Islandwide Struggle and Core of the Haitian Revolution

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Many may have heard of the Caribbean or more specifically the island that seems unified but yet divided into two distant colonies. Living on opposite sides of the island, living completely different lives, religion and beliefs, but many do not know why or how they came to be this way. They are Saint Domingue and Santo Domingo, currently known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In Graham T. Nessler’s book, “An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom” (1789-1809), he made a strong argument about Santo Domingo (La Isla Hispaniola) and its struggles, emphasizing that scholars of the Haitian revolution analyzed the situation of Saint Domingue, the French part of the island, and ignored the situation in Spanish Santo Domingo. This monograph examines this conflict as an “island wide struggle over the meaning, and boundaries of liberty, citizenship, and racial equality”(2).

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Nessler stated that fundamentally the Haitian Revolution was a transimperial and intercolonial story in which enslaved people, free people “of color,” and numerous other parties sought to defend, reconfigure, or dismantle the parameters of empire and slavery. He believed that the Haitian Revolution era was a key arena that intertwined the French and Spanish political crisis that crushed Napoleon’s dream of reasserting French power in the Americas, proved critical in enabling the United States’ westward expansion, helped catalyze the Spanish American independence wars, and reshaped the geopolitics of the Western world. 

In this book, Nessler builds upon scholarships that fruitfully combined the seemingly quite disparate scales of Atlantic world history, which is gigantic, with something much more focus which is what is going on on the island, and microhistory. Nessler expressed the revolutionary struggles of the 1790s and the fundamentals of the Frenches “game plan”. Nessler also touches on the reaction of proslavery after Toussaint Louverture was captured in 1802, and everything in between that led to the exile of the French authorities in 1809. In the following chapters of the book, Nessler described the numerous setbacks, diversified plans, great uncertainty, logical, wry, and impractical desires, and promises of certain people. Such as the activists from the gen de couleur, but one the most important events of 1789, the French Revolution, which eventually led to messing things up RE-WORD in the French colonies. E.g. Haitian Revolution during the eighteenth’s century.

In the Haitian revolutionary era, the island, not just the colony the Spanish and the French were a key arena for the intertwine and Spanish political crisis RE-WORD that crushed Napoleon’s dreams of reasserting the French power within the Americans. It did because of the Haitian victory the United States gained what is today the Midwest. Napoleon had sold the Louisiana purchase because he had just been kicked out of Haiti. Haiti subsidies that huge colony, the French could not sustain it, which is how the United States acquired the Midwest. The French Revolution sparked many ideas within the gen de couleur community. Such as, the mixed raced leader Vincent Ogé, but failed in his attempt to become equal to the whites. Then, there was a slave revolt in 1791, they wanted freedom. So, the French Republican civil commissioner gave them their own ideas of freedom for them, in other words, they said they were free but were not truly free.

In 1793, the commissioners’ general emancipation orders were extended to all the French colonies in February 1794. By 1795, the French not only did they divest the Spanish from Saint Domingue, but they had legal authority over Santo Domingo because of the Treaty of Basel. During 1794-1801, rose Toussaint Louverture, who became a free slave in 1770. Toussaint would like to switch sides a lot. First, he would be with the slaves then with the Spanish. But then he became the leader of the Island, gained control over many Dominican towns, and negotiated with the British who left in 1798. In 1799, Napoleon had gained control over France. Toussaint had made a plan where everyone would be pleased economically, the author saw him as a Haitian and Dominican leader who would have united Hispaniola. Napoleon, being the control freak he was, had other plans for Toussaint in 1802, as he was captured and sent to France where he died. Which was when Jean Louis Ferrand had taken over as Toussaint’s successor. Freed slaves did not like the time Ferrand had control; they resisted his regime. Which led to Ferrand being kicked out of the Island Hispaniola in 1808-1809. There were some evidence that were recorded within archives.

The type of resources the author used to defend his argument was the archives and both primary printed sources and secondary sources. The new archival source invented by Graham Nessler was called the “archive of liberty”. The “archive of liberty” is what makes his book important, it is a source that no one had used before. It contained many testimonies from former slaves, because these were people who had achieved their liberty and were trying to maintain their liberty. It really tells their stories because slaves were illiterate; they did not know how to read or write, but they would fight to maintain their freedom. So, they created these legal documents and would go to a notary who is literate. Which is why in preliterate times notarial records were immensely important. Although they did not know how to read nor write they would go to people who did know. It provided a window to the actual lives and life experiences of former slaves. These sources, “archive of liberty”, sheds light on an exploited group of people who were very little known about. Which were the slave women who were exploited because of their gender and because of their status as slaves. The “archive of liberty” was especially important because it gave an exploited group of slave women a voice.

Concluding on his central argument and research that fundamentally the Haitian Revolution was a transimperial and intercolonial story in which enslaved people, free people “of color,” and numerous other parties sought to defend, reconfigure, or dismantle the parameters of empire and slavery. Through all and all from dealing with Hispaniola during 1789 to 1809, from going on a search for freedom, and from taking control and losing it on both ends, it was truly an Islandwide struggle for freedom. Which is what made this book different from other books: it looked at both parts of the island at the same time, in other words, they are interconnected.  

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