Writing the Counterrevolution: Saint Domingue on the Eve of the 1791 Slave Revolts, a View from the Spanish Archives

Friday, January 4, 2019: 9:10 AM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Jesús Ruiz, Tulane University
The first successful slave rebellion in the world – The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) – is often linked with debates about enlightenment, abolitionism, independence, and discussions surrounding emancipation. In this talk, I explore evidence from Spanish colonial archives that suggests the existence of a counterrevolutionary conspiracy in Saint Domingue, where royalist whites and free blacks sought to destroy French Republicanism in the colony and uphold the monarchy of Louis XVI. How can events such as the 1791 public assassination of Thomas-Antoine Mauduit du Plessis – a royalist colonel of the colonial regiment of Port-au-Prince – alter historiographical understandings of the radical measures other white colonists loyal to the French monarchy were willing to take in their attempt to crush the rise of radical Republicanism in Saint Domingue? Moreover, how might we read intelligence accounts from the Spanish border of Hispaniola that seemingly point to a loyalist rhetoric of Church and King amongst Saint Domingue’s African descended insurgents? How can we tell the difference between feigned royalist rhetoric and heartfelt claims to a system of kings and queens? Similarly, in a time of shifting political tides and social turmoil, how does loyalty change from the need for survival to opportunism? This presentation explores these questions and offers new thoughts on how we might engage the events leading up to August 1791 in Saint Domingue through a deeply transimperial perspective that links the former French colony with colonial Santo Domingo and the Spanish monarchy.