Unexploited Sources for the History of the Haitian Revolution Print

Source: Latin American Research Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1983), pp. 95-103
Published by: The Latin American Studies Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2502858
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Latin American Research Review.

One of the greatest servile rebellions and the sole successful slave revolt in world history, the insurrection that destroyed France's richest colony and led to the creation of Haiti has been the subject of a great deal of writing and controversy, but relatively little basic research. The destruc­ tion of Saint Domingue and the career of the black leader Toussaint Louverture have inspired innumerable popular and partisan works, but at the level of primary research, we have not progressed far beyond Ardouin's Etudes of 1853 and Pauleus Sannon's Histoire of the 1920s. 1
The appearance of a new scholarly biography of Toussaint Lou­
verture provides a good occasion for reviewing the vast quantity of largely neglected manuscript material that concerns this unique and profound event. 2 Pierre Pluchon's stimulating and controversial De l'es­ clavage au pouvoir certainly shows the way forward, being based solidly, but almost solely, on the main series of government correspondence in the Archives Nationales in Paris. It breaks new ground in the systematic use of these sources (principally the series CC9), but it remains, even regarding the material in Paris, an unbalanced achievement. Apart from its primarily political slant, the work ignores to its cost the enormous Dxxv series generated by the Comites des Colonies and also the well­ known collections in the Bibliotheque Nationale of Sonthonax and Laveaux correspondence, whose six volumes contain a large part of Toussaint's surviving letters. 3 Although far from fully exploited, all this material, along with the invaluable collection of miscellanea left by Mo­ reau de Saint-Mery (A.N., Colonies, F3), has been dipped into fre­ quently by writers on the revolution and is the primary source of most scholarly work on the subject. The purpose of this article is to draw attention to some of the entirely neglected material to be found not only in France but also in Spain, Great Britain, the Caribbean, and the United States that might illuminate further the strange twilight period in which Saint Domingue was transformed into Haiti.


Latin American Research Review


Undoubtedly the most neglected material is that in Spanish from Saint Domingue's neighbour colony, Santo Domingo. The Spanish authorities observed closely the revolution that threatened to engulf them and par­ ticularly the slave rebels with whom they traded across their common frontier. When war broke out in Europe, the governor of Santo Domingo enlisted thousands of rebel blacks into his army, and the Spaniards thus became major participants in the revolution. The documentation they left behind is substantial, in excellent condition, and has been accessible for decades.4 For any study of the slave revolt of 1791and of its develop­ ment, this material is vital.
The Spanish documents are divided between the Archivo Gene­ ral de Indias in Seville and the Archivo General de Simancas near Valla­ dolid. The two collections overlap considerably, but for the war years
1793-95, Simancas has the more important holding (Guerra Moderna,
7157-64). The Seville holding, however, is the larger, being distributed between Estado 11, 13, 14 and Audiencia de Santo Domingo 1027-35,
1089, 1102, 1110, with duplicates in 954-57. 5
These papers are unique in several respects. They provide a first­ hand account of Saint Domingue's revolution by persons not directly involved in it. They register the shock waves of that revolution in the colony where they were felt most severely. They describe the extraordi­ nary experiment of recruiting rebel slaves into a European army to de­ fend a slave society. They also cast light on the early career of Toussaint Louverture, both before and after he joined the Spaniards. Although they include practically no letters by him, the two collections contain a large number by other rebel leaders, in particular Jean-Fran ois,
sou, and Gabriel Bellair. Most are translated copies, but there are some signed originals and autographs as well. They reveal much about the structure of the rebel forces and the identity of their leaders, and they are especially interesting when the rebel chiefs discuss the origins of the revolt. Other unexplored topics that are abundantly documented are the relations between the Spanish Church and the slave rebels, and the mysterious Fort Dauphin massacre, in which hundreds of French colo­ nists were murdered by Jean-Fran ois's
Spanish authorities. The Seville holding also contains a large body of material (Aud. Santo Domingo, 1039, 1102) relating to the famous ma­
roon band of the Maniel, about whom we know very little, despite their notoriety. Especially obscure is the period between their treaty with the colonial authorities in 1785 and their first contact with Toussaint Louver­ ture in 1796, the period from which this material derives. The connection between marronage and revolution in Saint Domingue has been hotly debated, and here we have an important test case.



The Caribbean

Scholars working in the Caribbean might like to know that many of the most important items from the Seville and Simancas collections can be found in typescript copies in the Dominican Republic. Made by the historian J. M. Inchaustegui, they are kept at the Universidad Cat6lica de Madre y Maestra at Santiago de los Caballeros. 6 Apart from a few proclamations by the governor of Santo Domingo, however, little has survived of the original colonial archives, creating something of a mys­ tery.7 When Spain relinquished control of Santo Domingo in the sum­ mer of 1796, its archives were sent to Cuba; but, judging from Jose Luciano Franco's Documentos para la historia de Haiti en el Archivo Nacional, they are evidently no longer there.8 They may have been returned to Santo Domingo early in the nineteenth century because Beaubrun Ar­ douin, writing around 1850, cited Louverture letters that he claimed to have found in Santo Domingo. 9 As they are very important, it is unfor­ tunate that nothing of the sort can now be found in the Archivo General de Ia Naci6n. 10 Nevertheless, we have in del Monte y Tejada's Historia de Santo Domingo some compensation for the loss of this material, as well as presumptive evidence of its existence up to the end of the nineteenth century. 11 All of volume 4 of this little-known work and an appendix to volume 3 consist of letters passed between local military commanders and the governor during the revolutionary period. They admirably com­ plement the documents in Spain by introducing a broader range of opinion and providing a finer focus on day-to-day events.
In Jamaica are found a number of small collections directly rele­
vant to the Haitian revolution. The papers of Governor Nugent, kept in the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston, contain over twenty reports by British agents who resided in Saint Domingue during the ascendancy of Toussaint Louverture (1799-1801), as well as some seven letters by Tous­ saint and eleven by Jean-Jacques Dessalines. 12 These are contemporary duplicates of originals in the Public Record Office in London, or in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The Institute of Jamaica more re­ cently acquired the Fischer Collection (Ms 36F) of some hundred small dossiers, many of which concern the southern region of the Grand Anse. They include wills, legislative acts, records of property trans­ actions, and political correspondence. The Fischer and the Haitian Manuscript (Ms 36) collections together contain about half a dozen let­ ters by Toussaint or Dessalines. The Jamaica Archives at Spanish Town include among the papers of the Vice-Admiralty Court captured corre­ spondence from Saint Domingue and the trial papers of ships seized after March 1793. These documents shed light on U.S. commercial ac­ tivity in the colony and could be combined usefully with North Ameri­ can sources.


Latin American Research Review

Paradoxically but understandably enough, Haiti itself seems to possess no primary sources concerning its revolution that destroyed so much. According to its director, the Archives Nationales in Port-au­ Prince contains no documents from the colonial period. In the late 1970s, the private collection of Edmond Mangones was donated to the Institut Saint Louis de Gonzague, an invaluable storehouse for Haitian studies, but its holdings reportedly have been transferred to its parent house in Rome.

Great Britain

One of the major finds of recent years occurred when twenty-seven letters signed by Toussaint Louverture surfaced in Scotland. They date from the summer of 1798 and concern the black leader's negotiations with General Thomas Maitland to have the British forces of occupation evacuate Saint Domingue. Although duplicates of these items exist in Paris, they occasionally differ from the text of the originals, and herein lies the great interest of the new find. While Toussaint was pretending to the French government that he was acting as a loyal vassal, he was negotiating with the British as an independent ruler. Descendants of General Maitland deposited the collection in the Scottish Record Office. It also contains a considerable quantity of the general's papers from the years 1797-98 not found in the Public Record Office (PRO) that provide much valuable information unavailable elsewhere. 13
Three other collections concerning the period 1797-98 also de­ serve note, especially because none of them appears in Walne's Guide to Manuscript Sources.14 The Devon Record Office at Exeter holds numerous papers of John Simcoe, Maitland's predecessor as commander of the British-occupied zone. Like the Steel-Maitland papers, these form a valuable supplement to the material in the PRO and throw much light on the latter stages of the war between the forces of Toussaint Louver­ ture and the British. 15 Of similar extent and nature are the papers of Edward Littlehales, General Simcoe's aide-de-camp. Part of the Spencer Bernard private collection, they illuminate the everyday life of the Eu­ ropean troops fighting the ex-slaves. 16 The same is also true of the smaller collection left by Captain James Guthrie, who served as acting quartermaster. 17 His accounts yield much information about price levels in the colony, but their importance derives from the data on casualties, which fill many lacunae in the PRO statistics. All these collections, how­ ever, contain plenty of French material, and their interest extends far beyond purely military matters.
It was Britain's five-year attempt to conquer Saint Domingue that generated the enormous documentation on the revolution to be found in the Public Record Office, making it the second most important reposi-



tory in this respect after the Archives Nationales. All the series relating to the occupation have now received at least cursory attention, 18 but some material lying outside this subject might be noted. The records of the High Court of Admiralty include a rich holding of captured corre­ spondence from Saint Domingue much larger than that in the Jamaica Archives. 19 Coming from mailbags, it provides detailed pictures of par­ ticular regions at specific moments. For instance, it contains nearly four hundred letters posted in the Port-au-Prince region around January
1793, when political divisions were sharpening and the voodoo priest Hyacinthe was gaining prominence in the surrounding countryside. Bernard Foubert's analysis of soldiers' letters from the Cayes region exemplifies what excellent use can be made of such material. 20
Rhodes House Library at Oxford has recently acquired two vol­ umes of correspondence on the Caribbean by British War Minister Henry Dundas. 21 These include a section on Saint Domingue that supplements the existing Dundas material in the PRO, British Library, National
Library of Scotland, and the collection of Gabriel Debien. Rather sur­
prisingly, the British Library also contains a brief miscellany of official correspondence from Santo Domingo dating from 1792-93. All the items, which largely concern relations between the Spaniards and the black rebels, can be found also in either Simancas or Seville. They in­ clude letters by the governor, the archbishop, and Jean-Fran\ois. 22


Despite the enormous boost given to plantation studies by Gabriel De­ bien, far less is known about the slaves of Saint Domingue's North Province, where the great uprising of 1791 took place, than about those of its other two provinces. In his analysis of the slave population during the late colonial period, Debien provides details of thirty-three planta­ tions in the South, nineteen in the West, and only eleven in the North, although the latter regions contained forty percent of the slaves. 23 The sources seem to be most scarce for this wealthiest part of the colony, yet much remains to be done. Unresearched plantation papers from the Plaine du Nord are to be found in the series T and AP of the Archives Nationales, in the departmental archives or municipal libraries of La Rochelle, Le Mans, Rouen, Arras, and elsewhere, as well as in private collections. 24 Probably the most profitable field for this kind of investiga­ tion is the huge collection of colonial notaries' papers in the Archives Nationales, Section d'Outre-Mer. Thirty years ago, M. R. Richard wrote an article lamenting the neglect of its untapped riches, 25 and the situa­ tion remains unchanged. At present we know almost nothing about the structure of the slave population that produced this greatest of revolts, let alone about any changes in its makeup or living conditions that may


Latin American Research Review

have contributed to the cataclysm of 1791. 26 This area of study could prove to be a rewarding one.
Among the most important, yet least used, sources for the history
of the entire revolution in Saint Domingue is a little-known, anonymous manuscript of some two hundred and seventy-five thousand words, entitled the Preds historique des annales de la colonie fram;oise de Saint­ Domingue depuis 1789 . ... Part of the Debien collection, a typescript copy of it also exists in the Bibliotheque Nationale.27 It is in many re­ spects an essential counterpart to the "official history" published by the Girondin deputy Garran-Coulon, the four-volume Rapport sur les trou­ bles de Saint-Domingue, which actually has been more ignored than read by writers on the revolution. The anonymous manuscript presents the subject from the standpoint of a colonist unsympathetic to the French Revolution, and yet, like the Rapport, it maintains a degree of objectivity that distinguishes it from many other merely polemical works. While Garran-Coulon's study ends in 1794, the Precis Historique continues up to the surrender of Toussaint Louverture in floreal Year Ten (May of
1802). Rich in quotations from documents, it is above all an eyewitness account by one who lived in the colony throughout the course of the revolution. Moreover, while most first-hand accounts from these years were written in Cap Fran\ais, the author of the Precis Historique lived in Port-au-Prince. All these factors produced a unique work well worthy of careful scrutiny.
A manuscript of comparable length and scope, although less use­ ful, is the Histoire de la Revolution by the avocat Listre, who practiced before the Conseil Superieur du Cap. 28 Unlike his legal colleagues P.M. Duboys (probable author of the Precis) and Moreau de Saint-Mery (au­ thor of the famous Description of Saint Domingue), Listre gives his preju­ dices full rein, and consequently, his reliability becomes suspect in parts. Even so, while his Histoire lacks the acuity, originality, and balanced judgment of the Precis, it contains much valuable information on events in the North Province and is itself vivid evidence of the blinkered and violent self-righteousness of I'esprit colon. Another neglected manuscript history of the revolution, written in 1800, is to be found in the Biblio­ theque Municipale de Rouen.29 Its author was probably from the north­ west region of the colony, and certainly its most interesting pages con­ cern the Fort Dauphin massacre. The library's collection also contains a
key document devoted entirely to the subject of the massacre. 30 It combines an eyewitness description with a list of the victims, an analytic
attempt to deduce the role of the Spaniards in the affair, and an account
of life in the town during the following eight months. This document
contains much information about Jean-Fran\Ois's army and about the relations existing between nouveaux and anciens libres. It forms a major



addition to the material on the massacre in the Spanish archives and the

United States

Two contrasting, but very important, collections have passed from pri­ vate hands in the last twenty years to the library at the University of Florida at Gainesville. One consists of the papers of General Rocham­ beau, who commanded the French army during the bloodiest stage of Haiti's war for independence (1802-3). They exceed one thousand items, and an excellent calendar of them has been published.31 Less eye-catch­ ing, but potentially rather exciting, are the Jeremie Papers, notarial rec­ ords from the southern region of the Grand Anse. Wills, inventories, marriage contracts, records of property transactions, and similar docu­ ments fill some eighteen boxes and are supplemented by microform copies of other notaries' records from the same region held by the Ar­ chives Nationales, Section d'Outre-Mer. On the eve of the revolution, the Grand Anse was Saint Domingue's frontier, the scene of frantic pioneer activity riding on the coffee boom of the 1780s. An isolated region with a distinct personality, it experienced the impact of the revo­ lution in a unique way. The plantation regime survived there, embattled but largely intact, until 1802. Notarial records go back to the 1770s, but are clustered in rare abundance from the 1780s and 1790s. 32 The Grand Anse is also well represented in the inventories of the Administration des Biens des Absents of the mid-1790s and in the Recensements des Biens Domaniaux of the late-1790s, 33 both held by the Section d'Outre­ Mer. These documents offer an opportunity for a fascinating area study.
"Lieutenant Howard's Journal," in the Boston Public Library, has
been mentioned occasionally in historical works for over fifty years, but
has actually received little attention. 34 It is an unsigned manuscript of some fifty-five thousand words written by a British soldier named Th­ omas Phipps Howard, who served in the West Province between mid-
1796 and early 1798. It provides valuable evidence on three subjects in particular: colonial society during the revolution, the mortality suffered by European troops, and the fighting between the Anglo-colonials and the forces of Toussaint Louverture. The journal is full of memorable images, but it becomes especially atmospheric near its end, when the futility of the British position weighed heavily on the young officer. Camped amid the overgrown ruins of the Cul-de-Sac, he paints a pic­ ture of apocalyptic desolation, well aware it would be the epitaph of slave-owning Saint Domingue. "Unhappy colony, I do not know if you merited your fate ... I leave that to Him who in His wrath sends the destroying Angel 'to ride on the whirlwind and direct the Storm'."35


Latin American Research Review


1. Beaubrun Ardouin, Etudes sur l'histoire d'Haiti (Paris, 1853-60). Horace Pauleus San­
non, Histoire de Toussaint-Louverture (Port-au-Prince, 1920-33).
2. Pierre Pluchon, Toussaint Louverture: de l'esclavage au pouvoir (Paris, 1979), which Ire­
viewed in an article entitled "Haitian Divorce" in the Times Literary Supplement (Lon­
don), 5 December 1980, p. 1381.
3. Definitive collections of Louverture correspondence are being compiled by Professors
Joseph Borome of The City College of New York and Michel Laguerre of the Univer­
sity of California, Berkeley. Many of the published versions of Toussaint's letters and
related items contain substantial errors. See my article, "The Volte-Face of Toussaint
Louverture," Revue franfllise d'histoire d'Outre-Mer 65, no. 241 (1978):483, 488-89, 494.
4. Gerard Laurent's pioneer work, Trois mois aux archives d' Espagne (Port-au-Prince,
1956), is extremely disappointing because it limits itself to printing two or three items
of minor interest (one already published) from the AGI collection. Spanish material
relating to the later stages of the Haitian revolution, albeit tangentially, has been pub­
lished in great quantity by Emilio Rodriguez Demorizi in Invasiones haitianas de 1801,
1805, y 1822 (Ciudad Trujillo, 1955), La era de Francia en Santo Domingo (Ciudad Tru­
jillo, 1955), and Cesi6 de Santo Domingo a Francia (Ciudad Trujillo, 1958).
5. Summaries of the Estado material can be found in Crist6bal Bermudez Plata, Catalogo
de documentos de Ia Secci6n Novena del Archivo General de Indias (Seville, 1949), vol. 1.
6. Documentos AGI-AGS 1750-99, vol. 2, Colecci6n Inchaustegui, Universidad
Cat61ica de Madre y Maestra, Santiago de los Caballeros.
7. Legajos 22/48-52, Archivo Real de Higiiey, Archivo General de la Naci6n, Santo
8. Jose Luciano Franco, Documentos para Ia historia de Haiti en el Archivo Nacional (Havana,
9. Ardouin, Etudes 2:419-26.
10. In 1975 all that could be located in the archivo were photocopies of documents con­
cerning a slave conspiracy in Hinche in March 1793. The originals were apparently in
Cuba, although they do not appear in Franco's published collection.
11. Antonio del Monte y Tejada, Historia de Santo Domingo (Santo Domingo, 1890-92).
12. This collection's use is cited only in the brief article by H. B. L. Hughes, "British Pol­
icy towards Haiti, 1801-1805,"Canadian Historical Review 25, no. 4 (1944):397-408, and in Thomas Ott, The Haitian Revolution (Knoxville, 1973).
13. GD 193, boxes 2, 3, and 6, Steel/Maitland Papers, Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh.
The Toussaint material is in box 2, dossier 12.
14. Peter Walne, A Guide to the Manuscript Sources for the History of Latin America and the
Caribbean in the British Isles (London, 1973).
15. 0/boxes 10-21, Simcoe Papers, Devon Record Office, Exeter. Also at Exeter, the
well-catalogued Addington Papers contain a few relevant items. The William Cle­ ments Library at the University of Michigan possesses five volumes of Simcoe papers covering the years 1770-1824.
16. OM dossiers 7-11, Spencer Bernard Papers, property of Mrs. Phyllis Spencer Ber­
nard, Nether Winchendon, near Aylesbury.
17. GD 188/ box 28, James Guthrie collection, Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh.
18. For a general study, see my book Slavery, War and Revolution: The British Occupation of
Saint Domingue, 1793-1798 (London, 1982).
19. HCA 30 / boxes 380-401, Public Records Office, London. Ships seized in the eastern
Atlantic were sold in London. Because they had been sailing to Europe, they were likely to be carrying more mail than those seized nearer the West Indies, which were bound mostly for the United States and were sold locally.
20. Bernard Foubert, "Lettres de combattants aubois (1792-93) ecrivant de Saint­ Domingue," La vie en Champagne 27, nos. 292 and 293 (Oct. /Nov. 1979): These articles are an abridgement of a larger work which is to be published in Annales d'histoire de Ia Guadeloupe.
21. West Indies Mss. s. 7, Rhodes House, Oxford.
22. Egerton Ms. 1794, 255-328, British Library, London.



23. Gabriel Debien, Les esclaves aux Antilles frant;aises aux XVII• et XVIII• siecles (Basse
Terre, Fort de France, 1974), pp. 56-65.
24. See the very useful bibliography in ibid., pp. 16-20.
25. Robert Richard, "Les minutes des notaires de Saint-Domingue," Revue d'histoire des
colonies 35, no. 135 (1951):281-338. See also the articles by Marie-Antoinette Menier on the Archives Nationales collections: "Depot des papiers publics des colonies: Saint-Dorningue, notariat," Revue d' histoire des colonies 35, no. 135 (1951):339-58;
"Saint-Dorningue, abornements, recensements des biens domaniaux et urbains," Revue frant;aise d'histoire d'Outre-M er 44, no. 155 (1957):223-50; "Les sources de l'his­ toire de Ia partie fran aise
France," Conjonction 140 (Oct.-Nov. 1978):119-35; "Les sources de l'histoire des Anti­
lles dans les Archives Nationales de Ia France," Bulletin de Ia Societe d'Histoire de Ia
Guadeloupe 36, no. 2 (1978):7-39.
26. For a tantalizing case study, however, see Gabriel Debien, Etudes antillaises (Paris,
1956), pp. 143-73.
27. Manuscrits, Nouvelles acquisitions fran aises
Paris. See also my attempt to identify the author by using internal evidence: "Pelage-Marie Duboys, The Anonymous Author of the 'Precis Historique'," Archives Antillaises 3 (1975):5-10. The identification of Duboys would seem confirmed by the
subsequent discovery in the Bibliotheque Nationale (Lk12 213) of a Paris publisher's prospectus entitled Memoires pour servir a I'histoire de Ia revolution de Saint- Domingue par
feu P.M. Duboys, publies d'apres les manuscrits autographes de /'auteur par M. P. Lacroix. Prospectus (Paris, 1826). The publisher, Jehenne, was seeking subscribers for the first of three five-hundred-page octavo volumes. The work apparently never appeared. A manuscript introduction to it, now lost, was once held by the Institut Saint Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince.
28. "Histoire de Ia revolution et des evenements de Saint-Dorningue, depuis 1786
jusqu'en 1812," Ms. 1809, Bibliotheque de Nantes. The manuscript consists of 598
pages of extremely small and densely packed writing.
29. "Le paysan du Danube ou considerations . . . sur Ia revolution . .. de Saint Domin­
gue par un colon de cette isle," Ms. Montbret 574, 360 pp., Bibliotheque Municipale
de Rouen.
30. "Recit du massacre arrive au Fort Dauphin le 7 juillet 1794," Ms. Leber 5847, Bib­
liotheque Municipale de Rouen.
31. Laura V. Monti, A Calendar of the Rochambeau Papers at the University of Florida Libraries
(Gainesville, 1972).
32. I am told that these papers have scarcely been used, except by Zvi Loker, who has
published a number of short pieces in the review Conjonction.
33. On the first collection, see my article, "The Slaves of British-Occupied Saint Domin­
gue: An Analysis of the Workforces of 197 Absentee Plantations, 1796-97," Caribbean
Studies 18, no. 1-2 (1978): 5-43. On the second, see the articles by Menier, cited above
in note 25.
34. "Journal of a Voyage to the West Indies," anonymous manuscript known as "Lieuten­
ant Howard's Journal," 3 vols. of 86, 88, and 67 pp., Boston Public Library. The au­
thor can be identified as Thomas Phipps Howard, who served with the York Hussars.
35. Ibid., 3:55.


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