A Failed Emancipation? The Struggle for Freedom in Hispaniola during the Haitian Revolution, 1789-1809b
Graham Townsend Nessler
The University of Michigan, 2011
This thesis examines conflicts over the terms and boundaries of “liberty” and “citizenship”that transpired in the colonies that became Haiti and the Dominican Republic during the Haitian Revolutionary era (1789-1809). As the world‟s only successful slave uprising, the Haitian Revolution culminated in the transformation of the French slaveholding colony of Saint-Domingue into the modern nation of Haiti.Santo Domingo (the modern Dominican Republic)also underwent profound political and social changes during this period, passing from Spanish to French rule in 1795 and therein from a staunchly pro-slavery regime to one that preached universal emancipation.
Drawing upon a rich corpus of correspondences, notarial records, petitions, periodical articles, and other sources preserved in Spanish, French and North American repositories,I argue that Santo Domingo became a crucible in the political, military and ideological conflicts that reshaped the political terrain of the “Atlantic World” during these years.In the first chapter, I examine the centrality of Santo Domingo in the dismantling of slavery in the French empire(1793-1794).I then explore the ways in which those claimed as “slaves” in both parts of the island asserted their rights as French citizens after 1794 despite coercive labor codes, widespread clandestine slaving of French citizens to Cuba and elsewhere, and successive French regimes‟ ill-starred efforts to establish a profitable plantation economyin both colonies. Conflicts over the rights of these freed people encompassed the legal and perceived moral legitimacy of holding human beings in bondage.
The final part of my dissertation analyzes the attempts of the Napoleonic regime of General Jean-Louis Ferrand to place thousands of individuals back into bondage in Santo Domingo from 1804 to 1809. Using numerous notarized freedom acts, governmental correspondences, and other sources, I argue that many freed individuals in Santo Domingo under Ferrand devised innovative ways to secure and preserve their freedom in the face of a massive project of attempted re-enslavement. Throughou tthis thesis, I situate Santo Domingo within broader Caribbean and Atlantic contexts of migration, “emancipation,” and enslavement, emphasizing Santo Domingo‟s salience as a central battleground in struggles to define the meaning of freedom.