Leaving for Lands Unknown: The 1820s African American Emigration to Haiti

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:40 AM
Virginia Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Sara Fanning, Texas Woman's University
There is an experience of migration within the African New World that has up to now been kept in the historical record mainly through family memory. As many as 8,000 people on the Dominican peninsula today continue to speak and refer to themselves as Americanos. They are descendants of African American migrants who accepted President Jean-Pierre Boyer’s invitation in 1824 to come and live in Haiti. Samana was one of the port towns these migrants settled in to begin their new lives in Haiti. This paper examines the reasons Haiti attracted African Americans, their experiences there over multiple generations, and the dual identities adopted by the American newcomers.

As many as 13,000 African American emigrants set sail for Haiti in the mid 1820s at the invitation of the Haitian president, Jean-Pierre Boyer. American newspapers documented the emigration of African Americans and their initial experiences in Haiti by publishing emigrant letters to family and friends in the United States. In spite of the limited sources, thumbnail biographies of emigrants such as the doctor, Dr. Belfast Burton and the laundress, Hannah Quincy exist.   Emigration was widespread and attracted a diversity of the migrants, especially the widely differing social levels and the surprising number of female migrants who participated. Arriving in Haiti, many settlers became disillusioned, and many felt misled by previous reports. Some returned to the United States while others struggled on, like those living in Samana.

Although Haiti was no longer seen as a viable option for most African Americans after the 1820s, there continued to be some interest as demonstrated by Haitian emigration in the late 1850s and early 1860s when almost 2,000 African Americans sailed for the Caribbean. Though this movement faltered, it provides scholars insight into the changing expectations and realities that Haiti offered potential and landed emigrants.

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