The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas

The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas

The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas

The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas

Synopsis

The Fear of French Negroes is an interdisciplinary study that explores how people of African descent responded to the collapse and reconsolidation of colonial life in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1845). Using visual culture, popular music and dance, periodical literature, historical memoirs, and state papers, Sara E. Johnson examines the migration of people, ideas, and practices across imperial boundaries. Building on previous scholarship on black internationalism, she traces expressions of both aesthetic and experiential transcolonial black politics across the Caribbean world, including Hispaniola, Louisiana and the Gulf South, Jamaica, and Cuba. Johnson examines the lives and work of figures as diverse as armed black soldiers and privateers, female performers, and newspaper editors to argue for the existence of "competing inter-Americanisms" as she uncovers the struggle for unity amidst the realities of class, territorial, and linguistic diversity. These stories move beyond a consideration of the well-documented anxiety insurgent blacks occasioned in slaveholding systems to refocus attention on the wide variety of strategic alliances they generated in their quests for freedom, equality and profit.

Excerpt

Billowing smoke and fire pour from an elegant plantation in ruins. Black figures armed with swords and bayonets battle uniformed soldiers. Women, children, and an infirm elder flee empty-handed as they reluctantly leave their fallen menfolk behind. In the center, a male and female white couple looks back as a black insurgent pursues them; the man’s elegant attire and the woman’s décolletage stand out amid the chaos. Meanwhile, a ship is anchored in the harbor as its passengers engage in battle, and those fleeing for their lives desperately seek passage on the ships that will eventually land them in neighboring Jamaica, Cuba, or one of the port cities of the eastern United States. The image (figure 1) depicts the 1793 conflagration of Cap Français (Le Cap). Known as the “Paris of the Antilles,” Le Cap was the economic and cultural capital of the wealthiest Caribbean colony of the eighteenth century. The racialized class war that pitted French, British, and Spanish imperial armies against hundreds of thousands of slaves and free people of color was in full swing, and the conflagration of the city marked a point of no return. Graphically capturing what the painting’s title notes as the “troubles, ravages, murders, fires, devastations and massacres” of the Haitian Revolution from a blatantly sensationalized perspective of the white elite, the image encapsulates what contemporary audiences came to recognize as the “horrors” of Saint-Domingue as they were perpetrated against white victims. It is a classic example of . . .

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