The politics of “french negroes” in the united states

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3 Scopus citations

Abstract

When slaves on the French Caribbean island of Saint Domingue set fi re to their masters’ plantations in August 1791, U.S. newspapers carried gruesome reports about what, in their opinion, was a “calamitous event.” That “event” grew into a revolution that ravaged the wealthiest colony in the Americas for the next thirteen years. Taking advantage of the political upheaval among ruling white colonists caused by the French Revolution, Saint Dominguan slaves carried out a campaign for freedom that European armies failed to quell. By 1804 black forces had succeeded in dismantling French colonial control and abolishing slavery. In January the black leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the independent nation of Haiti. 2 As Americans struggled to comprehend how and why the insurrection in Saint Domingue occurred, one of the issues that most troubled them was the role of slaves. Accounts in American newspapers depicted the rebels as agents of death and destruction, but generally denied that the slaves were the authors of the revolution. Instead, contemporary commentators looked to other groups-French republicans, colonists and antislavery activists among others-to explain the uprising. In all these scenarios black Saint Dominguans were seen as agents of corrupt whites rather than creators of their own revolution. 3 Although white participants and bystanders tried to redirect discussion away from the slaves, it was impossible to extricate them from the debate. The diffi culty of doing so arose, in part, from the ways in which the French and Haitian revolutions unfolded. When the French National Assembly abolished slavery in February 1794, the goals of metropole republicans and insurgent slaves became offi cially intertwined. But even before 1794 Saint Dominguan slaves remained central to debates about the Haitian Revolution. For, almost as soon as the insurrection began, slaveholders throughout the Atlantic world worried about the potential for rebellion on their own plantations. White onlookers analyzed circumstances in the French colony hoping to discover a means to avoid a similar situation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHaitian History
Subtitle of host publicationNew Perspectives
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Pages123-138
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781135766481
ISBN (Print)9780415808675
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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  • Cite this

    White, A. (2012). The politics of “french negroes” in the united states. In Haitian History: New Perspectives (pp. 123-138). Taylor and Francis. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203723814-13