Blackburn on Haiti, Slavery and the Age of Democratic Revolution

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Blackburn, Robin. “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution.” William & Mary Quarterly 63 (October 2006): 643-674.

First paragraph steal:

“IN the sequence of revolutions that remade the Atlantic world from 1776 to 1825, the Haitian Revolution is rarely given its due, yet without it there is much that cannot be accounted for. The revolutions—American, French, Haitian, and Spanish-American—should be seen as interconnected, with each helping to radicalize the next. The American Revolution launched an idea of popular sovereignty that, together with the cost of the war, helped to provoke the downfall of the French monarchy. The French Revolution, dramatic as was its influence on the Old World, also became a fundamental event in the New World because it was eventually to challenge slavery as well as royal power. This challenge did not come from the French National Constituent Assembly’s resounding “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens 1789,” since neither the assembly nor its successor, the National Convention, moved on its own initiative to confront slavery in the French plantation colonies. Indeed the issue was not to be addressed for another five years, by which time the French Caribbean colonies were engulfed in slave revolts and threatened by British occupation.”

Available via History Cooperative (sub only)


“State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” Considering Name Change

“A push to drop “Providence Plantations” from that name advanced farther than ever on Thursday when House lawmakers voted 70-3 to let residents decide whether their home should simply be called the “State of Rhode Island.” It’s an encouraging sign for those who believe the formal name conjures up images of slavery, while opponents argue it’s an unnecessary rewriting of history that ignores Rhode Island’s tradition of religious liberty and tolerance.

The bill permitting a statewide referendum on the issue next year now heads to the state Senate.

“It’s high time for us to recognize that slavery happened on plantations in Rhode Island and decide that we don’t want that chapter of our history to be a proud part of our name,” said Rep. Joseph Almeida, an African-American lawmaker who sponsored the bill….

…Still, Stanley Lemons, a professor emeritus of history at Rhode Island College, said changing the state’s name ignores the accomplishments of Williams, whose government passed laws trying to prevent the permanent servitude of whites, blacks and American Indians.

“There are different meanings for this word,” Lemons said. “To try to impose their experience on everyone else wipes out Roger Williams.””

Full article: Rhode Island Slavery Legacy Prompting Name Change.

Rothschild and Freshfields Link to Slavery

Click for Slideshow of Sources by Financial Times
Click for Slideshow of Sources by Financial Times

From the article:

“Documents from Britain’s national archives showed that Nathan Mayer Rothschild had allowed the use of slaves as collateral in banking dealings with a slave owner, while Freshfields’ founding partner James William Freshfield acted as a trustee in deals involving Caribbean slave plantations, the FT reported. Freshfields said it had not been aware of the documents, which academics at University College London are studying.”

Read on: UK law firm and bank had slavery links – FT | Industries | Financial Services & Real Estate | Reuters.

ETA (Financial Times):   British Companies Express Regret for Slavery Connections

Who Reads an Early American Book?

In a special issue of the Common Place, historians weigh in on the early American books that inspire them as teachers and researchers:

The nine historians featured here treat literature as evidence, but they do not see the books they recommend as repositories of neutral “facts.” Carolyn Eastman considers the readers of a frequently reprinted “true account” of Caribbean pirates. Vincent Brown discovers a new perspective on contemporary immigration debates in a policy pamphlet about Jamaican slavery. Caroline Winterer sees an intellectual path not taken in a scientific essay on the origins of racial difference. Joyce Chaplin returns to a natural history of the American South and to a pre-Darwinian moment in the relation of science with religion. Sarah Knott finds, in the pages of a forgotten novel, a generational change in the history of the emotions. John Wood Sweet sees challenges to early national politics and to our own understanding of the meanings of freedom in a rare eyewitness account of the Atlantic slave trade produced in Connecticut by a native of Africa. François Furstenberg describes a famous biography as a national glue between readers in distant regions. James Sidbury recovers a bound manuscript pamphlet written by a resident of Sierra Leone, a man who had returned to the region of his birth after slavery in South Carolina and service with the British during the American Revolution. And Matthew Mason recommends a first-person account of one man’s life under slavery in the antebellum United States, a crucial document for historians who hope to write the history of the domestic slave trade.

Several are of interest to historians of the African diaspora.

Reading Leonora Sansay’s Horrors of Santo Domingo

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Via The Displacement of the American Novel:

Strangely, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Žižek can help contemporary readers understand the significance of Leonora Sansay’s fascinating and only recently rediscovered novel of Caribbean intrigue, Secret History; or The Horrors of St. Domingo (1808). Defending the Iraq War, Rumsfeld classified the threats posed by Iraq’s weapons: 1) known knowns, or what we know that we know; 2) known unknowns, or what we know that we don’t yet know; and 3) unknown unknowns, or what we don’t even know that we don’t yet know. According to Rumsfeld, these unknown unknowns were the gravest threat, the unanticipated weapons of mass destruction secretly in manufacture or ready for deployment. Žižek responded to this “amateur philosophising” in the Guardian. He cleverly noted that Rumsfeld left out a fourth category: “the ‘unknown knowns,’ things we don’t know that we know,” or, “the Freudian unconscious.” Although Rumsfeld believed that the unknown unknowns were most disturbing, “the Abu Ghraib scandal shows where the main dangers actually are in the ‘unknown knowns,’ the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.”

This structure of known/unknown is oddly germane to the development of early republican imaginative prose and especially to Sansay’s peculiar novel. Secret History exposes the unknown known of early republican culture: the nation’s repressed struggle with slavery and the universalist principles embraced in its foundational documents. Turning to fiction, Sansay capitalized on the pioneers of the early American novel but also leveraged the popular appetite for partisan exposé, the indelicate literature of hagiography and partisan penchant for character assassination. Though obscure in its own time and as of yet in ours, too, her synthesis of fiction and biography ought to be recognized as a significant development in American fiction, one that influenced the mock-historical imagination of Washington Irving, the broad historical canvas of James Fenimore Cooper, and the revisionist novels of Gore Vidal. Secret History is a self-consciously diagnostic, imaginative exploration of trends in American letters and their relationship to broader social and political contexts. It’s a great read, but it’s also a tremendously rich experiment in stretching the potential of fiction in the early nineteenth century…

Read the rest at The Common Place.

O’Malley on Slave Migration in the Caribbean and North America

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O’Malley, Gregory E. “Beyond the Middle Passage: Slave Migration from the Caribbean to North America, 1619–1807.” The William and Mary Quarterly 66, no. 1 (January 2009).

First paragraph steal:

“On April 18, 1752, 160 Africans first glimpsed the New World, sailing into Bridgetown, Barbados, aboard the Liverpool ship Africa, captained by Thomas Hinde. Uncertain of their fate, the captives perhaps took comfort in sighting land after the traumatic Middle Passage, or possibly they simply feared what new hardships might await them. A boat from shore arrived with the first fresh food and water the captives had tasted in weeks. It was surely a welcome change for most, but some suffered too much from intestinal ailments to take comfort in the improved diet. Most likely, all were eager to escape the confines of a ship and to feel solid ground beneath their feet. For many these simple desires had to wait.”

Via History Cooperative (sub only)

Black American Feminisms Bibliography

Compiled by Sherri L. Barnes and hosted by University of California at Santa Barbara Libraries

From the Introduction:

Welcome to Black American Feminisms: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography, an extensive bibliography of black American Feminist thought from across the disciplines. References date back to the nineteenth century when African American women like Maria Stewart, Anna Julia Cooper and Sojourner Truth challenged the conventions and mores of their era to speak publicly against slavery and in support of black women’s rights. These African American women did not refer to themselves as feminists, however, their beliefs and activism ignited a tradition of anti-racist and anti-sexist political movement and thought which now defines black American feminism. Many black American women, inspired by these nineteenth century trailblazers have continued over the years to work toward the eradication of race and gender inequality, among other systems of oppression, which have historically subjugated black American women.

From the antislavery and women’s rights movements of the nineteenth century, continuing through the black and women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, up to today’s contemporary black feminist activism, black American women have sought to have a voice in two centuries of liberation struggles that had silenced or ostracized them. Whether one chooses to use the term black feminism, African American feminism, womanism, or black American feminism, to articulate the complexity of black American women’s demand for social, economic and political equality, understood is the desire for a compatible and progressive vision of social justice based on the historical and ongoing struggles against the race and gender (at least) oppression black American women have experienced at home, at work, in their communities and, moreover, within the dominant culture as a whole.

Contemporary black American feminists have identified the central themes in black feminism as evidenced in over a century of struggle in the U.S. These include: 1) the presentation of an alternative social construct for now and the future based on African American women’s lived experiences  2) a commitment to fighting against race and gender inequality across differences of class, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity 3) recognition of Black women’s legacy of struggle 4) the promotion of black female empowerment through voice, visibility and self definition, and 5) a belief in the interdependence of thought and action (Collins 1993, 418; Guy-Sheftall 1995; 2). As black women have become cognizant of the multiple systemic forces of oppression, they have pursued collective actions for social change, transforming society and themselves through their own agency and self-determination.

Or click here.

Girard on Louverture the “International Statesman”

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Girard, Philippe R. “Black Talleyrand: Toussaint Louverture’s Diplomacy, 1798–1802.” The William and Mary Quarterly 66, no. 1 (January 2009).

First paragraph steal:

“Louverture’s record as an international statesman remains largely occluded, though he served as quasi-independent ruler of Saint Domingue for nearly four years (November 1798–February 1802). Atlantic historians studying the Haitian Revolution remain focused on the racial and social dimensions of the slave revolt, paying far less attention to the diplomatic ramifications of this dramatic event. What scholarship exists deals largely with Louverture’s relations with the United States (rather than England and Spain) and U.S. objectives and policies, not Louverture’s own goals. Books on England’s Caribbean policy in the 1790s—arguably not its finest hour—are far outnumbered by the outpouring of research on its abolitionist movement. Works on Louverture’s relations with Cuba and Santo Domingo are few and generally old. There is a greater array of solidly researched accounts of U.S. diplomacy toward Saint Domingue. By their very nature, however, these studies focus on U.S. policymakers’ motives (racism, security, or trade), leaving Louverture as the person on the receiving end of a policy rather than as an actor with his own well-developed agenda. A classic history of the Quasi War argues that Louverture was moving toward independence but does not elaborate on his motives for doing so; a recent tome on U.S.-Haitian relations concludes that as a “riddle” who “kept his own counsel,” Louverture’s views are ultimately unknowable; another essay is primarily interested in proving that John Adams’s policy was more idealistic than Thomas Jefferson’s.2 The disparity is reflected in the sources, heavily weighted toward French and especially U.S. diplomatic archives rather than collections that would illuminate Saint Domingue’s internal politics.”

Available at History Cooperative (sub only)

U.S. Senate Apologizes for Slavery

On Thursday, June 18, 2009, the United States Senate passed a non-binding resolution apologizing to African-Americans for the wrongs of slavery.   The resolution did not offer reparations.

via Faculty Lounge:

This follows on the heels of the Brown University’s Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, which issued its report in 2006, as well as several state apologies for slavery in 2007.  I’ve already expressed surprise that academics weren’t more involved in the state slavery apologies, so it should come as no surprise that they seem to have been absent from the discussion in the Senate.  The University of Virginia also apologized for its connections to slavery, in April 2007.  UVA had been talking about an apologyfor some time.  (And back in 2007 when the Virginia legislature was contemplating an apology for slavery, I had some thoughts over at diverse education’s website.)
So let me look into the crystal ball and ask, what next?  We’ve been following the latest talk at William and Mary about its study of slavery on its campus.  And the University of Maryland’s been conducting a year-long study of slavery in its campus, under the direction of distinguished historian Ira Berlin.  Perhaps some other schools will conduct similar investigations, I’m not sure.  We may hear something about this from places like Randolph Macon College, the University of Georgia, Ole Miss, or Transylvania (four schools that figure in University, Court, and Slave.)….
Read the rest and the full text of the resolution here.

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