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A Secret among the Blacks

Slave Resistance before the Haitian Revolution

John D. Garrigus

ISBN 9780674272828

Publication date: 09/19/2023

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A bold rethinking of the Haitian Revolution reveals the roots of the only successful slave uprising in the modern world.

Unearthing the progenitors of the Haitian Revolution has been a historical project of two hundred years. In A Secret among the Blacks, John D. Garrigus introduces two dozen Black men and women and their communities whose decades of resistance to deadly environmental and political threats preceded and shaped the 1791 revolt.

In the twenty-five miles surrounding the revolt’s first fires, enslaved people of diverse origins lived in a crucible of forces that arose from the French colonial project. When a combination of drought, trade blockade, and deadly anthrax bacteria caused waves of death among the enslaved in the 1750s, poison investigations spiraled across plantations. Planters accused, tortured, and killed enslaved healers, survivors, and community leaders for deaths the French regime had caused. Facing inquisition, exploitation, starvation, and disease, enslaved people devised resistance strategies that they practiced for decades. Enslaved men and women organized labor stoppages and allied with free Blacks to force the French into negotiations. They sought enforcement of freedom promises and legal protection from abuse. Some killed their abusers.

Through remarkable archival discoveries and creative interpretations of the worlds endured by the enslaved, A Secret among the Blacks reveals the range of complex, long-term political visions pursued by enslaved people who organized across plantations located in the seedbed of the Haitian Revolution. When the call to rebellion came, these men and women were prepared to answer.


  • Offers a fresh perspective on the resistance of the enslaved…Focusing on individual figures such as the African-born Médor, [Garrigus] makes a plausible case for his revisionist version of the Makandal story and sheds a revealing light on the wider origins of the Haitian revolution.

    —Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement


  • John D. Garrigus is the author of Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue and coauthor of The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica, 1740–1788. A former Andrew Carnegie Fellow, he is Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Book Details

  • 256 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press