Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World by John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive on 2013-04-02 23:52Z by Steven

Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World by John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris (review)

The Americas
Volume 69, Number 4, April 2013
pages 532-533
DOI: 10.1353/tam.2013.0017

James Sidbury, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of Humanities
Rice University

John D. Garrigus and Christopher Morris, eds., Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007)

This anthology of six essays on the complicated and sometimes surprising nature of black and white racial identities in the Atlantic region prior to the age of emancipation grew out of the 2007 Webb Memorial Lectures at the University of Texas at Arlington. The collection begins with an introductory essay in which Franklin W. Knight provides a broad and insightful overview of the meanings of race in different parts of the Americas, both historically and today. That is followed by four case studies that range from North America to the Caribbean to Brazil. The volume closes with an essay by Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hébrard that traces a family’s odyssey as they moved from colonial Saint-Domingue to Cuba, then to Louisiana, then to Europe, and then back to Louisiana, before finally returning to Europe. The other essays do not touch on as many locales, but they match Scott and Hébrard in their complex portrayals of the ways various black and white people in the Americas conceived of racial difference and the ways in which people of African descent worked within those conceptions to build their lives.

Two case studies explore Anglo-American racial thought. Rebecca Goetz, taking a fresh look at seventeenth-century Virginia, argues that the Englishmen who settled there came to believe that Africans and Indians lacked the capacity for true Christian belief, and whites used this belief to explain enslaving and dispossessing them. “By questioning the ability of Africans to become Christian, settlers defined both their own religious and cultural identity” and that of their racial others (p. 65). Trevor Burnard explores the demands of Anglo-Caribbeans to establish their standing as good and respectable Englishmen. As previous scholars have noted, they failed, but Burnard argues that their failure has less to do with the libertinage for which they were famous (there being metropolitans who openly sympathized with libertine values) than with their admitted attraction to African women. Those in the metropole “suspected that white West Indians’ constant intercourse with Africans . . . was turning them from ‘proper’ white people into black people” (p. 79), a perception exacerbated by the belief that white women in the islands behaved too much like black women. “Whiteness was endangered by the dereliction of gender rules” (p. 84).

The other case studies center on people of African descent. John Garrigus digs beneath the myths that have surrounded Vincent Ogé, the homme de couleur who was tortured and executed in Saint-Domingue for allegedly trying to foment a rebellion prior to the 1791 uprising in the northern plain. Garrigus upends the received narrative of this famous incident, showing that Ogé probably did not want to lead a prolonged uprising, but that he sought instead to rally the free colored militia to take advantage of the ties between militia service and citizenship that were emerging in the metropole. Sidney Chalhoub shows how Brazilian planters used the 1831 law that putatively prohibited the Atlantic slave trade to their own advantage, creating a system in which they could easily seize and enslave free black Brazilians. But black Brazilians also used the law and assumptions of “natural” black slavery that emerged out of it to avoid military service, seek less brutal masters, and finally, after 1851, to contest slavery. Neither the law itself nor the legal regime that arose out of its evasion operated in a simple or straightforward manner. Scott and Hébrard provide an overview of the complicated transatlantic genealogy that they have reconstructed for the children of “Rosalie of the Poulard Nation,” an enslaved African who achieved freedom in southern Saint-Domingue on the eve of the Haitian Revolution. Her grandson became a Reconstruction-era Louisiana legislator and fought for racial and gender equality. That battle was rooted in his family’s history.

These essays, as Franklin Knight points out, underscore that the development of racial identities in the Americas was “a complicated process that varied according to time, place, and circumstances,” an understanding that helps to explain…

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Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2012-04-04 23:23Z by Steven

Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue

Palgrave Macmillan
June 2006
408 pages
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4039-7140-1, ISBN10: 1-4039-7140-4
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-230-10837-0, ISBN10: 0-230-10837-7

John D. Garrigus, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Arlington


Winner of the Society for French Historical Studies 2007 Gilbert Chinard Prize!

In 1804 French Saint-Domingue became the independent nation of Haiti after the only successful slave uprising in world history. When the Haitian Revolution broke out, the colony was home to the largest and wealthiest free population of African descent in the New World. Before Haiti explains the origins of this free colored class, exposes the ways its members both supported and challenged slavery, and examines how they created their own New World identity in the years from 1760 to 1804.

Table of Contents

  • The Development of Creole Society on the Colonial Frontier
  • Race and Class in Creole Society: Saint-Domingue in the 1760s
  • Freedom, Slavery, and the French Colonial State
  • Reform and Revolt after the Seven Years’ War
  • Citizenship and Racism in the New Republic Sphere
  • The Rising Economic Power of Free People of Color in the 1780s
  • Proving Free Colored Virtue
  • Free People of Color in the Southern Peninsula and the Origins of the Haitain Revolution
  • Revolution and Republicanism in Aquin Parish
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Redrawing the Color Line: Gender and the Social Construction of Race in Pre-Revolutionary Haiti

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science on 2011-11-07 22:12Z by Steven

Redrawing the Color Line: Gender and the Social Construction of Race in Pre-Revolutionary Haiti

Journal of Caribbean History
Volume 30, Numbers 1 & 2 (1996)
pages 28-50

John D. Garrigus, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

This article examines the social and political construction of race in French colonial Saint-Domingue. After 1763 white elites redefined the category “free coloured” using negative images of femininity rooted in French political discourse. This engendering of racial stereotypes solidified a racial hierarchy that whites found alarmingly fluid. Planters’ councils and the governors they opposed evoked images of sexually powerful women and effeminized men to explain colonial despotism and disorder. In the late 1780s, however, free men of colour deliberately asserted their civic virtue and virility, challenging these stereotypes and eventually destroying the colonial racial hierarchy.

By 1789 French Saint Domingue was home to the largest, wealthiest, and most self-confident free population of African descent in the Americas. Comprising close to half the colony’s free population, these gens de couleur won civil equality with whites from the French Legislative Assembly in April 1792 and their political demands helped produce the Haitian Revolution. Why did such an extraordinary population emerge in this colony?

This article contends that the size, wealth, and self-confidence of this group were partly the result of new social and legal definitions of race formulated in Saint-Domingue after 1763. As this frontier society became the centerpiece of the French empire after the Seven Years’ War, prejudice established a deep and apparently permanent gulf between “whites” and “people of colour.” This new legal and social discrimination was deeply influenced by politicized French gender stereotypes, which whites used to reinforce a new, biological conception of racial difference. Old colonial families were relabeled gens de couleur. After 1769 whites considered free people of mixed African/European descent to be not merely “between” whites and blacks, but morally and physically inferior to both races. This exaggeration of the difference between white and brown colonists reinforced the ambiguous category “free people of colour” and served as an effective target during the French Revolution for wealthy “mulattos” and “quadroons” eager to claim full citizenship.

At the heart of the new racism were conflicts over Saint-Domingue’s political and cultural identity. After the Seven Years’ War new immigration from Europe and the increasingly “civilized” tone of elite colonial society raised the question of how “French” Saint-Domingue could become. Could a slave plantation colony produce a civic-minded public of the sort said to be emerging in France at this time? Many colonial planters, magistrates, and merchants wanted to believe it could. These elites appropriated metropolitan political discourse to explain why free Dominguan society differed from France. After the Seven Years’ War they began to describe free men and women of colour as passionate, narcissistic, and parasitic, terms used in France to vilify powerful women at court. This redirected and highly politicised misogyny helped solidify the ambiguous category gens de couleur, placing these families and individuals firmly outside respectable colonial society. The new image of people of mixed ancestry answered troubling questions about white behaviour in Saint-Domingue and seemed to guarantee that an orderly, rational colonial public could emerge. Grafting a stereotyped effeminacy onto emerging biological notions of race legitimised the disenfranchising of free people of colour, some of whom were indistinguishable from “whites” in wealth, education, distance from slavery, even physical appearance. In Saint-Domingue’s rough-and-tumble seventeenth-century buccaneer society, race was not the obsession it would later become. Early censuses did not distinguish between “whites” and “mulattoes,” but between free and enslaved residents. Before the massive importation of slaves for sugar work, children of mixed African/European descent were apparently considered free from birth. Even in 1685, the metropolitan authors of France’s slave law, the Code Noir, were more concerned about sin than race and racial mixture. The Code ordered colonial officials to confiscate mixed-race children and slave concubines from their owners, but stated that if a master married his slave mistress, she would be automatically free, as would the children of their union. Under the original terms of the Code Noir, ex-slaves enjoyed all the rights of French subjects…

For example, as he charted the somatic varieties produced by different combinations of African and European “blood,” Moreau also described distinct moral qualities. Blacks were strong and passionate while whites were graceful and intelligent. Therefore, mulattoes, who were one-half black, were stronger than quarterons, who were only one-quarter African. According to Moreau, African appetites for physical pleasure were especially pronounced when combined with white qualities. Mulattoes lived for sexual gratification, and the offspring of a mulatto and a black had a “temperament impossible to contain.”

Convinced that black women had strong psychological and physical inclinations to be mothers, Moreau believed that mulatto and quadroon women had difficulty giving birth, due to their physical and moral deficiencies. Men of mixed descent were similarly flawed. Mulattos were often intelligent and attractive, but they were lazy, beardless, foppish, and sensual, according to Moreau. Nor did free coloured military service challenge this image:

It seems that then [in the ranks a mulatto] loses his laziness, but all the world knows that a soldier’s life, in the leisure it provides, has attractions for indolent men … A mulatto soldier will appear exactly to the calls of day, perhaps even to those of the evening, but it is in vain that one tries to restrict his liberty at night; [the night|] belongs to pleasure and he will not indenture it, no matter what commitments he has made elsewhere…

Read the entire article here.

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New Christians/’New Whites’: Sephardic Jews, Free People of Color, and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, 1760-1789

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Chapter, History, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion on 2011-11-05 01:56Z by Steven

New Christians/’New Whites’: Sephardic Jews, Free People of Color, and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, 1760-1789

Chapter (pages 314-332) in: The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 1450-1800
Berghahn Books
592 pages
Pb ISBN 978-1-57181-430-2; Hb ISBN 978-1-57181-153-0

Edited by: Paolo Bernardini and Norman Fiering

Chapter Author:

John D. Garrigus, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

The case of Saint-Domingue’s Sephardim illustrates that the story of Jews in Europe’s expansion westward is about more than the survival or mutation of deeply rooted family traditions. Old World questions about Jewish political identity did not disappear in the Americas. Rather, these persistent issues forced colonists and their children born in the New World to reconcile European philosophies with American conditions. In the case of the largest slave colony in the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue’s Jews helped translate emerging French nationalism into an attack on racial prejudice that eventually produced the Haitian revolution. By raising complex issues of national identity and citizenship in French America after 1763, Sephardic merchants and planters provided a model for another group whose place in colonial society was equally ambiguous: Saint-Domingue’s free people of color.

In the mid-1780s, the self-proclaimed leaders of the colony’s “mulattos” adopted many of the techniques that colonial Jews used to fight for legal rights. Their challenge to a racial hierarchy that had only recently acquired full legitimacy threatened the ideological basis of plantation society. By 1791 political and military struggles between colonial “whites” and “mulattos” had become so vicious that a great slave rebellion was possible.

The civil positions of colonial Jews and free people of mixed European and African parentage were parallel because elites in France began to construct new definitions of French citizenship in the mid-eighteenth century. In Paris and elsewhere, Jansenist judges and Protestant leaders pushed royal administrators to recognize that property, loyalty, and civic utility, not orthodox Catholicism, defined French identity. At the same time, royal bureaucrats eager to open France to wealthy families born outside its borders began to free these influential immigrants from traditional legal disabilities. By 1789, therefore, the continuum of rights and disabilities separating non-French residents and native-born subjects of the French monarchy was increasingly simplified into two mutually exclusive categories: citizen and foreigner…

Read the entire chapter here.

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Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States on 2011-11-04 21:36Z by Steven

Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World

Texas A&M University Press
168 pages
6 x 9, Illus.
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-60344-192-6

Edited by:

John D. Garrigus, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

Christopher Morris, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

With the recent election of the nation’s first African American president—an individual of blended Kenyan and American heritage who spent his formative years in Hawaii and Indonesia—the topic of transnational identity is reaching the forefront of the national consciousness in an unprecedented way. As our society becomes increasingly diverse and intermingled, it is increasingly imperative to understand how race and heritage impact our perceptions of and interactions with each other. Assumed Identities constitutes an important step in this direction.

However, “identity is a slippery concept,” say the editors of this instructive volume. This is nowhere more true than in the melting pot of the early trans-Atlantic cultures formed in the colonial New World during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. As the studies in this volume show, during this period in the trans-Atlantic world individuals and groups fashioned their identities but also had identities ascribed to them by surrounding societies. The historians who have contributed to this volume investigate these processes of multiple identity formation, as well as contemporary understandings of them.

Originating in the 2007 Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures presented at the University of Texas at Arlington, Assumed Identities: The Meanings of Race in the Atlantic World examines, among other topics, perceptions of racial identity in the Chesapeake community, in Brazil, and in Saint-Domingue (colonial-era Haiti). As the contributors demonstrate, the cultures in which these studies are sited helped define the subjects’ self-perceptions and the ways others related to them.

Table of Contents

  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Race and Identity in the New World; Franklin W. Knight
  • “Thy Coming Fame, Ogé! Is Sure”: New Evidence on Ogé’s 1790 Revolt and the Beginnings of the Haitian Revolution; John D. Garrigus
  • “The Child Should Be Made a Christian”: Baptism, Race, and Identity in the Seventeenth-century Chesapeake; Rebecca Goetz
  • West Indian Identity in the Eighteenth Century; Trevor Burnard
  • Illegal Enslavement and the Precariousness of Freedom in Nineteenth-century Brazil; Sidney Chalhoub
  • Rosalie of the Poulard Nation: Freedom, Law, and Dignity in the Era of the Haitian Revolution; Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hébrard
  • In Memoriam, Evan Anders
  • About the Contributors
  • Index
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