Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic Print

IN  THE   LATE   EIGHTEENTH  CENTURY, the  French  colony of Saint-Domingue was the richest colony in the world. Set in the Caribbean Sea, a short sail from some of the principal American colonies of Britain and Spain, in the 1780s it produced  about half of all the  sugar  and  coffee  consumed  in Europe and  the  Americas.  It was, in the nomenclature of the  time,  the  “Pearl  of the  Antilles,”  the  “Eden  of the  Western World.” It was there,  in late August 1791, that the colony’s enslaved rose up, even- tually declaring  war against  the  regime  of slavery at its seat  of most extreme  and opulent  power. Within a month, the rebel slaves numbered in the tens of thousands, and  the  property  destroyed  amounted to more  than  a thousand sugar  and  coffee farms. With this event—the  largest and best-coordinated slave rebellion  the world had ever seen—the  enslaved of Saint-Domingue forced the issue of slavery upon the French  Revolution and  the  world.

By August  1793, colonial  authorities began  de- creeing  abolition,  and  in February  1794, the  National  Convention  in Paris  ended slavery in France’s  colonies,  in a sense  ratifying what enslaved  rebels  had  already made  real on the ground  in many parts  of Saint-Domingue. A decade  later,  those same rebels  declared  themselves  free not only from slavery, but also from French rule. On January 1, 1804, the independent nation of Haiti was proclaimed—the sec- ond independent state in the Western  Hemisphere, and the only one ever founded by former  slaves and  without  slavery.1

The Haitian  Revolution—the name by which we now know these events—com- manded  the attention of everyone in the region and beyond. But surely few followed


I am grateful  to many colleagues  for generously  sharing  their  questions,  comments,  doubts,  and  en- thusiasm.  In particular, I thank  Gerald  Alexis, Lauren  Benton,  Robin  Blackburn,  Jean  Casimir,  Greg Childs, Laurent Dubois,  Anne  Eller,  Sibylle Fischer,  Julia Gaffield, Keila Grinberg,  David Kazanjian, Graham Nessler, Sue Peabody, Nathalie  Pierre, Millery Polyn´e, Rafael S´anchez, Rebecca  Scott, and the anonymous reviewers for the AHR . I had the benefit of working on this piece while teaching a graduate colloquium  at New York University on the Haitian  Revolution and the Atlantic  world; my discussions with the students in that course were generative and invaluable. Feedback from students at the University of Chicago’s Latin  American  History  Workshop  was also very thoughtful  and  timely. Finally, I thank my daughter Alina VanRyzin,  who indirectly led me to the London  documents that  serve as the basis for this essay.

1  On the Haitian  Revolution, see C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (New York, 1963); David Patrick Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington, Ind., 2002); Laurent Dubois,  Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Rev- olution (Cambridge, 2004); Carolyn E. Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville, Tenn.,  1991); and  Jeremy  D. Popkin,  You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (New York, 2010).


the situation  as closely as enslaved people,  who apprehended that the world’s most profitable and powerful system of slavery had been destroyed  by its own slaves. Mas- ters, meanwhile, heard about men much like themselves whose lives and fortunes had just been shattered by the actions of enslaved  men and women like their  own. Au- thorities in neighboring  slave societies responded quickly with measures such as bans on the entry of so-called French  blacks, limits on the slave trade,  and surveillance of slaves in their  own territory.

Whatever  hopes and fears the Haitian  Revolution generated across the Atlantic world, its impact on slave emancipation beyond Haiti’s borders  was not at all clear. In the French Empire, the emancipation of 1794 had been rescinded, and by the time of Haitian  independence in 1804, slavery and the slave trade  were thriving again in Guadeloupe and  Martinique. While  organized  and  popular  opposition  to  slavery gained momentum in England,  perhaps  some three-quarters of a million people still lived enslaved in its colonies. In the United  States, abolitionism became increasingly popular  in the  north,  but  in the  south  slavery remained entrenched, its advocates bent on expanding it to new American  territories. In the Spanish world, meanwhile, the model of plantation slavery pioneered in the French  and British Caribbean was gaining ground.  In Cuba, in particular, planters  strove to supplant  Saint-Domingue in the  world market,  and  the  rapid  expansion  of slavery there  turned  the  Spanish island into the world’s largest producer of sugar and one of the greatest  consumers of Africans  in the  nineteenth-century world.

Even  with abolitionism  on  the  rise,  then,  at  the  moment  of Haiti’s  founding, slavery was still on the march.2  The spectacular example of liberation remained lo- calized there,  and Haiti’s first governments announced and continually  reaffirmed that  they were willing to accept  that  state  of affairs. They were fully committed  to maintaining   emancipation  permanently  in  their  territory,   but  they  publicly  re- nounced  all ambition  of taking that  emancipation to any of the slave societies that surrounded their  new country.3  Outside  of Haiti,  therefore, the prospects  for legal freedom  from slavery in any living person’s lifetime remained dim. How, then, might we understand the  effects  of this  new “empire  of liberty”  in a region  where  the Haitian  example was well known, yet where colonial slavery also continued to flour- ish?4


2  Dale  Tomich’s notion  of the  “second  slavery” is particularly  useful here;  see Through the Prism of Slavery: Labor, Capital, and World Economy (Oxford, 2004), esp. chaps. 3, 5, and 6. For an application of this concept  in the Cuban  case, see Ada Ferrer,  “Cuban  Slavery and Atlantic  Antislavery,” Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 31, no. 3 (2008): 267–295. The best estimate  for the  number of slaves in the British Caribbean at the time is 775,000 in 1807, from B. W. Higman, Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834 (Kingston,  Jamaica,  1995), 72.

3  One  exception  was the public declaration of the indivisibility of the entire  territory  of the island of Hispaniola,  starting with Toussaint’s colonial constitution and continuing  into the early national  con- stitutions.  This declaration presupposed the  absorption of the  Spanish  (and  for some period  French) part of the island into the western state. Although  the territorial indivisibility was in part a strategic and tactical maneuver  against any possible re-enslavement or recolonization campaign, it was also couched in terms of a moral fraternity  with residents  from the east. Less public examples of potential violations of the non-intervention clause include Henri Christophe’s aid to anticolonial rebels in Spanish Santo Domingo  in 1810 and Alexandre  P´etion’s substantial  aid to Latin American  independence leaders.  On the former,  see Anne Eller, “ ‘All would be equal in the effort’: Santo Domingo’s ‘Italian Revolution,’ Independence, and  Haiti,  1809–1822,” Journal of Early American History 1, no. 2 (2011): 105–141.

4  The phrase “empire  of liberty” was used in the first paragraph of the January 1, 1804, Declaration of Independence: “We must, with one last act of national  authority,  forever assure the empire of liberty

Historians  have begun to explore seriously the extent to which the Haitian  Rev- olution  influenced  the  ascendance   of  antislavery  in  the  early-nineteenth-century world. Some have assessed the impact of the revolution  on European and American abolitionism,  examining, for example, the ways in which Haiti was used to illustrate arguments  about  the dangers  of maintaining  slavery or about  the innate  capacity of black  men  for  freedom  and  civilization.  Others  have  focused  on  the  question  of whether  the  Haitian  example  inspired  movements  of resistance  and  rebellion  for black and brown slaves and free people  across the hemisphere. In both sets of dis- cussions, historians  have faced off, some asserting,  others  playing down the impact of the Haitian  Revolution on the global contests over slavery.5  Yet the relationship between  Haiti  and  Atlantic  freedom,  if in part  a story about  the  power  of Haiti’s example,  was also centrally  a story about  a Haitian  state  that  developed  and  pro- jected  its own brand  of antislavery  in the  world, about  a Haitian  government  that thought   actively  about  and  sometimes  explicitly addressed itself  to  non-Haitian blacks in the  hemisphere.

To the important work that  has considered the significance of the Haitian  Rev- olution  of 1791–1804 for histories  of global antislavery, the Age of Revolution, or modern  political  thought,  therefore, we must add an exploration of the  import  of post-revolutionary  Haiti, which, as the enslaved of the region well understood, con- tinually tried to intervene  in broad  Atlantic  debates  about  rights, freedom,  citizen- ship, and sovereignty. In an era in which these concepts  were being radically trans- formed,  the Haitian  state  insisted that  its was a critical and necessary voice.6  Thus despite the Haitian government’s promise of non-intervention in the affairs of its neighbors, the triumph of the Haitian  Revolution echoed well beyond Haiti. Indeed, it transformed the very landscape  (and seascape)  of freedom  in the Atlantic  world. In that  transformation, the  post-revolutionary Haitian  state  played a fundamental role. The laws it enacted  and the policies it pursued  profoundly  shaped  the politics, meaning,  and  character of antislavery  at a critical moment  in its global history.

An international legal dispute  that  emerged  in 1817 provides  an important ex- ample of the vital role played by the Haitian  state. In January  1817, seven enslaved men from Jamaica commandeered the vessel on which they were serving and sailed


in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman  government that  for so long kept  us in the most humiliating  torpor.  In the end we must live independent or die.” Translation from David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge, 2007),


5  Some of these  arguments  about  the  impact  (or  non-impact) of the  Haitian  Revolution on abo- litionism and slave rebellion  are distilled in David Brion Davis, “The Impact of the French  and Haitian Revolutions,” in David P. Geggus, ed., The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Co- lumbia, S.C., 2001), 3–9; Seymour Drescher, “The Limits of Example,”  ibid., 10–14; and Robin  Black- burn, “The Force of Example,” ibid., 15–20. See also Geggus, “The Caribbean in the Age of Revolution,” in David Armitage  and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds., The Age of Revolutions in Global Context, c. 1760–

1840 (New York, 2010), 83–100.

6 Especially important here are Laurent Dubois’s call to consider the intellectual history of En- lightenment and revolution in a way that incorporates both the Caribbean and the enslaved, and Deborah Jenson’s work on Jean-Jacques Dessalines  (who ruled  Haiti  from 1804 until his assassination  in 1806) as a political  author  and  producer of postcolonial  theory.  See Dubois,  “An Enslaved  Enlightenment: Rethinking the Intellectual History of the French  Atlantic,”  Social History 31, no. 1 (February 2006):

1–14; and  Jenson,  Beyond the Slave Narrative: Politics, Sex, and Manuscripts in the Haitian Revolution

(Liverpool,  2011).

to southern Haiti, where they found—as they had expected to—legal protection, freedom from slavery, and access to Haitian citizenship. Alexandre Pe´tion, president of the Republic  of Haiti, defended the right of the men to remain  there,  refusing— even when challenged  by their  master  and  British  authorities—to return  them  to slavery.7  He grounded his refusal on Article 44 of the Haitian  constitution of 1816, which stated  that


All Africans and Indians, and the descendants of their blood, born in the colonies or in foreign countries,  who come to reside in the Republic  will be recognized  as Haitians,  but will enjoy the  right of citizenship  only after  one year of residence.8


Haiti, argued  P´etion, was a land where no one could be enslaved, and where arrival in and  of itself conferred freedom  and  eventually  citizenship.  At stake,  therefore, were not only the status and the future of the seven men in question,  but also Haiti’s role in international struggles to define the boundaries of slavery and freedom,  cit- izenship  and  rights.

The  1817 case, and  the  1816 constitution on which it was based,  provide  fresh insight into the intellectual  and political history of global antislavery and of post- independent Haiti’s robust  intervention in that  history. Haiti’s was a contribution that drew on—and in many cases substantially transformed—multiple and heterodox sources.  Some of these  sources  were of recent  vintage and  were linked  to notions of liberty and rights emerging on both sides of the Atlantic; others reworked  longer- standing, Old Regime concepts, from Catholic sanctuary to European free soil. Still others appear  to have represented a pragmatic response to specific developments on the ground, as sailors, slaves, migrants, foreign insurgents, and even abolitionists sometimes  pushed  the Haitian  state to act more expansively on the freedom  it rep- resented, offering at key moments  an opportunity for its leaders  to project  Haitian freedom  outside  its borders.  Still, Haiti’s intervention in global antislavery, as the


7  The  documentation on  the  case  appears  in the  National  Archives  of Britain  [hereafter TNA], Colonial  Office Papers  [hereafter CO], 137/145. Some is printed  in Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee of the Honourable House of Assembly of Jamaica Presented to the House, December 10, 1817 (London,  1818), which includes the testimony of James McKowen, taken in Port-Royal before the com- mittee  on November  19, 1817. Some documentation is also reprinted in Richard  B. Sheridan,  “From Jamaican Slavery to Haitian Freedom: The Case of the Black Crew of the Pilot Boat, Deep Nine,” Journal of Negro History 67, no. 4 (Winter  1982): 328–339. The manuscript sources identify the master  as Mc- Kowen; printed  sources refer to him as M’Kewan. I have used McKowen throughout. Some of the manuscript sources refer to two slaves named  James. I believe the second James is the same person  as Jem, so named  in the  printed  sources.

8  The 1816 constitution represented a revision to the constitution of 1806, generally also attributed to P´etion. The change  in the 1816 version that  is most often  discussed is the new provision that  made P´etion president for life. There  is a growing body of scholarship  on the early Haitian  constitutions. See Claude  Mo¨ıse, Constitutions et luttes de pouvoir en Ha¨ıti (1804 –1987), 2 vols. (Montreal, 1988–1990); Michel  Hector  and  La¨ennec  Hurbon,  eds., Gen`ese  de l’Etat ha¨ıtien,  1804 –1859 (Paris,  2009); Sibylle Fischer, Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Durham, N.C.,

2004); Julia Gaffield, “Complexities of Imagining Haiti: A Study of National  Constitutions, 1801–1807,” Journal of Social History 41, no. 1 (Fall 2007): 81–103; and David Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti (New Brunswick, N.J., 1979). The original texts of most of the early constitutions appear  in Louis Joseph  Janvier,  Les constitutions d’Ha¨ıti (1801–1885) (Paris,

1886). Some also appear  in Constitutions of the World Online, http://www.modern-constitutions.de/ nbu.php?page_id=cf2bf1a9ce737906a2cc483486798452. In French,  Article 44 reads: “Tout africain, in- dien et ceux issus de leur sang, n´es des colonies ou pays ´etrangers, qui viendraient r´esider dans la R´epublique, seront reconnus  ha¨ıtiens, mais ne jouiront  des droits de citoyen qu’apr`es une ann´ee de r´esidence”;  http://www.modern-constitutions.de/nbu.php?page_id=02a1b5a86ff139471c0b1c57f23ac19


seven Jamaican  sailors may themselves have come to understand, was rarely a straightforward tale of freedom  and rights in ascent—something, of course, that can also be said about  the contributions of other,  better-known and more highly touted antislaveries  of Europe and  North  America.


IN  JANUARY 1817, SEVEN  ENSLAVED MEN  and boys from Jamaica—identified by name as Dublin, Kingston, Archy, Quashie,  Robert, James, and Jem, and held as property by one James  McKowen—were  serving aboard  the  schooner  Deep Nine. The  men were accustomed  to work on the seas, serving as pilots steering  ships in and out of local harbors.  At the  beginning  of the  Deep Nine’s journey,  there  had  been  other slaves on board, but the vessel had been cruising for some time, and some of the pilot slaves had been transferred to other ships to guide them into port, so that at the time of the events in question,  only the slave owner’s brother, Robert McKowen, and the seven black sailors remained aboard.  With the vessel low on wood and water, Mc- Kowen decided to stop for supplies at Rocky Point, Saint Thomas, on Jamaica’s southeastern shore. After McKowen disembarked and the men went off on a routine search for provisions, Dublin  and his shipmates  took the vessel and set sail for the country  of Haiti.

At the time of their escape, there  were, in fact, two Haitis: the republic,  headed by Alexandre P´etion, in the south, and a kingdom, ruled by Henri Christophe, in the north.  Both leaders  had risen to prominence during the course of the Haitian  Rev- olution, and both were committed to a Haitian nation in which legal slavery and European colonialism  would never again exist. Yet in 1807, as a result  of disputes over the form and leadership of the government, the young state  had split in two. The resulting  entities  differed  in two important respects.  The north,  which became a kingdom in 1811, retained large-scale landholdings,  which were managed  by mil- itary officers and produced  sugar with the “attached” labor of former  slaves. In the south,  which was organized  as a republic,  the  government  had  divided  the  large estates and carried out an agrarian reform, dismantling the old plantation system and distributing  almost 100,000 hectares  of land, mostly in modest plots of 25 to 45 hect- ares. The differences between the two societies, however, were not absolute. Renting arrangements in the north provided some maneuvering room for former slaves; while in the south, much of the land distributed went to the military, with higher-ranking officers receiving larger  plots.9

Still, it was to P´etion’s south that the Jamaican  men escaped. One reason for that choice may have been  simple convenience:  Jamaica  was closer to the  ports  of the south  than  those  of the  north,  and  trade—both licit and  illicit—had  long bound Haiti’s southern peninsula to the Jamaican coast. But there was likely some informed political calculation  involved as well. In the north,  where the large plantations sur- vived and where the law, managers, and soldiers tried to limit the mobility of workers, local people were known to escape into Spanish Santo Domingo, where the land was not dominated by plantations. Of the south, meanwhile, at least one of the Jamaican sailors testified that they had heard  other  kinds of stories—first and foremost  about

9  Robert K. Lacerte, “The Evolution of Land and Labor in the Haitian Revolution, 1791–1820,” The

Americas 34, no. 4 (April  1978): 449– 459.


freedom,  but also about  the  protection offered  by the  state  and  the  eventual  pos- sibility of obtaining  land and earning  military ranks there.  So it was with the south that  they cast their  lot.10

A few days after their escape, the men’s legal owner, James McKowen, followed them  to Haiti,  confident  that  he would be able to retrieve  the vessel and the seven men he claimed as his property.  McKowen searched  from town to town—Cap Tibu- ron, Les Cayes, Petite  Rivi`ere, Trou-Bonbon, J´er´emie—to no avail. Finally, hoping for a more satisfactory result, he traveled  to the southern capital of Port-au-Prince, where he met face to face with President  P´etion. But the result was no different,  and McKowen  left the  meeting  empty-handed.

At the  heart  of P´etion’s  refusal  to hand  over the  sailors was his invocation  of Haitian  law, which he said rendered him powerless to deliver them back into slavery. Specifically, he invoked the new Haitian  constitution, which had been published  to great fanfare  in the final days of September 1816.11   The sailors, he said, were “rec- ognized to be Haitians  by the 44th Article of the Constitution of the Republic  from the  moment  they set foot on its territory.”12

While the  1816 constitution had  been  drafted  as a revision to the  1806 consti- tution,  Article  44, granting  protection and  citizenship  to non-white  foreigners  ar- riving in Haiti, was newly added, not having appeared in any form in the 1806 charter. The  confrontation over  the  enslaved  Jamaican   sailors  took  place  approximately three  months  after the publication  of the new constitution. This was likely the first time  that  the  new law of the  land  was explicitly applied  and  challenged.  As Rear Admiral J. E. Douglas of the British navy, to whom McKowen had appealed for aid, admitted to legal counsel, the case was “altogether of a novel character.”13 That fact made  it hard  for the British proponents of the men’s enslavement  to know how to act  or  argue  in response.  At  first, McKowen  simply emphasized  that  the  men  in question  were his property.  But P´etion countered that  by virtue of their  arrival in Haiti,  the men were now Haitian.  The law, he said, was clear: slavery could never exist in Haiti, so the men could not—by law—be slaves. P´etion thus rendered moot the  question  of their  legal status  before  their  Haitian  landing.

Perhaps  realizing  the  futility of an appeal  based  on property  rights, McKowen then  stressed  that  the  men  had  acted  criminally, stealing  his vessel and  the  items aboard  it. The proper  response,  he argued, was to bring them before a British court as “pirates.”  Here  he seemed  to be improvising,  for even the  British  to whom he


10   The stories the sailors heard  and shared  about  the south will be discussed later in the article. For more on land, labor, and the distinctions  and commonalities between  the north  and south, see Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (New York, 2012), chap. 2. At roughly the same time that the Jamaican  sailors escaped  to the south, Christophe’s  government  in the north  was involved in a dispute with Spain over Haitian  workers who had escaped from northern plantations to nearby Santo Domingo. Archivo General de Indias [hereafter AGI], Estado,  legajo [leg.] 12, expediente [exp.] 53. For more on Haitian  escapees  to Santo Domingo,  see also Eller, “ ‘All would be equal in the effort,’ ” 124 –125. The

1816 constitution and Article 44 survived the reunification with the north  in 1821 and with Santo  Do- mingo in 1822. The subsequent Haitian constitution of 1843 had a less powerful version of 1816’s Article

44. Article  7 in 1843 stated  that  all Africans  and  Indians  and  their  descendants were able to become

Haitian,  and  it added  that  the  specific details  of naturalization would be fixed by laws.

11   On the publication  of the constitution, see Alexis Beaubrun Ardouin,  Etudes sur l’histoire d’Ha¨ıti,

11 vols. (1865; repr.,  Port-au-Prince, 2005), 8: 51.

12   P´etion to McKowen, January  30, 1817, TNA, CO, 137/145.

13   Rear  Admiral  J. E. Douglas  to Wilson Crocker,  Esq., February  15, 1817, ibid

directed  his appeal judged that the men could not be claimed or tried as pirates “on account  of their  being slaves.” Faced  with a new kind of danger  to their  authority, the British subjects and officials on the ground  seemed  to be scrambling to find the proper  language with which to confront  it. When nothing persuaded Pe´tion that the men should be returned, McKowen  turned  to questions  of law and diplomacy: the new constitutional article, he argued, was ill-advised and represented a serious threat to maritime  trade  and thus to the larger international order.  “The Negroes in every drogger  or small plantain  boat  belonging  to Jamaica,”  he said, would avail them- selves of Haitian  coasts, which would become  “a place of protection and refuge . . . for the encouragement of slaves to run off with the shipping.” He threatened action from higher  up: the  British navy would be forced  to police Haitian  coasts, the  Ja- maican  governor  might have to intercede, and  so on.14

Whether or not the threat  of British action was real, other observers shared McKowen’s sense  that  the  new constitutional law posed  a threat  to international trade  and diplomacy. Since much of the maritime  commerce  in the Caribbean Sea involved enslaved  people,  either  as crew or as cargo, the possibilities made  real in the new constitution were not lost on the men who made  their  living off the labor of black sailors or by transporting black captives. Just days after  the publication  of Article 44, privateers  were warning each other not to come too close to Haiti’s coasts with any human cargo, for “General P´etion will confiscate the Africans in the interest of their  liberty, to increase  his population, and  to develop  agriculture in his terri- tory.”15

In northern Haiti, where King Christophe was deeply hostile to Pe´tion’s southern republic, the political class also saw the new law as a dangerous  source of instability. Baron  de Vastey, Christophe’s  chief adviser, who in 1814 had announced that  Hai- tian independence would be the precursor of a worldwide black movement  for free- dom, deemed  Article 44 to be contrary  to the Haitian  Declaration of Independence and the 1806 constitution, both of which had promised non-intervention in the affairs of neighboring  colonies. Vastey argued  that  the new law made  “a direct  appeal  to the black and coloured  population of the colonies or foreign countries,  to come and settle themselves  in the Republic,  [offering them] an asylum in the Republic  which is sacred  and  inviolable,  a measure  which tends  directly  to disturb  the  peace  and internal  government  of those foreign colonies or countries.”16 Article 44, he argued, represented a blatant  and unconstitutional form of interference in the slave regimes of the  region.

McKowen, the privateers,  and observers  in the north  were clearly motivated  by

14   McKowen  to P´etion, January  28, 1817, TNA, CO, 137/145.

15   Archivo Nacional  de Cuba  [hereafter ANC], Asuntos  Pol´ıticos [hereafter AP], leg. 124, exp. 66. On the privateers,  see also Paul Verna,  P´etion y Bol´ıvar: Cuarenta an˜os (1790–1830) de relaciones hai- tianovenezolanas y su aporte a la emancipacio´n de Hispanoam´erica (Caracas,  1969), 337–338; and Jos´e Luciano  Franco,  La pol´ıtica continental americana de Espan˜a en Cuba (Havana,  1964), 141–142.

16   Baron de Vastey, An Essay on the Causes of the Revolution and Civil Wars of Hayti (Exeter,  1823),

208–209. See  also Nicholls,  From Dessalines to Duvalier, 43– 47. French  authorities negotiating  with P´etion  regarding  recognition  also singled  out  Article  44 for criticism,  discussing it as one  of several articles  in the  constitution that  established  a “distinction  of colour  which philanthropy has been  la- bouring  for upwards  of half a century  to destroy.”  See Viscount  de Fontagnes, Esmangart, Commis- sioners to the King (France), to Alexandre  P´etion, October  30, 1816, in Vastey, An Essay on the Causes of the Revolution and Civil Wars of Hayti, Appendix  E, no. 12.

different  impulses, yet they all seemed  to agree that P´etion’s new policy made Haiti a safe haven for black and brown people who could manage to set foot on its territory. The policy did not represent the literal exportation of revolution;  it did not purport to send revolutionary agents to instigate slave rebellions in neighboring  colonies, something  that every Haitian  foundational document since the Haitian  Declaration of Independence had shunned.  Article 5 of P´etion’s 1816 constitution, for instance, stated  that  “the Republic  of Haiti  will never initiate  a project  designed  to conquer or perturb the internal  peace  and order  of foreign  States  and islands.” But Article

44 did elevate  Haiti  as a tangible  source  of freedom  and  citizenship  for any black person—no matter  his or her location or status—who could make it to Haitian  ter- ritory. Here,  then, was a potentially  forceful and expansive antislavery position, and everyone  involved seemed  to recognize  it as such.

But what of P´etion himself? To what extent was he seeking to expand and project the antislavery  power of the new Haitian  Republic,  the non-interventionist text of Article  5 notwithstanding? The 1817 case strongly suggests that  he saw the consti- tution and his application of specific provisions such as Article 44 as acts in a larger, universal drama  about  slavery and freedom,  and about  Haiti’s international role in accelerating  and  shaping  the  passage  between  the  two.




WHILE THE  INTELLECTUAL AND  POLITICAL position  of the Haitian  state  in 1816–1817 was groundbreaking, it clearly involved a reworking  of older,  more  traditional no- tions of freedom.  At its most basic level, P´etion’s argument was that by virtue of the men’s color and their  arrival in Haiti,  Article 44 made them  Haitian  and therefore free.  In effect, Article  44 proclaimed Haiti  as legal free  soil.17

The notion  of free soil, or what Sue Peabody has designated  “the freedom  prin- ciple,” predated the  debates  of the  Age of Revolution. Although  an Old  Regime concept, it provides a useful prism through  which to think about  the Haitian  state’s participation in revolutionary discourses about slavery, freedom, and rights. The freedom  principle—long,  if fitfully, recognized  in various European legal systems— held that “simply setting foot on a particular territory was enough to confer freedom upon  a slave.”18  In metropolitan France  and  England,  it may have represented a juridical “extension  to the countryside  of a principle  formulated by medieval  com- munes  whereby the  ‘free air’ of cities was declared  incompatible with bondage.”19

And as early as the sixteenth century, the concept was upheld in multiple legal cases,


17   Important work on the notion  of free soil has not examined the case of Haiti as an important and divergent  example of the principle.  Seymour Drescher’s  important book Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (New York, 2009), for example, argues that  the notion  of free soil was a central  factor in the rise of abolitionism.  Yet he argues that Haiti had a minimal impact on its progress (see chap. 6), and at one point he asserts that “by the beginning of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, ‘free soil’ no longer stopped  at the Atlantic  edge of Europe” (245)—a formulation that fails to acknowledge the potent  combination of antislavery  and sovereignty that  Haiti  represented and projected  externally after  1804 and  clearly in 1816.

18   Sue Peabody  and  Keila  Grinberg,  Slavery, Freedom, and the Law in the Atlantic World: A Brief History with Documents (Boston,  2007), 3. See also Free Soil in the Atlantic World, Special Issue, Slavery and Abolition 32, no. 3 (September 2011), edited  by Peabody  and Grinberg;  and Peabody’s pioneering book “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien R´egime (New York, 1996).

19   Drescher, Abolition, 23.



even if not all slaves who based their appeals  for freedom  on it emerged  victorious. Indeed, the legal notion of free soil generally brooked substantial  exceptions. For example, the principle  was not applied  to captured Muslim slaves or within either country’s overseas  colonies.  Only metropolitan soil could  confer  freedom,  and  as chattel  slavery expanded  in the colonial world, limits to the freedom  principle  were absorbed  into metropolitan law itself. Thus, the antislavery  promise  of the French free-soil provisions of 1759 was severely narrowed  by a 1777 law that  dictated  that all non-whites  arriving in France  would be quarantined and  shipped  back to their colonies  of origin. During  the French  Revolution, the National  Assembly issued a proclamation on September 28, 1791, the first article of which proclaimed that “every individual, immediately  on entering  France,  is free.” As Peabody has remarked, the proclamation inscribed free soil officially as French law rather  than informal maxim. In 1802, however, Napoleon reversed  the policy by barring all blacks, mulattos,  and people  of color from entering  France.  That  ban was reiterated in 1806 and 1817.20

Thus P´etion’s offer of freedom  and Haitian  citizenship  to brown and black people arriving in Haiti was the precise inverse of prevailing French  law at the time. More- over, because  the land under  P´etion’s rule sat in the middle  of the Caribbean Sea surrounded by slave societies and ships carrying black captives, to declare the Haitian republic  as free soil was to put freedom  within the physical reach  of all manner  of enslaved  persons.

Could  P´etion have had free-soil  precedents in mind when he wrote Article  44? Several lines of analysis suggest a provisional  answer of yes. First, the French  tra- dition and legal conflicts over the freedom principle were well known in the colonies. P´etion himself had spent time in the French  port  of Bordeaux,  which had an early history as a “free city.” There—before the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade—boat- loads of captives had occasionally been freed on arrival. Even by the time of P´etion’s sojourn there,  well after the city had established  itself as a major slave-trading  port, “local pride  in the free air tradition” remained strong.  Yet legal suits for freedom on that basis were also much less likely to succeed. While almost 250 individuals successfully secured their freedom in the Admiralty Court in Paris between the 1730s and the 1790s, provincial courts  in port  towns such as Nantes  and Bordeaux  often expelled petitioners, sending them back to their colonies of origin, Saint-Domingue included. Conflicts over the meaning and boundaries of French  free soil—from rev- olutionary  proclamations of free  soil to expulsions  founded  on its reversal—were thus known to people  such as P´etion in colonial  Saint-Domingue.21

In the Caribbean itself, many were familiar with another kind of arrival that  le- gally conferred freedom:  Catholic  sanctuary.  The  Spanish  government   regularly granted  freedom,  protection, and asylum to foreign fugitive slaves who were willing


20   See Peabody and Grinberg,  Slavery, Freedom, and the Law in the Atlantic World, 6–7, 68, 179; Sue Peabody,  “Slavery, Freedom, Statehood and the Law in the Atlantic  World,”  in Charlotte Wallin and Daniel  Silander,  eds., Democracy and Culture in the Transatlantic World: Third Interdisciplinary Con- ference, October 2004 (Maastricht, 2004), 233–240; and Jennifer  Heuer,  “One  Drop  Rule  in Reverse? Interracial Marriages  in Napoleonic  and Restoration France,”  Law and History Review 27, no. 3 (Fall

2009): 515–548, esp. 539–541.

21   Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France,” 6–7, 12, 29, 47, 50–52, 55–56. The figure on the number of victorious freedom  suits comes from Peabody’s table  on p. 55. On P´etion and Bordeaux,  see Susan Buck-Morss,  Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (Pittsburgh, 2009), 63–65; and  Robin  Blackburn,  The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation,  and Human  Rights (New York, 2011), 185–186.



to embrace Catholicism. The practice persisted until after the start of the French Revolution and served as an inducement for an unknown number of enslaved people, particularly in British, U.S., Dutch, and Danish territories, who sought sanctuary and freedom  in Spanish Cuba, Puerto  Rico, Florida,  Trinidad,  and Tierra  Firme.  Even French   authorities  complained   that  enslaved  people—already  “Catholic”—were taking advantage  of the policy to escape to Spanish territory.  Before the Spanish sanctuary  and manumission  policy was abolished  in 1790 in response  to disorder  in France  and  its colonies,  enslaved  people  in Jamaica  often  stole  canoes  and  other vessels in order to make quick sea journeys to freedom in Cuba.22 After Haitian independence, and especially after the constitution of 1816, Haiti represented a new and radically different  sanctuary for maritime maroons of the Caribbean: one where freedom  and protection came not from king and Christ but from the antislavery constitution of an independent black state.

While French,  as well as Spanish, precedents may have informed  P´etion’s think- ing on legal sources of freedom  from enslavement, it is clear that in arguing against a  Jamaican   slave  master,  he  was also  making  an  explicit  connection to  English law, and specifically to the legal principles  of both asylum and free soil. In a letter to Rear  Admiral Douglas defending  his decision not to return  the Jamaican  sailors, P´etion invoked the right of asylum recognized  by England  and also included for the first time in the  Haitian  constitution of 1816: “There  is no doubt,  Sir, but the  de- parture of a subject of one government  to another places him under the jurisdiction of the one which he has adopted, and, once under  that  protection, he is no longer amenable to the government  he has abandoned. England  herself offers an example in the right of asylum.” From asylum, P´etion moved effortlessly to the freedom  prin- ciple. Here  Haiti’s president seemed  well aware that  English law, since the widely publicized Somerset  case of 1772, had effectively abolished  slavery on English soil. The case, which famously argued  that  slavery could exist only if it was established by positive  law, was well known  outside  of England,  in part  because  by the  early nineteenth century  it had  become  a staple  of antislavery  discourse.23  Thus P´etion wrote astutely that “if the persons  claimed by Messrs. James and Robert McKowen had been  able to set their  feet in the territory  of England,  there,  where no slavery exists, certainly  [McKowen’s] claim would not have been  admitted.”24  Haiti’s con-


22   Linda  M. Rupert, “Marronage, Manumission,  and  Maritime  Trade  in the  Early Modern  Carib- bean,”  Slavery and Abolition 30, no. 3 (2009): 361–382; Neville A. T. Hall, Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, ed. B. W. Higman (Baltimore, 1992), 124 –130; Jane G. Landers,  Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, Mass., 2010), chap. 1; Julius Scott, “The Common  Wind:  Currents of Afro-American Communication  in the  Era  of the  Haitian  Revolution” (Ph.D.  diss., Duke University, 1986), 93–103. For particular examples of Spanish sanctuary  decrees  for slaves, see “Recopilacio´n  de consultas  y pareceres dados  a S.M. en asuntos  del gobierno  de Indias” (1712–1765), in Archivo Histo´rico Nacional, Madrid, Consejo de Indias, Co´dices, Libro 753 (no. 96, beginning on f. 152v) (consulted  online, PARES,  June 3, 2010, http://pares.mcu.es/Bicentenarios/portal/ consejoDeIndias.html); and the Royal Order  of February  20, 1773, transcribed in Biblioteca  Nacional Jos´e Mart´ı, Coleccio´n Manuscrita, Morales,  t. 79, no. 136, dated  April 14, 1789.

23   There  is an extensive literature on the Somerset  case. For a recent  and useful introduction, see “Forum:  Somerset’s Case Revisited,”  Law and History Review 24, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 601–671, including George  Van Cleve, “Somerset’s Case and Its Antecedents in Imperial  Perspective,”  and comments  by Daniel  Hulsebosch  and Ruth  Paley. On the significance of the Somerset  case for popular  antislavery, see Edlie  L. Wong, Neither Fugitive nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (New York, 2009), chap. 1.

24   P´etion to J. E. Douglas,  March  29, 1817, in Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee,  45– 46.

stitution  and actions in this case, he argued, were no different  from the British prin- ciples of asylum and free soil. Surprisingly, authorities in London concurred.  Under- Secretary of State for War and the Colonies Henry Goulburn examined the issue and concluded  “that  the laws of Hayti much resemble  those  of Great  Britain,  so far as not to permit persons who have once landed in that island to be considered or treated as slaves.”25

P´etion’s  version  of free  soil, however,  was significantly more  radical  than  any British or French  precedent. First, his freedom  principle was proclaimed not for European territories that were geographically removed from the spaces of mass chat- tel slavery, but instead for a former slave colony a short sail from numerous and flourishing slave regimes. Thus, his free soil was declared  in the geographical  space where it most mattered. Second, he made  free soil not only a legal principle  to be invoked and argued  in specific cases, as it was in Europe, but in fact a general  and inviolable principle written into the supreme  law of the land. He thus drew on prin- ciples from Old Regime antislavery and combined them with elements of Haitian antislavery to expand the scope of each. P´etion’s policies broadened the concept  of free  soil by promising  arrivals  not  only freedom  from  enslavement,  but  also citi- zenship. He simultaneously expanded  the reach of the freedom  won in the Haitian Revolution and  reaffirmed  in every Haitian  constitution by making it available  to strangers,  to people  who had not been present  at the moment  of the constitution’s drafting. Article 44 thus made freedom  and citizenship more widely attainable, and gave the promise  of Haiti’s radical antislavery a more  robust  life and international projection in an age and place where neighboring states remained very much invested in the  regime  of slavery.


IF  ARTICLE 44—AND  THE  CONSTITUTION  more  broadly—represented a radicalization of longstanding free-soil precedents, it also reflected an engagement with newer, revolutionary ideas about freedom and sovereignty emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. Clearly, Article 44 reaffirmed,  expanded, and projected  internationally the foundational antislavery of the Haitian Revolution. Every Haitian constitution, start- ing with Toussaint’s colonial constitution in 1801, had specified that the abolition of slavery was guaranteed “in this territory.” Article 1 of P´etion’s 1816 constitution, like its predecessors, declared:  “There  cannot exist slaves within the territory  of the Re- public: slavery is forever abolished.”  By contrast,  as Sibylle Fischer’s work has em- phasized, the 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” in France famously declared  that  “men  are  born  free  and  equal  in rights”  in a manner  that implicitly seemed  to reference all men universally, but which, by referring  neither to a specific location  where  that  freedom  would be respected nor to the  very real slavery that  existed in France’s own territory,  fell far short of ending the actual  in- stitution  of slavery. By explicitly specifying the  location  where  freedom  would be made real—“in this territory”  in 1801, in the territory of Haiti or of the republic after

1806—the Haitian constitutional texts made it clear that the freedom envisioned was not an abstract  proposition, but freedom  from real, existing slavery. Freedom was


25   Henry  Goulburn to John  Wilson Croker,  Esq., ibid., 53.


FIGURE 1: Alexandre Petion, President of the Republic of Haiti, 1807-1818. Kurt  Fisher  Haitian History  Col­ lection, Photographs and Prints Division,  Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New Yark  Public Library,  Astor,  Lenox  and  Tilden  Foundations


AMERICAN HISTORICAL  REVIEW                                                                                                        FEBRUARY 2012


there, on that soil, guaranteed to all.26  In 1816, Article 44 was novel, indeed  ground- breaking, because it made that territory without slavery now expressly and legally available  to outsiders,  to slaves of foreign  masters,  subjects  of foreign  kings, and outcasts  of other  governments.

P´etion never sought to deny that  the men had been held as slaves by McKowen in Jamaica, but Haitian  law, he seemed to argue, unequivocally invalidated  the right of property  in men claimed by McKowen and recognized  by every other government of the day. P´etion’s 1806 constitution, as well as its revision in 1816, did guarantee, like many others, the right of property,  but it explicitly defined property  as including “the  right to enjoy and  dispose  of . . . one’s work and  industry.”27  Here,  then,  the protection of property,  which had  been  used elsewhere  and  would continue  to be used for some time as a means  to protect  the institution  of slavery, was defined  in such a way as to make  slavery doubly inadmissible—as  a violation  of the rights of man and as a violation of an individual’s right to his own property  or person. Haitian law—Article 1 prohibiting  slavery, Article 10 defining property  to include one’s own labor, and Article 44 extending the rights of Haitian  citizenship, and therefore free- dom, to non-white foreigners—together rendered moot and invalid McKowen’s (or anyone  else’s) claim to be the  master  of black persons  residing  in Haiti.

If P´etion’s reasoning  purposely  ignored  the legal status  of the Jamaican  sailors outside of Haiti, it also neutralized their master’s claim that the men were criminals. P´etion did not deny that the men had stolen the Deep Nine ; indeed,  he returned the vessel to McKowen almost immediately. But he did not regard the taking of the vessel as a crime in and of itself. Instead,  he argued that the men’s potential crimes would be judged against  a different  standard. He wrote to McKowen, “If they have com- mitted  crimes against the rights of Men, they will be tried  according  to local law of the  country  of which they are now citizens.”28

P´etion’s invocation of the rights of man suggests that he was thinking expansively about  Haiti’s relationship to international debates  on freedom  and  rights. He  in- sisted, first, that the rights of man would serve as the standard against which claims on  the  freedom  of the  men  would be  judged.  Importantly, he  also  reserved  that judgment  to Haitian  courts. By making local courts the arbiter  of the rights of man, P´etion in a sense universalized  Haitian  law: national  law would have a duty to uni-


26   An insightful discussion of the meanings  of the differences  in wording between  Toussaint’s con- stitution  of 1801 and its French  precedents will appear  in Sibylle Fischer, “ ‘Here, all men are born, live, and die free and French’: Toussaint  Louverture’s  Constitution of 1801 and the Difficult Politics of Uni- versal Human  Rights” (article manuscript in preparation). It is interesting  to note that the only Haitian constitution of the early post-independence period not to specify that slavery was abolished in Haiti was the first official Haitian  constitution of 1805 of Dessalines, which stated simply and expansively, “L’esclavage est `a jamais aboli.” http://modern-constitutions.de/HT-00-1805-07-27-fr-i.html.

27   While  some  important European texts had  defined  property  as that  “which men  have  in their persons as well as goods,” constitutional texts from the period generally affirm a right to property without specifying what is meant.  John  Locke, Two Treatises on Government  (London,  1821), 340.

28   Emphasis added. The letter is available only in the English translation prepared by British officials in Jamaica.  It is worth  noting  the  term  “rights  of Men.”  The  use of “Men”  rather  than  “Man”  reads somewhat  awkwardly and raises the question  of the exact phrasing  in the original.  Did it say droits de l’Homme  or something  else, perhaps  droits des gens (from  the  Roman  concept  of ius gentium), often translated as “the Law of Nations,” referring  to natural  or common law among states, and encompassing laws on national  boundaries, extradition, prosecution of piracy, and so on? In this particular case, then, a reference to the rights of man, related  to the right of liberty and the repudiation of enslavement, and a reference to the  law of nations  might both  have been  appropriate for P´etion.



versal rights. At the same time, he Haitianized universal rights: the human rights proclaimed and then denied  to black people the world over would be respected and realized concretely on Haitian  territory.  It bears saying that this version of universal rights in Haiti  did not apply to most whites, as Articles 38 and 39 of the 1816 con- stitution, echoing earlier ones, prohibited the entry of white men as property  owners and denied them the possibility of becoming Haitian citizens, measures that were designed  to impede  the  return  of white French  ´emigr´es  with potential designs of re-enslavement or reconquest.29

One aspect of P´etion’s invocation of rights merits further  analysis. His claim that the men were citizens of Haiti seems to represent a generous  reading  of Article 44, which stated that arrival in Haiti gave African- and indigenous-descended people the right of nationality,  with the rights of citizenship to follow a year later. The men in question had been in Haiti for less than a month, yet P´etion stated explicitly that they were “now citizens” of Haiti.  It is difficult to know what to make of his reluctance to recognize  the distinction  between  nationality  and citizenship,  which is explicitly established  in the constitutional article itself. Comparisons to French  metropolitan law may be instructive  here.30  P´etion’s definition  of nationality  echoed  pre-revolu- tionary French  law, which rooted  nationality  in territory  rather  than blood, defining a French  person  as someone  born  on French  soil. In Haiti,  where more  than  two- thirds  of the  formerly  enslaved  were African-born, leaders  eschewed  the  require- ment  of birth  on  national  soil; presence  rather  than  birth  was key. Importantly, French law itself was changing as a result of the revolution, as naturalization became a matter  of law rather  than monarchical  favor: from a 1790 decree  that granted  the rights of active citizenship  to foreigners  after  five years of residence,  to the  revo- lutionary constitution of 1793, which declared that any foreigner domiciled in France for one year had the rights of a French citizen. By the time of Haitian  independence in 1804, however, French  law had departed from that  norm with the promulgation of the  Civil Code  of 1803, which conceived  nationality  as emanating  from  blood rather  than  soil, meaning  that  a French  citizen was defined  as someone  born  to a French father, irrespective of his or her actual presence on French soil.31  The Haitian constitution thus echoed  France’s earlier,  more  inclusive definitions  of nationality. In the 1817 case, P´etion’s blurring  of the lines between  nationality  and citizenship


29   Article 39 allowed whites in Haiti  serving either  in the army or as public functionaries, and who had arrived before the 1806 constitution went into effect, to be recognized  as Haitian  citizens, but made it clear that  no white person  would enjoy the same right after the publication  of the 1816 constitution. Dessalines’s 1805 constitution also forbade the entry of land- or slave-owning whites and prohibited any newly arrived white person from acquiring property  of any kind in Haiti (Article 12). Christophe’s  1807 constitution for northern Haiti did not include prohibitions on white landownership or citizenship. See the texts in Janvier, Les constitutions d’Ha¨ıti. For a discussion of these property  and race provisions over time, see Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, 53.

30   That P´etion sometimes  engaged directly with metropolitan precedents is suggested by his instruc- tion to local jurists that when legal uncertainties arose in matters  for which no local law could serve as a guide, and until the drafting  of a Haitian  civil code, jurists should use the Napoleonic  Code as a basis for their  decisions.  See Thomas  Madiou,  Histoire d’Ha¨ıti, 8 vols. (Port-au-Prince, 1985), vol. 5: 1811–

1818, 359.

31   On French definitions of nationality,  see Patrick Weil, How to Be French: Nationality in the Making since 1789, trans.  Catherine Porter  (Durham, N.C., 2008), 11–36. For  an interesting  discussion of the distinction between nationality and citizenship and between simple (passive) and political (active) cit- izenship in the context of French revolutionary constitutions, see Peter Sahlins, Unnaturally French: Foreign Citizens in the Old Regime and After (Ithaca,  N.Y., 2004), 283–289.


served to make those definitions even more capacious. He thereby made nationality for non-whites  easily obtainable and, importantly,  nearly coterminous with citizen- ship.

There is another important way in which the 1816 constitution and the 1817 case reflected a potentially radical engagement with emerging notions of nationality, territory,  and  citizenship.  Article  3 of the  1816 constitution announced—for the first time—the  right  of “sacred  and  inviolable”  asylum.32  By the  early nineteenth century,  asylum in England  and  elsewhere  in Europe was based  in territorial sov- ereignty rather  than religious sanctity, and it was offered generally to foreigners who had been banished  or persecuted as a result of their political beliefs. Only in Haiti, however,  was the  practice  incorporated into  the  nation’s  constitution.33  Although the Haitian  constitution did not specify to whom asylum could be granted,  Pe´tion’s actions in this case suggested  that  it would be available to the foreign enslaved. To offer asylum to fugitive slaves was to assert the sovereign power of the Haitian  state, on the  one hand,  and  to recognize  enslavement  as a form of persecution that  ob- ligated  the  granting  of asylum, on the  other.  Article  44, then,  cannot  be fully un- derstood without  being placed  in the  context  of the  broader constitution in which it was embedded. Its full power was tangible only alongside those other  articles that unequivocally illegalized slavery, rejected  any definition of property  that might allow a return  of slavery even in a few isolated  cases, and offered  asylum and protection to foreigners.

The Haitian  constitution of 1816 and its 1817 application in the case of the seven sailors thus represented a productive engagement with and participation in the major moral and political questions  of the Age of Revolution: the fate of slavery, the re- lationship between rights of property  and rights of liberty, and the boundaries of nationality  and  citizenship.  However,  Haiti’s  engagement with these  notions  was nothing  if not dynamic. In combining the articles in one constitution, Haiti seemed to have gone significantly beyond the conception of those  rights in their  European (or North  American)  enunciations. This does not mean that  the universalist  ideals of rights expressed  but truncated elsewhere  were realized  or redeemed in Haiti  by some logic of rights. Rather, in their engagement with those ideals and in their de- velopment  of real-world  policy informed  by them,  Haitian  leaders  actually  made them something  other than what they were originally meant to be. Thus the abstract right of liberty proclaimed elsewhere  was transformed into a concrete  prohibition on  slavery, including  the  explicit cancellation  of all debt  ever  contracted for  the purchase  of human  beings (Article  2). The right to property,  so fundamental to lib- eral constitutions, was also proclaimed,  but it was explicitly defined in a way that no liberal power would have conceived at the time. The sovereign nation, as elsewhere, was imagined as a “space of citizenship in which rights would be accorded  and pro-


32   On the right of asylum and the welcome of refugees,  see Mo¨ıse, Constitutions et luttes de pouvoir en Ha¨ıti, 1: 54.

33   The French  constitution of 1793, Article  120, asserted  the right of asylum to foreigners  fighting for “liberty against tyranny,” but that constitution was never implemented. On the French  right of asy- lum, or droit d’asile, see Greg Burgess, Refuge in the Land  of Liberty: France and Its Refugees, from the Revolution to the End of Asylum, 1787–1939 (New York, 2008), esp. chap. 1. On the transformation of notions  of asylum in the eighteenth century, see S. Prakash  Sinha, Asylum and International Law (The Hague,  1971).


tected.” But Articles 10 and 44 (and the particular applications  they were given) represented a robust  redefinition of a space of rights that  until then  had  been  es- sentially national  in conception.  In Haiti,  the space of citizenship—made available to non-white and enslaved foreigners  in 1816—was expressly transnational. And the seven sailors from Jamaica  seemed  to understand that  quite  clearly.3

ARTICLE  44 AND  THE  1816 CONSTITUTION  were the  products  of a thoroughgoing in- tellectual  engagement with both  longstanding  and emerging  principles  of freedom and rights. But they must also be understood in the context of Haitian  government policy as it evolved after (and in some cases prior to) independence in 1804. More- over, some of the policies and decisions made  by Haitian  governments might pro- ductively  be  understood as themselves  responding  to  initiatives  and  demands  by black and  brown people  in Haiti  and  beyond.

The Caribbean was an intensely mobile space, and in an age of sea travel, islands and coasts were often more well-connected than their neighboring mainlands and interiors.  Since the first abolition  of slavery in Saint-Domingue in August  of 1793, foreigners of color had arrived seeking (and sometimes securing) freedom from local officials. Ashli White has examined a 1794 case in which a Philadelphia servant fled

to revolutionary Saint-Domingue, where French  governor E´ tienne  Laveaux refused

“to force a man against his own will to leave the land of liberty where he has taken refuge.”35  Sometimes  local authorities were even more  aggressive in making  that land of liberty accessible to strangers. In 1797, black privateers from Saint-Domingue stopped  a Swedish slaving vessel that  was transporting African captives to Havana, declaring their intention to take the captives to Saint-Domingue so that they “might enjoy their freedom in the land of liberty.”36 Even during the revolution, then, a territorially based notion  of freedom—of  a land of liberty in which liberty had ex-



34   European intellectual historian  Samuel  Moyn takes a highly critical view of recent  work on the Haitian  Revolution and human  rights, which in his view erroneously  attributes a human  rights stance to Haitian  revolutionaries. He refers specifically to the work of Lynn Hunt  and Laurent Dubois. Moyn argues that the main difference  between  rights associated  with the Enlightenment and the Age of Rev- olution  and modern  human  rights is that in the former  the nation-state (and its authority) was central, while the  latter  emerged  expressly to transcend that  authority.  While Moyn’s criticism can serve as a useful warning against anachronistic back-streaming from modern  notions of human rights, it does sim- plify more nuanced  positions taken  by the authors  he engages. His necessarily brief discussion of Haiti and human rights does not contend  with Haiti as a producer of political thought  on these questions, nor with the presciently transnational potential of the rights enunciated by Haitian  leaders. Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human  Rights in History (Cambridge, 2010), 1– 43, here  13, 31–33.

35   Ashli White, Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic (Baltimore, 2010),

148. Jeffrey Bolster discusses another case in 1802, in which a black sailor escaped  to the then  French colony claiming “the protection of a French  citizen to which he was entitled,  [and] that  he was now at full liberty and  no longer  a Slave.” He  appears  to have won his freedom  there.  Bolster,  Black Jacks: African American Seamen  in the Age of Sail (Cambridge, 1998), 144 –145.

36 See ANC, Gobierno General, leg. 529, exp. 27084, Nicol´as Guillarte to Juan Nepomuceno de Quintana, March 27, 1797, and testimony of crew members  Fernando Deurer, Andr´es Lundbenos, and Juan  de Pontes.  In this case, the  privateers  did not  succeed  in freeing  the  captives on board  because they were surprised  by an English vessel. “Land of liberty” might have referred to Saint-Domingue specifically or to France  more  broadly,  as the  term  (pays de la libert´e)  was also used  in metropolitan France.  See Burgess,  Refuge in the Land  of Liberty, chap. 1.


plicit material  content—appears to have had some power both for local authorities and  for black people  arriving to claim it.

After independence, the new leaders  made it increasingly clear that the “land of liberty” referred to Haiti and not to France, which had by then reestablished slavery and the slave trade. At first, they sought to make that liberty available to black people who had been  taken  from revolutionary Saint-Domingue as slaves or servants  and now wished to return  as free men and women. Just days after Haiti’s Declaration of Independence in 1804, the first head of state, Jean-Jacques Dessalines,  issued a de- cree  offering  payment  to American  ship captains  for returning to Haiti  people  of color who had been removed  from Saint-Domingue during the revolution.37  P´etion himself later  took up the idea in the south and expanded  it over the years that  fol- lowed. In January  1809, as Spanish officials were evacuating  French  residents  from Spain’s American  territory  following the  Napoleonic  invasion of the Spanish  Pen- insula,  P´etion  seized  the  opportunity to  try to  repatriate those  people  whom the Spanish  continued to call “French  blacks.” He  sent  a ship to Cuba  to bring back anyone interested in returning to Haiti. He also requested permission  from Spanish authorities to keep sending such ships, as potential passengers were not likely to have the resources  required to organize  trips on their own, and one ship would not have been sufficient for all of the people he assumed would seek to return.  P´etion referred to those he sought to repatriate as Haitians;  Cuban  authorities referred to them as “´emigr´es” or “French  people  of his [P´etion’s] class.” In the  disencounter between these  terms  lurks the  question  of whether  Pe´tion intended to repatriate men  and women who had been taken from Saint-Domingue and were now being held as slaves in Cuba.  He  never  got the  chance;  Cuban  authorities prohibited the  entry  of the Haitian  vessel and warned  its captain  that  none  would be received  in the future.38

Despite this setback, some repatriation apparently  did occur aboard  private Spanish ships in mid-1809. As ships left eastern  Cuba with refugees headed  to New Orleans, Charleston, and Baltimore,  at least ten smaller vessels appear  to have made journeys instead  to Port-au-Prince and  J´er´emie carrying returnees, much as P´etion had re- quested  a few months  earlier.39

Long before the 1816 constitution, then, Haitian leaders were already developing piecemeal policies designed to facilitate the return  of black men and women who had been  denied  the  possibility of freedom  in Haiti.  Article  44 now went significantly



37   Ardouin,  Etudes sur l’histoire d’Ha¨ıti, 8: 45. For the text of the law, see Jean-Jacques Dessalines,

Lois et actes sous le r`egne de Jean Jacques Dessalines (Port-au-Prince, 2006), 13–14.

38   See the correspondence between P´etion and Santiago governor Sebastian Kindel´an, between Kin- del´an and Havana  governor,  the Marque´s de Someruelos,  and between  Someruelos  and Secretario de Estado,  Madrid,  in ANC, AP, leg. 209, exp. 144; and  AGI,  Estado,  leg. 12, exp. 54.

39   See the lists titled “Relacio´n de los Extrangeros que han salido de esta Ciudad,”  dated  Baracoa, June and July 22, 1809, both in ANC, Gobierno General, leg. 530, exp. 27085. The lists include vessels leaving for ports in Haiti and the United  States. The lists of passengers  aboard  U.S.-bound  vessels often include designations  of people as “esclavos” (slaves), “criados” (servants), or “dome´sticos” (domestics). Haitian-bound vessels did not  identify  people  in servile capacities.  Whether that  difference  is attrib- utable  to a difference  in the lived status  and experience  of the passengers  in Cuba prior  to departure, or to the manner  in which the lists were compiled or people  were grouped  together for the voyages or identified either by themselves, shipmates, or captains upon departure, is impossible to know. For related questions  of status,  mobility, and the law, see Rebecca  Scott, “Paper  Thin: Freedom and Re-Enslave- ment in the Diaspora  of the Haitian  Revolution,” Law and History Review 29, no. 4 (2011): 1061–1087.


further,  promising freedom  and citizenship not just to blacks returning to Haiti, but potentially  to all people  of color and  their  descendants.40

But here again, policies and decisions that predated the 1816 constitution seemed already to be pointing  in that  direction  in daring  ways. Throughout the decade  be- ginning in 1810, for instance,  Haitian  state vessels—including northern ships—cap- tured  several  slave-trading  vessels bound  for  neighboring   colonies  with  captives taken from Africa. In these cases, the captives were liberated and allowed to remain in Haiti,  and  the  ships were sent on to their  destinations, usually with their  crews but without their human  cargoes. In at least one case in the north,  the African cap- tives arriving in Haiti were publicly welcomed and informed that “they were free and among  brothers  and compatriots.”41  The public use of the term  “compatriot” sug- gests the  former  captives’ incorporation as Haitian  nationals.  In this way, the  in- dividual captures  may have presaged  what P´etion tried  to extend  and guarantee in the Haitian  constitution of 1816: freedom  and citizenship on Haitian  soil for foreign persons  of color who otherwise  would have lived in slavery.

Not only was Haitian  nationality  offered to men and women liberated off slaving vessels, it was also, in at least some instances, conferred  on those who came to Haiti of their  own initiative. In 1814, U.S. officials complained  that  Pe´tion was regularly “seducing” sailors from all nations who entered his port. That same year, one black sailor, a native of Martinique who had been living in New Orleans  for many years, decided to stay in Port-au-Prince. The man insisted that he was Haitian,  despite the fact that  he was “never  until now in Haiti.”  Thus, two years before  the revision of the constitution, foreign black sailors were seeking refuge in Haiti, calling themselves Haitian,  and claiming the privileges of Haitian  citizenship.42  The case, only briefly discussed  by the U.S. consul in Haiti,  who felt limited  in what he could raise with the  president of a republic  that  his own government  did not recognize,  suggests a fascinating possibility: that P´etion’s offer of Haitian  protection and citizenship to all arriving people  of color may have been, at least in part,  a response  to—and  an ac- knowledgment  of—what some foreign blacks in the region were already claiming for themselves.


40   The inclusion of indigenous people in Article 44 may have been symbolic, perhaps  in line with the naming of the country as Haiti,  its original indigenous  name, or the naming of the revolutionary army as the Army of the Inca. But that  symbolism itself may provide  insight into how early Haitian  leaders imagined  their  political and intellectual project.  When Dessalines  declared  in spring 1804 that  he had “avenged America,”  he seemed to allude to a vision of history and justice that encompassed more than Africans. One  wonders also whether  the reference to indigenous  people  may have served obliquely as a way to address  people  in Spanish  Santo  Domingo,  whom Haitian  leaders  sometimes  referred to as descendants of Indians, as in Dessalines’s April 1805 proclamation, written after his unsuccessful attempt to drive the French  out of that  part  of the island: “Spanish  indigenes,  descendants of the unfortunate Indians immolated  by the cupidity and greed of the first usurpers of this land.” Quoted in Jenson, Beyond the Slave Narrative, 155. When  Article  44 was written  in 1816, slavery and  Spanish  rule  still persisted on the  eastern  part  of the  island.

41   The quote is from Gazette Royale d’Ha¨ıti, October  10, 1817, quoted in Ardouin, Etudes sur l’histoire d’Ha¨ıti, 8: 66. For a discussion of some of these cases of captured slavers, though  with a focus more on northern examples,  see Ada  Ferrer,  “Speaking  of Haiti:  Slavery, Revolution, and  Freedom in Cuban Slave Testimony,”  in David Patrick  Geggus  and  Norman  Fiering,  eds., The World of the Haitian Rev- olution (Bloomington, Ind., 2009), 240–241; and Jos´e Luciano Franco,  Comercio clandestino de esclavos (Havana,  1996), 106–107.

42   U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, General Records of the Department of State, Record  Group  59, microfilm M9, reel 5, Consular  Despatches, Cap Haitian,  William Taylor to James Monroe,  August  30, 1814.


BOTH  PLACE  AND TIME—THE SLAVEHOLDING Atlantic at the turn of the nineteenth century—were  strongly present  in the  policies of the  southern republic.  By 1816, slavery had uneven power in the region. On the one hand, it had become increasingly influential in places such as Cuba and the U.S. Lower South; in old British colonies such as Jamaica, it maintained its brutal hold over hundreds of thousands of people. At the  same time, both  Britain  and North  America  had abolished  the  slave trade, and the British were embarking  on an aggressive policy of policing and suppressing the trade on the high seas. P´etion appears  to have developed his free-soil policy with both realities  in mind. For the enslaved in places such as Jamaica,  Article 44 made Haiti  an accessible place of refuge  and freedom.  But in a world in which both  ab- olitionism and racism were on the rise, Article 44 promised  to turn Haiti into a place of refuge also for the newly or soon to be freed, who were unable to enjoy the rights of citizenship  elsewhere.

P´etion appears  to have actively thought  about  the contest  between  slavery and freedom  in the neighboring  United  States, where campaigns to limit the mobility of black men and women were in full force. U.S. law required the authorities in free states to give up anyone claimed as a fugitive slave by a putative  owner from a slave state. In some northern states, legislatures contemplated restrictions on the entry of free blacks.43 Meanwhile, Quakers  and slaveholders, with discrepant  motivations, collaborated to settle  free  black people  in foreign  territories. The  Haitian  consti- tution of 1816 appeared in the same year as the establishment of the American Colonization Society, which was dedicated to resettling  freed blacks in Africa. That same year, Paul Cuffee, a free black Quaker  and wealthy ship owner, made his first journey to Sierra  Leone  with thirty-eight  free black settlers.  Hearing  reports  from black American  sailors arriving in Port-au-Prince that the U.S. government  was con- sidering forcibly removing freed blacks to Africa, P´etion sought to insert Haiti into the calculations  of exit and removal being made  in the United  States. Through  his secretary-general, Joseph Balthazar Inginac, he invited black Americans to emigrate to Haiti  as a way of resisting the  exclusion and  abuse  they faced in the  U.S.


Open  to their  eyes the Constitution of our Republic,  and let them  see in its 44th Article  a fraternal hand opened  to their distresses. Since they are at this day refused  the title of Mem- bers of the American Union, let them come among us, in a country firmly organized, and enjoy the rights of Citizens of Hayti, of happiness and peace: lastly, let them come and show to white men that there  yet exist coloured  and black men who can raise a fearless front secured  from insult and  from injury.


The letter,  which also offered  “bounties  of land”  and “open  arms,”  was published in New York in 1818 as the preface to an English translation of the 1816 constitution; it was also published,  with excerpts  from the constitution, in at least one northern newspaper.44  P´etion’s strategy  enjoyed  some success, as several proponents of Af-


43   See especially Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery, completed  and ed. Ward M. McAfee (New York, 2002), chap. 7. For a fascinating discussion of the freedom  principle  in Pennsylvania,  see Richard  S. Newman,  “ ‘Lucky to Be Born in Pennsylvania’: Free Soil, Fugitive Slaves, and the Making of Pennsylvania’s Anti-Slavery Borderland,” Slavery and Abolition 32, no. 3 (September 2011): 413– 430.

44   Inginac  to James  Tredwell,  November  21, 1817, in The Constitution  of Hayti (New York, 1818),

5; retrieved  from the  Archive of Americana online  database,  June  20, 2011. A copy was published  in

Niles Weekly Register, October  17, 1818. P´etion’s attempt to disseminate  news of his policies was in line


rican colonization, including Cuffee and later Loring Dewey, a founder of the Amer- ican Colonization Society, began seriously considering  a Haitian  alternative to Af- rican colonization  schemes. In the 1820s, approximately  6,000 to 13,000 African Americans  migrated  to Haiti, a movement  clearly facilitated  by Pe´tion’s  campaigns and  legislative policy.45

Even as abolitionism was on the rise in the northern states, colonization  schemes and  legal constraints on black mobility made  it very clear  to P´etion  that  in other nations abolition  would not be tied to the rights of citizenship or equality. While the sailors from Jamaica imagined Haiti as a place to attain legal freedom, potential free black emigrants  viewed it as a place to make an already existing legal freedom  more consequential. It was at this critical juncture—in a place and time when the power of slavery and antislavery and racism were all palpable—that Pe´tion developed  his free-soil policy as a means to intervene  in pressing contests  over the fate of slavery and the formerly enslaved. In the same way that his policies seemed to consider both Old Regime  and  revolutionary sources  of rights and  freedoms,  Article  44 in 1816 clearly seemed  to treat  slavery as something  of a dual institution  in that moment— still strong and in ascent in some areas, but under increasing challenge and gradually giving way to a compromised freedom  and  thwarted  citizenship  in others.46

If Haiti’s attempt to shape  U.S. emigration schemes was motivated  in part  by a commitment to  help  expand  the  content  of freedom  for  black  men  and  women abroad,  it also emerged  in the context of Haiti’s assertion  of sovereignty. After Pe´- tion’s death, his successor, Jean-Pierre Boyer, continued to advocate African Amer- ican settlement in Haiti. But in 1824, when at least one U.S. scheme contemplated the establishment of “a colony . . . [with] its own laws, courts, and legislature,  in all respects  like one of the States of the United  States, and connected with and subject to the government  of Hayti,” Boyer responded categorically: “That  cannot  be.” He elaborated only with a general  declaration of principles  that  again returned to the

1816 constitution, and to Article 44 in particular: “The laws of the Republic  are general—and no particular laws can exist. Those who come, being children of Africa, shall be Haytiens  as soon as they put their  feet on the soil of Hayti.”47  For Haiti’s leaders,  the  process  of guaranteeing and giving meaning  to freedom  from slavery, first locally and then transnationally, was always tied to the question  of sovereignty: from fighting against the French  expeditionary force in 1802, when Napoleon tried



with what Deborah Jenson  has recently examined  for an earlier  period  under  Dessalines,  who, for ex- ample, sent copies of new laws to U.S. publishers and newspapers. See Jenson, Beyond the Slave Narrative,

124, 127, 130–131, 138, 142, 150. In both instances, the Haitian state was actively trying to shape its global image and  to insert  itself into an Atlantic  sphere  of debate  over slavery and  freedom.

45   On American colonization  and Haiti, see Sara C. Fanning, “The Roots of Early Black Nationalism: Northern African  Americans’  Invocation  of Haiti  in the  Early Nineteenth Century,”  Slavery and Ab- olition 28, no. 1 (April 2007): 61–85; Chris Dixon, African America and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism  in the Nineteenth Century (Westport, Conn.,  2000); and  Floyd J. Miller,  The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Emigration and Colonization, 1787–1863 (Urbana, Ill., 1975).

46   In some  sense,  P´etion  appears  to have understood the  extended  moment  as a kind  of “hinge” between  what Dale Tomich has called the first and second slaveries, the second being the slavery that expanded  at  the  height  of abolitionism  in emerging  or  expanding  areas  of cultivation.  See  Tomich, Through the Prism of Slavery, chaps. 3, 5, and  6.

47   Loring D. Dewey, Correspondence Relative to the Emigration to Hayti, of the Free People of Colour, in the United States: Together with the Instructions to the Agent Sent Out by President Boyer (New York,

1824), 4, 10.


to reimpose  slavery, to declaring  independence in 1804, to attempting an invasion of the eastern  part  of the island in 1805 when ruling French  officials there  invited local residents  “to fan into the territory  occupied  by the rebels [Haiti], to run upon them,  and to take  prisoner  anyone,  of either  sex, not older  than  fourteen years of age,” who would then  be sold as slaves and  deported.48  The  necessity for Haitian leaders  to assert both freedom  from slavery and national  sovereignty, evident since

1802, appeared present  again in connection with the question  of African American resettlement. Haitian  leaders  made  it clear that  while “emigration” would be wel- comed  and  sought,  “colonization” would be impossible.

That Haiti’s leaders linked the fates of antislavery and sovereignty is evident also in P´etion’s  engagement with South  America.  Since the  French  occupation of the Iberian  Peninsula  in 1808, Spanish  America  had  become  a hotbed  of political  ag- itation  and uncertainty. Importantly, P´etion’s refusal to return  the Jamaican  sailors made reference to those political struggles in Latin America. Indeed,  he even hinted that he was thinking of Latin America  as up for grabs, and potentially  as the hemi- sphere’s  second  free-soil  territory.  He  wrote  to McKowen,  “Every country  has its Laws, as you must know Sir, and fortunately for the cause of humanity, Hayti is not the only one where Slavery is abolished.”49 His confident assertion that abolition was already  a reality in at least one other  country  was a bold and  unexpectedly  public reference to the revolutionary abolition  of slavery in Venezuela  by Simo´n Bol´ıvar in July 1816.

P´etion’s invocation  of Bol´ıvar’s emancipation of Venezuela’s  slaves had partic- ular significance, given the role that  he had played in making it happen.  Since De- cember 1815, his government  had provided asylum to Latin American  independence leaders,  including Bol´ıvar, to whom P´etion had offered  6,000 rifles, munitions,  sup- plies, naval vessels, a printing press, and an unknown number  of Haitian  sailors and soldiers.50 With P´etion’s knowledge and approval, as many as 600 pro-independence families from Cartagena and Caracas took refuge and received support in Les Cayes. Thus the proclamation of the right to asylum written into Article 3 of the 1816 con- stitution consolidated and extended what had already been occurring in practice with the Haitian  state’s protection of Bol´ıvar and other  like-minded  men and women.51

Importantly, P´etion linked the asylum he offered  Bol´ıvar to his broader project of antislavery,  thus  pushing  the  Latin  American  revolutionaries toward  new and more  radical  policies. In exchange for his support,  he required two promises  from Bol´ıvar. First and famously, Bol´ıvar pledged  to abolish slavery in the new republic


48   This stunning example is discussed in two recent works: Graham Nessler, “A Failed Emancipation? The Struggle for Hispaniola during the Haitian Revolution, 1789–1809” (Ph.D. diss., University of Mich- igan, 2011), chap. 5; and Jenson,  Beyond the Slave Narrative, 151–152. Both call attention to the extent to which Haitian  sovereignty was actively threatened by the continuing  French  presence  on the eastern side of the  island.

49   TNA, CO 137/145, P´etion to McKowen, January  30, 1817.

50   On Bol´ıvar’s time in Haiti, see Verna,  P´etion y Bolivar ; and Sibylle Fischer, “Bolivar in Haiti,” in Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, Carla Calarge, and Clevis Headley, eds., Haiti and the Americas: Histories, Cultures, Imaginations (Oxford,  Miss., forthcoming  2012).

51   See Verna,  P´etion y Bolivar ; John  Lynch, Simo´n Bol´ıvar: A Life (New Haven, Conn., 2006), 159–

181. In less impressive  quantities,  P´etion offered  succor and  aid to Francisco  Javier  Mina  and  Pedro Labatot,  who organized  expeditions  to Mexico and New Granada, respectively. William Lewis, “Simo´n Bolivar and Xavier Mina: A Rendezvous  in Haiti,” Journal of Inter-American Studies 11, no. 3 (July 1969):

458– 465. On asylum and the constitution, see Mo¨ıse, Constitutions et luttes de pouvoir en Ha¨ıti, 1: 54.


he was fighting to establish.  He sailed from Haiti  for the first time in March  1816 and began  the gradual  abolition  of slavery in May, freeing  those  who were willing to serve in the liberation army. By July, he had proclaimed general  emancipation: “Nature, justice, and politics call for the emancipation of the slaves. From  here  on forward, there will only be one class of men in Venezuela: all will be citizens.” It was this act, he wrote to P´etion, that gave the South American  revolutions  their true and most just meaning.52 In extracting the promise of slave emancipation, P´etion aspired to extend  the  geographic  space  of liberty, hoping  to help  found  the  hemisphere’s second  country  without  slavery.

Bol´ıvar’s second  promise  is less well known but equally significant. At P´etion’s insistence,  he pledged  that any captive Africans taken  from slave-trading  vessels by insurgent  privateers  would not be sold into slavery but rather  would be turned  over to the Haitian  government. As the slave trade  to Spanish and Portuguese territories flourished  and as insurgent  seamen  plied American  waters, there  was considerable opportunity to seize human  cargo.  Evidence  exists that  these  privateers  regularly took captive Africans and sold them in places such as Cuba. By extracting Bol´ıvar’s promise  that  insurgent  privateers  would not sell captured Africans, P´etion devised a new arrangement whereby captives on the  sea would be brought  to freedom  on Haitian  territory,  thus extending  the physical reach  of Haitian  free soil into Carib- bean  and  Atlantic  waters.53

It was only three  weeks after  the  departure of Bol´ıvar’s  second  expedition  on December 21, 1816, that the seven sailors stole away to Haiti and were there declared free  and  Haitian.  Bol´ıvar’s  second  expedition,  like the  first, was organized  under P´etion’s protection, sailing with munitions,  supplies, and vessels provided by Haiti’s president. One British member  of the company described  the troops  as “principally blacks of St. Domingo  or runaway slaves from the Colonies.”  The mention  of run- aways raises the question  of whether  some of the black men freed  upon  arrival on Haitian  soil subsequently  became  foot  soldiers  in a new project  to extend  to the South American  mainland  the promise of what had been achieved by Haiti in 1804: freedom  from slavery and  European rule.54


52   See “Simo´n Bol´ıvar a los habitantes de la provincia de Caracas,”  reprinted in Simo´n B. O’Leary, Memorias del General O’Leary, 34 vols. (Caracas,  1981), 15: 84. See also Lynch, Simo´n Bol´ıvar, 100. In fact, slavery would not be legally abolished  in Venezuela  until 1854. More work needs to be done con- sidering the apparent discrepancies  between  the attitudes Bol´ıvar assumed  in Haiti and toward  P´etion and  his less broad-minded words and  actions  on race and  slavery later.

53   On the promise  to bring captives to Haiti rather  than sell them into slavery and on the insurgent practice  of capturing  slave ships  and  sometimes  selling the  captives  (in  at  least  one  instance,  after Bol´ıvar’s promise),  see Verna,  P´etion y Bol´ıvar, 337–342; ANC, AP, leg. 8, exp. 39, “Expediente sobre que  el Real  Consulado  de la Habana acredita  el apresamiento de 127 embarcaciones mercantes es- pan˜olas por buques insurgentes,  piratas y otros desde el an˜o 1801 hasta el de 1819”; and ANC, AP, leg.

124, exp. 48, Governor of Santiago de Min. de Estado,  June 7, 1816. On insurgent  privateering  and the slave trade,  see Lauren  Benton,  “Abolition  and Imperial  Law, 1790–1820,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39, no. 3 (2011): 355–374; and  Benton,  “Una  soberan´ıa extran˜a: La Provincia oriental  en el mundo  Atl´antico,” 20/10 El mundo  atla´ntico  y la modernidad iberoamericana, 1750–1850 (forthcoming, 2012).

54   The reference to the presence  of runaway slaves from colonies appears  in C. Brown, Narrative of the Expedition to South America, Which Sailed from England at the Close of 1817 for the Service of the Spanish Patriots Including the Military and Naval Transactions and Ultimate Fate of That Expedition (Lon- don,  1819), 115–116. See also Verna,  P´etion y Bol´ıvar, 337.


BUT  WHAT  OF  THE  ENSLAVED JAMAICAN  SAILORS   who found themselves  at the center of the dispute over the boundaries of Haitian freedom and citizenship in 1817? Some combination of foresight and happenstance brought them to Haiti soon after the law would recognize them as Haitian  and thereby  as free. But how did they understand the  freedom  that  might thus be acquired?

It comes as no surprise  that  their  former  master,  McKowen, characterized the men’s decision  to make for Haiti  in ways that  minimized  its legitimacy and power. He  insisted  that  they had  been  seduced  into escaping  by a man  of color who had boarded  the  Deep Nine at Rocky Point  and escorted  them  to Haiti.55  Some of the fugitives, he added,  were “very young people,  who I am confident  are not capable of appreciating the value of becoming Citizens of Hayti.”56 Young, unknowing boys had been enticed or forced by the older crew members or the shady recruiter to make their way to the first black and antislavery state, unaware of the implications  of their actions. Finally, complained  McKowen, the recruiter had gone unpunished and was still at large at Les Cayes.

Les Cayes, along with other  ports on Haiti’s southern peninsula,  had long been involved in the smuggling trade  with Jamaica. Privateers  outfitted  there  often made incursions  into Jamaican  territory  and seized vessels. It was also a place of refuge for hundreds of patriot  families  from  South  America;  and  it was there  that  both Simo´n Bol´ıvar and Francisco Javier Mina organized,  recruited for, and launched expeditions to liberate  Latin American  territory.  Thus what McKowen cast as a sus- pect relationship between a Les Cayes recruiter and unwitting Jamaican  sailors may instead have signaled multiple “masterless” contacts embedded in a web of com- munications  involving both  trade  and  international  politics.57  Indeed,  when  Mc- Kowen went to Les Cayes to retrieve  the men and boys he considered his property, he was distressed  to find “a great  number,  say from  thirty  to forty, negroes,  who avowed themselves  to be runaways  from  [Jamaica];  and  many of them  were  per- sonally known to my own negroes.”58  Two of them  may have been  among  a group of slaves who had escaped to Les Cayes at around the same time as McKowen’s seven and were said to belong to Hannah French  of Jamaica.59 A few years later, in Port- au-Prince,  the British consul, Charles MacKenzie, would note that “a very large proportion of the population . . . [consisted] of refugee  slaves from the British col- onies.” In Jamaica  itself, British authorities complained  of Haitians  who arrived in


55   The accusation  appears  in TNA, CO 137/145, “Humble  Memorial  of Robert McKowen”; and J. E. Douglas,  Rear  Admiral  and  Commander and  Chief  of Jamaica  Station,  to Pe´tion, May 14, 1817, in Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee,  48.

56   TNA, CO 137/145, McKowen  to Pe´tion, January  30, 1817.

57   On Les Cayes and its connections  to Jamaica, see George  Ripley and Charles A. Dana, The Amer- ican Cyclopaedia: A Popular Dictionary for General Knowledge (New York,  1883), 157. On  Les Cayes corsairs in Jamaican  waters, see Royal Gazette (Jamaica) 38, no. 43 (October 19–26, 1816): 19. On the presence  of Latin  American  independence expeditionaries and  communities there,  see Verna,  P´etion y Bol´ıvar, 159–160, 305–307; and  ANC, AP, leg. 124, exp. 83, Carlos  Preval to Governor of Santiago, November  24, 1816. The notion of masterless  space is taken from Scott, “The Common  Wind.” See also Marcus  Rediker and  Peter  Linebaugh,  The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners,  and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston,  2001).

58   “Examination on Oath  of James  M’Kewan of Port-Royal, Before  the  Committee Appointed to

Inquire  into the  State  of the  Colony,”  in Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee,  29.

59   Rear Admiral J. E. Douglas to George  Lennock, Captain  of HM’s Ship Esk, March 17, 1817, ibid.,

41– 42.

Kingston and other  port cities with Haitian  gazettes and with news meant  to entice people  to Haiti.60

McKowen’s seven sailors appear  to have been very much a part of these networks. The sailor identified as Jem, who escaped to Haiti with the others but later returned to Jamaica, allegedly explained to McKowen that he and his companions “had often before  been  talking of going to Saint Domingo,  having understood from the crews of different  vessels from  that  place  . . . that  there  was no  danger  of their  being brought  back, as they would not be given up, when once they got there.”  They had heard  stories  of other  important inducements as well: “each  [would] get a coffee plantation, or sugar work, with negroes  to work for them,”  and “after  being there twelve months,  they [would] all be made  officers.” Here  the  sailors’ expectations seemed to allude on the one hand to Article 44’s promise of greater  privileges after a year of residence,  and on the other  to the link between  land distribution and mil- itary rank in the southern republic.  The men, it seems, were up-to-date on Haitian news.

If we must make an informed  inference  in order  to imagine the combination of expectation and adventure that  led Jem and the others  to Haiti, we need  to do the same  to think  about  their  possible  fates  after  arrival.  Pe´tion appears  not  to have wavered in his defense of their right to remain in Haiti as free men. But beyond that, nothing  is certain.  For some, the experience  of freedom  may have comported with expectations. Dublin, for instance,  appears  to have secured  the personal  protection of a Haitian general at J´er´emie, who baptized him, gave him his name, and then made him his aide-de-camp.61  But ironically, Dublin’s story entered the historical  record by way of Jem, who told it while back under  McKowen’s dominion.  After  escaping with the  others,  Jem  had  been  pressed  into  service on a Haitian  man-of-war,  and from there  he decided  to escape  back to McKowen, who was on board  the British ship Esk in Port-au-Prince Harbor, still trying to recover his property in men. Neither McKowen nor the British officials who questioned Jem thought  to ask him why he had declined  the offer of Haitian  freedom  and citizenship.  And Dublin,  now aide- de-camp  to a Haitian  general,  was never asked to comment  on how his experience in Haiti  compared to the expectations  he had harbored before  his escape  from Ja- maica to Haiti.

The case of Dublin, Jem, and the other  Jamaican  sailors did not become  a prec- edent-setting case to be recorded along with Somerset  in the formal legal annals of antislavery. It was, however, a key part of the efforts of the early Haitian  state—as the first post-abolition state  in the world—to shape  the global contest  over slavery and to assert  its own antislavery  and sovereign  role in the world. Drawing  on Old Regime legal precedents of free soil, emerging notions of rights and citizenship, and opportunities afforded  by developments such as slave trade  suppression,  American emigration campaigns,  and the independence struggles in South America,  P´etion’s policies represented a pragmatic  and daring means to define and extend the bound-


60   Charles MacKenzie to Foreign Secretary George  Canning, June 2, 1826, quoted  in Nicholls, From

Dessalines to Duvalier, 62. On  Haitians  in Jamaica,  see Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee,


61   “Examination,” in Jamaica  Assembly, A Report of a Committee,  29.


aries of freedom  and citizenship in an Age of Revolution that otherwise  offered  no firm assurances  of either  to black and  brown men  and  women.


FOR  CENTURIES, ENSLAVED MEN  AND  WOMEN in the Caribbean and elsewhere  had es- caped  to freedom.  Some  made  their  bids by sea on small vessels and  headed  for Spanish territory, finding protection in the well-known policies of Catholic sanctuary. A smaller  number  secured  freedom  in France  or England  by arriving on legal free soil. By 1816, however, another, much more radical possibility had emerged. By then, general  liberty had  been  achieved  in what had  been  the  seat of the  slave regime’s most extreme power. The resulting state of Haiti stood not only as a symbol of liberty, but literally as free soil, a place in which freedom, enshrined in the law, could be real for black persons  in their own lifetimes. In the 1817 case, the Haitian  state offered the Jamaican  sailors refuge and protection, elevating their claim to citizenship and emancipation above the  legal claim of ownership  asserted  by their  British master. Thus the slaves’ bid for freedom  found institutional and philosophical  support in the constitution of a sovereign—and antislavery—black  state.

This particular case can be read as part of a broader process in which the Haitian state shaped the possibilities and character of Atlantic freedom,  for it highlights the fact  that  for  the  men  and  women  most  denied  the  promise  of that  freedom,  the experience  and  the  understanding of the  political  transformations of the  age  oc- curred  in dialogue  with Haiti  itself. French  revolutionary and  British  abolitionist ideas  clearly circulated  in the  region,  but  they were  engaged  and  transformed in dynamic and challenging ways in the colonies. Almost from the start of the ferment in Paris  in 1789, free  people  of color  questioned the  legitimacy of elections  and debates  that excluded them as rightful participants; and over the course of the rev- olution,  black and colored  leaders  delivered  stinging critiques  of what they cast as a false universalism espoused in Paris. They circulated accounts of French barba- rism—of loyal officers drowned  at sea; black men devoured  daily by hunting  dogs; wives and sisters made  to dine and dance  in rooms  decorated with black heads  on spikes.62 They condemned the French  for thinking that they were destined  to be the masters of colonial blacks, for thinking that “they alone formed the essence of human nature.”63  The  former  slaves and  long-free  people  of color  announced, in other words, not just that they were the new rulers of the former colony, but also that they were the more  legitimate  and generous  guardians  of equality and liberty. After  in- dependence, they elaborated laws and  policies that  reworked  and  reimagined no- tions of property,  territory,  and  citizenship.  In a world in which slavery and  colo- nialism  held   powerful   sway,  Haitian   leaders   crafted   political   and   intellectual positions designed to extend the promise of radical antislavery despite  the very real constraints imposed by the active rejection of neighboring  states. No story of the rise of rights is complete  without an engagement with the intellectual  and political work done  in Haiti.


62   AGI,  Estado,  leg. 2, exp. 59, Geffrard to Someruelos,  27 Fructidor an 11; and  AGI,  Cuba,  leg.

1537B, Kindel´an to Someruelos,  November  14, 1803.

63   November  1803 declaration by Dessalines,  Christophe, and Clerveaux, reprinted in translation in

Gaceta de Madrid, March  23, 1804, 267–268.



Any history of the role of the Haitian state in the ascent of general  liberty and universal rights nonetheless requires several cautionary  notes. Haiti stood as an im- portant beacon of freedom, willing to do much more—and more quickly—than the liberal powers of Europe to dismantle slavery where it most mattered. Haiti became literal free soil. That enslaved persons such as the Jamaican sailors took knowing advantage of that policy seems clear. But what the juridical freedom from enslave- ment signified in practice remains murky. Jem, at least, appears to have abandoned legal freedom in Haiti when it turned out to entail forced military service, voluntarily returning to slavery under a British master. The power and conviction of the Haitian leaders’ commitment to antislavery and legal abolition is without question, but as Michel-Rolph Trouillot and others have commented, the liberty to which they were committed did not always coincide  with the liberty imagined  by Haitian—and Ca- ribbean—black and brown people. While some legal documents offered freedom and protection to people such as the enslaved Jamaican sailors, others made it difficult for free workers to leave their place of work, or more generally to avoid the demands of what scholars have identified as the “militarized agriculture” of early postcolonial Haiti,  or the  increasingly extractive  policies of what Trouillot  calls “a republic  for the merchants.”64 Freed strangers likely faced some of the same fates as native Hai- tians, including attached labor on plantations, compulsory labor in public works, or, as in the case of Jem, forced service on state vessels or perhaps even on ships headed to South America to free new territory.  At the same time, they may have responded as many Haitians did, becoming part of the  “counter-plantation” society and the vibrant rural networks  that  succeeded  in carving out spaces outside  the purview of the  Haitian  state.

In some sense, the dilemmas around labor and autonomy that emerged in Haiti— the first post-slavery nation in the modern world—would be the problems faced in every subsequent post-emancipation society. Haiti’s post-slavery relapses also have their echoes in later post-emancipation societies, from laws against vagrancy, to the use of penal labor colonies, to the entrenchment of debt peonage.  But the fact that the Haitian state actively sought to make its own freedom from slavery a condition accessible to all black men and women from foreign slave societies has no real par- allels. While Haiti’s bold offer of emancipation and citizenship to outsiders does not mitigate  the  concrete  internal  and  external  obstacles  to  Haitian  freedom,  it does remind us that there are obvious and important counterpoints and disjunctures in any story about either the power of Haitian antislavery or the limits of Haitian freedom.

A further caveat to a celebratory account is perhaps equally uncomfortable. It is clear that Haiti—as  an independent nation—intervened in an Atlantic  arena  of debate  about  slavery and freedom.  Haitian intellectual  production and policy after independence continued to represent a thoroughgoing and critical engagement with antislavery  and  rights  discourses  then  developing  and  circulating  in the  Atlantic world. But it was one thing to do that  intellectual and  political  work; it was quite another to  have  that  work recognized  as part  of a broader international debate.


64   Michel-Rolph Trouillot,  Haiti: State against Nation—The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism (New York, 1990); Mimi Sheller, Democracy after Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica (Gainesville,  Fla., 2000); Dubois,  Haiti; Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier.



Haiti’s important interventions after 1804 appear to have been projected into some- thing of a conceptual vacuum as far as dominant antislavery  or rights thought  was concerned. Perhaps that lack of resonance served P´etion well: it allowed him to declare Haiti as free soil within reach of major sites of enslavement without calling too much attention to his challenge and intervention. But the vacuum also amplifies the usual problems of historical research:  there is little discussion of Pe´tion’s  ap- plication of Article 44 of the 1816 constitution in this case or in any other. In contrast to the judicial archive generated by European free soil, there is no cache of petitions and legal decisions to illuminate the thinking either of the political class or of the men and women who sought freedom from slavery by its means.  Thus, even if the Haitian state saw itself as making a—the—critical intervention in broad debates about freedom and rights, it is not clear that the other participants in those debates acknowledged them or their intervention. And we live today at least as much with the legacies of that refusal of recognition as with the legacies of Haiti’s contribution.


Ada Ferrer is Associate  Professor  of History  and  Director  of the  Center  for Latin American  and Caribbean Studies at New York University. She is the au- thor of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898 (University  of North Carolina Press, 1999), which won the 2000 Berkshire Book Prize. Her next book, tentatively  titled  Slavery and Freedom in the Atlantic World: Cuba in the Shadow  of the Haitian Revolution,  will be published  by Cambridge  University Press.


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