To decompress a bit I decided to shift gears a little. And so, I read some of a book about responses to the Haitian revolution in the U.S.

The book is called Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic, by Ashli White. I only had time to read bits of it but from what I read this is one to come back to. Here are my notes on the bits I read.

Independence left the former colonies that became the US with a trade vacuum, which Saint Domingue partly helped fill, eventually becoming the US’s #2 trade partner. (7)

The book is mostly about how Americans responded to refugees from Saint Domingue. Several thousand such refugees came the US in the 1790s (10), including whites, free blacks, and slaves. White writes that almost every big US city saw an influx of St Domingan refugees. (11-12.)

Interesting comments on complicated relationships between free blacks and slaves. (15)

I should really get to know republicanism. (ch 3, barely skimmed)

Slaveholders commonly discussed slave revolts using the term ‘contagion’. White teases out several meanings to this metaphor – denying the ideological and conscious components of slaves’ actions by picturing their actions as unconscious disease, expressing fear – since disease was fearsome at the time, and underscoring the need to take precautionary measures to prevent further spread of these ‘outbreaks’. (124-125) The Haitian revolution did inspire many African Americans (125-126).

White commentators tended to particularize the Haitian revolution, down playing the universality of the revolutionaries’ ideas and downplaying the qualities in common between the US and Saint Domingue. Commentators referred to St Dominguan slavery as more harsh as oppsoed to supposedly beneficial US slavery. Many commentators, including many abolitionists, ducked the issue of immediate emancipation as posed by the revolution, instead responding to Haiti in ways that emphasized gradual emancipation. Others tried to avoid the issue of emancipation altogether. (126)

Some defended the revolution as just, in two general tendencies. One tendency blamed events in Saint Domingue on the slave trade, the other blamed the institution of slavery itself. (130.) This distinction between slave trade and slavery is not always immediately clear to people today, in that it’s easy to read criticism of the transatlantic slave trade as criticism of slavery. That’s not always the case, though. Among other things, choosing to criticize the trade can neglect the institution of slavery, whereas calls for ending enslavement would also involved the end of trade in slaves.

White cites a British writes named Thomas Clarkson who some US newspapers accused of causing unrest in Saint Domingue. Clarkson was active in British opposition to the slave trade; he saw ending the transatlantic trade as, in White’s words, “a means to preserve the plantation economies of the Caribbean. He anticipated that once the primary evil (the slave trade) was eliminated, its abolition would usher in the need for the better treatment of slaves” (131.) This in turn would lay the groundwork, supposedly, for the gradual emancipation Clarkson favored.

(Check out this document, “The Rights of Black Men,” by Abraham Bishop, under the pseudonym J.P. Martin. Bishop argued that the violence of the Haitian revolution was not only justified but had been necessary for their survival. p135)

American abolitionist St. George Tucker argued based on the Haitian revolution that black people and white people could not co-exist; emancipation would therefore require separation. For Tucker this meant ‘incentives’ for free blacks to emigrate, including denial of citizenship. (137.) Thomas Jefferson wrote to Tucker expressing agreement.

Numerous times slave plots and rebellions were blamed on ‘french negroes’ from Haiti (142-144). This is likely for several reasons. American slaveholders wanted to distance their situation from that of pre-revolutionary Saint Domingue; blaming outsiders served well to minimize the idea that American slaves also hated slavery. African American slaves were inspired by events in Haiti, so that likely more revolts did occur and referenced the revolution. And, free blacks and slaves from Saint Domingue really did take part in some plots and revolts in the US sometimes.

African American abolitionists came to make stronger claims about/in favor of the Haitian revolution. For example, for Prince Hall of Boston, “the Haitian revolution proved that change for people of African descent was possible and that it was in their own hands.” (145.) Hall spoke highly of the revolution but, like many others, did not actively advocate in a public manner that African Americans follow suit, because “to have done so in the viciously racist climate that prevailed even in ‘free’ cities would have been suicidal.” (145-146.)

White details an 1801 incident when a crowd of African Americans and so-called “french negroes” from St Domingue rioted to prevent a St Dominguan slaveholder residing in New York from selling her slaves down the river in an effort to evade New York’s gradual emancipation law. (146.)

Raiding the bibliography –

Trouillot, Silencing the Past
Dubois, “An Enslaved Enlightenment” and _Avengers of the New World_
Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Haitian Revolution from Below
Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue
Dun, “Dangerous Intelligence” (diss)
Scott, “the Common Wind” (diss)
Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution
Morrison and Zook, Revolutionary Currents: Nation Building in the Transatlantic World
Pybus, Epic Journeys of Freedom
Geggus, The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World
Dessens, From Saint-Domingue to New Orelans
Meadows, “Engineering Exile” and “Planters of Saint-Domingue” (diss)
Nash, “Reverberations of Haiti in the American North”
Moreau, A Civilization that Perished
Peabody, There Are No Slaves in France
Gellman, Emancipating New York
Melish, Disowning Slavery
Nash, Forging Freedom
White, Somewhat More Indendent
McClellan, Colonialism and Science
Miller, the French Atlantic Triangle
Waldstreicher, Runaway America
Gaspar and Hine, More Than Chattel
Lynn Hunt’s book on the French Revolution
Brown, Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution
Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America
Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery
Popkin, Facing Racial Revolution
Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of Democratic Revolution”
Carpenter, Refugees of the French Revolution
Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery
Stewart, Holy Warriors
Newman, The Transformation of American Abolitionism
Onuf, “To Declare Them a Free and Independent People”
Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies
Geggus and Fiering, The World of the Haitian Revolution
Kadish, Slavery in the Caribbean Francophone World
Frey, Water from the Rock
Sidbury, Ploughshares into Swords
Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion
Clavin, Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution
Dubois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade
Rothman, Slave Country
Horn et al, The Revolution of 1800
Gaspar and Geggus, A Turbulent Time
Dixon, African America and Haiti