Andrew Dial, McGill University
“The ‘Lavalette Affair’: Jesuits and money in the French Caribbean”
Any mention of Jesuits in a French Atlantic context invariably brings thoughts of black-robed priests fighting Indian shamans among New France's leafy forests. Yet Jesuit priests also oversaw sugar plantations beneath Martinique's sun-soaked palm fronds. The financial dealings of one such Caribbean priest, Fr. Antoine Lavalette, sparked the Jesuits' 1764 expultion from Louis XV's domains. Appointed superior general of the Iles du Vent mission in 1753, Lavalette built a transatlantic currency exchange network which collapsed due to British privateering at the start of the Seven Years War. His irate creditors pursued the Society of Jesus through the French legal system, thus providing the Jesuits' rivals, the Jansenists, with an opening to engineer their expulsion. My dissertation uses the "Lavalette affair" to probe counter-reform Catholicism's complicated relationship with the merchant networks and financial markets emblematic of early modern capitalism. It contextualizes Lavalette within the Society's globe-spanning network of slave plantations and investment portfolios, analyzes how he created trust among the transatlantic merchant community, and considers the legal debates surrounding Lavalette's debts as arguments over corporate responsibility. In doing so, it contributes an added religious dimension to the effects of the Seven Years War and a material dimension to studies of French Atlantic Jesuits.