Saturday, January 5, 2019
Stevens C Prefunction (Hilton Chicago)
As part of a directed research project, we investigated the types of propaganda surrounding the alleged torture in 1804 of Suzanne Simone Baptiste – also known as Madame Toussaint Louverture – in Britain and France. Almost nothing has been written about Suzanne until a copy of a letter was published anonymously in London’s anti-slavery journal, the Christian Observer in 1804 (supposedly taken verbatim?) from a letter (from a Madame Bernard, who allegedly met Madame Louverture in Saint-Domingue) dated 6 September 1804. The narrative of Madame L’Ouverture’s suffering – which expanded the spatial limits of this brutality (and her body) from France to Britain and spaces beyond – offered a stunning rebuttal to tentative French conversations about blacks being part of the French body politic. Simultaneously, the tale allowed different outside entities like the British press and satirists to spin the traumatic events surrounding the Haitian Revolution – calling into question French civilization – via the black body of Toussaint’s widow. The minister of the French police, Joseph Fouché, thought the letter (or the accusations contained within it) important enough to directly comment upon its contents during one of his daily meetings with Napoleon; indeed, the mention to Napoleon speaks to the significance of the story at an elevated level, especially given the repeated commentary about the legitimacy or lack thereof of his Empire. But Britain took the lead in sharing this story, and that is where the research began. To date, no one has done any historical work about this letter, or the fallout that the letter generated.