Essay on Paper, Read in the Public Meeting held by Cercle des Philadelphes, August 15, 1788


In the second half of the 18th century, the French colony of Saint-Domingue emerged as one of the wealthiest territories in the Western hemisphere. Its economy was heavily based on slave labor and the production of sugar. Cap-Français (present-day Cap-Haïten) was the cultural capital of the colony and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Americas. In August 1785 a group of white residents of the city founded the Cercle des Philadelphes, a society whose aim was to elevate the intellectual and cultural level of their colony. In its brief seven-year existence, the society became one of the most prestigious of the colonial learned societies. Its members applied themselves to the study of the physical conditions, natural history, and medicine of the colony, with the goal of promoting improvements in agriculture, manufactures, and the arts and sciences. Presented here is the published version of an essay that was read to the society on August 15, 1788, on the topic of the preservation of paper. The author, Charles Arthaud, was royal physician and head of the society. The essay contains a review of the methods used by different civilizations, including the Egyptian, Roman, Chinese, and pre-Columbian Mexican and Peruvian, to create and preserve a written documentary record, and it offers observations on the types of paper that seemed best able to resist damage and destruction by insects in the tropical climate. The essay concludes by noting the decision of the society to sponsor a competition and to offer a prize to anyone who could succeed in manufacturing in the colony an insect-resistant paper. The book is from Les imprimés à Saint-Domingue (Imprints from Saint-Domingue), a collection held by the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Pères du Saint-Esprit that includes approximately 150 texts printed in Saint-Domingue before independence in 1804. The books were produced between 1764 and 1804 at presses in Cap-Français, Port-au-Prince, and Les Cayes and were digitized in 2006 with the support of the L’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Mozard, Port-au-Prince


Title in Original Language

Dissertation sur le papier, lue dans la ſéance publique, tenue par le Cercle des Philadelphes, le 15 Août 1788

Type of Item

Physical Description

24 pages

Last updated: December 29, 2015