Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation

Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation

Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation

Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation

Synopsis

In this moving microhistory of nineteenth-century Haiti and Jamaica, Matthew J. Smith details the intimate connections that illuminate the conjoined histories of both places after slavery. The frequent movement of people between Haiti and Jamaica in the decades following emancipation in the British Caribbean brought the countries into closer contact and influenced discourse about the postemancipation future of the region. In the stories and genealogies of exiles and politicians, abolitionists and diplomats, laborers and merchants--and mothers, fathers, and children--Smith recognizes the significance of nineteenth-century Haiti to regional development.

On a broader level, Smith argues that the history of the Caribbean is bound up in the shared experiences of those who crossed the straits and borders between the islands just as much as in the actions of colonial powers. Whereas Caribbean historiography has generally treated linguistic areas separately and emphasized relationships with empires, Smith concludes that such approaches have obscured the equally important interactions among peoples of the Caribbean.

Excerpt

Lieutenant Clarence Espeut Lyon Hall from Jamaica died in action on 7 July 1916 in the French village of La Boiselle, in the department of the Somme, during one of the bloodiest military campaigns of the First World War. The Somme offensive claimed the lives of more than 50,000 British troops, including soldiers like Lyon Hall who came from imperial territories. It was the greatest loss of life in any battle in the history of the British armed forces. Known for his bravery, Lyon Hall led his troops, the Fifth Battalion of the South Wales Borderers, out of the trench the soldiers called “The Glory Hole” and into an ill-fated attack on the German frontline. By the time of that courageous assault Lyon Hall was already a recognized war hero—he received the Military Cross for gallantry in the field a month before he died. At just twenty years old he paid the ultimate price for his loyalty, giving his life for king and empire in a war for liberty that tore Europe apart.

The life that ended on the bloodstained fields in France began thousands of miles away, in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Lyon Hall’s father, also named Clarence, was a Canadian businessman with interests in Haiti and Jamaica, and his mother, Marian Noëmi Espeut, was a Jamaican living in Haiti at a time when Jamaicans formed the largest number of Englishspeaking residents in that republic. In the year of Clarence’s birth, 1896, there were also hundreds of Haitians living in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, which by then had become the most important site of the Haitian diaspora. Many of these people moved frequently between Haiti and Jamaica. Some, like Clarence Espeut Lyon Hall, claimed both islands—when he received the Military Cross he was reported as being “of Haiti and Jamaica.”

Yet Clarence Espeut Lyon Hall’s connections with Haiti, Jamaica, France, and England went much further back. His Jamaican mother was a descendant of French planters from the Grande Anse in the southern region of the . . .

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