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José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva is best known for helping Brazil achieve independence in 1822. It is less often recognized that the year after independence he authored a plan for “the slow emancipation of the blacks.” In this plan he argued: “It is time, and more than time, for us to put a stop to a traffic so barbaric and butcherlike, time too for us to eliminate gradually the last traces of slavery among us, so that in a few generations we may be able to form a homogeneous nation, without which we shall never be truly free, respectable, and happy.”

Andrada e Silva argued that slavery was morally wrong and economically inefficient a violation of God s laws and the laws of justice and a corrupt influence over Brazil s inhabitants Slave labor he believed resulted in the slaveholders idleness and gave ordinary Brazilians little incentive to ...

Article

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

A fair-skinned mulatto, Jean-Pierre Boyer was born free in 1776, in what was then the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Following independence in 1804, Haiti remained divided into southern and northern regions. In 1818 Boyer succeeded Alexandre Pétion, who had ruled southern and western Haiti since 1806. Rivals and conspiracies notwithstanding, Boyer managed to unite the country and governed for twenty-five years. During his presidency he achieved diplomatic recognition for the new republic in controversial negotiations with France, and attempted to institute far-reaching economic and legal reforms.

As a young adult, Boyer had served with the French army. When the Haitian Revolution broke out, splitting the country apart, he initially sided with the forces of André Rigaud, which tried to establish a mulatto-controlled republic in the south. With Rigaud's defeat by François Dominique Toussaint Louverture the military commander of Haiti s black ...

Article

In 1795, Joseph Chatoyer instigated a revolt of the Garinagu against the British on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent the original home of the Garinagu Chief Chatoyer was killed during combat against British forces and the Garinagu were deported to Roatán Island off the coast of Honduras ...

Article

Gregory Freeland

Many of the details about Henri Christophe's early life are unclear, but it is thought that he was born a slave on the British-ruled island of Grenada. At a young age he ran away and eventually became the property of a French naval officer and then of a planter on what was then the French-ruled island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). In 1779 Christophe was part of an armed group sent by the French to assist Americans in defending Savannah, Georgia, against the British. Christophe, at that time a slave orderly, may have fought in a battalion led by the Marquis du Rouvrary; he was wounded in a conflict in Savannah, Georgia, in October 1779. Christophe then returned to Saint-Domingue, and some time during this period he purchased his freedom. By 1790 Christophe was part of a French militia force that overcame two Haitian rebel forces ...

Article

Guerrero was born in Tixtla, now a part of Guerrero, the state in Mexico named for him after his death. He was of mixed race, probably descended from Africans, Spaniards, and Native Americans. His dark complexion earned him the nickname El Negro. For most of his early life he lived in the region where he was born and worked as a wage laborer and a teamster.

In 1810 Mexico's war of independence erupted. Guerrero sympathized with rebel demands, including an end to the restrictive caste system. In December 1810, when José María Morelos y Pavón called for troops in south central New Spain (present-day Mexico) to join him in the revolt, Guerrero enlisted in the rebel forces. He soon was leading troops in the field and by 1812 had become a lieutenant colonel. During 1812 he attacked port towns on the Pacific coast and helped capture ...

Article

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

Alexandre Sabès Pétion was the son of a French colonist and a freeborn mulatto (of African and European descent) woman. It is unclear why he used the name Pétion instead of his father's surname, Sabès. The name Pétion was derived from the nickname “Pitchoun” (little lad). Pétion's father did not recognize his son as his own because of the boy's dark skin, but did send Pétion to France to be educated.

At the age of eighteen Pétion joined the colonial militia, and in 1791, with the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, he joined the rebellion sparked by the slave rebel Boukman. Pétion initially fought under the black forces led by François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, which managed to expel a British invasion of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic and eventually assume complete control over the island After this victory however discord ...

Article

Faustin Elie Soulouque was elected president of Haiti by the National Assembly, under the belief that he could be easily manipulated. On the contrary, Soulouque established a strong and repressive regime. In 1849 he unsuccessfully attempted an invasion of the neighboring Dominican Republic which had won its independence from ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

The child of a washerwoman and a musician, José Manuel Valdés was born in Lima, Peru's capital city, when nearly half its population was black. Though his parents could not afford to educate him, his godparents and mother's employers stepped in, seeing to his early education at a prominent religious school. He would later become the first black writer to publish in Peru, both as a doctor and as a poet, as early as 1791.

After completing school, Valdés yearned to become a priest, but during the colonial period blacks were denied access to the priesthood by the Catholic Church, and he turned instead to medicine. He could have prospered as a romancista, a type of medical practitioner that required little training and was restricted to “external remedies.” In 1788 he took the more challenging route and pursued the title of latinista surgeon for ...