Afro-Mexican Women in Saint-Domingue: Piracy, Captivity, and Community in the 1680s and 1690s

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Women on 2020-06-22 00:32Z by Steven

Afro-Mexican Women in Saint-Domingue: Piracy, Captivity, and Community in the 1680s and 1690s

Hispanic American Historical Review
Volume 100, Issue 1 (2020-02-01)
pages 3-34
DOI: 10.1215/00182168-7993067

Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva, Assistant Professor of History
University of Rochester, Rochester, New York

This article focuses on the experiences of women of African descent who were made captives (and, in some cases, recaptives) after the 1683 buccaneer raid on Veracruz, the most important port in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (colonial Mexico). Although the raid is well known to historians of piracy, its implications for women’s history and African diaspora studies have not been properly contextualized in a period of expanding Atlantic slavery. This article proposes a close reading of contraband cases, parochial registers, slave codes, and eyewitness accounts centered on Afro-Mexican women who were kidnapped to Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). A focus on displacement and resilience opens new narratives through which to understand women who transcended their captivity by becoming spouses to French colonists and free mothers to Saint-Domingue’s gens de couleur (people of mixed race).

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , , ,

They freed and recognised their mixed-race children, setting them up as plantation-owners in their own rights. A mixed-race property-owning class emerged, equal in rights and wealth to their white neighbours and relatives.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-03-06 04:29Z by Steven

Developing a genealogy of racial prejudice in Saint-Domingue, [Julien] Raimond began with a study of the colony’s history. He noted that, in the early 18th century, during the first generations of the colony’s existence, almost all the white settlers who travelled to the colony had been men. They had married African women. They – and the French state – acknowledged these relationships. They freed and recognised their mixed-race children, setting them up as plantation-owners in their own rights. A mixed-race property-owning class emerged, equal in rights and wealth to their white neighbours and relatives. By the 1760s, however, white colonists increasingly saw free people of colour as a threat to access to land and capital in a colony that was increasingly crowded, filled with recent immigrants from France seeking to become rich. Using racial difference as a weapon in their economic struggle, white colonists began to impose discriminatory legislation against mixed-race people.

Blake Smith, “On prejudice,” Aeon, March 5, 2018.

Tags: , , ,

On prejudice

Posted in Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Philosophy, Slavery on 2018-03-06 01:27Z by Steven

On prejudice


Blake Smith, Postdoctoral Fellow
European University Institute, Florence, Italy

Famille Métisse (1775) by Marius-Pierre le Masurier. Photo courtesy Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac/RMN

An 18th-century creole slaveholder invented the idea of ‘racial prejudice’ to defend diversity among a slave-owning elite

n 1791, Julien Raimond published one of the first critiques of racial prejudice. Raimond was a free man of racially mixed ancestry from the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today the country of Haiti), and his essay ‘Observations on the Origin and Progress of White People’s Prejudice against People of Colour’ argued that legal discrimination against people of African origin resulted from psychological biases. Raimond’s work was the first sustained account of how racial prejudice operates – and how it might be eliminated. Today, the idea that unconscious biases permeate individual psychology, prompting discriminatory behaviours and perpetuating social inequality, is central to discussions of race in politics, academia and everyday life. But this idea was the product of a specific 18th-century moment, with surprising and troubling motivations behind it.

Raimond was an activist for the rights of people of colour. In 1789, he left his home in Saint-Domingue just before the outbreak of the French Revolution. He went to Paris to lobby the government to grant equal status to free people of African origin. In Paris, Raimond joined a circle of radical thinkers and politicians who believed that racial equality had to be part of the emerging Revolution. But Raimond was no opponent of slavery. On the contrary, while his allies argued for its abolition, Raimond insisted that racial equality and abolition of slavery had nothing to do with each other. The first page of his treatise claimed that a cabal of ‘white plantation-owners … have cleverly conflated the cause of people of colour with that of slaves’. Raimond, in fact, wanted to preserve slavery. He believed that eliminating racial prejudice would bring white and non-white slave-owners together in a united front against enslaved Africans. He drew on the pro-slavery arguments of white plantation-owners. Raimond’s idea that there is such a thing as ‘racial prejudice’ and that discrimination is rooted in this psychological phenomenon originated in these plantation-owners’ defences of slavery.

Raimond’s ideas strike many present-day readers as bizarre and hypocritical. After all, he pioneered modern critiques of racial prejudice while also defending slavery. Most people today presume that racism led to slavery, and that slavery and racism were practically synonymous. But in the 18th century, this was not so clearly the case. From Raimond’s perspective, as an 18th-century creole slave-owner, slavery and racism were distinct, and it seemed urgent to disentangle them. Slavery, after all, had existed for thousands of years, while modern racial discrimination, Raimond held, was something recent, contingent and reformable. Like many thinkers of his era (including many of the United States’ Founding Fathers), Raimond saw the world divided between an elite of propertied men and a servile mass of labourers. He saw that the power of a tiny elite would be more resilient if the privileged included people of different colours…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic

Posted in Africa, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-02-03 03:32Z by Steven

The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic

University of Georgia Press
248 pages
8 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8203-4896-4
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-8203-4897-1
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8203-5384-5

Lisa Ze Winters, Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies
Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Exploring the geographies, genealogies, and concepts of race and gender of the African diaspora produced by the Atlantic slave trade

Popular and academic representations of the free mulatta concubine repeatedly depict women of mixed black African and white racial descent as defined by their sexual attachment to white men, and thus they offer evidence of the means to and dimensions of their freedom within Atlantic slave societies. In The Mulatta Concubine, Lisa Ze Winters contends that the uniformity of these representations conceals the figure’s centrality to the practices and production of diaspora.

Beginning with a meditation on what captive black subjects may have seen and remembered when encountering free women of color living in slave ports, the book traces the echo of the free mulatta concubine across the physical and imaginative landscapes of three Atlantic sites: Gorée Island, New Orleans, and Saint Domingue (Haiti). Ze Winters mines an archive that includes a 1789 political petition by free men of color, a 1737 letter by a free black mother on behalf of her daughter, antebellum newspaper reports, travelers’ narratives, ethnographies, and Haitian Vodou iconography. Attentive to the tenuousness of freedom, Ze Winters argues that the concubine figure’s manifestation as both historical subject and African diasporic goddess indicates her centrality to understanding how free and enslaved black subjects performed gender, theorized race and freedom, and produced their own diasporic identities.

Tags: , , , , ,

Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2014-04-10 20:49Z by Steven

Making Men: Enlightenment Ideas of Racial Engineering

The American Historical Review
Volume 115, Issue 5 (December 2010)
pages 1364-1394
DOI: 10.1086/ahr.115.5.1364

William Max Nelson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Toronto

A minor nobleman from Alsace, traveling in French colonial Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) on the eve of the French and Haitian revolutions, expressed  surprise that “it has not already occurred to some ingenious speculator to monopolize … the fabrication of all mulattoes.”1 Perhaps no one had embarked upon this endeavor, the Baron de Wimpffen speculated, for fear that the metropolitan government would “take advantage of this bright idea to incorporate even the manufacture of the human race into its exclusive privilege.”2 While Wimpffen was clearly satirizing the Exclusif—the much-hated metropolitan monopoly on the trade and manufacture of natural resources and goods from the colonies—his comments reveal something that is not widely recognized about the eighteenth century: there was an understanding that the “fabrication” or “manufacture” of human beings was possible, and even desirable to some.3 Wimpffen’s words are jarring, not only because they raise the possibility that human beings could be manufactured, but also because they do so in an offhand manner, presenting it as a whimsical observation or a delicate joke rather than as a ghastly vision of control and production in which human beings are merely another raw material to be transformed. The topic of sexual relations between people of African and European descent was not an uncommon one in eighteenth-century writing about Saint-Domingue, where it was generally agreed that such unions were more prevalent than in other French colonies; Wimpffen’s comments, however, pointed beyond the usual tropes invoked against the social and moral ramifications of colonial métissage and libertinage (miscegenation and the debased pursuit of sensual pleasure).

Although some masters seem to have profited from the sale of their own mulatto children, Wimpffen was presumably correct in believing that there were no actual businesses on Saint-Domingue that aimed to monopolize “the manufacture of the human race.”4 A decade earlier, however, two men with connections to the colonial administration—former governor-general Gabriel de Bory and a lawyer named Michel-René Hilliard d’Auberteuil—had published works calling for a similar kind of “manufacture.” In Essai sur la population des colonies à sucre (1776) and Considérations sur l’état présent de la colonie française de Saint-Domingue (1776–1777), respectively, Bory and Hilliard d’Auberteuil sketched out separate plans for the large-scale selective breeding of slaves, free people of color, and the white residents of the island.5 Neither viewed his project as a potential business venture; instead, each plan was envisioned as a solution to some of the colony’s most significant social, political, and military problems. Their proposals were not highly detailed; nor were they even the focus of the books in which they were included. Yet they remain of great historical importance because they appear to have been the first suggestions for large-scale selective breeding of humans that was meant to be carried out in a real time and place (rather than the fictional nowhere of utopias) and with the intention of creating a new racial hierarchy.

The existence of these plans raises new questions regarding the relationship between the development of ideas about the selective breeding of human beings and the development of ideas of race. Throughout the second half of the eighteenth century in Europe and the Atlantic world, a fundamental idea was emerging of race as a heritable and inescapable way of being that encompassed physical, moral, intellectual, and psychological characteristics and provided a basis for hierarchical differentiation.6 There was a considerable amount of fluidity and ambiguity within the new ideas and nomenclature, but people were gradually establishing and stabilizing many of the terms, concepts, and scientific questions that would lay the foundation for the more elaborate attempt to create a science of race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.7 Yet even as modern ideas of race were being formed, some people apparently believed that human beings could be constructed to fit within narrowly defined categories based primarily on skin color and civil status. The possibility of a dynamic circularity in the eighteenth century between making men and making race seems not to have been previously recognized by scholars.8

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l’isle Saint-Domingue: avec des observations générales sur la population, sur le caractère & les moeurs de ses divers habitans, sur son climat, sa culture, ses productions, son administration (Topographic description, physical, civil, and political history of the French part of the island Santo Domingo: with general observations on the population, on the character and manners of its various inhabitants, its climate, its culture, production, administration)

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy on 2013-10-10 02:27Z by Steven

Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l’isle Saint-Domingue: avec des observations générales sur la population, sur le caractère & les moeurs de ses divers habitans, sur son climat, sa culture, ses productions, son administration  (Topographic description, physical, civil, and political history of the French part of the island Santo Domingo: with general observations on the population, on the character and manners of its various inhabitants, its climate, its culture, production, administration.)

Chez l’auteu
2 volumes : 2 ill., maps (engravings) ; 26 cm. (4to)
856 pages

M. L. E. Moreau de Saint-Méry (Médéric Louis Élie Moreau de Saint-Méry) (1750-1819)

From The John Carter Brown Library: The mixing of races in Saint Domingue occasioned a plethora of commentaries, mostly venomous and polemical, on the causes and consequences of the colony’s multiracial order. The most famous of these commentaries, though not the most polemical, was by Moreau de Saint-Méry, the colonial jurist and historian whose writings on Saint-Domingue are still a major resource for contemporary scholars. In volume one of his Description, Moreau counted and categorized 11 racial combinations in the colony. He argued that ancestry should be traced back seven generations and hence ultimately comprised 128 combinations. The “science” of skin color received one of its earliest formulations in this work, completed in 1789. Moreau was himself the father of a mixed-race child by his mulatto mistress.

Read the entire book here.

Tags: , , ,

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Monographs on 2012-04-27 18:56Z by Steven

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

University of Georgia Press
March 2001
344 pages
6.125 x 9.25
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8203-3029-7

Stewart R. King, Associate Professor of History
Mount Angel Seminary, St. Benedict, Oregon

By the late 1700s, half the free population of Saint Domingue was black. The French Caribbean colony offered a high degree of social, economic, and physical mobility to free people of color. Covering the period 1776-1791, this study offers the most comprehensive portrait to date of Saint Domingue’s free black elites on the eve of the colony’s transformation into the republic of Haiti.

Stewart R. King identifies two distinctive groups that shared Saint Domingue’s free black upper stratum, one consisting of planters and merchants and the other of members of the army and police forces. With the aid of individual and family case studies, King documents how the two groups used different strategies to pursue the common goal of economic and social advancement. Among other aspects, King looks at the rural or urban bases of these groups’ networks, their relationships with whites and free blacks of lesser means, and their attitudes toward the acquisition, use, and sale of land, slaves, and other property.

King’s main source is the notarial archives of Saint Domingue, whose holdings offer an especially rich glimpse of free black elite life. Because elites were keenly aware of how a bureaucratic paper trail could help cement their status, the archives divulge a wealth of details on personal and public matters.

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig is a vivid portrayal of race relations far from the European centers of colonial power, where the interactions of free blacks and whites were governed as much by practicalities and shared concerns as by the law.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part One. The Colony and Its People
    • Chapter One. The Notarial Record and Free Coloreds
    • Chapter Two. The Land
    • Chapter Three. The People
    • Chapter Four. Free Colored in the Colonial Armed Forces
  • Part Two. The Free Colored in Society and the Economy
    • Chapter Five. Slaveholding Practices
    • Chapter Six. Landholding Practices
    • Chapter Seven. Entrepreneurship
    • Chapter Eight. Non-Economic Components of Social Status
    • Chapter Nine. Family Relationships and Social Advancement
  • Part Three. Group Strategies for Economic and Social Advancement
    • Chapter Ten. Planter Elites
    • Chapter Eleven. The Military Leadership Group
    • Chapter Twelve. Conclusion
  • Appendix One. Family Tree of the Laportes of Limonade
  • Appendix Two. Surnames
  • Appendix Three. Incorporation Papers of the Grasserie Marie Josephe
  • Appendix Four. Notarized Sale Contract for a House
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index
Tags: , , , ,

Science of desire: Race and representations of the Haitian revolution in the Atlantic world, 1790-1865

Posted in Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2012-04-15 16:09Z by Steven

Science of desire: Race and representations of the Haitian revolution in the Atlantic world, 1790-1865

University of Notre Dame
July 2008
489 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3436234
ISBN: 9781124353197

Marlene Leydy Daut, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies
Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California

A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Notre Dame in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This dissertation reads representations of the Haitian Revolution with and against the popular historical understanding of the events as the result of the influence of enlightenment philosophy or the Declaration of the Rights of Man on Toussaint L’Ouverture; or what I have called a “literacy narrative.” This understanding is most visible in texts such as C.L.R. James’s The Black Jacobins (1938) and reproduces the idea that Toussaint read Raynal’s Histoire des deux Indes (1772) and thus became aware that slavery was contrary to nature and was inspired to lead the revolt. Instead, I show how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century understandings of the Revolution were most often mediated through the discourse of scientific debates about racial miscegenation–an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century obsession with what happens when white people produce children with black people–making the Revolution the result of the desire for vengeance on the part of miscegenated figures, whose fathers refused to recognize or defend them, rather than a desire for the ideals of liberty and equality; or what I have called the “mulatto vengeance narrative.”

Chapter one examines the figure of the “tropical temptress” in the anonymously published epistolary romance La Mulâtre comme il y a beaucoup de blanches (1803). Chapter two takes a look at “evil/degenerate mulattoes” in Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno” (1855) and Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal (1826). In chapter three I analyze the trope of the “tragic mulatto/a” in French abolitionist Alphonse de Lamartine’s verse drama Toussaint L’Ouverture (1850); the Louisiana born Victor Séjour’s short story, “The Mulatto” (1837); and Haitian author Eméric Bergeaud’s Stella (1859). Chapters four and five look at the image of the “inspired mulatto” in French novelist Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel, Georges (1843); black American writer William Wells Brown’s abolitionist speech turned pamphlet, “St. Domingo; its Revolutions and its Patriots” (1854); and the Haitian poet and dramatist Pierre Faubert’s play, Ogé; ou le préjugé de couleur (1841; 1856). By insisting on a discourse of science as a way to understand these representations, I show how these texts contributed to the pervasive after-life of the Haitian Revolution in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World, on the one hand, but also created an entire vocabulary of desire with respect to miscegenation, revolution, and slavery, on the other.


  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
    • Part 1: Mulatto Vengeance and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 2: Literacy Narratives and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 3: Notes on Terminology
  • Chapter 1: Tropical Temptresses: Desire and Repulsion in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue
    • Part 1: The Color of Virtue
    • Part 2: Colonialism and Despotism
    • Part 3: Desire and Abolition
  • Chapter 2: Black Son, White Father: Mulatto Vengeance and the Haitian Revolution in Victor Hugo’s Bug-Jargal and Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”
    • Part 1: Victor Hugo’s Parricide
    • Part 2: Melville’s “Usher of the Golden-Rod”
  • Chapter 3: Between the Family and the Nation: Parricide and the Tragic Mulatto/a in 19th-century Fictions of the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 1: Séjour’s Oedipal Curse
    • Part 2: Toussaint’s Children
    • Part 3: Bergeaud’s Romantic Vision
  • Chapter 4: The “Inspired Mulatto:” Enlightenment and Color Prejudice in the African Diaspoa
    • Part 1: Alexandre Dumas and the Haitian Revolution
    • Part 2: Economics and Civilization
    • Part 3: The “Never-to-be-forgiven course of the mulattoes”
  • Chapter 5: “Let Us Be Humane After the Victory:” Pierre Faubert’s New Humanism
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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
Tags: , , , ,

Inventing the Creole Citizen: Race, Sexuality and the Colonial Order in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, History, Media Archive on 2012-03-01 01:21Z by Steven

Inventing the Creole Citizen: Race, Sexuality and the Colonial Order in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Stony Brook University
December 2008
335 pages

Yvonne Eileen Fabella

A Dissertation Presented The Graduate School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History

Inventing the Creole Citizen examines the battle over racial hierarchy in Saint Domingue (colonial Haiti) prior to the French and Haitian Revolutions. It argues that cultural definitions of citizenship were central to that struggle. White elite colonists, when faced with the social mobility of “free people of color,” deployed purportedly egalitarian French enlightenment tropes of meritocracy, reason, natural law, and civic virtue to create an image of the colonial “citizen” that was bounded by race. The purpose of the “creole citizen” figure was twofold: to defend white privilege within the colony, and to justify greater local legislative power to French officials.

Meanwhile, Saint Domingue’s diverse populations of free and enslaved people of color, as well as non-elite whites, articulated their own definitions of race and citizenship, often exposing the fluidity of those categories in daily life. Throughout the dissertation I argue that colonial residents understood race and citizenship in gendered ways, drawing on popular French critiques of aristocratic gender disorder to contest the civic virtue of other racial groups.

To put these competing voices in conversation with one another, the dissertation is structured around a series of practices through which colonial residents fought over the racial order. Those practices include participation in local print culture, the consumption and display of luxury goods, interracial marriage and sex, and the administration of corporal punishments. French legal structures and cultural traditions were imported directly to the colony, strongly influencing each of these practices. However, I examine how these practices changed—or were perceived to change—in the colonial setting, and how colonial residents used them to negotiate local power relations.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Free People of Color and the “Stain” of Slavery
    • Manumission and Early Administrative Opposition to the Free People of Color
    • The Social Mobility of the Gens de Couleur of Saint Domingue
    • The Gens de Couleur and the Threat of Slave Resistance
    • Legislating Hierarchy and Enforcing Respect
    • The 1780’s: Rethinking the Role of the Gens de Couleur
    • Holding Fast to White Privilege: Local Resistance
  • Chapter Two: Inventing the Creole Citizen
    • The Political Context: Moreau and the Desire for Legal Autonomy
    • Climate Theory and Creole Degeneration
    • Taste, Immorality and the Creolization of Culture
    • Defining the Creole Citizen
  • Chapter Three: Creolizing the Enlightenment: Print Culture and the Limits of Colonial Citizenship
    • A Tropical Public Sphere
    • Colonial Print Culture
    • The French Affiches
    • The Affiches Américaines and the Imagined Community of Colonial Citizens
    • Printing the Racial Order
    • Contesting the Racial Order
  • Chapter Four: “Rule the Universe With the Power of Your Charms”: Marriage, Sexuality and the Creation of Creole Citizens
    • Official Encouragement of Marriage in the Early Colonial Period
    • Marital Law and Mésalliance in France and Saint Domingue
    • Colonial Mésalliance
    • Concubinage and Miscegenation
    • Regulating Interracial Marriage and Miscegenation
    • Affectionate Colonial Marriage, Populationism and Colonial Citizenship
    • Gens de Couleur, Affectionate Marriage, and Familial Virtue
  • Chapter Five: Legislating Fashion and Negotiating Creole Taste: Discourses and Practices of Luxury Consumption
    • Fashion and Luxury Consumption in Old Regime France
    • Colonial Luxury Consumption and Its Critics
    • Coding Colonial Luxury Consumption
      • I. Creole Slave Consumption: Colonial Meritocracy and Enslaved Savagery
      • II. The Gens de Couleur and Luxury Consumption: Emasculation and Sexual Immorality
      • III. White Creole Fashion: Transparency and Civic Virtue
    • Colonial Women, Fashion and Resistance
  • Chapter Six: Spectacles of Violence: Race, Class and Punishment in the Old Regime and the New World
    • Old Regime Punishments in the New World
    • White Elite Violence, Respectability, and Gendered Colonial Reform
    • Punishing the Insolence of Gens de Couleur
    • The Insolent Mulâtresse
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography


In the years before the outbreak of the French and Haitian Revolutions, two men would criss-cross the Atlantic, traveling between the slave colony of Saint Domingue and the European power that governed it, France. Both men were defined as “creole,” that is, born in the Antilles. One, the white colonial magistrate Moreau de Saint Méry, came from another French colony, Martinique, although he and his family resided in Saint Domingue. The other, Julien Raimond, was a wealthy, educated, planter of color who had been born and lived most of his life in Saint Domingue. During the early years of the revolutions, these two men would debate the boundaries of French citizenship in the colonies; Raimond argued for the extension of citizenship rights to wealthy free men of color, while Moreau wanted to limit those rights to whites. Yet this debate began even earlier, before French revolutionaries created the legal category of “citizen” in 1789, and it took place on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the 1780’s, before the “citizen” became a person invested with civil and political rights in the nation, these men, and people in France and Saint Domingue in general, defined the term more ambiguously. Yet metropolitans and colonists generally agreed that a “citizen” was someone with civic virtue—a person who placed the greater good above his or her own self-interest. However, civic virtue appeared incompatible with the greed and immorality that Europeans typically associated with colonial life. In other words, according to the conventional wisdom in Europe, creoles could not be citizens. Separately, Moreau and Raimond would try to convince France’s Colonial Ministry otherwise, although they made very different arguments. Theirs were just two of the voices contributing to the contested category of “creole citizenship,” if two of the most powerful. This dissertation explains how the residents of Saint Domingue—white, black, and “mixed;” free and enslaved; men and women—fought to define that category in Saint Domingue’s courtrooms, plantations and markets, as well as in print in both the colony and the metropole

…Colonists used this emerging bourgeois gender discourse to articulate ideas about race and citizenship and assert their own vision of the colonial racial order. Administrators and white elites drew heavily on gendered imagery in their attempts to denigrate the gens de couleur, and that imagery was also strongly sexualized. They consistently portrayed the gens de couleur, and particularly “mixed” women, as the most debauched members of colonial society. Such rhetoric resonated with colonial whites for a number of reasons, but especially due to the growing free population of color. By 1789, gens de couleur were almost as numerous as whites. Administrators and colonists understood this group to be problematic because of its seemingly liminal state: in a society in which whiteness was supposed to connote freedom and blackness slavery, free people of color blurred the clear-cut boundaries desired by metropolitan and colonial officials. Over the course of the eighteenth century, women of color shouldered the blame for the growth of this group. Portrayed as both coldly calculating and sexually insatiable, women of color were said to lure white men into inter-racial sexual relationships in order to improve their own economic or legal status.

Administrators and visitors to the colony, as well as colonists complained about the pervasiveness of such relationships, which resulted in ever-growing numbers of “mixed” children. In practice, some women and their children acquired benefits from these sexual relationships. When the mother of such a child was enslaved, both she and her child might gain their freedom as a result of their relationship to the white man. On rare occasions, white men married women of color, ensuring that their children could be legitimate heirs of the man’s property. Otherwise, white men sometimes provided for their sexual partners and children in other ways, giving them gifts of property or providing living allowances, for example. Of course, many more women and children remained enslaved or economically neglected by the men. Furthermore, while some of these arrangements were in fact voluntary or even orchestrated by the women, in other instances white men forced themselves on enslaved and free women of color, whose reputations as seductresses—and their vulnerable legal status—rendered them almost defenseless. Yet in the eyes of administrators and white elites, women of color were to blame for seemingly high rates of interracial sex as well as the occasional marriage between white men and women of color. They lamented that such relationships contributed not only to the dangerous growth but also the social mobility of the free population of color. And as importantly, some white elites claimed, they discouraged white men from marrying white women, thereby preventing the growth of a native white population.

Having framed the “problem” of the gens de couleur as the product of illicit sexual unions between white men and women of color, white colonists and administrators easily drew on gendered, sexualized imagery circulating in France in order to explain the phenomenon. John Garrigus has argued that descriptions of free women of color rendered by white colonists often resembled those of courtiers’ mistresses at Versailles, commonly demonized as over sexualized, domineering, emasculating, and exercising a dangerous degree of influence over powerful men. Coupled with depictions of debauched free men of color, such imagery produced a feminized stereotype of the free people of color, thereby justifying their exclusion from the newly emerging colonial public sphere. Similarly, Doris Garraway has demonstrated that free women of color, particularly the mulâtresse, simultaneously represented white male “sexual hegemony” and the symbolic danger inherent in miscegenation: a blurring of the color line…

Read the entire dissertation here.

Tags: , , , , ,