The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Final Day

Notes from the final session and wrap-up.

h3. 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.

h3. 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.

[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.

The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Day Two

More barely-edited notes from Day Two

h3. Session V – Unfolding of the Slave Revolution: Part Two

*Chair – Robin Blackburn, Univ of Essex*

*Vertus Saint-Louis*
…read his paper “Law, Commerce and Revolution in Saint-Domingue (1789-1804), copies of which were distributed.

*Carolyn Fick*
Toussaint was responding to changing attitudes in the French Constituent.
In 1794, freedom was extended to colonies.
In Toussaint’s letter to the French Directory of November 5th, 1797, he took a stand of Republican values. This was perhaps the key turning point for Toussaint in defending Saint-Domingue’s liberty.
Toussaint was acting in accord with the promises of (one version of) the French government.
Toussaints’s stance put him directly in Napoleon’s path.
Toussaint struck a blow at the ontological foundations of white supremacy and at the foundations of the colonial order (by being a former slave who declared himself governor).
Fick notes the places where Toussaint sowed the seeds of his downfall – the weaknesses in his Leclerc-era strategy.
The war of emancipation became a war of independence.

*Laurent Dubois*
– has a new book, “Avengers of the New World”
Violence in Haitian Revolution
Jean Francois, Biassou and Toussaint realized that Jeannot represented a “PR problem” his violence would create problems in the inevitable negotiations with the white French.
The barbarism of 1791 later hurt the cause of the revolution.
Toussaint’s generosity cultivates white planters’ gratitude.
It is interesting that talking about violence is often avoided.
Toussaint argues that it is important to _produce_ in order to _preserve_ freedom.

Saint-Louis: Violence is a fact of the dominators, not of the oppressed. Violence is the origin of property… and the origin of the property of slaves (slaves as property). in a state, right is imposed by violence.
Dubois: Violence is as inherent in slavery as it is in the struggle for independence.
Fick: By 1800, Toussaint was spending 60% of his budget on defence. … Leclerc launches the war, not Toussaint.

Continue reading The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Day Two

The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Day One

Long day of very interesting discussion. I’ll post my notes here – very rough and barely edited.

h3. Session I

Saint-Domingue on the Eve of Revolution: Politics and Economics
Chair: Philip P. Boucher, Univ of Alabama in Huntsville
Jacques de Cauna, Bordeaux: “Apercus sur le systeme des habitations a SD a partir des vestiges subsistant en Haiti” (read by David Bell)
David Geggus, Univ of Florida: “The Colony of SD on the Eve of Revolution
Gene Ogle, John Cabot Univ (Rome): “Colonial Absolutism: Politics in Principle and Practice in Old Regime SD”
Commentator: David A Bell, Johns Hopkins Univ

*David Bell*
Read the presentation of Jacques de Cauna, who could not be here in person. The paper, accompanied by slides, described the plantations of Saint Domingue. To all appearances, the plantation was like a small town, with numerous workshops and workers with many specialized skills.
Next to the main house, a belfry was built; the bell called the slaves to work. A dungeon existed for recalcitrant workers.
Sugar can was boiled, the raw sugar separated and dried in stacked casks for two weeks before being shipped off for sale. The scum was drained off and fermented to make rum.
Slave huts were set off from the big house [with a savanna between?].

*David Geggus*
Haiti’s revolution was important because of where it took place & because of the colony’s wealth & importance to France.
Slaveowners “walked on barrels of gunpowder” – there was some awareness that the slaves would rise up. (Rare prognostications)
Slaveownsers were also seen as a threat to break from France.
Still, the revolution was unexpected.
Saint Domingue did not see very many insurrections between 1700 & 1791. Partly because many could escape to the mountains or to spanish side. When it became harder to become a maroon in 1780, the stage was set for revolution.
Few who took up arms in 1791 had been marrons, and only one general had been – Jean Francois.
Demography of the slave trade offers compelling pointers to the insurrection, yet the surge of slaves went mostly to the coffee plantations inthe mountains, and these areas were drawn most slowly into the war.
Number of police did not increase commensurate with slave growth – remaining at about 200.
Possibility for manumission declined dramatically.
Fertility rates in the North were drastically low prior to the revolution. (few years before); could be related to overwork and to food shortages.
It is extremely difficult to point to any particular pressure which spawned the revolution.

*Gene Ogle*
The French kings though of themselves as absolute rulers, and their absolute rule extended to the colonies. How was this possible?
The fleur de lis (the symbol of the French monarchy) was everywhere – even burned into the flesh of convicts. Ogle suggests that the slaves rose under the flag of the French king because (some) slaves were used to a similar absolutist rule, and the king’s symbol could stand for many different things.
Absolutism in Colonial rule… Bureaucrats fought over the symbols of power. There was a complex heirarchical structure
There was an imperial sphere and a colonial sphere, the former concerned with matters of state and the latter with theatre, culture, etc.

*David Bell*
Haiti is complex, as revolutions are complex. Warn against unwarranted simplification (volcano, etc). Resist Simplicity!
Some (many?) of the reasons for the French Revolution can be translated into the origins of the revolution in Saint Domingue.
Colonies can be laboratories, in effect, where the pure ideas of the policy makers can be given form without obstruction.
Continue reading The Haitian Revolution conference notes – Day One

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.

Haiti at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Haiti will be featured this year at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, running June 23-27 and June 30-July 4 in Washington DC. I’ll be attending the festival on the 23rd and 24th and will post reports as I’m able.

For more information, including a schedule and a map of the festival site, check out “”

The organizers have issued this press release about the festival:

h4. Smithsonian Folklife Festival Commemorates Bicentennial of Haitian Independence

bq. Visitors to the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will experience the arts, music, foods, storytelling and rich craft traditions of Haiti—the second nation in the Americas to win and maintain its freedom (the first was the United States). Haiti was established in 1804 by people of African descent who, in winning their independence from France, abolished slavery. The Festival will host more than 100 traditional Haitian artists and crafts persons, performers, cooks, writers, researchers and cultural experts in performances, demonstrations, workshops and concerts outdoors on the National Mall from June 23-27 and June 30-July 4. 

bq. The idea for the Festival program, “Haiti: Freedom and Creativity… From the Mountains to the Sea,” originated two years ago with members of the U.S. Haitian community. “Even in light of the current upheavals in Haiti, we cannot afford to lose site of the very rich, very powerful contributions that the Haitian people continue to make to the world,” says Diana N’Diaye, curator of the Haiti program.

bq. “The achievement of independence and the abolition of slavery by the Haitian people 200 years ago was a major world event,” says Richard Kurin, director of the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. “The Smithsonian Folklife Festival provides an excellent forum to honor that historical accomplishment by illustrating the continuing effort of the Haitian people to achieve and express their freedom through the creative use of their rich cultural heritage.”

bq. The Festival program will reflect the creative ways in which Haitianshave expressed their religious, economic and civil freedoms. Master stone carvers engaged in the restoration of the Citadel—a 19th-century mountaintop fortress built to defend Haiti’s independence—will demonstrate their artistry and skill as they preserve this symbol of freedom. Visitors will also learn about everyday cooking in the Haitian Kitchen, including how to prepare “soupe joumou” (pumpkin soup), a dish created and first shared on Jan. 1, 1804, in celebration of the Haitian declaration of independence. Visitors will also be able to purchase Haitian meals.

bq. Smithsonian Institution Participants will present a variety of celebratory events that throughHaiti’s history have represented rites of resistance. These include “Rara,” a processional tradition of village bands playing handmade instruments that takes place after Carnival. Participants will also present a number of religious-based traditions, such as mwason (a harvest festival), fanal (construction of paper lanterns at Christmas) and kite making (an Easter-time tradition). Visitors can see demonstrations of mask making, try on costumes and attend workshops on movement and music. Visitors will also learn about how vodou, an African-based religious system, once outlawed by colonial authorities, persists as a spiritual influence in Haitian life. Participants will make vèvès (sacred vodou drawings) in an Houmfò or vodou temple, demonstrate the dances of vodou in honor of specific lwas (deities), play musical instruments and take part in ritual processions.

bq. Farming is a way of life in Haiti and Festival visitors will be able towitness the process of growing, harvesting, sorting and roasting beans to make “Haitian Blue,” Haiti’s signature coffee. Craftspeople will demonstrate how they use parts of the banana plant that might otherwise be discarded to make mats and fiber for bags and paper. In the sugar cane tent, visitors will see a mill and get a whiff of severalflavorings for kleren, a traditional brew made from sugar cane syrup.

bq. Festival visitors will meet artisans from the mountain villages of Haiti who create furniture out of wood or bamboo. They will have the opportunity to work with clay and straw under the supervision of traditional potters, master basket makers and hat weavers. Haitian cutmetal specialists will demonstrate their amazing ingenuity as they turn metal oil drums into relief sculptures while visitors attempt to create similar pieces using cardboard. Such crafts will be available  for sale in a vibrant Haitian Market. 

bq. Tales of Haitian creative expression abound on the island. At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, urban street painters will work on a mural depicting their interpretations of Haiti. Visitors can also see a beautifully decorated “tap-tap,” a truck or bus that Haitians use to travel from the mountains to the sea. Storytellers at the Krik Krak stage will invite audiences to join in Haitian narratives by first shouting “Krik!” and waiting for the response, “Krak!” 

bq. Music performances will feature konpa, roots music, troubadou and Meringue. Haitian Americans, many who have sought freedom and opportunity in the United States, will participate in “reunion”  sessions at the Festival. 

bq. A broad coalition of Haitians, including the Haiti public administration, businesses, scholars, artists and other individuals, Haitian Americans, American friends of Haiti, U.S. government agencies, service organizations, international agencies such as UNESCO and the Inter-American Development Bank, and the governments of several other nations have joined together to make Haitian participation in the Festival possible, Festival organizers say. 

bq. The annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival, inaugurated in 1967, celebrates folk culture with people from across the United States and around the world. The Festival typically includes daily programs of music, song and dance, crafts and cooking demonstrations, storytelling, workshops and narrative sessions for discussing cultural issues. The Festival attracts about 1 million visitors a year. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with special events, concerts and other activities continuing until 9 p.m. The Festival is produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and is co-sponsored by the National Park Service.

Another Haiti mailing list

Courtesy of Bob Corbett’s “Haiti List”:, I’ve discovered another mailing list full of information – the “VTHaiti list at Yahoo!Groups”:

From their description at Yahoo!Groups:

bq. We are an informal group of Vermonters who have become interested in Haiti and are intent on becoming further involved in sympathetic and humane ways. We respect Haitian people and their culture.

bq. Our group exists to help us all to learn more about Haiti and to support one another in the development of economic, social, artistic and educational projects that will ultimately benefit both Haiti and Vermont.

The information is useful even to non-Vermonters, I’m pleased to say. You do need to be a member of Yahoo!Groups to join the list. It’s a free registration, though you’ll have to put up with web and email ads. You can also choose on any of your Yahoo!Groups to receive a daily digest, individual emails only, or to receive no emails and view the messages online.

Haiti 1804 at the Carrie Art Collection

Via the VT Haiti mail list, we find that the Carrie Art Collection in Petionville, Haiti, has “posted a gallery of revolution-themed Haitian Art”: From their email:

bq. The Carrie Art Collection is pleased to present the virtual exhibit of Haitian Art entitled “Haiti1804”:

bq. In 1804 the slaves of Saint-Domingue overthrew their French colonial masters in what was to be one of the most earthshaking and traumatic uprisings of the 19th century.

bq. Haiti and the Haitian People were born of this struggle, both unique in the modern world. And then came Haitian Art.

bq. If art speaks of what is most precious to people, then the focus Haitian art has on Haitian history speaks of the Haitian people’s pride in their exceptional heritage.

bq. The Carrie Art Collection has selected from among Haiti’s finest artists, to present “Haiti1804”. Visit now and discover the magic of Haitian history and Haitian art.

bq. The Carrie Art Collection
121 Juvenat, # 5
Petionville, Haiti
Telephone: (509) 401-0145

They have a nice collection of images posted, and each image is accompanied by a bit of history in both English and French. The prices are a bit steep for me, but at least the viewing is free.