Abstract

Though poisoning by slaves has been identified and studied in many Atlantic societies, the case of Restoration era Martinique is unique for both its scale and its periodization. While Caribbean historians have argued the phenomenon was disappearing by the 19th century, in Martinique planters became obsessed with slave poisoning as a threat to the very "survival of the island" during the 1820s. Many planters believed that poisoning almost always originated with the most loyal and dutiful slaves, and that free people of color were complicit. This article argues that the terror that spread among planters was largely the result of the specific cultural, psychological, and economic pathologies of the end of French slavery. Rather than seeking a purely materialist approach, the competing cultural meanings of poison should be understood in relation to this changing context. Though many historians have tended to caricature slave resistance, the dynamic analyzed here confirms the willful agency of enslaved people. At the same time, planters' inability to come to terms with the perceived threat of poisoning undermined their demands for autonomy from the French state, and paved the way for a new metropolitan-colonial relationship.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 635-662
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-05
Open Access
No
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