Around 1785, a woman was taken from her home in Senegambia and sent to Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean. Those who enslaved her there named her Rosalie. Her later efforts to escape slavery were the beginning of a family's quest, across five generations and three continents, for lives of dignity and equality. Freedom Papers sets the saga of Rosalie and her descendants against the background of three great antiracist struggles of the nineteenth century: the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution of 1848, and the Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States.
Freed during the Haitian Revolution, Rosalie and her daughter Elisabeth fled to Cuba in 1803. A few years later, Elisabeth departed for New Orleans, where she married a carpenter, Jacques Tinchant. In the 1830s, with tension rising against free persons of color, they left for France. Subsequent generations of Tinchants fought in the Union Army, argued for equal rights at Louisiana's state constitutional convention, and created a transatlantic tobacco network that turned their Creole past into a commercial asset. Yet the fragility of freedom and security became clear when, a century later, Rosalie's great-great-granddaughter Marie-José was arrested by Nazi forces occupying Belgium.
Freedom Papers follows the Tinchants as each generation tries to use the power and legitimacy of documents to help secure freedom and respect. The strategies they used to overcome the constraints of slavery, war, and colonialism suggest the contours of the lives of people of color across the Atlantic world during this turbulent epoch.
It’s a brilliant book.
A sweeping tale of a fascinating family and the complex history of the African diaspora.
Scott and Hébrard impressively spin the family’s web from documents culled from local/national archives in the U.S., France, Spain, Belgium, Cuba, Senegal, England, and Haiti. There are an Atlantic map, a genealogical tree, and family pictures. They persuasively argue the cross-national connections, as well as the fragility of freedom and citizenship.
In this well-researched and readable family history, Scott and Hébrard recount the remarkable story of the Tinchants across generations and continents. As people of color, the Tinchants struggled, survived, and flourished—in Senegal, Cuba, New Orleans, Antwerp, and Paris; and through the Haitian Revolution, French Revolution of 1848, the Civil War and Reconstruction in the U.S., and WWII in Europe… Navigating the turbulent political and social waters of their various contexts, members of the Tinchant family often found themselves in ‘delicate position[s],’ as in Joseph’s attempt to sustain amiable contacts with the white customers of his retail store in New Orleans at the height of the Civil War. Throughout, the ‘family emerges as one with a tenacious commitment to claiming dignity and respect.’ Scott and Hébrard’s rendering of the Tinchant family’s story is historically enlightening and inspiring.
The pleasures of Freedom Papers unfold at various levels. It’s a family saga, an excursion through the commercial circuitry of the Atlantic world, and a compelling introduction to the great Age of Emancipation. It’s also a historical whodunnit: who was ‘Rosalie of the Poulard nation’? Rebecca Scott and Jean Hébrard trace the ties created by Rosalie and her descendants, Atlantic survivors whose ingenuity—combined with strategic access to pen, ink, and notaries—gave them just enough archival salience to make this telling possible. Scott and Hébrard are practiced experts at making the archive speak.
With this riveting family story that takes us from eighteenth-century Africa to twentieth century Europe, Scott and Hébrard rewrite the history of slavery, race, and citizenship. Freedom Papers is stunningly original and movingly told—an instant classic.
Freedom Papers is a tour de force. In its pages, the Tinchant family maintains an inspiring commitment to revolution and racial pride from Civil War New Orleans to Nazi Germany. This book will be welcomed by anyone eager to understand how our worlds connect across boundaries of race, geography, and time.
What wonders of African American history remain hidden in the archives, waiting to be discovered. Long lost, Rosalie Vincent and her family have been found. At last, Rosalie—she of the Poulard Nation, of Saint-Domingue, Haiti, Cuba, and New Orleans—has come home, to the historical record. Freedom Papers will be hailed as a tour de force of dogged research and the most riveting and fecund scholarly imagination.
A wonderful, richly detailed history that leads the reader through two centuries in the life of a single family as the individuals within it spend their times on earth, struggling for security and standing. Unusual scholarship, beautifully recounted.
Scott and Hébrard combine the painstaking work of archival researchers with the vision and sweep of the best historians to produce a marvelous multi-generational family saga that underlines the power of our humanity in the face of history’s changes and challenges. This is not a book only about an Afro-American family; it is about us all.
- 2012, Winner of the James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History
- 2012, Winner of the Albert J. Beveridge Award
- 2013, Winner of the Gilbert Chinard Prize
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.