In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Impact of the French Revolution on the Caribbean

  • Introduction
  • General
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Biographies
  • Revolutionary France and the Haitian Revolution
  • French Caribbean: Leeward and Windward Islands
  • The French Revolution and the British and Dutch Caribbean
  • The French Revolution and the Spanish Caribbean

Atlantic History The Impact of the French Revolution on the Caribbean
Cristina Soriano
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0369


For decades, the French Revolution has occupied a prominent place within Western historiography, one that has traditionally considered this event as a turning point in the history of the modern world. Hundreds of history books have been devoted to understanding the causes, impact, and consequences of this radical movement not only in France, but also within Europe, and in the Americas, Africa, and even Asia. The emergence, in the last two decades of the twentieth century, of an Atlantic World historiography encouraged scholars to study the impact of the French Revolution in the Atlantic World and, in particular, in the Caribbean region, where the 18th-century French empire held economically crucial colonies such as Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. French colonies were directly affected by the events of the French Revolution; mixed-race colonial subjects and enslaved workers in the French Caribbean, for example, began to use ideas of universal rights to challenge the colonial state and even the French National Assembly, offering their own interpretations on freedom, equality, and citizenship in a world that was going through radical changes. Historians have shown how the Caribbean transcultural space transformed 18th-century political culture of republicanism into a new struggle for emancipation and citizenship; the clearest example would be the creation of the Republic of Haiti in 1804, the first independent black nation in the Western world, also the first one to abolish slavery for good. It is important to keep in mind that the Caribbean region was a space that comprised both islands and continental coasts—a space that was not the exclusive dominion of a single European state but that was simultaneously Spanish, British, French, Dutch, Danish, Native American, and African. The peoples, information, and goods that circulated throughout the Caribbean region crossed language and geopolitical barriers; for this reason, it has been also crucial to understand how the French Revolution affected these other regions ruled by different empires and inhabited by different ethno-racial groups, and how local reverberations and adjustments affected, in turn, European empires. In the last two decades, historians have begun to pay attention to the connections between the French Revolution and the Caribbean not only because it reveals the crucial impact of the movement in the enslaved-based sugar-producing Caribbean colonies, but also because it has thrown light into how events in 19th-century Europe were impacted from what transpired in the Caribbean colonies once they were transformed by the Atlantic revolutions.


The Atlantic world perspective that emerged in the last decade of the twentieth century had an important influence in French historiography that from the 1950s had been mainly organized around national and local approaches. Studies of the French colonial history and the French Atlantic emerged with force in the 2000s; these works paid attention not only to the history of Canada and Louisiana, but also to the French Caribbean. The French Revolution, in particular, became an important topic of exploration within the field of French Atlantic studies; Geggus 1989 and Gaspar and Geggus 1997 are important references to understand the connections between the French and the Haitian Revolutions, and Benot 2004 offers an interesting contribution to analyze French revolutionaries’ debates on slavery and colonialism. While Armitage and Sanjay 2010 provides a comparative analysis of different revolutions that took place in varied regions of the world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (with three chapters dedicated to the French and the French Caribbean); Hunt 2010 and Bell 2014 offer important discussions on the global character of the French Revolution as well as the achievements and shortcomings of a globally turned historiography. Focusing on the Age of Revolutions period, Polaski 2015 explores the media and dynamics though which a “revolutionary spirit” reached regions and people spread over four different continents. Recently Ghachem 2015 offers a compelling reading of the original nature of the Haitian revolutionary transcript, one that put the anti-slavery agenda at the center of the Caribbean struggle, while Dubois and Turits 2019 offers a complex and comprehensive vision of the Caribbean and the threads that connect the region with the history of colonialism and modernity.

  • Armitage, David, and Subrahmanyam Sanjay. The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–1840. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    This book emerged from a conference titled “Age of Revolutions” held at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles in 2008. It offers a comparative and global analysis of the Age of Revolutions; here the “Age of Revolutions” is defined in ample ways to include almost all the period’s major regions and nations from North America and South America as well as the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and China.

  • Bell, David A. “Questioning the Global Turn: The Case of the French Revolution.” French Historical Studies 37.1 (2014): 1–24.

    DOI: 10.1215/00161071-2376501

    A thought-provoking article that explores the impact, achievements, but also the limitations and flaws of a “Globally Turn” historiography of the French Revolution. Bell explains that there are three trends of this historiography: the one that studies “outward influences,” the “integrated perspective,” and “the inward influences” ; historians following these different trends have found important connections between the French Revolution and the Caribbean.

  • Benot, Yves. La Révolution française et la fin des colonies, 1789–1794. Paris: La Découverte, 2004.

    Paying attention to both historical realities and ethical controversies, this book presents a complex debate of the colonial question within the French Empire. The author, who has concentrated on the study of French colonialism and slavery, argues that although French revolutionaries were committed to a democratic cause, they did not follow humanitarian and abolitionist ideals when setting colonial policy, and their contradictions had terrible consequences in the colonies.

  • Dubois, Laurent, and Richard Lee Turits. Freedom Roots: Histories from the Caribbean. Chapel Hill: University of the North Carolina Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469653600.001.0001

    This thought-provoking book looks into the history of the Caribbean and shows how this region has been at the center of Western modernity contradictions, such as empire and independence, equality and racism, freedom and slavery. The authors focus on questions of ethnicity, race, land, revolution, emancipation, occupation, and interventions to explain how the people of the Caribbean have fought and struggled to find their own path to freedom and liberation.

  • Gaspar, David Barry, and David P. Geggus, eds. A Turbulent Time: The French Revolution and the Greater Caribbean. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

    This book constitutes an important contribution to the study of the impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean. Offering a compilation of nine essays, this edited volume directs its attention to the material and economic impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean, where insurrections, wars, and economic reforms shaped and transform the region.

  • Geggus, David P. “The French and Haitian Revolutions and Resistance to Slavery in the Americas: An Overview.” Revue Française d’Histoire d’Outre-Mer 76 (1989): 107–124.

    DOI: 10.3406/outre.1989.2733

    This article highlights the connections between the French and the Haitian Revolutions, and how those events particularly affected enslaved people’s understanding and struggles for freedom.

  • Ghachem, Malick W. “The Antislavery Script: Haiti’s Place in the Narrative of Atlantic Revolution.” In Scripting Revolution: A Historical Approach to the Comparative Study of Revolutions. Edited by Keith Michael Baker and Dan Edelstein, 148–168. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015.

    An interesting chapter that explores how Haiti’s revolutionary script derived not from European denunciations against political slavery but from the understandings of slavery and racial discrimination inscribed in the French colonial law that Saint-Domingue black revolutionary leaders and their followers challenged and reverted during the French Revolution.

  • Hunt, Lynn. “The French Revolution in Global Context.” In The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–1840. Edited by David Armitage and Sanjay Subrahmanyam Sanjay, 20–36. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    A concise but sharp historiographical exploration of the impact of the French Revolution in the world, raising important questions about the multidirectional global dimension of a revolution that had an important impact in Europe and the Americas, but that was also affected by the important connections that existed between French colonies and the metropole.

  • Polaski, Janet. Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

    This book integrates the Netherlands and Geneva within the scope of the Age of Revolutions, but it does not address South America or the Spanish Caribbean region. The book offers an interesting chapter on rumors centered in Jamaica and the French colonies, and how ideas of the French Revolution triggered potential slave revolts or, to the contrary, bolstered the institution of slavery, as happened in Jamaica.

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