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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.4 (2001) 625-629

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Book Review

Recovering the Legacy of Slavery in the Francophone World

Doris L. Garraway
Northwestern University

Marcel Dorigny, ed. Les abolitions de l'esclavage de L. F. Sonthonax à V. Schoelcher,1793, 1794, 1848 (Paris: Éditions UNESCO; Saint-Denis: Presses Universitaires de Vincennes, 1995). Pp. 415. paper.

Doris Y. Kadish, ed. Slavery in the Caribbean Francophone World: Distant Voices, Forgotten Acts, Forged Identities(Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000). Pp. xxiii + 247. $35.00 cloth

Marcel Dorigny's and Doris Y. Kadish's masterfully edited volumes add to a growing body of scholarship redressing the historical silencing of French colonial slavery and its revolutionary upheavals, a silencing decried on both sides of the Atlantic by scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Louis Sala-Molins. Reading these books together, however, one is struck by the extent to which the major difference between them is seemingly reducible to their places of origin. While Dorigny's volume is concerned to reaffirm the place of republican France in a contested legacy of emancipation it shares with its former Caribbean colonies and the nation state of Haiti, Kadish's book queries intersections between Francophone Caribbean and U.S. history and explores the literary projects of Francophone Caribbean writers whose work is so appreciated today in U.S. French departments.

The title of Doriginy's volume evokes three essential moments in the history of abolition in French territories: the 1793 declaration of emancipation in Saint-Domingue by the civil commissioner Sonthonax, followed by the National Convention decree of 1794 abolishing slavery in all French colonies, and, finally, the definitive emancipation voted into law by the provisional government of the Second Republic in 1848. The eighteenth century emerges at the center of debate on the French legacy of abolition, as is clear from the editor's informative introduction. While on one hand criticizing an idealist view of French antislavery and [End Page 625] the 1794 abolition as a spontaneous, beneficent extension of Revolutionary values to slaves--a view that minimizes both the shortfalls of abolitionism and the impact of colonial slave insurrections--Dorigny writes against what he considers to be an equally reductionist tendency in historical scholarship, which is to treat the revolutionary figures as not only resistant to abolition but complicit in slavery itself. Growing out of a conference held at the University of Paris VIII commemorating the bicentennial of the first abolition, the volume contains a diverse selection of scholarship from more than thirty contributors, most of whom are French academic historians.

One strength of Dorigny's volume is the serious attention it gives to archival research on slave resistance during the Old Regime, three examples of which stand out among the essays in the first section. On the basis of an extensive examination of judicial records, Prosper Ève analyzes forms of resistance in the island of Bourbon in the late eighteenth century, focusing on marronnage, reproductive resistance, suicide, and cultural expressions of opposition to slavery. Turning to Martinique and Guadeloupe, Léo Élisabeth expands the discussion of marronnage to question the role of persons who offered protection to fugitives in an international context of flight, migration, and contested freedom. In documenting the ways in which maroons from French territories forged bonds with Caribs as well as maroon communities in other islands, Élisabeth suggests the formation of an oppositional black identity that superseded distinct island borders. Finally, Laënnec Hurbon offers an important analysis of the role of Catholic priests in supporting slave resistance in Saint-Domingue, thereby contesting the idea that the church played little or no role in the Haitian Revolution.

The second section on the relationship between Enlightenment thought and slavery in the eighteenth century rejoins the concerns raised in the editor's introduction. On one hand, the authors tend to concur on the fundamental contradictions in this period, variously conceived as opposing philosophical idealism to economic interest, natural rights to the right of property, and antislavery sentiment to ideals of white supremacy. Yet there is a noticeable concern here to argue...


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