In This Article Saint-Domingue Refugees

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Published Primary Sources
  • General Archival Material
  • Refugees in Metropolitan France

Atlantic History Saint-Domingue Refugees
by
Nathalie Dessens
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0107

Introduction

From the onset of the Haitian Revolution in 1791 to the proclamation of the Republic of Haiti in January 1804, inhabitants of the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, on the island of Hispaniola, left the island and found refuge throughout the Caribbean basin and in North America. Some did return to metropolitan France, although they were not the majority. The refugees included whites and free people of color, together with some of their slaves. Although all the territories of the greater Caribbean basin did receive some small contingents of refugees, the territories that most attracted the refugees were the Spanish part of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo—for obvious reasons of proximity—as well as Jamaica—where many refugees followed the British troops after their evacuation from the island—and Cuba—whose Oriente was within sight of the northwestern coast of Saint-Domingue. The eastern United States was another common destination for the refugees, as was the Gulf Coast, although in smaller numbers. For two decades, the refugees constituted a diaspora that remained in close epistolary contact, due to the relocation of acquaintances in several refuges of the Americas. Although many refugees remained in these original asylums, a second movement occurred in the first decades of the 19th century, this time a movement of convergence of the diaspora to Louisiana, more specifically to New Orleans. Because of the Napoleonic wars, non-naturalized French citizens were expelled from Jamaica (in 1803–1804) and from Cuba (1809–1810), and many settled in Louisiana. For cultural and linguistic reasons, many of those who had initially found refuge in the United States also came to Louisiana. Although Louisiana had received only a few hundred refugees in the last decade of the 18th century, it came to host about 15,000 former inhabitants of Saint-Domingue, the last wave from Cuba (in 1809–1810) being by far the largest. Almost equally distributed among the three categories of population (whites, free people of color, and slaves), more than 10,000 refugees proceeded to swarm into the city of New Orleans over a period of about six months, 90% of whom stayed in the city. Their arrival doubled the population of the city, where refugees from other waves already resided. Their influence on the city at the crucial time of its integration within the United States is only starting to be understood.

General Overviews

No comprehensive study of the refugee diaspora in general is available, and this overview of the experience of the refugees in the Americas remains to be written. It would be an extraordinary task to undertake, although it would probably require a team of researchers, considering the variety of asylums and refugee experiences. Because the refugees brought similar influences to all their asylums, it would prove to be of extreme value. A few books and a dissertation, however, may be included in this category because of the large scope and because the studies encompass several of the refugees’ asylums. The first one is most certainly Brasseaux and Conrad 1992. Although, as its title indicates, this book focuses largely on Louisiana, it also contains one of the pioneer articles on the refugees in Cuba. At the time it was published, it broke new ground in being the first attempt at gathering scattered studies on the refugees. Another book that takes into consideration several asylums is Geggus 2001, although it does not deal directly and solely with the refugees. It contains information connected to the refugees, due to its focus on the political repercussions of the revolution itself, repercussions many of which the refugees were the vectors. Meadows 2004 is the most up-to-date study that encompasses several refuges. Recently, researchers have begun to examine specific families with origins in Saint-Domingue, working on their itineraries between Saint-Domingue and New Orleans and on their lives after their settlement in New Orleans. Sullivan-Holleman and Cobb 1995 constitutes a treasure of information on the epic stories of many refugees connected to the family in several relocations (Jamaica, Cuba, and the United States, including Louisiana). Other recent studies focus on the complex web of family relationships in the Atlantic world, showing how distant refugees could use family network to boost the economic weight of the family in the Atlantic world and demonstrating the porosity of this Atlantic world. Research is ongoing on these specific cases and, no doubt, many more studies on the topic will appear in the incoming years. Rebecca Scott, both as a single author and in collaboration with Jean Hébrard, has already published several excellent articles on the Tinchant family, which originated from Saint-Domingue and was also racially mixed. Scott and Hébrard 2007, Scott and Hébrard 2008, Scott 2009, and Scott 2011 constitute a few examples. Finally Scott and Hébrard 2012 is the complete version of the in-depth research carried out by the authors over the past years. This excellent book recounts the story of an enslaved woman, Rosalie, and the tribulations of the family during the Haitian Revolution and then in Santiago de Cuba, New Orleans, Paris, Veracruz, and Antwerp, Belgium.

  • Brasseaux, Carl A., and Glenn R. Conrad, eds. The Road to Louisiana: The Saint-Domingue Refugees, 1792–1809. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    This anthology was the very precious “first attempt to fill comprehensively one of the most enduring lacunae in Louisiana historiography” (p. vii). Although the central topic of the book is the Louisiana asylum (where the refugees converged), the book presents the advantage of considering several refuges and several experiences and of addressing, albeit often indirectly, the diaspora’s experience.

  • Geggus, David P., ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    This collection of fifteen articles is not concerned exclusively with the refugee experience. The authors study the influences of the Haitian Revolution on political philosophy, politics, and slave resistance. Only the last three articles deal directly with the refugees (in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Charleston) but the others focus on their influence on Puerto Rico, the United States, Guadeloupe, Cuba, and Colombia.

  • Meadows, Darrell. “The Planters of Saint-Domingue, 1750–1804: Migration and Exile in the French Revolutionary Atlantic.” Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Carnegie Mellon University, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Meadows’s dissertation examines the assistance given to refugee planters in Jamaica, the United States, and France within the framework of a study of the interconnections between the revolutions in France and Haiti. The author adopts an Atlantic perspective in showing, in particular, the strong links between the metropole and its colonies through transatlantic families.

  • Scott, Rebecca J. “Reinventar la esclavitud, garantizar la libertad: De Saint-Domingue a Santiago a Nueva Orleáns, 1803–1809.” Caminos 52 (2009): 2–13.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article is a more succinct version of Scott and Hébrard 2007 and Scott and Hébrard 2008 but should be mentioned for those who might prefer reading in Spanish.

  • Scott, Rebecca J. “Paper Thin: Freedom and Re-enslavement in the Diaspora of the Haitian Revolution.” Law and History Review 29.4 (2011): 1061–1087.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0738248011000538E-mail Citation »

    This is the most recent publication (in English, this time) of the research conducted by Rebecca Scott (with Jean Hébrard) on the fluidity of the definitions of slavery and freedom in the Atlantic world in the late 18th century through the study of the Saint-Domingue refugee diaspora.

  • Scott, Rebecca J. and Jean M. Hébrard. “Les papiers de la liberté: Une mère africaine et ses enfants à l’époque de la révolution haïtienne.” Genèses 66 (2007): 4–29.

    E-mail Citation »

    This article places the refugees in a wide Atlantic perspective, posing very clearly the question of the status of the refugees in this Atlantic world. It shows that, upon leaving Saint-Domingue, although they were theoretically free, their relocation in slave societies jeopardized this status.

  • Scott, Rebecca J., and Jean M. Hébrard. “Servitude, liberté et citoyenneté dans le monde atlantique des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles: Rosalie de Nation Poulard.” Revue de la société haïtienne d’histoire et de géographie 83.234 (2008): 1–52.

    E-mail Citation »

    This extremely detailed article also problematizes the question of status of the refugees of color, showing the fluidity, in the Atlantic world of the late 18th century, of the boundaries between slavery and freedom and the way in which the refugees of color saw their identity constantly redefined all along their itinerary in this Atlantic world.

  • Scott, Rebecca J., and Jean M. Hébrard. Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674065161E-mail Citation »

    This is the extraordinary Atlantic narrative of a family whose members were spread over Latin America, North America, and Europe, and who used this network to develop their economic and political potential. This fascinating book revises some stale assumptions on people of color in the Atlantic world but also shows the complexity of legal rights and legal limitations they had to face in their odyssey.

  • Sullivan-Holleman, Elizabeth, and Isabel Hillery Cobb. The Saint Domingue Epic: The de Rossignol des Dunes and Family Alliances. Bay St. Louis, MS: Nightingale Press, 1995.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by descendants of the Rossignol des Dunes, the book is based on painstaking genealogical research and rich in information on the tribulations of the family, from France to Saint-Domingue to Jamaica, Cuba, and the United States. The focus goes beyond the family and about one thousand names are cited in this 623-page book, although the index references them by chapter instead of page number.

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