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Article

Aaron Myers

In the first half of the nineteenth century, thousands of African slaves were involuntarily brought from the Calabar region of southwestern Nigeria to Cuba in order to labor on the sugar plantations. In Cuba, these enslaved people reconstructed aspects of their language (Igbo) and religious rituals in Abakuás, all-male organizations with closely guarded religious, musical, and dance traditions. The prototype for Cuba's Abakuás can be found in Calabar's leopard societies, groups of highly respected, accomplished men who adopted the leopard as a symbol of masculinity. Today as in the past, Abakuás are found predominantly in the city of Havana and the province of Matanzas and are united by a common African mythology and ritual system.

Abakuás preserve African traditions through performative ceremonies a complex system of signs and narratives in the Igbo language Customarily led by four leaders and eight subordinate officers members of the Abakuás seek to protect ...

Article

Boukman  

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

The man known as Boukman was born a slave in Jamaica, at that time a British colony in the Caribbean. No one knows for certain whether Boukman was his real name. He apparently learned to read and write, and always carried a book with him. Thus he acquired the nickname “Boukman,” meaning the man with a book, or the one who knows. It is thought that this was a man of knowledge for his epoch—a n'gan (in Haitian Creole a hougan), that is, a priest of Haiti's African-derived Vodou religion. Giant in stature, with a Herculean vigor, he was sold to a certain Turpin, the owner of a plantation in French-controlled Saint-Domingue (later to become Haiti). Appreciating Boukman's strength, his master gave him authority over his fellow slaves as a field commander. Boukman was also appointed a cocher coachman to drive his master about in his fancy ...

Article

As the son of a free Native American woman, José Leonardo Chirinos was born free. His father was a black slave of the Chirinos family, a prominent Creole family in what was then the Spanish colony of Venezuela. Chirinos was a tenant farmer and sharecropper in Coro, in northwestern Venezuela. He married an enslaved woman who belonged to a landowner named Don José Tellería. Chirinos accompanied Tellería on trips to Haiti and Curaçao, thereby learning of events outside Venezuela. In Haiti, then a French colony, he overheard discussions among black Haitians of their desire for liberty and equality. Because Chirinos had married a slave, his children were automatically slaves, and this increased his dislike for the institution of slavery

Chirinos emerged as leader of a rebellion that erupted near Coro on May 10, 1795 The insurgents called for the liberation of all slaves in Venezuela and demanded ...

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

Leyla Keough

When William Davidson, a respected English cabinetmaker, found himself unemployed and poor as a result of the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, he turned to a radical solution—the murder of English officials—to protest the social and economic injustices of early nineteenth-century Great Britain.

At his trial on charges of high treason against Great Britain, William Davidson professed that although he was a stranger to England in many ways, he could still claim the rights of an Englishman, “from having been in the country in my infancy.” The recognized son of the white attorney general of Jamaica and a black Jamaican woman, Davidson was brought to England for an education as a young boy. He remained there and became a cabinetmaker, until industrialization forced him into work at a poorhouse mill; at times he turned to crime in order to feed his wife and children.

Resenting this situation Davidson sought ...

Article

Article

The Haitian Revolution began as a rebellion against slavery and French plantation owners, but became a political revolution that lasted for thirteen years and resulted in independence from France. By 1804 the revolution had destroyed the dominant white population, the plantation system, and the institution of slavery in the most prosperous colony of the Western Hemisphere. The colony then became the first independent black republic in the world, the republic of Haiti.

The effects of the Haitian revolt spread far beyond the island. It contributed to the end of French colonial ambitions in the Western Hemisphere, which led France to sell its vast territory in North America to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 Refugees from Haiti settled in Louisiana helping to establish that area s distinct French Creole culture The uprising also inspired fear of similar revolts in other slave holding areas of ...

Article

Douglas R. Egerton

The revolution in Saint Domingue began in Paris in 1789. With the calling of the Estates General, a delegation of white Domingan planters—most of them French by birth—sailed for Europe in the hope of reducing the autocratic power of the colony's governor-general. But the delegation arrived only in time to witness the signing of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, a document that spoke in the dangerous language of equality. When Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville and other leading members of the Paris Amis des Noirs (Friends of Slaves), the leading French antislavery organization, asserted that the declaration indeed extended to free mulattoes, a colonial power struggle ensued between the planters and the gens de couleur (“people of color”). With the colony's free minority at one another's throats, the door to African freedom was opened, and on the evening of 22 August 1791 later known as ...

Article

Sam Hitchmough

Between 1789 and 1832 there were more than twenty revolts on the island that transformed itself from French Saint Domingue, the richest colony in the world, to Haiti, the first independent black state in the Western Hemisphere, established with finality through a successful slave uprising in 1804. A fragile independence in what Frederick Douglass called the “Black Republic” again witnessed recurring upheavals, and between 1843 and 1915 the country had twenty-two heads of state, fourteen of whom were deposed by revolution.

The most significant revolt was the uprising that resulted in Haitian independence, initially led by Toussaint Louverture. Inspired by the French Revolution of 1789, all three of the main groups on the island—slaves, free blacks, and white colonists—pressed for greater autonomy. At first the colony was allowed internal selfgovernment under metropolitan supervision, but the position of blacks remained ambiguous. Vincent Ogé led a brief rebellion ...

Article

Nick Nesbitt

Few historical facts are known regarding Jean Ignace's life prior to 1802, and much speculation has surrounded this protean figure of Afro-Guadeloupean identity. Ignace has variously been perceived as a ferocious brute, a proto-independence fighter, a noble hero of the black race, a former maroon slave and Dessalines-like figure, and a brave though strategically naive soldier. Born in Pointe-à-Pitre, most likely a free, mixed-race carpenter prior to the French abolition of slavery in 1794, he joined the colonial army sometime after the arrival of Victor Hugues in Guadeloupe in that same year.

The historical circumstances of Ignace and Louis Delgrès's revolt itself are, however, fairly certain. On May 5, 1802, a fleet of ships under the command of the French general Richepanse arrived in Guadeloupe. Like the troops of General Leclerc who at the same moment were engaged in an unsuccessful struggle to retain ...

Article

Aaron Myers

From the beginning of slavery in the Americas in the sixteenth century through abolition in the nineteenth century, male and female slaves escaped from plantations and established semi-independent, self-governing communities. These communities were often located in inaccessible areas, such as forests, swamps, and mountains. They were known variously as palenques, quilombos, mocambos, cumbes, mambises, ladeiras, and maroons. Over time the term maroon—derived from the Spanish cimarrón, which, in turn, is based on a Taíno word meaning “fugitive”—became the standard word for an individual escaped slave or a community of escaped slaves. The phenomenon of escaped slaves forming communities, known as maroonage, represented a common response to slavery throughout the Americas. Maroon communities ranged in size from small bands that came together for less than a year to powerful groups of thousands that survived for generations or even centuries.

Current scholarship on ...

Article

Free mulatto (of mixed African and European descent) leader of an uprising against the French in the southern section of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in 1790. The rebellion was put down, and Ogé was captured. He died the following year from a punishment inflicted on him in prison.

Article

At a young age, André Rigaud went to France and trained as a soldier in the French army. He was one of many Haitians who fought under French commanders against the British in the American Revolution (1775–1783). After returning to Haiti, Rigaud worked as a goldsmith until the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution in 1791. He emerged as leader of the mulatto (mixed African and European descent) forces and instigated an insurrection against black military commander François Dominique Toussaint Louverture in 1799. This led to a civil war between the mulatto and black forces that were fighting against French colonial rule. The insurrection failed, leaving about 10,000 of Rigaud's supporters dead, and he fled to France in 1801. The emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte I, deported Rigaud to Madagascar.

Article

David Geggus

The slave revolt that between 1791 and 1803 transformed France's immensely wealthy colony of Saint Domingue was among the largest in world history, and the sole fully successful one. It brought about the first wholesale act of emancipation in a major slave society (August 1793) and the creation in January 1804 of Haiti, the first modern black state. Of all the American struggles for colonial independence it involved the greatest degree of mass mobilization, and it caused the greatest degree of social and economic change. In twelve years of devastating warfare, the world's major producer of sugar and coffee was economically ruined and its ruling class entirely eliminated. For slaves and slave-owners throughout the Americas, the Saint Domingue or Haitian Revolution was an inspiration and a warning.

Historians have disagreed about the extent to which the revolution resulted from internal factors and how far it was a byproduct ...

Article

The struggle against slavery throughout the Americas involved different forms of rebellion. Many slaves escaped; some merged with the urban free black and colored population, while others became maroons and set up their own communities in the backlands, often in cooperation with indigenous peoples. Slaves who remained within the system worked to undermine it, through sabotage of production. At the same time they found ways of using their owners' dependence on their labor to influence their terms of work. And from time to time these slave workers, sometimes in alliance with freed people, erupted in rebellion in an effort to destroy slavery outright.

Article

There is little documentation regarding the life of François Dominique Toussaint Louverture before the first slave uprising in 1791 in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known before independence). According to contemporary oral accounts, his parents were from Dahomey (present-day Benin), and his father was a powerful chief in that country before his enslavement. Toussaint was the first of eight children born on the Bréda plantation, near the northern coast of Saint-Domingue. Born in the French colony, and familiar with its culture, Toussaint was considered a Creole rather than an African, which—according to the logic of European colonialism—guaranteed him a more elevated social status. This status, and the plantation owner's affection for him, freed Toussaint from ever having to toil in the sugarcane fields. Instead, he worked as a domestic servant in the plantation house. Toussaint was emancipated in 1776 at the young age of thirty-three. In 1779 he rented ...