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France: Former colonial possessions overseas

Last modified: 2003-01-18 by ivan sache
Keywords: french colonies |
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Flags in use

Possessions of the first French Colonial Empire (until 1763) mostly hoisted flags such as the White Cross or the Fleurdelysé flags, while the French Republic used mostly the plain Tricolore, and a few specific flags, such as marks of office.

Despite the numerous and various administrative statuses of her overseas possessions (colonies, mandates, protectorates, trusteeships and other overseas territories in general...), and however large the Empire, one could notice that France has always considered herself together with her Empire as a single united political entity in which each part was only a piece of a whole. As thus, it is only logical that such an entity, and its parts, used mostly the French flag.

In this overlook of the vexillological aspect of the French Colonial Empire, one will see that the use of the French flag is the rule, while the use of local flags is the exception.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

There was a somewhat unusual arrangement whereby Governors of French Colonies were authorised by Ministre de la Marine Circular 29 of June 1833 to grant ships of any nation, and of a certain size, liberty to use the French flag, and the right to be treated in all respects as French ships, within certain defined limits.

One defined area was New Caledonia, Australia, New Zealand, and all islands of the South Pacific Ocean, and in 1872 the British Vice-Consul in Nouméa, New Caledonia, reported that two British ships were flying the French flag while under contract to act as transports in Cochinchina.

Source: Public Record Office MT 10/168.

David Prothero, 23 January 2001

French colonies in the Americas

In North America, the French Empire consisted in New France (Acadia, Canada, Cape Breton island, Newfoundland) and Louisiana (a large territory from New Orleans up west to the Rocky Mountains).
The modern flag of Acadia can also be found on the Canadian pages - but it should be understood that it did not exist yet under French administration. The same is true for the Cajun flag of Louisiana, even though this territory remained French until the beginning of the 19th century.
Saint-Pierre and Miquelon is the only territory in North America left today under French sovereignty.

In the Carribean, the French Crown possessed various islands.
The largest territory was Saint-Domingue (today's Haiti).
Guadeloupe's jurisdiction (no specific historical flag known except current one) included la Désirade, the Dominica, La Frégate, Marie-Galante, Saint Bartholomew, Saint Martin, les Saintes and a few other rocks.
Martinique's jurisdiction included Saint Lucia and Tobago. Grenada has also been French for some time, but doesn't seem to have produced a specific flag during this time. Note that the current flag of Martinique was already flying under the Old Regime: it is one of the very few specific French colonial flags of that era. Modern monodepartmental Régions of Guadeloupe's and Martinique's General and Regional councils also have flags with recent logos, but the use of the traditional flags is frequently reported.

In South America, the French Crown possessed one of the Guyanas and no specific flag other than the usual White Cross or the Fleurdelysé flags seems to have been flying there. Modern monodepartmental Région of Guyana's General and Regional councils have flags with recent logos.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

French colonies in Asia

In the Near East, the territories under trusteeship of the French Republic consisted in the Alaouite State (Lattaquié), Alep, Hatay (Alexandretta), Lebanon, Syria and the Sanjak of Damas and the Jabel Druze (Souaida). These territories are included today in the modern states of Syria and Lebanon.
The French also held Cheik Said's Territory on the Yemenite coast; no flag is reported for this last territory.

In the Far East, the French Empire consisted in the Annam and Paracels islands, Cochinchina, Laos, Cambodia and Tonkin. All these territories were united into the Indochinese Union. They later became the independent states of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia.

The French also possessed large concessions in China, such as in Canton, Nanking or Shanghai. Some other Chinese territories were under French sovereignty, such as Hankéou, His-men, Kouang-Tchéou-Wan or Tien-Tsin. No specific flag under French rule yet reported.

The French Crown ruled most of India between 1742 and 1763. After this date, various smaller territories and enclaves remained under French sovereignty until the 1950's.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

I think there weren't any flags for enclaves, and overseas possessions and possessions in India. There is only one flag , the French Tricolour, for all French territories. Maybe there was the blue flag with the French flag in the canton for the governor.



Pondichéry (1673-1954) (possessed by UK at some moments).There are here some privileges granted by the Indian government to thank the fact that France gave without reluctance its Indian possessions, that is not the case of Portugal, as I think to remember.

Chandernagor (1686-1951)

Mahé (1721-1954)

Karikal (1738-1954)

Yanaon (1751-1954)










Source: Quid (1994) p 844.

Pascal Vagnat, 22 February 1996

French colonies in Africa

In Western and Central Africa, French possessions were organised into two main federations: Afrique Occidentale Française (French West Africa) and Afrique Equatoriale Française (French Equatorial Africa). These federations included territories of different statuses, such as colonies and mandates.

The common and specific flag for all of these possessions was of course the French Tricolore, but some possessions eventually hoisted a flag of their own during French rule. These flags are to been found on the pages of the various countries which resumed sovereignty after independence.

French West Africa

French Equatorial Africa





Pierre Gay, 13 October 1999

  • Senegal: Yellow five pointed star in the center of green field, based in the one of the Senegalese progressist union (the same but with red star);
  • French Soudan: French tricolour with black Kanaga in the center of white stripe(the proposal for including Kanaga was made by L. Sedar Senghor);
  • Middle Congo: green over yellow horizontal bi-colour flag with French Tricolore in the canton (1/3 of the high of the green stripe). The flag was presented to Parliament on 18 August 1959 and rejected. A flag similar to the current one was then adopted;
  • No specific official flag for Ubangui Shari, except the one of the main party: white flag with black hand and blue star;
  • Mauritania: the flag was adopted under instructions of Uld Dada, and was included in the Constitution on 22 March 1959, but only adopted officially 1st April 1959;
  • Chad adopted the current flag on 6 November 1959, and had previously no other flag than the French Tricolore. A special flag for the governor (ochre with red circle containing blue bird?) was reported but seems older (Second World War?).

Jaume Ollé and Nozomi Kariyasu, 17 June 1998

In North Africa, the French colonized Algeria which was considered as integrated French territory (depending from the Minister of the Interior, whereas all other colonies depended from either the Colonial, Naval or Foreign offices); the French flag seems to have been the only national flag flying there. Morocco was a protectorate and had a specific civil ensign. Tunisia was also a protectorate and hoisted its current flag.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

In East Africa, the French ruled the French Somali Coast, which became the Overseas territory of the Afars and the Issas, and finally, upon independence in 1977, the Republic of Djibouti.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

French colonies in the Indian Ocean

In the Central Western Indian Ocean, the French Crown possessed the Bourbon island, the Isle de France (today's Réunion and Mauritius, respectively), and the Seychelles islands for a short period of time. No specific flag under French colonial administration is yet reported here. The Republic added Madagascar and the Comoros to the French Indian Ocean colonies. While the Comoros became independent, Mayotte island stayed French.
Madagascar adopted a flag on 16 October 1958 similar to the current one. Previous other flags were used in the revolt of 1947, and at least three different patterns are reported, all using the colors white, blue and red.

In the Southern Indian Ocean, the French colonized various islands (Kerguelen, Crozet, New Amsterdam, and other rocks) which were later regrouped into a single territory named French Austral and Antarctic Territories, to which the French slice of the Antarctic (Adelie Land) was adjoined. No specific flag under French royal colonial administration is yet reported here. However there is today a flag for the Senior Administrator of the French Austral and Antarctic Territories.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999

French colonies in the Pacific Ocean

In the South-Western Pacific, the French colonized New Caledonia. No specific flag under French colonial administration is yet reported here. The overseas territory of New Caledonia is currently facing a change in status within the French Republic, towards larger autonomy. Up North-East, colonial Wallis and Futuna islands have used various local flags under colonial administration. Wallis and Futuna islands are currently an overseas territory of the French Republic.
The French and the British also held a condominium over the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu).

In the South-Eastern Pacific, French Polynesia is currently an overseas territory of the French Republic, and is the only French territorial entity to have a specific flag enforced by law. Before this, colonial French Polynesia and its components have used various local flags before and during colonial administration.

Pierre Gay, 14 October 1999