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Contents List of Illustrations 000 Series Foreword 000 Preface and Acknowledgments 000 Introduction 000 1. The Saint-Domingue Epic 000 French Colonial Saint-Domingue Revolution and Departures Away from the Island The Saint-Domingue Diaspora 2. Louisiana, Land of Welcome 000 Louisiana-Bound Louisiana, the Meeting Place for the Diaspora The Louisianan Asylum at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century The Louisianans and the Refugees 3. The Refugee Community 000 Building an Identity Dissolving within the New Orleans Creole Society Between Symbolic Ethnicity and Mythic Influence 4. Influencing Louisiana's Economic Pattern 000 Success Stories Fitting into the New Orleans Occupational Pattern Fields of Excellence 5. A New Social Era? 000 Impact on the Three-Tiered Society An Altered Conception of Race Relations? Consequences on the Religious Community Altering Social Practices 6. The Refugees' Politics: From Visibility to Influence 000 Distrust and Repression Slave Agitation and the Louisiana Psyche Shaping Political Activism Louisiana Politics, American Politics Shaping Ideologies in Nineteenth-Century America 7. A Still Unfathomed Cultural Legacy: Refugees in Creole New Orleans 000 A New Cultural Environment Creole and Folk Cultures Linguistic and Cultural Heritage Conclusion 000 Notes 000 Bibliography 000 Index 000 Illustrations Maps 1. Map of Saint-Domingue 000 2. Map of the Caribbean 000 3. Pili¿'s Map of New Orleans, 1808 000 Figures 1. Tombstone, Church of St. Mary of the Annunciation, Charleston 000 2. Tombstone, St. Louis cemetery #1, New Orleans 000 3. Caf¿ des R¿fugi¿s, New Orleans 000 4. Th¿¿tre d'Orl¿ans, New Orleans 000 5. Destrehan Plantation 000 6. Pitot House, New Orleans 000 7. "The Bamboula at Congo Square," Century, April 1886 000 Foreword For generations historians have sought to understand the American South. In his famous Life and Labor in the Old South, Ulrich B. Phillips begins began with the weather. Novelist Margaret Mitchell writes wrote that it was only the land that mattered. Others have insisted insist that God counted most in making Dixie. Even before there was a South, anyone who grew up below the Mason-Dixon Line knew that race made all the difference. Americans who lived after the American Revolution knew that slavery, the "peculiar institution," set the South apart from the rest of the United States, and many came to appreciate that slavery could destroy the Union. Neoconfederates insist that the South was born in defeat and will rise again. French historian Nathalie Dessens, in From Saint-Domingue to New Orleans: Migration and Influences, does not dispute the aforementioned claims. Instead, she asks us to be more particular-; to get down to cases. She wants us to begin with the people. In her case, the people are the white and black refugees from Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue) who came to the lower Mississippi region, especially New Orleans, to escape the revolution that began in 1791 and raged for a decade. Dessens's purpose is not to contest prior readings of southern history so much as it is to ask us to consider the variety and particularity of places and people. By studying the perspective of Gallic creoles and by focusing on lower Louisiana, Dessens gives the South a more variegated character. In Dessens's interpretation, the Haitian revolution was a transcultural event that profoundly affected the character of New Orleans and lower Louisiana. It made that subregion less southern than those places where cotton and slavery defined all. The free Haitian refugees were intent on holding onto as much of the world they left behind as their numbers, education, and wealth would allow. The enslaved refugees were as intent on asserting their own claims to freedom in Louisiana as their brethren were in Saint-Domingue. As Dessens demonstrates, the Haitian migration to lower Louisiana reinvigorated Gallic culture there and strengthened the region's Creole identity, institutions, and interests. Through an interaction of family relations, cultural and educational institutions, social exchanges, newspapers and other publications, and economic development, the refugees cultivated a group consciousness. In doing so, they resisted assimilation and muted the impact of the American political, social, and cultural forces that came to Louisiana after 1803. In several important ways they dissented from emerging southern norms. To be sure, refugee slaveholders were no less demanding and brutal than other southerners in driving their slaves. The rigors of the sugar production the refugees brought to Louisiana pushed slaves especially hard. The slaves, for their part, used their Afro-Caribbean culture to resist the masters' demands whenever possible, and they bred in the Louisiana sugar parishes a violence that burst forth in rebellion on several occasions. Yet, in their acceptance of a tripartite racial order that recognized a special place of gens de couleur libre, the "white" refugees stood apart from a racial regime that in most of the South saw little in free African Americans but a threat to white supremacy. In their Catholic religion and urban orientation, among several factors, they also departed from major southern patterns. By studying Haitian refugees in Louisiana, Dessens achieves a new understanding of the cultural diversity that underlay what has at times appeared to be a monolithic South. In considering the impact of Gallic and Afro-Caribbean cultures on the North American mainland, she expands the canvass of the black Atlantic revolutionary ethos. She suggests that, social and caste differences notwithstanding, the refugees' common cultural roots in Saint-Domingue and initial estrangement from the Louisiana power structure encouraged intricate interlacings of identity and interest among them. By examining the white, free black, and enslaved black Haitians, she offers a new approach to studying community formation and a new appreciation for the exceptionalism of Louisiana. Preface and Acknowledgments This book is designed as a small contribution to the boundless field of Louisiana history. My hope is to add to the developing reflection on the large multiracial migration that eventually reached Louisiana at the turn of the nineteenth century, bringing several thousand whites, free people of color, and slaves from the lost French colony of Saint-Domingue. The idea for this research sprang from my discovery of this large refugee influx and my subsequent difficulty in finding information on the topic, despite the proportion it represented of the Louisiana population at the time. Of course, much still remains to be done, although the importance and legacy of this migration has started to be properly assessed. In this research, I am heavily indebted to the pioneers on the topic, Gabriel Debien and Ren¿ Le Gardeur, and to those few who followed in their footsteps, including Thomas Fiehrer and Paul Lachance for Louisiana, as well as the historians of the refugee diaspora in the Caribbean, Alain Yacou, Jacques de Cauna, and Carlos Esteban Deive. This work is the result of many encounters with extraordinarily helpful people. I want to express my gratitude to the staffs of many archives and libraries for their availability and efficiency. I was heartily welcomed at the Special Collections of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Tulane University and Xavier University at New Orleans, the Amistad Research Center of Tulane University, the New Orleans Public Library, the Historic New Orleans Williams Research Center, the Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Notarial Archives Research Center of New Orleans, the Archivo General de la Nacion in Santo Domingo, and the Instituto Cultural Dominico-Americano in the Dominican Republic. My thanks go especially to Pamela Arceneaux, Wilbur Meneray, Charles E. Nolan, Sally Reeves, Brenda Square, and Lester Sullivan for their invaluable suggestions. During this research I met many scholars who helped and encouraged me. My deep thanks go to Virginia Meecham Gould for the challenging discussions we had over many a fine dinner in New Orleans, for the information we shared, and for her unwavering hospitality. I also thank Caryn Coss¿ Bell and Paul Lachance for their suggestions and interest, as well as Elizabeth Sullivan-Holleman and Isabel Hillery Cobb, who offered me their book at the end of the presentation I gave at a symposium celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the French presence in the lower Mississippi basin (Biloxi, March 1999). I owe a great debt to Sylvia Frey for giving me the right contacts for easier access to the sources and to the Deep South Regional Humanities Research Center of Tulane University for granting me a Georges Lurcy Postdoctoral Fellowship, which offered me the best conditions for summer research, and for making my life in New Orleans so much easier. I am also very grateful to my friends Sheryl Rahal and James Bolner for their patient revision of my manuscript and to Meredith Morris-Babb and the University Press of Florida for their trust in me. I also want to express my gratitude to the two anonymous readers and to the editors of the Southern Dissent series, Stanley Harrold and Randall M. Miller, for the time they spent on my manuscript and for their extraordinarily helpful suggestions. Studying the demographic facts of a migration is a painstaking task. Trying to assess the influence of a refugee movement is still more difficult. Many people will find fault with my interpretative conclusions. Their remarks will help me move forward, since criticism is the fuel of research. Introduction Some 200 years ago, a large refugee group settled in Louisiana after fleeing the turmoil of the slave revolution that occurred in Saint-Domingue. The revolution ended in the creation of Haiti, the second republic of the Americas and its first black republic, in 1804. Between 1791 and 1815, at least 15,000 (and possibly close to 20,000) refugees from Saint-Domingue settled in the lower Mississippi region, 80 to 90 percent in New Orleans and vicinity.1 Considering the population of New Orleans at the time (the censuses give the figures of 5,028 in 1785, 8,056 in 1799, and 17,242 in 1810), the multiracial influx was enormous and more than doubled the size of the New Orleans free population of color. This migration could not help but have a deep impact on Louisiana's social, economic, political, and cultural context. It eventually reinforced Louisiana's cultural exception in the United States as well as Louisianans' conscious efforts to dissent from the rest of the American South. Despite the importance of the migration, it attracted little attention from historians. A survey of nineteenth-century historiography reveals either a relatively brief mention of arrivals or a total silence.2 It is true that, until the nineteenth century, migrations were studied in the general transatlantic context rather than in an intracontinental perspective. It is most probable that the incorporation of Louisiana into the United States in 1803, exactly in the middle of the refugee flow, also overshadowed the importance of this migration. The new national destiny of this colonial territory brought many changes in the society, economy, politics, and culture of Louisiana and became a topic of major concern for historians. Ironically, the refugee community, which contributed so much to the persistence of a Gallic Creole culture despite the ongoing Americanization of Louisiana, attracted little interest from scholars. Various reasons might account for this neglect, including the three-tiered racial composition of the refugee population that was at odds with the ideology distilled in the antebellum and post-Reconstruction Anglo-American South. Finally, acknowledging the importance of the refugee flow in the socioeconomic and cultural development of Louisiana might have implied recognizing the indebtedness of the United States to Haiti at a time when the political elite of the country were trying to downplay the importance of this newly independent republic.3 Early-twentieth-century historians of Louisiana seemed to discover this migration, as reflected in a few superficial articles that simply state the existence of the refugees.4 The existence of the refugees seemed, by then, to have entered the Louisianan collective unconscious.5 Interest in the topic had not yet arisen, however, and only the pioneering works of Ren¿ Le Gardeur and Gabriel Debien, as well as Winston C. Babb in the mid-twentieth century (although his dissertation has remained unpublished), brought new light to this important event in Louisiana history.6 These historians kept writing that there was still much to do to grant fair recognition to the migration.7 Some historians settled down to this task in the last two decades of the twentieth century, using Debien and Le Gardeur's work as a basis. Both Thomas Fiehrer and Paul Lachance, for instance, made invaluable contributions to the understanding of the "unfathomed legacy" of the refugee movement.8 At that point, realizing the importance of this scholarly work, Carl A. Brasseaux and Glenn R. Conrad edited The Road to Louisiana, a collection of the main articles written by Debien, Le Gardeur, Fiehrer, and Lachance, with the aim of attempting to "fill comprehensively one of the most enduring lacunae in Louisiana historiography."9 Gathering the scattered articles into a volume was the best way to draw attention to this forgotten aspect of Louisiana history. It was also a good incentive for other researchers to follow the trail of the refugees. Today almost everyone in Louisiana has heard about this refugee movement which, according to Fiehrer, had "remained buried until recently in the recesses of the collective unconscious,"10 and even most travel guides mention its influence on Louisiana society. Moreover, Louisianans now seem conscious of this impact, and all responded favorably to the author's assumption that the refugees had influenced Louisiana in more than one way. Most inhabitants of New Orleans with (real or supposed) Saint-Domingan ancestry are proud of their origins, and several individuals and genealogical societies have been working on the topic. Articles are regularly published in the New Orleans Genesis, and New Orleans boasts a Saint-Domingan special interest group.11 The refugees are even often surrounded by a mythical aura.12 Now that the refugees' true contribution is being assessed, all kinds of legends circulate on their contribution.13 A more precise assessment of their legacy--which will probably strengthen some beliefs and damage some legends-- seems necessary.14 It will undoubtedly enable a better understanding of Louisiana's dissenting tradition in the American South and in the United States more generally. Although the present work will use extensively the first findings of the pioneers and will present a summarized view of the migration itself, its ultimate goal will be to pave the way for assessing the "unfathomed legacy," which may well prove to be unfathomable. This is an arduous task that necessarily implies interpretative conclusions with which other historians might disagree. Indeed, it goes far beyond studying the facts, figures, and conditions of the migration. It even goes beyond considering the refugees' reception by the Louisiana population and conditions of insertion into this population, although this will have to be included in the study. It is an attempt to determine what impact they had on the social, economic, and political life of Louisiana and to what extent they influenced Louisiana culture. Probably the most difficult task is to draw the line between mere visibility, due to the great number of immigrants, and real influence that might derive from the dynamism fostered by their previous experience in Saint-Domingue and by the trauma of flight and relocation in an unknown society. This will require some reflection on a number of notions involved in the migration processes, in terms of ethnicity, integration, assimilation, amalgamation, acculturation, and creolization (or rather re-creolization here).15 These notions will not be treated theoretically, however, but will be systematically applied to the case of the Saint-Domingan refugees in Louisiana. This will imply a reflection on the existence of a symbolically ethnic community.16 In this respect, the conditions of this forced migration play an important part. Studying a migration necessitated by revolution calls for totally different concepts than when studying a voluntary migration, whatever proportion of push (rather than pull) factors may have caused the latter. Moreover, both the similarities and differences between the society they knew before their migration and the one they found upon arrival are essential to understanding their easy integration and potential influence on their new homeland. The reflection on the legacy of the refugees--especially their cultural legacy--requires an intimate knowledge of both their original society and the society that they discovered upon reaching their new abode. The task is made especially difficult by the multiracial character of the refugee population as well as the various social statuses found among the migrants. The migrant group not only included white people and black slaves, but also free people of color with various proportions of African ancestry. The present study will thus have to focus on the three groups, which obviously had very different statuses. Because of the long neglect of people of African descent, free and enslaved, by the dominant historiography and the later attempt by historians to compensate for this omission, the various groups have often been studied separately. Within the scope of the present historical rehabilitation of the entire refugee community, dividing the refugee population--which included people from all three groups in almost equal numbers-- was inappropriate. If these people, either of African, European, or mixed ancestry, had been influenced only by their original birthplace or that of their ancestors, such an association would have proved overly complex. The initial hypothesis of the present work, however, is that they all came to the Americas with definite social and cultural patterns but that they gained an identity, a kind of common cultural blend, through their stay in Saint-Domingue. This implies a creolization due to their coexistence (whether chosen or unwanted) as well as the specific character of the place in which they lived and the society that emerged from it. This will to treat the community without separating the groups does not, by any means, run counter to any study of the specific African contributions to Louisiana or the French, Spanish, or American influences. This study is aimed to be complementary, since its main focus bears on the specific traits developed in Saint-Domingue by French colonists, African slaves, and their offspring of mixed ancestry who came to the Gulf Coast and to New Orleans at the turn of the nineteenth century. The present work is deeply indebted to the historians who have started exploring this migration, which occurred at a crucial point in Louisiana history. The sources also include much archival material, from the sacramental records to the notarial acts of the period. It also draws from public and private correspondence, from the letters of the officials who ruled Louisiana to the private papers of several families, either from Saint-Domingue or from the Louisiana Creole society, thus bearing witness to the refugees' intimate experience and how they were perceived by the Louisiana Creoles. Finally, the present study relies on many secondary sources dealing with specific aspects of the Saint-Domingan society, the revolution, and subsequent events, as well as on the abundant literature concerning the Louisiana society. Those works on Saint-Domingue and Louisiana were read with the constant purpose of tracing influences and determining the legacy of the refugees in their new homeland. Some influences were easily traceable, for the authors of the pioneer studies had--at least partially-- identified them. Others, however, had not been associated with the Saint-Domingan group, and tracing them was sometimes an arduous task. Articles have been written on newspapermen, printers, authors, and many other professionals who were refugees or descendants of refugees, although their authors were unaware of those origins.17 They simply thought they were writing about Louisiana Creoles of European or mixed African ancestry, which may be a good indicator of the perfect assimilation of the refugees into nineteenth-century Louisiana Creole society. The present overview of the migration and of its legacy to the history of Louisiana will be a novel attempt at understanding this specific population movement. I hope it will launch other scholars on the path of the refugees, especially on the "road to Louisiana." It will also be a new attempt at understanding Louisiana's difference and dissenting tradition (both in the South and in the United States), a characteristic that has persisted even into the twenty-first century. The present study will open with a brief historical survey of Saint-Domingue in the eighteenth century, including some references to the revolution itself, with special focus on the various waves of departures from the island. It will also briefly examine the way in which the migration occurred, as well as the various destinations of the refugee diaspora. The second chapter will study more specifically the Louisiana destination, the reason why the refugees chose to go (and stay) there, the society the newcomers found in this new homeland, as well as their reception by the Louisiana population and authorities. The study will then focus on the refugee population, the links between its various members, the sense of community it developed, and the kind of "symbolic ethnicity" it built. The last four chapters will assess the refugees' legacy in the economic, social, political, and cultural fields.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
Haitian Americans -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 18th century.
Haitian Americans -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History -- 19th century.
Immigrants -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History.
Refugees -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History.
Refugees -- Haiti -- History.
Haitians -- Migrations -- History.
Haiti -- History -- Revolution, 1791-1804 -- Refugees.
Haiti -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
New Orleans (La.) -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
New Orleans (La.) -- Social conditions.