Stories from a Caribbean World: New Orleans in the Age of Revolutions, 1769–1819

AHA Session 169
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
James Sidbury, Rice University
New Orleans and the Wider World
Matt D. Childs, Univ. of South Carolina Columbia

Session Abstract

The city of New Orleans and its people have long been shaped by their connections to the wider Caribbean world: from the economic interdependence between Louisiana and St. Domingue throughout the eighteenth-century to the architecture of the French Quarter, which, belying its name, reveals the city's imperial associations with the Spanish Caribbean, to the dramatic transformation of the city's demography in the early nineteenth-century with the arrival of ten thousand St. Domingue refugees, many of whom had spent nearly a decade crisscrossing the Caribbean before settling on New Orleans. This panel explores New Orleans' place in the circum-Caribbean in the tumultuous decades of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, focusing on those whose lives and livelihoods were intimately connected to this larger world and, in turn, whose Caribbean experiences helped to shape the city of New Orleans.

The panel begins with Frances Kolb's investigation of British merchant Oliver Pollock's trade networks that linked New Orleans and its hinterlands to the Caribbean and the use of those networks by Spanish and American interests during the American Revolution. Shifting to the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution, Kenneth Aslakson and Nathalie Dessens focus on two of the thousands of stories that emerged from the wave of St. Domingue refugees who arrived in the city in 1809-10. Aslakson traces the arduous journey of Melanie Chalon who was born free in St. Domingue, illicitly enslaved in Charleston, South Carolina, and sued for her freedom in a New Orleans' court, in just one of many cases that required the city's judicial officials to navigate competing jurisdictions and legal traditions. Dessens' protagonist, the French-born Jean Boze, had a somewhat easier time in his diasporic journey as he easily crossed the boundaries among French St. Domingue, Spanish Cuba, and American New Orleans. Dessens' uses Boze's travels to emphasize "the porosity of the circum-Caribbean world," where imperial and national boundaries meant far less than the currents that conveyed people like Boze, Pollack, and Chalon around the Caribbean Sea. Permeability, however, did not entail the irrelevance of political boundaries as Jennifer Spear's examination of one family reveals. In the aftermath of the Louisiana Purchase, Franco-New Orleanian Louis Declout took advantage of the old imperial ties between New Orleans and Cuba to relocate his mestiza wife and their children in reaction to the increasing Americanization of the city.


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