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The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Final Day

Notes from the final session and wrap-up.

Session VIII – Representations of the Revolution

Chair: Pierre Saint-Amand, Brown University

Alyssa Sepinwall
President Adams said of Saint-Domingue “They are necessary to us and we are necessary to them.”
Haiti’s revolution showed blacks that servitude was not inevitable.

Léon-François Hoffman
In the few French literary references to the revolution – and there are very few – the word “revolution” was assiduously avoided in favor of words like “revolt, uprising, mutiny, perfidy” and so on.
The French today remain unaware of the revolution.

Pierre Saint-Amand reads for Carlo Celius
July 14, 1793 – Sonthonax celebrates Bastille Day by freeing some slaves. They came home with a “cap of liberty” [- frisson cap?]
There was a picture of Sonthonax – round, soft, red-haired.
The adoption of the name Haity was symbolic of the victory of the oppressed (because of the Taino – “Ayti” was their name for the island).
Free people of color were fighting for equality; slaves were fighting for freedom.

Session IX – Reviews and Responses: A Panel

Chair: David Brion Davis, Yale Univ

David Brion Davis
The Haitian Revolution is the only successful slave rebellion
Slave rebellions were suicidal because they were so brutally repressed.

Bernard Bailyn
This wasn’t a revolution. It was the unfolding of a process whose deepest urge was emancipation.
It was a vast and irreversibly transformative event that brought an end to Atlantic civilization as it had been known.
It wasn’t, in fact, “unthinkable,” but quite thinkable revolution [note, this is a rejection of an over-simplification of Trouillot’s oft-repeated quote, IMHO], a movement of tectonic plates, presaged by rumblings and near-quakes.
Failure in Haiti redefined the world, not just in France selling the Louisiana Territory, but in the fall of European colonialism. It opened the door to the dominance of the US in the Western hemisphere.

Sidney Mintz
The period saw the rise of plantation commodities.
The affranchis had developed great power and influence, disturbing to Saint-Domingue society.

Robin Blackburn
Haitian spectacle had an impact directly on British consideration of slavery.
Jefferson was frightened by seeing whites helping blacks to achieve emancipation.

Questions/comments
[Brazilian scholar whose name I didn’t catch:] There was also a “slow war” against slavery – the individual resistance that made it too costly to hold slaves. Immigrant labor became cheaper.
Malick Ghachem – The Haitian Revolution forced historians to talk differently about American and French revolutions – why didn’t the Americans resolve the slave question?
?Davis??: Slavery-produced commodities created an economic engine.


Whew! I’m exhausted. This was my first scholarly conference and even though I mostly felt like a fish out of water, I left incredibly stimulated. I have a fresh appreciation for the depth of the issues surrounding Haiti’s legendary revolution. This is a period of intense study in the field and there are some excellent minds giving careful attention to the subject. I am inspired to continue my studies; perhaps eventually I can offer a small bit to this engaging and worthwhile discussion.