Exiles and Immigrants, Los Negros Franceses: Black Auxiliary Troops in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Superior Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Miriam Martin, Vanderbilt University
This paper analyzes the exodus of a group of Spain’s black auxiliary troops and their families from Saint Domingue to Central America during the Age of Revolutions. Despite repeated attempts by the Spanish government to disperse this group and separate them from their leader, Juan Santiago, the Negros Franceses (so called by the Spanish government) managed to remain united due to Spain’s military necessity and their own group cohesion. The black auxiliary troops were critical to the defense of Atlantic World powers and as the Saint Domingue rebellion changed from a slave rebellion to a national revolution, the black Spanish militia gained valuable experience from fighting and negotiating with French, English and Spanish commanders. I examine the impact of this diverse group, made up of free blacks, freed black and slaves, as they learned to live among large Indian populations and alongside British military forces and settlers while concurrently learning how to manipulate the Spanish system to acquire land, salaries and improved living standards. In addition to extirpating the local political story of the Negros Franceses, I also examine their story as political actors and Atlantic Creoles, suggesting that their negotiating power, diplomatic dexterity, and community strength enabled them to remain cohesive despite sometimes successive relocations. The consequences of their negotiations learned in Saint Domingue reverberated along the Spanish Empire, particularly because many of their compatriots were utilizing the same methods and getting the same results in other locations. Beyond the story of several individuals’ dramatic efforts to remain autonomous and free in slaving societies, this narrative illustrates the Circum-Atlantic African diaspora in various contexts of racial and cultural contact zones. The levels of complexity engendered by the Age of Revolutions illuminate ethnic and political identities and raise important questions about autonomy and the broader political culture of Atlantic Creoles.
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