Travel books, slavery and colonial ambitions in the correspondence between John Locke and Nicolas Toinard (1678-1704)

  • Giuliana Di Biase University of Chieti “Gabriele D’Annunzio”
Keywords: slave trade, Constitutions, Massiac, La Salle, Canada, d’Iberville


Scholars studying Locke’s contribution to the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina generally report that he had discussed the content of this document with one of his French acquaintances, Nicolas Toinard (or Thoynard). However, no attempt has been made to investigate the reason why Locke regarded Toinard, the author of an Harmonia Evangeliorum that he deeply appreciated, as competent in colonial matters. This paper tries to clarify this issue. My aim is to show that, if Locke was credited with being one of the most knowledgeable of Englishmen about the colonial world in his own day, he had found his match abroad in Toinard. Evidence of this is to be found in Toinard’s papers and correspondence, including the letters he addressed to Locke. The travelogues, voyages and explorations that he brought to Locke’s attention highlight first of all his interest in the French colonization of West Africa, especially in the slave trade. Like Locke, he seems to have invested some money in this human trafficking. Secondly, they show his involvement in French plans for colonial expansion in North America, which is confirmed by his papers and correspondence with eminent political figures and explorers of his time. References to La Salle’s 1679 and 1684 expeditions, the Anglo-French conflicts on the Hudson Bay and d’Iberville’s enterprises in Carolina are abundant in Toinard’s letters to Locke.