The Impact of the Haitian Revo­ lution in the Atlantic World Print

Holt, Thomas C. 1992. The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Patterson, Orlando. 2005. "The Speech Misheard Round the World".
New York Times. January 22, p. A31.


The long Haitian revolution that took place at the end of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nine­
teenth century constituted one of the most important events in the history of the modern world. Nevertheless it suffered from monumental neglect for a very long time. Fortunately the situa­ tion is being slowly reversed and no one has contributed more to restoring the bibliographical visibility and international impor­ tance of the Haitian revolution than David Geggus. Since his first major publication on the revolution in 1982, Geggus has produced a prolific steam of monographs and articles dealing with diverse aspects of the revolution and opening up the field for others. The revolution has recently begun to attract a variety of international scholars partly as a result of the bicentenary of the declaration of Haitian independence in 2004 and partly because of the promi­ nence of Atlantic studies.

In this superb collection fifteen distin­ guished scholars reflect on the many fascinating dimensions that the slave revolution of Saint-Domingue in 1791and the successful declaration of Haitian independence in 1804 had on the wider Atlantic world. All but two of the present essays were offered at a conference held at the College of Charleston in October 1998. The essays are arranged under four principal headings-overview;

politics; resistance; and refugees. The editor provides a very useful preface that nicely contextualizes the events as well as presents a synoptic description of the various chapters. In addition he does a highly informative chapter on refugee Jean-Baptiste de Caradeux' exile in Charleston and a short epilogue.
The three essays of part one set the general overall tone. David Brion Davis reminds us in his concise overview, "Impact of the French and Haitian Revolutions," that as early as January 1893 an aging Frederick Douglass had declared in his speech opening the Haitian Pavilion at the Chicago World's Fair that "Haiti was the original pioneer emancipator of the nineteenth century" (p.
3) and blacks owed more to Haiti than to any other country. Davis points out that "the Haitian Revolution was indeed a turning point in history" (p. 4). This view is supported by Seymour Drescher in "The Limits of Example" but he severely qualifies the Haitian im­ pact beyond the circum-Caribbean area, noting that "beyond the Caribbean islands, the Haitian revolution seems to have played its most significant, if delayed, role in Gran Colombia. Its impact on Brazil, as a stimulus to emancipation or to slave trade aboli­ tion seems meager at best. Haiti's impact upon African slavery was smaller still" (p. 11) Robin Blackburn sidesteps Drescher's reservations to support Davis on the wider aspects of the Haitian influence, however, noting that "Napoleon's defeat in Haiti was in fact a defeat for all the slave powers of the New World" (p. 17). Moreover he points out that narrow military and political results should not be considered the only measures of impact.
The establishment of Haiti, as the other chapters emphatically
show, had enormous political consequences across much of the western world. Karin Schuller reviews German journals between
1792 and the beginning of the twentieth century and notes some interesting variations with English and French reactions to the Haitian revolution and those of the Germanic states. Some of her observations are not surprising, but others, especially after the later nineteenth century when Haiti loses out to the broader Latin American reporting, demonstrate curious ways in which


German writers projected domestic political considerations on their international reporting. Olwyn Blouet's "Bryan Edwards and the Haitian Revolution" is a remarkably well-researched and informative chapter that presents a far more sophisticated view of Edwards than usually appears in the historiography and makes some insightful comparisons with Thomas Jefferson. Juan Gonza.lez Mendoza examines the sensitivity of Puerto Ricans to the revolutionary impact on the overall economy as well as on the delicate social equilibrium that the island enjoyed before 1804. Simon Newman uses the life of Nathaniel Cutting of New England to illustrate the ways in which Jeffersonian Republicans moved from "the party of republican revolution while yet distancing themselves from foreign social and racial revolutions that threat­ ened the American status quo..." and partly answers the question of the American ambivalence to revolutions since then.
The two last sections deal with the impact of refugees on lo­ cal situations and examine the reception of ideas regionally as well as the catalytic effects on domestic revolutionary politics. Robert Alderson connects the burning of Cap-Fran(,(ais with the spontaneous rumors and revolts that plagued the Carolinas and Virginia in 1793. Laurent Dubois establishes a direct connection between France, Saint-Domingue and the exacerbation of the uprisings in Guadeloupe between 1794 and 1802. Matt Childs details the way that the free black carpenter, Jose Aponte, used the examples of Louverture, Dessalines and Christophe to co­ alesce a broadly-based conspiracy in Havana in 1812. Aline Helg describes an obscure conspiracy that involved French slaves along the Caribbean coast of Colombia but admits that the socio-eco­ nomic structure of the area proved inhospitable for any type of sustained revolutionary activity. Marixa Lasso further explores the Cartagena region for vital ways in which black republicanism drew on the iconic imagery of Haiti for its symbolic support in the early nineteenth century.
Refugees from both the Haitian and French revolutions spread broadly across the Atlantic world. Susan Branson and

Leslie Patrick provide fascinating details of the generosity of the federal government and private individuals to refugees but show that, at least in Philadelphia, this help went overwhelmingly to white refugees although the presence of black slaves and free persons created a quandary for local authorities. Philadelphia's black population demonstrated far less sympathy for black refu­ gees although eventually remaining refugees managed to establish viable marginal communities in the city. Louisiana received about ten thousand refugees from Haiti-about double the number that went to Philadelphia-and Paul Lachance provides an impressive analysis of the demographic and economic impact as well as the complicated social repercussions of rapidly absorbing such large and diverse population.
Every essay provides fresh insights on a fascinating theme and the reader is persuaded by the editor's assertion in the preface that "[f)rom Philadelphia to Rio de Janeiro, from the imagination of poets to the world commodity markets, the violent birth of Haiti caused a variety of repercussions... Great power politics, slave resistance, movements of migration, and attitudes to race and the future of slavery were all affected" (p. xvi). This is an important volume that makes a substantial contribution to Atlantic and American history as well as to themes dealing with slave societies in the Americas.

Franklin W. Knight
Johns Hopkins University This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  • Sunday, 08 June 2014


Haitian Heritage Musem.png
Musee Ogie Foonbrum.png

Funded by W.K. Kellogg Foundation