FORUM: Dubois, Girard, Gaffield, and Jenson on Jean-Jacques Dessalines

“Jean Jacques Dessalines, fondateur de l’Indépendance d’Haïti,” in Dantès Fortunat, Nouvelle géographie de l’île d’Haïti, contenant des notions historiques et topographiques sur les autres Antilles, H. Noirot, 1888. Source: New York Public Library (Click Image)

The July 2012 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly is hosting a special forum on “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Haitian Revolution.”  The forum includes:

Laurent Dubois, “Dessalines Toro d’Haiti.”

Philippe R. Girard, “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Atlantic System:  A Reappraisal:”

Revered in Haiti as a founding father committed to his countrymen’s freedom and independence, decried by his white contemporaries as a bloodthirsty brute, Haitian revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines was actually a multifaceted historical figure who borrowed much of his worldview and many of his policies from the colonial plantation system of the Atlantic world. In particular, archival findings in France, Britain, and the United States reveal that Dessalines encouraged France to arrest fellow black revolutionaries, was long ambivalent about advocating independence from France, and maintained close relations with some white Frenchmen even after the 1804 massacres. He conducted extensive diplomatic negotiations with his neighbors in an effort to maintain the trade links inherited from the colonial era, strove to preserve the integrity of the sugar plantations even though he had himself been a slave (probably of Toussaint Louverture’s son-in-law), enforced a strict feudal system among former slaves and tried to import African laborers, and was inspired by a multicultural environment that incorporated American and European as well as African elements. Dessalines was thus a complex character whose conduct was motivated by his economic, political, and diplomatic interests in addition to the racial and ideological factors that tend to dominate the historiography.

Julia Gaffield, “Haiti and Jamaica in the Remaking of the Early Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World:

The Haitian Declaration of Independence on January 1, 1804, explicitly challenged long-standing systems of European colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean. In the complex diplomatic and economic negotiations between Haiti’s first leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and the lieutenant governor of Jamaica, George Nugent, the two sought to answer unprecedented questions in the months before and after Dessalines’s rebel forces defeated the French army. Nugent considered how British officials would regulate trade between British merchants and Haitians but was concerned that Haitian merchants and sailors would spread the spirit of rebellion throughout the New World. Could slavery and universal freedom coexist in the Caribbean without dramatic consequences for the British Empire? The full documentary evidence of how both sides aggressively pursued their objectives during 1803 and 1804 casts a new light on why Atlantic world empires and nations settled on policies of diplomatic isolation for Haiti by the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century. The Haitian Declaration of Independence raised profound questions about revolutionary legitimacy and national sovereignty and drastically expanded the ideals of the age of revolutions.

In “Sources and Interpretations,” Deborah Jenson, “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the African Character of the Haitian Revolution:”

According to the standard interpretation of mid- to late twentieth-century historiography, Jean-Jacques Dessalines was literally Creole—born in the colony—yet performatively and ideologically African. The vexed narrative of the origins of the first leader of independent Haiti shapes our understanding of the Haitian Revolution as what Laurent Dubois calls “an African revolution,” whose African-born majority is only obliquely reflected in the historiography of revolutionary leadership. Analysis of sources and interpretations reveals that the few individuals from Dessalines’s lifetime who spoke of his background at all described him as African-born. Some accounts traced his origins to the “Gold Coast” (in its eighteenth-century French acceptation), and others alluded to his tribal scarification. Political tensions over Haitian elites and their relationships to the nonelite majority heralded the gradual transition from the African to the Creole narrative of Dessalines’s origins in the middle of the nineteenth century. The possibility that Dessalines was not Creole but African represents a critical link for renewed theorization of how the Middle Passage informed African revolutionary agency in colonial Saint Domingue. The oral traditions of Vodou provide a valuable source of alternative historiography for study of the African character of the Haitian Revolution.

Read the entire issue online through JSTOR Current ($$).

(H/T Duke Haiti Lab on Twitter)

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2012 Frederick Douglass Book Prize Finalists Announced

The finalists for the 14th Annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize have been announced.

From the announcement:

Robin Blackburn for The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Verso Books)

In The American Crucible, Robin Blackburn has provided one of the most commanding and wide-ranging examinations of Atlantic abolitionism in years.  In an era of specialization, Blackburn thinks big, connecting emancipation moments through both time and space. Blackburn’s work compels scholars to think anew about abolitionism’s relevance to global modernity.

R. Blakeslee Gilpin for John Brown Still Lives: America’s Long Reckoning with Violence, Equality, and Change (University of North Carolina Press)

Finding new scholarly perspectives on John Brown is no easy task but R. Blakeslee Gilpin’s engaging and ramifying book does just that by examining the myriad ways that Americans have used Brown’s memory since the Civil War era. John Brown Still Lives! offers a profound meditation on the long-running debate over slavery, freedom and the struggle for racial justice in American hearts and minds.

Carla L. Peterson for Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in
Nineteenth-Century New York City (Yale University Press)

Carla Peterson’s Black Gotham brilliantly reconstructs her own family’s elusive past as a window unto free black life in 19th century New York. Part detective tale, part cultural history, Peterson’s book recaptures hidden stories of black abolitionism, economic uplift, Civil War heroism, and turn-of-the-century civil rights movements. By painstakingly reconstructing a segment of black New York, Peterson highlights a vibrant cast of characters who constantly redefined the meaning of both American and African American freedom.

James H. Sweet for Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual
History of the Atlantic World (University of North Carolina Press)

James Sweet’s thoughtful and moving book about African healer Domingos Alvares provides much more than a biographical portrait of a remarkable 18th century man. Rather, Sweet’s imaginative reconstruction of Alvares’ life in and out of bondage places African worldviews at the center of Atlantic history. Domingos Alvares also makes a compelling case for redefining the intellectual history of Atlantic society from Africans’ perspectives.

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ARTICLE: Paton on Obeah and Poison in Atlantic Slavery

“Burial 72, Newton Plantation Cemetery, Barbados,” Image Reference B72_extended, as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library: “View of extended skeleton on its back in situ; copper bracelets on each arm and pipe bowl on pelvic area are visible; possibly an Obeah man/medicine man.” (Click image for details)
Paton, Diana. “Witchcraft, Poison, Law, and Atlantic Slavery.” The William and Mary Quarterly 69, no. 2 (April 1, 2012): 235–264.

Abstract:

In response to Tacky’s Rebellion in 1760 in Jamaica, the colony’s House of Assembly passed a law naming a new crime, “obeah.” This important statute led the way in establishing obeah as a phenomenon understood by colonial authorities as a singular and dangerous problem. Investigating the Jamaica assembly’s decision within a wider Caribbean and Atlantic context and alongside the near-contemporaneous “Makandal conspiracy” in Saint Domingue, which was interpreted by French planters as a mass outbreak of poisoning, shows how similar practices came to be interpreted and constructed in different ways in different colonial cultures. The practices used by Tacky’s “obeah man” and Makandal’s followers were conceptually and practically similar, deriving from African understandings of medicine in which substances could be imbued with spiritual power. Why, then, did the French colonists emphasize poison while the British emphasized obeah (which they glossed with the term “witchcraft”)? In addition to the differences between developments in the colonies, an important context for understanding this distinction was the European experience of the decriminalization of witchcraft. In France decriminalization led to heightened anxiety about poison, while in England witchcraft decriminalization was not connected to poison but made the term and legal category of witchcraft a difficult one for planters to invoke.

ARTICLE: Deusen on Indigenous Slaves in Castile

“Gold Smelting, Panama, 1560s-1570s,” [Image Reference MA3900f102] as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. (Click image for details)

Abstract:

This article considers the construction of indigenous (indio) slave identity within the contexts of the sixteenth-century Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds. Of the more than two thousand indio slaves from Latin America who were forced to migrate to Castile during the sixteenth century, nearly two hundred questioned the legality of their enslaved condition based upon the tenets of the New Laws (1542), which declared indios to be free vassals of the Spanish Crown. This resulted in the initiation of 123 before the tribunals of the House of Trade and the Council of the Indies. Because of the need to identify the imperial (Spanish versus Portuguese) origins of indio litigants, witnesses navigated physiognomic identity markers and other criteria. But identification was a subjective art that depended on the legal culture of the courtroom, the experiences and incentives of deponents, and the presence of other slaves in Castile from Brazil, West and North Africa, South and East Asia, or Granada. Analyzing the complex process of labeling indios in such a globalized context shows not only how notions of indigenous enslaveability evolved over the course of the sixteenth century but how Castilian interpretations of phenotype and identity were varied and complex.

BOOK: Walvin on the British Slave Ship Zong

James Walvin.  The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
On November 29, 1781, Captain Collingwood of the British ship Zong commanded his crew to throw overboard one-third of his cargo: a shipment of Africans bound for slavery in America. The captain believed his ship was off course, and he feared there was not enough drinking water to last until landfall. This book is the first to examine in detail the deplorable killings on the Zong, the lawsuit that ensued, how the murder of 132 slaves affected debates about slavery, and the way we remember the infamous Zongtoday.Historian James Walvin explores all aspects of the Zong’s voyage and the subsequent trial—a case brought to court not for the murder of the slaves but as a suit against the insurers who denied the owners’ claim that their “cargo” had been necessarily jettisoned. The scandalous case prompted wide debate and fueled Britain’s awakening abolition movement. Without the episode of the Zong, Walvin contends, the process of ending the slave trade would have taken an entirely different moral and political trajectory. He concludes with a fascinating discussion of how the case of the Zong, though unique in the history of slave ships, has come to be understood as typical of life on all such ships.

BOOK: Stuart on Slavery and Family in Barbados

Andrea Stuart. Sugar in the Blood: A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire. London: Portobello Books, 2012.

via publisher website:

In the late 1630s, Andrea Stuart’s earliest known maternal ancestor set sail from England, lured by the promise of the New World, to settle in Barbados where he fell by chance into the lucrative life of a sugar plantation owner.With George Ashby’s first crop, the cane revolution was underway and would go on to transform the Caribbean into an archipelago of riches, establishing a thriving worldwide industry that bound together ambitious white entrepreneurs and enslaved black workers.As it grew, this sweet colonial trade fuelled the Enlightenment and financed the Industrial Revolution, but it also had more direct, less palatable consequences for the individuals caught up in it, consequences that still haunt the author’s past.In this unique personal history, Andrea Stuart follows the thread of her own family’s involvement with sugar through successive generations, telling a story of insatiable greed and forbidden love, of abuse and liberation.

(H/T Alondra Nelson)

ARTICLE: Bethencourt on Creolization and Kongo Agency

“Dutch Ambassadors Greeting the King of Kongo, late 17th cent.,” [Image Reference FER3] as shown on http://www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Francisco Bethencourt. “Creolization of the Atlantic World: The Portuguese and the Kongolese.” Portuguese Studies 27, no. 1 (2011): 56–69.

Abstract:
From

In the 1930s, Gilberto Freyre’s praise of mixed-race people in Brazil challenged the idea of white supremacy, contributing to the building of a new Brazilian identity. In the 1950s, Freyre projected the idea of openness and racial mixture onto the Portuguese empire, fuelling Salazar’s colonial propaganda. The idea of Lusotropicalism was contested by Marvin Harris and Charles Boxer, who demonstrated that there were very few mixed-race people in Angola and Mozambique, and exposed the long history of racism in the Portuguese colonies. However, the fashionable notions of hybridism and creolization have been putting Freyre back on the map. The article exposes the limits of Freyre’s approach of inter-ethnic relations, structured around the flexibility (or otherwise) of white colonists. It engages with the much more interesting but problematic approach suggested by Linda Heywood and John Thornton, who shifted to Kongo and African agency the creolization of the Atlantic. It suggests a reassessment of the real Christianization of Kongo and its complex chronology, drawing attention to the royal interests of conversion, the limits of conversion among the population, and the conditions for erosion of Christianity in the long run.

BOOK: Rivers on Slave Resistance in Florida

Larry Eugene Rivers. Rebels and Runaways: Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Florida. University of Illinois Press, 2012.

From the press website:

This gripping study examines slave resistance and protest in antebellum Florida and its local and national impact from 1821 to 1865. Using a variety of sources such as slaveholders’ wills and probate records, ledgers, account books, court records, oral histories, and numerous newspaper accounts, Larry Eugene Rivers discusses the historical significance of Florida as a runaway slave haven dating back to the seventeenth century and explains Florida’s unique history of slave resistance and protest. In moving detail, Rivers illustrates what life was like for enslaved blacks whose families were pulled asunder as they relocated from the Upper South to the Lower South to an untamed place such as Florida, and how they fought back any way they could to control small parts of their own lives.

BOOK: Weiner and Hough on Sex, Sickness, and Slavery

Marli F. Weiner and Mayzie Hough. Sex, Sickness, and Slavery: Defining Illness in the Antebellum South. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

From the press website:

Marli F. Weiner skillfully integrates the history of medicine with social and intellectual history in this study of how race and sex complicated medical treatment in the antebellum South. Sex, Sickness, and Slavery argues that Southern physicians’ scientific training and practice uniquely entitled them to formulate medical justification for the imbalanced racial hierarchies of the period. Challenged with both helping to preserve the slave system (by acknowledging and preserving clear distinctions of race and sex) and enhancing their own authority (with correct medical diagnoses and effective treatment), doctors sought to understand bodies that did not necessarily fit into neat dichotomies or agree with suggested treatments.

Focusing on Southern states from Virginia to Alabama, Weiner examines medical and lay perspectives on the body through a range of sources, including medical journals, notes, diaries, daybooks, and letters. These personal and revealing sources show how physicians, medical students, and patients–both free whites and slaves–felt about vulnerability to disease and mental illnesses, how bodily differences between races and sexes were explained, and how emotions, common sense, working conditions, and climate were understood to have an effect on the body.

Physicians’ authority did not go uncontested, however. Weiner also describes the ways in which laypeople, both black and white, resisted medical authority, clearly refusing to cede explanatory power to doctors without measuring medical views against their own bodily experiences or personal beliefs. Expertly drawing the dynamic tensions during this period in which Southern culture and the demands of slavery often trumped science, Weiner explores how doctors struggled with contradictions as medicine became a key arena for debate over the meanings of male and female, sick and well, black and white, North and South.

ARTICLE: Millward on Enslaved Women, Bodies, and Maryland Manumission Law

Advertisement from J.M. Wilson for sale of Maryland and Virginia Negroes. Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / Photographs and Prints Division (Click Image)

Jessica Millward,. “‘That All Her Increase Shall Be Free’: Enslaved Women’s Bodies and the Maryland 1809 Law of Manumission.” Women’s History Review 21, no. 3 (2012): 363–378.

Abstract:

This article investigates the relationship between manumission laws and enslaved women’s bodies in Maryland, USA. The point of departure is the 1809 ‘Act to Ascertain and Declare the Condition of Such Issue as may hereafter be born of Negro or Mulatto Female Slaves,’ which minimized age requirements for freeing enslaved children. If the status of living or future children was not established at the time the manumission document for the mother was presented in court, then any such children were to remain in bondage. As this article argues, the 1809 law represented what lawmakers, slaveholders, and bondpeople already knew—that freedom, like enslavement, was tied to a bondwoman’s womb. By investigating apprenticeship records, legal statutes, manumission documents, and African American petitions for freedom, this article argues that the deployment of black women’s bodies within the law challenged, extended, and defined definitions of freedom in the decades leading up to the Civil War.