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.
A riveting read and a transformative contribution to our understanding of resistance and revolution in the Caribbean and the Atlantic World. Garrigus vividly brings us into a world shaped by the work of divining, healing, and resistance, showing us how this world nurtured the alternative visions for the future that ultimately made the Haitian Revolution imaginable—and therefore possible.
The clearest, most sophisticated account I have read of the cultures of resistance that would help fuel the Haitian Revolution. Garrigus shows that enslaved men and women developed a range of complex, long-term political visions and pursued them by organizing across plantations, a powerful response to the argument that plantation slavery, especially in the Caribbean, was so harsh that it blocked political development among the enslaved. This important book is essential reading for historians of the Atlantic world and African diaspora, and should be read widely outside the academy.
An engaging, sympathetic portrait of a population on the path to revolution. Drawing on sources very few historians have studied and linking familiar events in novel ways, Garrigus gives us an imaginative reworking of the theme of slave resistance and how it related to the Americas’ greatest slave uprising.
Concise, creative, and deeply researched. Combining ethnohistory with archival sleuthing, Garrigus uncovers communities of slave resistance in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in the decades prior to the Haitian Revolution. African healing and ritual practices were not only used as a means of self-preservation in an atmosphere of chronic hunger, overwork, physical abuse, and disease; they also created communities among the enslaved that envisioned, and worked toward, a better world beyond the degradation of slavery.
- 256 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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