Here is some recent information which was abstracted from the Rivet Papers at the New Orleans Historic Collection.
Lecture at the Eleventh Annual Williams Research Center Symposium, New Orleans, La., February 4, 2006
ST. DOMINGUE ÉMIGRÉS IN NEW ORLEANS, 1800-18301
Department of History
University of Ottawa
The topic which I have been asked to address is the cultural imprint of Saint-Domingue emigrés on Louisiana. Let me begin by the basic facts concerning three waves of emigrés or refugees (I will use the terms interchangeably in this talk, although they have somewhat different connotations and we may want to talk in the discussion at the end of the symposium about ways in which each is appropriate in some ways and inappropriate in others). From the very beginning of the Haitian Revolution, individuals and families displaced by it sought refuge in Louisiana. In the last decade of Spanish rule, several hundred made their way to New Orleans from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other Atlantic seaports. Nearly a thousand arrived from Jamaica at the time of the Louisiana Purchase. Then, in 1809, the expulsion from Cuba of French colonials who had first sought asylum there generated the last and largest wave of refugees to reach New Orleans – over 10,000 in all.2 That may not seem like such a large number compared to the size of 20th-century refugee movements; but we should remember that the world was much less populated two centuries ago. Estimates of the population of New Orleans prior to the influx of refugees in 1809 range from 8,000 to 12,000. In the space of several months, they roughly doubled the size of the city.3 By comparison, Cubans who fled Castro's revolution from January 1961 to the Cuban missle crisis of October 1962 numbered around 150,000, less than a fifth of the size of Miami in 1960, just under a million persons.4
The chronology of the migration raises a number of questions that one would normally try to answer, having heard the discussions by John Garrigus and Laurent Dubois of the colony of St. Domingue before and during the revolution. Why did the revolution lead to the departure of so many colonists, whites, free persons of color, and slaves? Why in particular did almost all whites who remained throughout the revolution, or who had returned at the invitation of Toussaint Louveture, and many free persons of color, flee in 1803? Why did so few refugees come to Louisiana before 1809? Many more first sought refuge in port cities on the east coast of the United States, in Jamaica, and in Cuba. Why were the refugees expelled from Cuba in 1809? Why did Louisiana become the most important asylum at that time, and as it turned out a permanent refuge for so many of the emigrés? I have tried to answer these questions in studies that I have published5, and I will be happy to share with you my conclusions later in the discussion; but in this talk I must ask you to put aside for the moment questions about the itinerary of the refugees and turn your attention to their influence on Louisiana history.
As George Washington Cable remarked in a history of New Orleans he wrote for the 1880 census:
The readiness with which the three different classes of this immigration [whites, free persons of color, and slaves] dissolved into corresponding parts of the New Orleans community, is indicated in the fact that they never appeared again in the city's history in anything like a separate capacity. And yet it might be much easier to underestimate than to exaggerate the silent results of an event that gave the French-speaking classes twice the numerical power with which they had begun to wage their long battle against American absorption.6
What were these “silent results”? One could compile a catalogue of the kinds of influence attributed to the refugees that would give the impression that they made an imprint on almost every aspect of Louisiana culture: sugar production,7 red kidney beans,8 okra,9 theatre,10 opera,11 Marie Laveau and voodoo,12 music and dance,13 the creole language,14 an Epicurean “City that Care Forgot” life-style,15 Sazerac cocktails,16 and the list could be much extended.17 Perhaps because it was part of my training to be skeptical about claims such as these, many notions about the imprint or influence of refugees seem to me to be facile. At the same time, there is at least a grain of truth in most claims, and much more than a grain of truth in some generalizations about the cultural imprint of Saint-Domingue refugees, like the literary achievements of free persons of color (as we will learn from Dana Kress and AP Tureaud) and on Louisiana architecture (from Patrick Delatour and Jay Edwards).
Nevertheless, a few general caveats. First, the development of French colonial Louisiana was so intertwined with that of Saint-Domingue from the beginning of the 18th century that the influence on one of the other often antedates the arrival of refugees. Secondly, phenomena such as the dances in Congo Square in the early nineteenth century owe more to slaves recently imported from Africa than to those accompanying the refugees, and evidence of other phenomena such as use of charms called gris-gris and use of a Creole language are found already in the period of French colonial domination in the first half of the 18th century. In fact, the roots of Creole as spoken in both Saint-Domingue and Louisiana can be traced back to French colonies in West Africa. Thirdly, as a rule, even when it is valid to speak of influence, it is necessary to answer a more fundamental question – what factors made the influence possible?
That is the approach I propose to adopt. My premise is that Haitian refugees influenced Creoles and other groups in Louisiana, not to mention their own children born after arrival, in a direct, personal way, by the way they represented the events that led to their departure first from the colony of Saint-Domingue and six years later from Cuba. The best way we have to determine how they represented events is through accounts and documents where they articulated their memories, and sources in which their children and grandchildren talked about what parents, relatives, and sometimes slaves told them about the events which they had experienced.18 One example is the famous Creole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk, born in 1829 in New Orleans. His father was a Jewish attorney from London. His mother was 17-year-old Marie Françoise Aimée Bruslée, half the age of her husband at the time of their wedding 2 years earlier.. She was born in New Orleans in 1812, one of eight children of Theodat-Camille Bruslé and Marie-Alixe-Josephine Deynault, Saint-Domingue refugees born in Cap Français. It was especially through his grandmother that Gottschalk learned as a child about the Haitian Revolution
In June, 1857, at the age of 28, on a voyage from Havana to the Virgin Islands, he recorded in his travel journal his thoughts and emotions as his ship passed within sight of the coast of Haiti. His account reads like a passage from Marcel Proust. I will quote from the translation from French to English published under the title Notes of a Pianist, changing only the translation of “Saint-Domingue” as “Santo-Domingo” back to “Saint-Domingue.” Needless to say, something is lost in translation, but it remains an extraordinary document.
The night began to fall. All the passengers went below. I remained alone. Leaning against the rigging, I contemplated the desolate country that opened out before me: high mountains whose angular peaks seemed as if they wished to pierce the clouds; solitary palm trees hanging sadly over the desert shore; a horizon whose lines were lost on a stormy sky. Everything, and more especially the name of [St Domingue], seemed to speak to my imagination by recalling to me the bloody episodes of the insurrection, so closely associated with my childhood memories. When very young, I never tired of hearing my grandmother relate the terrible strife that our family, like the rest of the colonists, had to sustain at this epoch; ... My recollections ... rose one by one in a striking and lucid manner from the long-forgotten past. I again found myself before the large fireplace of our dwelling on the Rue des Remparts ..., where, squatting on the matting in the evening, the Negroes, myself, and the children of the house formed a circle around my grandmother.19
It was not only through his grandmother that he remembered the Haitian Revolution, but through a slave who had accompanied her in flight from Saint-Domingue.
We would listen, by the trembling fire on the hearth, under the coals of which Sally, the old Negress, baked her sweet potatoes, to the recital of this terrible Negro insurrection. She was the same old Sally who, while listening all the time, spoke in a low voice to a portait of Napoleon hung above the fireplace, which she obstinately believed was bewitched because it seemed to look at her in every corner of the room, wherever she might be.20
It’s possible Napoleon may have haunted the Saint-Domingue slave for reasons other than simple superstition.
Another vivid example of how refugees remembered the revolution concerns a slave from Saint-Domingue whose odyssey ended in France by way of Baltimore, not New Orleans, yet we can nevertheless infer that it was a story that reached New Orleans from my discovery of it in a used bookstore on one of my research trips here, in a small book entitled L’enseignement du coeur, ou le malheur les unit [Education of the heart, or misfortune unites them], published in Paris in 1837 It is a collection of edifying examples of lower-class morality written for rich Parisian children, and it includes the speech of the Director of the Académie française on the occasion of the award of its prize for virtue in 1832 to Eustache dit Belin, born a slave in Saint-Domingue in 1773 and freed in 1796, two years (incidentally) after France abolished slavery. According to the speech, Eustache, as a child, spurned the company of other slave children to learn the principles of morality by overhearing the conversation of whites. When the revolution began, rebellious slaves attempted to enlist him in their conspiracy to slaughter all whites; but he sided instead with the intended victims.
Placed between his companions, demanding their bloody emancipation by fire and dagger, and his masters ready to perish murdered under the cenders of their torched homes, he did not hesitate. Neither the animosity of the blacks towards whites, nor community of interests, nor ties of affection held him back. He went where his sublime instinct pointed. He went not where he saw vengeance to be taken, but duties to perform, not where there were victors to follow, but unfortunate victims to save.21
He repaid twenty years of protection by his master, Belin de Villeneuve, by revealing to him a slave plot and helping him and other colonists escape on an American ship.
Eustache's labor enabled the destitute refugees to survive in Baltimore. When order appeared to be restored in Saint-Domingue, he returned with his owner, only for the latter to barely escape the massacre of 500 colonists at Fort-Dauphin. Tricking the wife of Jean François, the commander of the black rebels, Eustache managed to recover trunks with the remains of Belin de Villeneuve's fortune and return them to him in Môle Saint-Nicolas, where he had fled. Rewarded by emancipation and 12,000 francs when his master died, he quickly spent the bequest to help the poor and the unfortunate. At the moment Eustache received the prix de vertu, he continued to support the family of his former owner from money earned as a cook in Paris.
Eustache's biographer recalled the Haitian Revolution in a way that avoided recognition of any responsibility of slaveholders for what happened. They were the innocent victims of enraged blacks who burned and pillaged white property and committed horrible massacres. Whites who escaped owed their lives to the exceptional slaves who remained loyal. In Chapter 10 of New Orleans, The Place and Time, published in 1926, Grace King remarked that such stories were still being told:
What tales of their escapes the St. Domingo ladies had to tell, and how entrancingly they told and acted them, hovering always so exquisitely over the vanishing point between romance and reality as to confound the two inseparably for generations of auditors. Always, as point de départ, the wondrous marble-terraced plantation home, with its palm-groves overlooking the sea. Then the alarm, the flight, the cries of the blood-infuriated blacks in pursuit, the deathly still hiding-place in the jungle; and always, in every tale, the white sails of an English vessel out in the Gulf, watching for signals for rescue, the approaching relief boat, the rush to embark, the discovery, the volley of musketry, and a grandmother spattering with her brains the child in her arms, — or a child shot away from a mother's breast, or a faithful slave expiring with her arms clasped about her mistress's knees, or — every combination of heart-breaking horrors. There were always in each family, God be thanked, faithful slaves. And then, the adventures on the crowded schooner, beating, through gale and calm, across the Gulf, famishing for water, decimated by fevers, pursued by pirates! It was something of an education in itself to hear all that over and over again in one's youth, . . . to know the narrator, to play with the blood-sprinkled babes, to be petted and scolded by the faithful Dédé, Sophie, or Féliciane.22
The same memory is found in poems, speeches, memoirs, and novels by Saint-Domingue refugees and their descendants in Louisiana. Since it appears in more than one source, it can be considered an example of collective memory; but whether it was shared by all refugees, or by only an element of the refugee population, requires further analysis. After examining several more texts in which refugees and their descendants articulated memories of the Haitian revolution, I will evaluate how representative these memories were by comparing them to references to Saint-Domingue in wills (testaments) of emigrés who died in New Orleans.
One of the refugees in the first wave to reach New Orleans was Berquin-Duvallon, best known for a book entitled View of the Spanish Colony of Mississippi, or the Provinces of Louisiana and Western Florida, published in 1802, in which he complained about the inhospitable reception he received from Creole inhabitants. Less known is his ode to "Le colon voyageur" (the travelling colonist), composed in Louisiana in 1801, in which he described his journey from Baltimore to New Orleans by way of the interior. As his boat passed through the plantation district above New Orleans, the sight of teams of slaves happily at work reminded him of the opulence of Saint-Domingue that an "infernal rage" had squandered.23 "The Disaster of St.-Domingue," a poem composed just before he left the colony in 1797, depicted black revolutionaries as the barbaric destroyers of a colonial paradise:
Released from slavery,
The Deranged Negro,
Has defiled with his fury
Your ill-fated soil.
As his craving dictated,
This furious monster,
Has spread fire
and murder everywhere.24.
Although many colonists like Berquin Duvallon fled during the 1790s, a considerable number of whites remained in Saint-Domingue. Others returned when Toussaint-Louverture guaranteed their safety. The brutal tactics of pacification of the Leclerc expedition, however, eliminated any possibility of whites and blacks continuing to live together in the colony. When the French army evacuated the island in 1803, so did almost all white colonists and many anciens libres, the term for blacks already free when the revolution began. Most of the 30,000 emigrés, including slaves, who fled to Cuba in 1803 stayed there until expelled in 1809.25
Shortly after his arrival in Cuba, Germain Daubert penned a 27-page memoir on the Leclerc expedition and the French evacuation of Saint-Domingue.26 Like Berquin Duvallon, he portrayed the black insurgents as driven by a blind rage: "The enemy, by a terrible surprise, found everywhere fuel to feed his rage, everywhere horrible scenes signalled his fury, and a gloomy mourning crepe enveloped the whole stunned island."27 He, too, insisted on their destructive violence: "Blacks impelled by the electric impetus of their leader, repudiated the benefits that had been offered to them and, deploying the blood-stained flag of revolt, transformed this country into a dreadful theater of devastation."28 In characterizing Dessalines as "the great executioner of massacres in which he had always taken hideous delight, on whom the color white had the same effect as water on a person mad with rabies."29 Daubert pictured the revolution as a race war in which whites were victims of the indiscriminate vengeance of their former slaves.
Daubert's hyperbole suggests the type of vivid memory associated with a traumatic event. So does the behavior of an emigré lawyer in a trial in New Orleans in 1809. In defending Jean Arbeau, a French privateer accused of attacking an American ship, the great uncle and namesake of Louis-Moreau Gottschalk, Louis-Moreau Lislet, compiler of the 1808 Digest of Civil Laws Now In Force in Louisiana, observed that the notorious commerce of several American captains with insurgents had contributed to "misfortune and massacres of St. Domingue.” “Who is the pirate?, he asked, “he who buys at a cheap price from the slave still stained with the blood of his masters the income of their property, or he who invests his capital in fitting out ships intended to make the rights of his nation respected." At that point, according to the newspaper, it became impossible to follow him: "He appeared very agitated and there reigned in his mind a kind of disorder very understandable in light of the memory he then had of all these horrors."30
For two decades France refused to recognize Haitian independence. The treaty of 1814 ending the Napoleonic wars contained a special clause leaving open the possibility of another military expedition to Haiti. Only in 1825 did the French government sign a treaty formally recognizing the sovereignty of Haiti, and it did so conditionally on payment of an indemnity of 150 million francs for property confiscated during the revolution.31 A delay in the compensation of refugees prompted a complaint in the form of a poem published in New Orleans in 1829: "Epistle to his majesty the king of France on the non-payment of the stingy indemnity promised to former colonists of Saint-Domingue"32 It shows how M. Piton du Spiral, "Ancien Artiste et Planteur de cette colonie" (former artist and planter of this colony), remembered the revolution a quarter-century after the final evacuation of Saint Domingue.
The poem criticized Charles X's recognition of Haiti in the following terms:
Elevating our destroyers
to the greatest heights,
Lavishing upon them our riches
as bait for false promises,
was to cement your profits
With the blood of 100,000 Frenchmen.33
These verses refer to population and government of Haiti as “our destroyers.” Elsewhere Piton du Spiral alluded to "the slave let loose from his chains,” spoke of "the soil he fertilises with the debris of our bones,” and evoked the stereotype of African cannibalism: "Will he go live in his country from human flesh and corn?" The memories remain ones of horror, but tinged with bitterness at the French government's betrayal of the refugees.34
Several documents reveal how memories of the Haitian Revolution were passed on to descendants of Saint-Domingue refugees born in New Orleans. One example is the 1857 diary of Louis Moreau Gottschalk cited above. It continues: “When very young, I never tired of hearing my grandmother[‘s stories about] the massacre at the cape, and the combat fought in the mornes by my great-grandfather against the Negroes of Gonaïves.”35 Mention of episodes when ancestors fought against insurgent slaves is unusual. Refugees tended to recall instead moments when they were the objects of violence, like the wives and daughters of Gottschalk's great-uncles who were put to death by their former slaves "after having been subjected to the most horrible outrages." Although not personally experienced, he claimed that images of the revolution remained vivid. They were primarily ones of violence and lost property, but included the story of how his grandfather escaped a massacre by hiding "under the skirts of an old mulatto witch, his wet-nurse”36
In an autobiography published several decades later, Hélne Allain recalled similar stories about the Haitian revolution she had heard in her youth:
My cradle was rocked by accounts of the stirring dramas of Haiti. I recall my trembling, my fears, when I heard about the Negro Vincent who had sworn a pact with the devil, he said, and whose spells my great-grandmother, Mme des Mortiers, braved, pistol in hand. She put him in convulsion by sprinkling him with holy water, she defied him with a courage that few men would have had.37
The diabolical Vincent is but one variation of a common theme.38 Like Gottschalk, though, Allain mixed stories of blacks who massacred, pillaged and burned with descriptions of "devoted servants and "faithful Negroes who had warned their masters at the last minutes, and at the risk of their own lives, at the approach of murderers.”39 One was Dédé Sophie, born the same day as Hélène Allain’s grandmother and, as was the custom, presented to her as a birthday present. After helping her mistress, then a child, and other women to escape, the slave remained alone on the shore:
... She calls to her little mistress, she wants to follow her, she begs that she be taken, too. “pour piti mam'zelle blanc là... mo oulé couri, avé li... li mo piti maîtresse!...”40
Hearing the ferocious cries of the blacks who had just burned the plantation, she jumped into the sea and swam towards the refugee boat which took her on board. She followed her mistress to New Orleans where she died in 1855.
Marie Augustin's novel, Le Macandal: épisode de l'insurrection des Noirs à St. Domingue, 1793 [sic], was published in New Orleans in 1892.41 It should be dated 1791, but otherwise the novel is quite remarkable for the knowledge it displays of the names of white and black actors in the Haitian and French revolutions. Although fictional, it incorporated memories passed from generation to generation in the Augustin family. "Macandal" is the name of a slave said to have plotted to poison all whites in Saint-Domingue. He was captured and burned at the stake in 1758; but he remained the focus of fears of slave revolt in French colonies. The novel is set on the eve of the 1791 slave uprising and contains a version of the Bois-Caïman ceremony, an important symbolic if not real event (as Laurent Dubois argues in Avengers of the New World).42 Marie Augustin created two characters through whom Macandal lives on: Wamba, his wife, and Dominique, his son. In the novel, after Macandal’s execution, Wamba and Dominique are sold by the widow of the planter he poisoned to her son-in-law, M. de Lorris, an enlightened planter who recognizes the talents of Dominique and makes him the body servant (the author uses the term “Mentor”) of his son Paul. Dominique accompanies Paul on his trip to England in 1783 to finish his studies and on a visit to Paris in 1791, where he hears the speeches of Mirabeau and Marat. Then he returns to the Lorris plantation in Saint-Domingue, becomes the driver of its slaves, and enjoys the complete confidence of his master's family.
Dominique incarnates an explosive racial mixture:
I am a composite of the Arab and the African. From the children of the desert, I have inherited regular traits, straight hair, calm, cold blood. From the African a Herculean force, ferocity, cruel and sanguinary appetites; all that, it is true, tempered by education and direct contact with a civilization at its height.43
Beneath the veneer of French culture, the spirit of revolt burns as intensely in his heart as in his father's. Marie Augustin describes a ceremony in the forest led by his mother Wamba, the Voodoo queen, at which leaders of the slave revolt decide on the day of the general uprising. First she harangues the assembled blacks:
They have whipped you – you will whip them; they have burned you, you will burn; they have made your blood flow, it’s your turn now, oh my children! Macandal promised it to you, you will drink the blood of your torturers.44
Then Dominique speaks:
Men of Africa! I, Macandal your king, proclaim you free as the eagle of your mountains, as the tiger of your faraway forests. Everything in nature is free – the flash that splits the air, the lightning that strikes at will, the wind that howls in the storm; birds, reptiles, beast, everything in nature lays claim to the right to be free – so, why, Africans, why should you be enslaved! Chiefs of powerful tribes, Mayaca, Maouna, Biassou, by my voice your fetish orders you to come take the oath of blood. I await you, come!45
Various characters in the Lorris family are the intended personal victims of the son of Macandal, especially the sixteen-year-old daughter Blanche de Lorris. After faithful slaves save her from the massacre of other members of the family on their plantation, Philippe, the white hero, comes to her rescue in Cap Français and escapes with her and other survivors to Louisiana.46
At first sight, the novel Macandal is but another example of the Manichean allegory commonly found in many colonial texts, "the idealized faithful slave and her inverted mirror, the cannibal insurgent bondsman."47 But there is more to it, I think. Marie Augustin enters the minds of the black protagonists who revolted, as Madison Smart Bell does in our own time through the character of Riau in All Souls Rising. She imagines what the revolution, and liberty, meant to the rebel slaves. Her memory strangely echoes Louis Sebastien Mercier’s premonition of an “avenger of the new world” in 1771, which Laurent Dubois chose as the title of his history of the Haitian Revolution.48
In quite a different way, reflecting on his childhood memories, Louis Moreau Gottschalk transcends them:
Can anyone be astonished that the mere name of Saint-Domingue, [he wrote], awakens somber memories in me, or that I could not help feeling an indescribable sentiment of melancholy while for the first time beholding this fatal land, with which so many grevious recollections are associated? Our dwellings burned, our properties devastated, our fortunes annihilated – such were the first effects of that war between two races who had in common only that implacable hatred which each nourished for the other.
Can anyone, however, be astonished at the retaliation exercised by the Negroes on their old masters? What cause, moreover, more legitimate than that of this people, rising in their agony in one grand effort to reconquer their unacknowledged rights and their rank in humanity? In contemplating the events of that memorable epoch, at the distance of time that today separates us from them, we see the work of regeneration purged from the stains imprinted on it by human passions. It disengages itself from the shadows that obscured it; the blood has disappeared; the stains are wiped out; and, from the bosom of this world which crumbles away, rises, somber and imposing, the grand form of Toussaint l’Ouverture, the enthusiastic liberator of a race that nineteen centuries of Christianity had not yet been able to free from the yoke of its miseries.49
Gottschalk’s reflections are exceptional. In general, refugee memories of whites massacred by savage blacks echo the way the international press reported the Haitian Revolution. Winthrop Jordan has called attention to the role of the slave revolt in Saint-Domingue in dampening whatever sympathy for abolition of slavery had developed during the American Revolution.50 A similar reaction in France made it impossible to propose immediate abolition until emancipation in the British colonies showed that it did not necessarily lead to race war.51 For the remainder of the antebellum period, if not longer, Saint-Domingue refugees, arriving with "vivid memories of their horrifying experiences," made a deep imprint on the attitudes of slaveholders not only in Louisiana, but also throughout the American South.52
If the significance of refugee memories like those I have cited lies in their confirmation and reinforcement of fears of slave insurrection and race war, this congruence also indicates a potential problem in using them as evidence of collective memory, that is, in inferring that all refugees remembered the revolution in this way. The impression of chaos and violence already conveyed by newspaper reports, and the function of depiction of refugees as victims in eliciting a sympathetic response in societies where they sought asylum, could have suppressed other memories of the revolution.53 For this reason, it is instructive to look at a more representative source than those that have just been examined: wills written by Saint-Domingue refugees who died in New Orleans. Among 1,683 wills from selected years in the antebellum period in a sample I made of wills in Orleans parish,54 at least 164 were for Saint-Domingue refugees. Free persons of color account for 44 or just over a quarter of the refugee wills, less than their proportion in the 1809 migration, but an improvement on poems and memoirs, all of which were written by white refugees.55
While one can easily imagine some white refugees picturing black insurgents as savage brutes, it would be surprising if free persons of color shared the Negrophobia in this racial image. Unlike whites, they had the option of staying in Haiti after the defeat of the Leclerc expedition, especially in the South where under Pétion mulattoes formed the politically dominant class. Those who left, I assume, either could not adjust to a society without slavery, were unwilling to forsake French citizenship, depended on the pay they received as soldiers in the French army, or had close ties to whites fleeing the revolution. Undoubtedly, many saw former slaves as their enemies, but as class enemies or as dangerous to white members of their families, not as a savage race.
Recent research on free persons of color in antebellum New Orleans has brought to light the ways in which Saint-Domingue emigrés of that description and their descendants contested the tripartite caste system, even as they continued to own slaves. Rebecca Scott will be publishing soon an account of two long generations of the Tinchant family who span the century from the Haitian Revolution to the Cuban independence struggle at the end of the 19th century, with a role in the Radical Reconstruction in Louisiana along the way, dramatically illustrating “a thread of an evolving Atlantic and Caribbean anti-racism.”56 Emily Clark and Virginia Gould, in their study of the feminine face of Afro-Catholicism, describe how a free woman of color from Saint-Domingue, Juliette Gaudin, collaborated with a fourth-generation Louisiana Creole free woman of color, Henriette Delille, in founding the Sisters of the Holy Family, an activist order that rejected plaçage and ministered to free and enslaved persons of color.57 Caryn Cossé Bell, at a website that you will find by Googling with the key words “Inmotion” and “Schomberg center,” ties it all together in an essay entitled “Haitian Immigration: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” with a wonderful selection of images to accompany the essay.58 You will hear part of this story in the lecture on Les Cenelles this afternoon.
Not only is it unlikely that free persons of color pictured blacks in terms of the Manichean allegory, whites with close ties to free persons of color were a second element of the refugee population who probably remembered the revolution very differently. Even when slaves are not taken into account, a substantial fraction of white refugees lived in mixed racial families – at least a sixth, and possibly as many as a third, of them.59
In one striking will, Jean Desbordes acknowledged the debt he owed to two natural children, both mulattoes:
Considering that, since the time my plantation was burned these same children have never abandonned me and have constantly shared by troubles, that I have been wandering homeless for 12 years, that I have survived for the last six years only by their labor, that I have been fed and clothed by them especially in the last three years since leaving Cuba, my age and the different diseases I have suffered no longer allowing me to work, that I have escaped with my life only through their care and constant attendance, that they have even refused the little favors proposed to them not to abandon me, I have a duty to be just with regard to them; ....60
The specific allusion to experience during the revolution is rare in wills61; but it seems unlikely that white refugees in mixed racial families perceived their partner or their children in terms of the racial stereotypes in the Manichean allegory. It is more likely they saw their children as a mixture of the traits of both parents.
An indication of the attitude of white refugee testators towards non-white family members is that, among the 39 who may have been in this situation, 30 made their natural children or common-law partner the principal heir and 7 made special bequests in their behalf.62 When an individual had never married and had no living descendants or ascendants, the Civil Code entitled his natural children to at least three-fourths of his estate. When he also had legitimate heirs, like surviving parents or siblings, these took precedence over his natural family; but he could resort to a variety of stratagems to circumvent the law.
One way to assure that natural children or a common-law spouse received an inheritance was to bequeath all goods in Louisiana to them, and property outside Louisiana to legitimate heirs. For example, Jean Lacombe named his sister living in France as his universal heir, but made a particular legacy of all his property in New Orleans, bed, trunks and their contents, and all his furniture, to his natural daughter Adèle.63 Another ploy was to declare that property in the household belonged in fact to the common-law partner, not to the testator. Honoré Chais stated that, except for his body linen and objects for use of a bachelor, all the furniture and utensils in his house had been purchased by the labor of Adelaide de Morel, femme de couleur libre, who also happened to be the mother of his natural child born in Léogane.64 The legal priority of legitimate heirs could also be nullified by acknowledging a debt to be paid before disposition of the estate. In a will written in March, 1805, Thomas Paigne acknowledged that he owed 146 piastres and a salary of 10 piastres a month since December, 1802, to the free Negress Françoise Boisdoré.65
In general, wills of white testators with non-white heirs reveal the pragmatic behavior of members of a marginal group forced to deal as best they could with Louisiana's discriminatory succession law. By contrast, the Convention had extended in 1794 the rights of French citizenship to all men in Saint-Domingue and in all other French colonies, “sans distinction de couleur [regardless of color].”66 In a will written during the revolution and executed later in New Orleans, a refugee living in a consensual union referred to his partner simply as citoyenne.67 For him and other refugees like him, the tragedy of the Leclerc expedition may have been to transform the revolution into a race war rendering impossible a society in which families composed of both whites and blacks were recognized and treated the same as any other family.68
Together, the 44 free persons of color and 39 whites who possibly lived in mixed racial families represent 51 percent of the refugee testators. It was among the remaining half, whites living alone or in white families, that I expected to find individuals whose memory of the Haitian revolution took the form of the Manichean allegory. I did not expect memories in wills to be described in the same detail as in the published sources cited in the first part of the paper; but I anticipated finding allusions like the following, taken from a manumission petition:
That at the time your supplicant was a plantation-owner of the island of Saint-Domingue, and that in this same period, when so many horrors and cruelty were committed against the whites of the above-mentioned island by Negroes and persons of color, then in revolt, ... his slave Marie ... contributed to her safety, security, and even the saving of her life.69
However, out of 45 applications for permission to free slaves born in Saint-Domingue located in records of the police jury of Orleans parish, this petition is the only one that referred directly to horrors and cruel treatment of whites by black insurgents during the Haitian revolution.
The image of savage blacks is also conspicuously absent from the wills of Saint-Domingue refugees. At most, they made muted, indirect reference to the racial violence of the revolution. None used terms like "Noirs féroces" or "horreurs" or "massacres." Julie Robert mentioned in her will a plantation in Saint-Domingue and slaves "led astray by the revolution," a choice of words suggesting sheep straying from the flock, not wolves.70 The closest any wills came to expressing memories of violence were six allusions to "losses" suffered as a result of the revolution, one to the "disaster of the colony of Saint-Domingue,” another to the "sacking of Saint-Domingue,” and six references to property or titles to property destroyed or lost during the revolution.71
Although only white refugees spoke of "malheurs" or losses, a similar proportion from white and mixed racial families did so.72 Moreover, two testators suggested black insurgents were not solely responsible for their misfortune. Jean-Baptiste Piau reported that he lost his title to a slave when he was "pillé et poursuivi" in Cuba73; and Jean-Baptiste Camfranq gave precise instructions to protect his estate from the greed of priests and lawyers, describing it as "une malheureuse succession déjà assez pillée de mon vivant et assez dévastée par les Brigands de toutes couleurs de Saint-Domingue."74
As for the other side of the Manichean allegory, two white refugees did explicitly acknowledge that they owed their lives to a slave. René Dunoyer freed a Negro slave named Angélique, "to whom I owe my life, who saved me from the sacking of Saint-Domingue, and whom I have freed by private understanding."75 Madame Labadie directed her executor to free Camille once he had earned 150 piastres to help cover her debts, "in compensation for having always been a good Negro and because his father named LaFleur, driver on my plantation on the Ile de la Tortue, saved my life during a Negro revolt."76 These two cases are at least consistent with the image of the faithful slave, as are the slaves whom Nicolas Lonchamp freed and rewarded with a bequest for “the good and loyal service they have rendered to me at all times, especially during the revolution, and that they have not ceased to render me in this city.”77
Ten other refugees manumitted slaves as a reward for fidelity or personal attachment to their master. As if the revolution had never occurred, Marie Claire Armat freed two slaves left behind in Saint-Domingue, "and this in recognition of their attachment to me and the service that I have received from them."78 Anne Marie Brato manumitted Henriette, a 56-year-old African slave, "in compensation for all the proofs of fidelity and attachment that she has never ceased to give me,” along with her 34-year-old daughter, and all the grandchildren who might exist at the moment the will was executed.79 Such references may or may not involve memories of the Haitian revolution. Among eleven "faithful" slaves whose age is given in the wills, six were between 11 and 20 years old when the revolution ended in 1803. The attachment perceived by their masters could have been shown after the evacuation of Saint-Domingue rather than during the revolution itself. Besides, "fidélité" and "attachement" were like "bons soins," "bonne conduite" and "bons services" stock phrases in clauses of manumission.
Although only about one in ten testators recalled the revolution in some way, the wills do reveal that a high proportion of Saint-Domingue refugees continued to own slaves in New Orleans. Three out of five testators who wrote their wills after arrival in the city referred to slaves presently in their possession. Yet almost three out of five of the refugee wills mentioning slaves contained provisions for manumission.80 When refugees in the 1809 migration first arrived in New Orleans, one of the arguments used to pressure the governor to allow their slaves to land were "ties that can be called familial."81 The frequency of manumission of slaves in their wills is evidence that ties with at least some of their slaves were indeed "familial." In short, refugee families included both free and unfree members.
If that were also the case in Saint-Domingue, then there must have been situations during the revolution when a slave had to choose between loyalty to his primary group and siding with the insurgents against his own family. A revolt against slavery differs from other types of revolution in that persons on the opposing sides lived within the same household. It is impossible to know how many domestic slaves chose to fight with their fellow slaves and how many chose instead to remain with their family; but one would expect the latter to have been over-represented among the slaves who accompanied their masters in flight from Saint-Domingue. This is the element of reality, however caricatured, in the story of Eustache.
Thus wills suggest certain limitations to using the memories of the Haitian revolution in the documents examined in the first part of this paper as evidence of the collective memory of Saint-Domingue refugees. First, they reveal elements of the refugee population, free persons of color and whites living in interracial unions, who were unlikely to have stereotyped the black insurgents as savage brutes. Secondly, even those refugees who pictured themselves on other occasions as the victims of savage blacks either did not do so in their wills or referred to the violence of the revolution in muted fashion. The explanation probably lies in the purpose wills served. Whereas a petition, a poem, or even a memoir was addressed to the general public, and attempted to manipulate a public image of the revolution, a will was a private document meant only for the testator's family, kin, and personal acquaintances. Refugees born in Saint-Domingue often mentioned their birthplace in identifying themselves. They also described property left behind in Saint-Domingue as long as they hoped either to return or to be compensated for their losses. Otherwise, only a small fraction of the refugee testators referred to the past.
Wills reveal the mentality of Saint-Domingue refugees at a moment when they were anticipating the future, that is, the disposal of their wealth after their death. That is an important point to remember in making collective memory the object of historical inquiry. How it affects behavior depends on the situation in which the past is recalled; and in some, perhaps most, situations, the past is ignored. The wills of the refugees could be read as evidence of the degree to which they successfully put traumatic experiences of the revolution behind them.
On the one hand, the high proportion of refugee wills that mention slaves is an indication of the nature of their adaptation to New Orleans society. Forced to relinquish their position as the two superior castes in Saint-Domingue, whites and free persons of color clung tenaciously to the slaveholder's prerogratives in Louisiana, even if it was only over a few slaves in an urban household. Theirs was the typical reaction of the remnants of dominant classes to expropriation -- to seek refuge in a society as similar as possible to the one that the revolution had destroyed and to attempt to live there as if it had never happened.
On the other hand, although only a few testators referred specifically to incidents when a faithful slave saved their lives, the frequency of manumissions of slaves in refugee wills reflects the kind of relationship between masters and slaves that could have produced such behavior. To the extent that they were bound together by "ties that can be called familial," there was a basis in reality to the image of the faithful slave in the Manichean allegory. It is important to note that familial ties between masters and slaves, when they did exist, involved only a few select slaves; and such ties hardly implied an egalitarian relationship. Nevertheless, the personal contact and interaction of African and French cultures at the primary group level is a key to the development of a distinctive Creole identity, one of the most important ways Saint-Domingue refugees affected New Orleans society.
Notify Administrator about this message?
|Home | Help | About Us | Site Index | Jobs | PRIVACY | Affiliate|
|© 2007 The Generations Network|