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The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Opening night.

Well, my idea of blogging the conference may not work out quite as I’d hoped. There’s no net connection in the room we’re in, despite the assurances of several Wi-Fi locator services on the Internet. Also, I didn’t see a power jack anywhere, so my computer note taking may be limited anyway. Also, my iPod ran out of juice as it was recording the lecture tonight, so I lost a lot of information.

Still, I’ll post what I have in raw form. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back and update it sooner than later.


I’m sitting in Salamon Hall. It’s just past 8:30. After a lovely reception and a terribly frustrating foray into the tony bowels of Providence in search of food, I’m finally fed, beered, and cooling off. I’m spoiled by the low humidity of Seattle; Providence feels like a sauna, and it doesn’t help to be climbing hills in layers.

There are 100-120 attendees scattered about the auditorium. I’m somewhat surprised by the lack of black faces. They are represented, but in quite the minority.

Norman Fiering is giving some introductory remarks. There will be talks in French! Oh, my. Wish I had studied more. Oh, wait. They’ll be translated. Yay!

Sidney Mintz from Johns Hopkins University introduces H.E. Jean Casmir, Ambassador of the Republic of Haiti to the United States, 1991-1997. Casmir was in ministry of foreign affairs. His area of specialty is 19th century Haitian history – well known in that field. Will talk on Haiti’s transition.

Casmir: “From Saint-Domingue to Haiti: Vivre de nouveau ou vivre enfin” To live again or to live at last? In 1804, Haiti moved suddenly from external to internal organization.

Many slaves did not accept their status as slaves. In the literature you may read that Mackandal was a rogue and a runaway who engaged in furtive raids on plantation property. In reality, though, Mackandal refused to accept that he was a slave, so he moved around freely and fully armed.

Similarly, the slaves did not accept their status as slaves [some? all?]

Around 1790, Africans made up 2/3 of the slave population. Ie, blacks born in Africa and transported by slave ships.

The concept of “negro” is a manufactured concept. A negro is a result of a full process of socialization. There were no negros in africa, only tribes.

France defined the blacks as blacks. Now, at the independence declaration of Dessalins, we have the New Negro. Even today in Haiti, blanc is used to refer to any stranger, regardless of color.

Haiti was an exploitation colony until 1804, when it became a settlement colony.

Today, settler = peasant = habitant

At the end of the 19th century, haiti had had 35 years of peaceful rule.

The peasants in the countryside ruled during the first third of the 19th century These were the native army that fought the French under Toussaint. Up until the depression of that century, Haiti’s agricultural production was even higher than prior to 1804.

Rigaud in the south had to count on the Maroons to fight.

[During question time]

What Haiti lacked was a university which could capitalize on the indigenous development. There was no systematic capturing of knowledge. Haiti had no production of science. Haiti even only wanted to import French science.

Haiti also only relied on foreign boats for trade.

The tribal separation of the imported Africans made them “naked Africans” with no defense and no way to understand each other. [This, then, kept them from standing up to their masters.]

“God gave the land to them with the Indians on it” [Guatemalan quote]

Haiti was not a republic, and certainly not the first free black republic.

There has always been a layer of elite in Haiti that has understood that Haiti needs to work with the outside world. There were two hands – the internal efforts and the external efforts. Most Haitians – espeically in the 19th century were concerned with how to structure the personal life of its citizens.