A Hidden Caribbean Revolution? Race and Revolution in Venezuela, 1789-1817

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2018-05-16 23:05Z by Steven

A Hidden Caribbean Revolution? Race and Revolution in Venezuela, 1789-1817

Age of Revolutions
2018-05-14

Frédéric Spillemaeker, Researcher (Casa de Velázquez (École des Hautes Études Hispaniques et ibériques, EHEHI)) and Ph.D. Candidate
École des Hautes des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS)


Manuel Carlos Piar. Obra de Pablo W. Hernández.

The wave of revolutionary sentiment from the 1790s to Independence questioned the social and racial inequalities that divided colonial Venezuela. The majority of the Venezuelan population was Pardo, a mixed-race people of African and European descent who were considered legally inferior to Europeans and Creoles. While pardos could bear arms and organize in militias, they only ascended to the grade of captain. Hence, most pardo militias remained under command of Mantuanos – white colonels and members of the landed ruling class. When colonial order was challenged by Amerindians seeking to recover their lands and slaves pursuing freedom, a large mass of armed pardos mobilized in demand of equality. The 1790s revolutions in the Greater Caribbean, and later, the Latin American Independence Wars beginning in 1810, scrambled the existing socio-racial structure of domination in Venezuela, at least in the domain of the army, with pardo leaders like Jean-Baptiste Bideau and Manuel Piar

In August 1793, the Revolution led by Toussaint Louverture, enabled the abolition of slavery in Saint Domingue.[1] A few months later, on 16 PluviĂ´se An II (February 4, 1794), the French Convention extended the abolition decree to all French colonies. By June 1794, when Victor Hugues took over Guadeloupe, former slaves had become soldiers in defense of revolutionary values. This was the beginning of a cycle of victories for the alliance between France, free people of color, and emancipated slaves.[2] In the island of Trinidad, formerly part of Venezuela, a battle confronted the alliance of French and Afro-Antilleans against the English on May 8-9, 1796. Among the French officers was Jean-Baptiste Bideau, a “mulâtre” from Sainte-Lucie.[3] In spite of the defeat and the English seizure of the island in February 1797, slave uprisings erupted throughout Venezuela. Armed slaves mobilized in Carupano and in Rio Caribe in 1798,[4] and a suspected pardo plot was unveiled in Barcelona in 1801.[5] Back in Saint Domingue, now named Haiti, the revolution resisted Napoleon’s slavery restoration attempt and ultimately declared its Independence in 1804…

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Lesec, from Brave Mulato into Blackness?: Defection to France and Spanish Racial Regression

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2018-04-04 02:33Z by Steven

Lesec, from Brave Mulato into Blackness?: Defection to France and Spanish Racial Regression

Age of Revolutions
2018-04-02

Charlton W. Yingling, Assistant Professor of History
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky


“El ciudadano Hedouville habla al mentor de los negros…,” Jean-Louis Dubroca, Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los Negros de Santo Domingo (Mexico, 1806), University of Virginia Slavery Images Database, JCB_67-270-3. This well-known image is cropped to draw attention away from the figures’ faces and to their façades.

In May 1794, Governor JoaquĂ­n GarcĂ­a of Spanish Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic) praised the “brave spirit” of “Carlos Gabriel Lesec, mulato,” a term denoting European and African heritage. As an officer in Spain’s Black Auxiliaries, Lesec had just repulsed troops of the French Republic in a resounding victory at Santa Susana on the border with Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). As the third anniversary of the Haitian Revolution approached, thousands of ex-slaves had expanded their liberatory war under Spanish flags and occupied nearly half of Saint-Domingue.[1] These “Black Auxiliaries” of Spain enjoyed limited manumissions and material support in their war against the French, their former exploiters. Their leaders, Jean-François and Georges Biassou, represented some of the earliest participants in the initial slave revolts of 1791. Those who ascended later, such as Toussaint Louverture and his officer Charles Lesec, seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at upward mobility by punishing their former French oppressors. Despite these victories, GarcĂ­a was dismayed by the “disunion that reigns between the black chiefs Biassou and Toussaint,” who along with Jean-François were Lesec’s superiors.[2] Six months earlier French commissioner LĂ©ger-FĂ©licitĂ© Sonthonax had begun tactical, practical emancipations, in part to attract black supporters due to desperation over his opponents’ successes…

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White Creole Identity on Trial: The Haitian Revolution and Refugees in Louisiana

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2018-04-03 19:56Z by Steven

White Creole Identity on Trial: The Haitian Revolution and Refugees in Louisiana

Age of Revolutions
2018-03-26

Erica Johnson, Assistant Professor of History
Francis Marion University, Florence, South Carolina


Louisiana, c. 1814

The flight of refugees from the Haitian Revolution intertwined the histories of Louisiana and Saint-Domingue. The story of one refugee, Pierre Benonime Dormenon illustrates how perceptions of the Haitian Revolution and racial prejudices within Louisiana affected an emerging white Creole identity. In Louisiana, Dormenon was the Point Coupée parish judge, but political opposition forces sought his disbarment based on alleged activities in the Caribbean. According to the Louisiana Superior Court Case court report, accusers contended that Dormenon “aided and assisted the negroes in Santo Domingo in their horrible massacres, and other outrages against the whites, in and about the year 1793.” What role Dormenon played in the Haitian Revolution is not clear, nor is it clear how slaves and free people perceived him. Nonetheless, claims of Dormenon’s actions during the Haitian Revolution called into question his own racial identity.

Dormenon’s accusers focused heavily on his racial sympathies. The most shocking portrayal of Dormenon as black was in the testimony of Antoine Remy. Remy recounted a discussion with an innkeeper, a Mr. Prat, in a southern parish of Saint-Domingue. “He [Prat] heard him [Dormenon] say several times that he hated whites and was ashamed to be one of them,” testified Remy. He added, “He [Dormenon] believed that by opening a vein he could take in some black blood.” This testimony is questionable, because Remy based it upon hearsay. However, it was still significant within Dormenon’s case, because it deepened Dormenon’s connection to and sympathy for people of color…

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Race, or The Last Colonial Struggle in Latin America

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2018-03-18 01:10Z by Steven

Race, or The Last Colonial Struggle in Latin America

Age of Revolutions
2018-03-12

Jason McGraw, Associate Professor of History
Indiana University, Bloomington


Simón Bolívar emancipa los esclavos de Colombia [Simón Bolívar Frees the Slaves of Colombia], Luis Cancino Fernández, Venezuela, 19th century.

Latin America has long captivated outsiders for its seeming absence of a black-white racial binary, fluidity in racial self-ascriptions, and racially-mixed populations. Latin American elites, for their part, willingly adopted this sense of exceptionalism, and for much of the twentieth century the region gained a reputation as home to so-called racial democracies.1 Yet over the last 30 years, scholars and activists have documented the region’s pervasive anti-black and anti-Indian sentiments and its lack of social mobility for people of African or indigenous descent. Societies once heralded as racially democratic are now exposed for their rampant racist exclusions and inequality, which are often accompanied by fervent disavowals of racism.2

Even as challenges to the myth of racial democracy deserve plaudits, they have arrived with some of their own blinkered assumptions. Like earlier pro-racial democracy polemics, recent critical antiracist scholarship often relies on static notions of culture and ahistorical understandings of Latin America. But what would happen if we pushed back the timeline and examined politics, as well as culture? How would our understanding of Latin America’s racial orders change if we looked at its nineteenth-century revolutionary upheavals?3

Because I can’t cover the entire region or the last two centuries in this blog post, I’ll focus on Colombia, the country I have studied most closely, and on important turning points in the nineteenth-century politics of race. What I hope becomes clear is that both the older myth of racial democracy and increasingly acknowledged racial inequality, each perceived in its own way as an unchanging truth, owe something of their existence to nineteenth-century revolutionary struggles…

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