Philippe R. Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801-1804. University Alabama Press, 2011.
via University of Alabama Press:
To a contemporary audience, Haiti brings to mind Voodoo spells, Tontons Macoutes, and boat people–nothing worth fighting over. Two centuries ago, however, Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, was the “Pearl of the Antilles,” France’s most valuable overseas colony, the largest exporter of tropical products in the world, and the United States’ second most important trading partner after England.
Haiti was also the place where in 1801-1802 Napoléon Bonaparte sent the largest colonial venture of his reign: the Leclerc expedition. His goal was to remove the famous revolutionary Toussaint Louverture from office and, possibly, restore slavery. But within two years, the remnants of Bonaparte’s once-proud army were evacuated in defeated, and Haiti declared its independence. This forgotten yet momentous conflict, in which lives were consumed by the thousands, is this book’s main focus.
In this ambitious monograph, Philippe Girard employs the latest tools of the historian’s craft, multi-archival research in particular, and applies them to the climactic yet poorly understood last years of the Haitian Revolution. Haiti lost most of its archives to neglect and theft, but a substantial number of documents survive in French, U.S., British, and Spanish collections, both public and private. In all, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon relies on contemporary military, commercial, and administrative sources drawn from nineteen archives and research libraries on both sides of the Atlantic….”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Abstract: This article studies the role of white, black and mulatto women during the last two years of the Haitian War of Independence, also known as the Haitian Revolution (1802–04). It might be expected that women’s contribution was limited in wartime, but this article concludes otherwise. Desirable women were sought as prizes symbolic of a man’s status in colonial society, or actively used their appeal to obtain political favours. Women of colour contributed to the rebellion in the fields of logistics, espionage and even combat. They also experienced martyrdom when convicted of aiding the rebel army. White women, in turn, were considered such an integral part of the colonial order that the rebels, led by Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, targeted them, as well as other civilians, during the fighting, then proceeded to exterminate all surviving whites after the rebel victory.