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The Fear of French Negroes

Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas

Sara E. Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

The Fear of French Negroes is an interdisciplinary study that explores how people of African descent responded to the collapse and reconsolidation of colonial life in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1845). Using visual culture, popular music and dance, periodical literature, historical memoirs, and state papers, Sara E. Johnson examines the migration of people, ideas, and practices across imperial boundaries. Building on previous scholarship on black internationalism, she traces expressions of both aesthetic and experiential transcolonial black politics across the Caribbean world, including Hispaniola, Louisiana and the Gulf South, Jamaica, and Cuba. Johnson examines the lives and work of figures as diverse as armed black soldiers and privateers, female performers, and newspaper editors to argue for the existence of "competing inter-Americanisms" as she uncovers the struggle for unity amidst the realities of class, territorial, and linguistic diversity. These stories move beyond a consideration of the well-documented anxiety insurgent blacks occasioned in slaveholding systems to refocus attention on the wide variety of strategic alliances they generated in their quests for freedom, equality and profit.

Published by: University of California Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

...This book was researched and written over many years, and the debts that I have incurred are numerous. Many thanks to the Library Company of Philadelphia, especially Jim Green, Philip Lapansky, and Linda Wisniewski. It was a true pleasure to work there, where I first studied many of the primary sources, both textual and visual, that I used in this and other projects. Thanks are also due to the New York Public Library, the Archives Nationales d’Outre Mer, Tulane University’s Special Collections, the Yale Center for British Art...

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Preface: The Fear of “French Negroes”

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pp. xv-xxii

...Billowing smoke and fire pour from an elegant plantation in ruins. Black figures armed with swords and bayonets battle uniformed soldiers. Women, children, and an infirm elder flee empty-handed as they reluctantly leave their fallen menfolk behind. In the center, a male and female white couple looks back as a black insurgent pursues them; the man’s elegant attire and the woman’s décolletage stand out amid the chaos. Meanwhile, a ship is anchored in the harbor as its passengers engage in battle, and those fleeing...

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Introduction: Mobile Culture, Mobilized Politics

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pp. 1-20

...Communication networks between subjects of different European empires in the Americas have always thrived, despite being closely regulated and habitually proscribed. Given the climate of competitive mercantilist politics in the region, imperial officialdom militated against unmediated interactions between their colonies and other metropoles. However, contact, most importantly in the form of trade, was essential to the survival of early Caribbean...

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1. Canine Warfare in the Circum-Caribbean

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pp. 21-48

...As captured in the epigraphs, slavery in the plantation Americas was a “veritable state of war” between opposing factions: masters, whose rights were upheld by a legal, social, and cultural fabric of institutions that guaranteed their dominion over human beings designated as property, and the women and men compelled to work as slaves. Despite the apparent distance suggested by these third-person assessments, Moreau de Saint-Méry and Baron de Vastey were...

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2. “Une et indivisible?” The Struggle for Freedom in Hispaniola

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pp. 49-90

...the image is a visual representation of what both the creole plantocracy and metropolitan authorities most dreaded during the age of the Haitian Revolution—armed, organized slaves and free people of color ready and able to protect their interests. These are the “French negroes” so feared and vilified throughout the Americas. Significantly, the general is forcibly dragging a dog behind him, dominating the animal in a way that denotes a stark reversal of the power...

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3. “Negroes of the Most Desperate Character”: Privateering and Slavery in the Gulf of Mexico

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pp. 91-121

...In August 1817, a customs officer in New Orleans named Beverly Chew voiced grave concerns about the smuggling activity occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. In a letter to William Crawford, the U.S. secretary of the Treasury, he wrote: “I deem it my duty to state that the most shameful violations of the slave acts, as well as our revenue laws, continue to be practiced with impunity, by a motley mixture...

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4. French Set Girls and Transcolonial Performance

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pp. 122-156

...Performative culture provides an excellent medium to study the dialogues that took place between members of mobile black communities. The interconnectedness of the colonial landscape was evident in the signifying practices of an intellectual citizenry of musicians and their dancing adepts. I examine how people employed fashion, movement, and sound to define themselves and community in the rigidly hierarchical context of plantation slavery. The...

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5. “Sentinels on the Watch-Tower of Freedom”: The Black Press of the 1830s and 1840s

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pp. 157-188

...Seminole War (1835–42) signaled a continuation of the armed resistance against planter control that occurred at the turn of the century during the unfolding and immediate aftermath of the Haitian Revolution. 1 For example, Jose Chirino’s rebellion (Venezuela, 1795), the Second Maroon War (Jamaica, 1795–96), the Boca Nigua revolt (Santo Domingo, 1796), Gabriel Prosser’s revolt (Virginia, 1800), Charles Deslondes’s rebellion (Louisiana, 1811), and the Aponte conspiracy (Cuba, 1812) were just a few of the well-documented...

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pp. 189-194

...left Saint-Domingue with their owners at the onset of the revolution. After resettling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then Charles Town, South Carolina, the women were manumitted upon their owner’s death. In 1795, the three servants and one of their daughters, born a free black in the United States, accompanied their former masters to the French colony of Martinique, living together until 1821. Their employers eventually re-enslaved them, however, violating the integrity of a decades-long...


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pp. 195-244

Works Consulted and Discography

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pp. 245-276


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pp. 277-289

Production Notes

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pp. 290-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780520953789
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520271128

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 801363598
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Fear of French Negroes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blacks -- Caribbean Area -- History -- 19th century.
  • Blacks -- Gulf Coast (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Blacks -- Race identity -- Caribbean Area -- History -- 19th century.
  • Blacks -- Race identity -- Gulf Coast (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Blacks -- Migrations -- History -- 19th century.
  • Haiti -- History -- Revolution, 1791-1804 -- Influence.
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