colony of the French empire.
Wanting to cultivate sugar the cheapest way possible, the French resorted to slavery and Africa was viewed as the perfect place to get slaves. French ships would sail to the African coast, bye slaves, sail to the Americas, sell them in exchange for American goods, and then return to Europe.
The slaves were immediately put to work ones they arrived. The working conditions were brutal, they had long working hours and it wasn’t uncommon to have slaves die of exaction. If slaves got out of line, they would be wiped, if they tried to escape, they would have their ears cut of and if they were caught a second time, they would be executed.
The French did introduce “Le code Noir” or “The Black Code” witch set up rules on how slaves must be treated. For instance, when slaves were sold, families could not be separated, child slaves were forbidden from working and a master had to take care of a slave that could no longer work. Butt by the XVIIIth century, slavery was being challenged by Enlightenment philosopher, who viewed it as inhumane.
The Enlightenment also led to the French revolution (1789-1799) and with the country in chaos, the slaves of Saint-Domaing revolted in 1791, starting an almost 13 year long war. The French did abolish slavery in 1794 in an attempt to keep its colonys only to be brought back in 1802 by Napoleon, back when he was 1st consul of France.
By that point in time, the French had lost much of their empire, loosing Quebec to the British in 1763 and seling Louisiana in 1803 to the United-States, In 1801, the republic of Haiti was proclaimed by the former slaves of Saint-Domaing and would gain its independence in 1804. France had now lost its most important colony.
France still had a few colonial possessions, mainly small islands, wher slavery still existed. It would take another revolution and the establishment of a second French republic for slavery to finally be abolished in 1848.