New Christians/’New Whites’: Sephardic Jews, Free People of Color, and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, 1760-1789

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Chapter, History, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion on 2011-11-05 01:56Z by Steven

New Christians/’New Whites’: Sephardic Jews, Free People of Color, and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue, 1760-1789

Chapter (pages 314-332) in: The Jews and the Expansion of Europe to the West, 1450-1800
Berghahn Books
592 pages
Pb ISBN 978-1-57181-430-2; Hb ISBN 978-1-57181-153-0

Edited by: Paolo Bernardini and Norman Fiering

Chapter Author:

John D. Garrigus, Associate Professor of History
University of Texas, Austin

The case of Saint-Domingue’s Sephardim illustrates that the story of Jews in Europe’s expansion westward is about more than the survival or mutation of deeply rooted family traditions. Old World questions about Jewish political identity did not disappear in the Americas. Rather, these persistent issues forced colonists and their children born in the New World to reconcile European philosophies with American conditions. In the case of the largest slave colony in the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue’s Jews helped translate emerging French nationalism into an attack on racial prejudice that eventually produced the Haitian revolution. By raising complex issues of national identity and citizenship in French America after 1763, Sephardic merchants and planters provided a model for another group whose place in colonial society was equally ambiguous: Saint-Domingue’s free people of color.

In the mid-1780s, the self-proclaimed leaders of the colony’s “mulattos” adopted many of the techniques that colonial Jews used to fight for legal rights. Their challenge to a racial hierarchy that had only recently acquired full legitimacy threatened the ideological basis of plantation society. By 1791 political and military struggles between colonial “whites” and “mulattos” had become so vicious that a great slave rebellion was possible.

The civil positions of colonial Jews and free people of mixed European and African parentage were parallel because elites in France began to construct new definitions of French citizenship in the mid-eighteenth century. In Paris and elsewhere, Jansenist judges and Protestant leaders pushed royal administrators to recognize that property, loyalty, and civic utility, not orthodox Catholicism, defined French identity. At the same time, royal bureaucrats eager to open France to wealthy families born outside its borders began to free these influential immigrants from traditional legal disabilities. By 1789, therefore, the continuum of rights and disabilities separating non-French residents and native-born subjects of the French monarchy was increasingly simplified into two mutually exclusive categories: citizen and foreigner…

Read the entire chapter here.

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Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto”

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2010-11-16 06:39Z by Steven

Seeds of Rebellion in Plantation Fiction: Victor Séjour’s “The Mulatto”

Southern Spaces
An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the American South and their global connections

Ed Piacentino, Professor of English
High Point University, High Point, North Carolina

This essay examines Victor Séjour’sThe Mulatto” (1837), a short story acknowledged as the first fictional work by an African American. Through its representation of physical and psychological effects, Séjour’s story, a narrative of slavery in Saint-Domingue, also inaugurated the literary delineation of slavery’s submission-rebellion binary. The enslaved raconteur in “The Mulatto” voices protest and appeals to social consciousness and sympathy, anticipating the embedded narrators in works of later writers throughout the Plantation Americas.


  • Introduction
  • Liberated Narrative Voice
  • Restricted Space
  • Clotel’s Rebellion
  • Local Color
  • Conclusion & Notes
  • Recommended Resources
  • “The Mulatto”


A little-known story first translated into English in 1995 by Philip Barnard for The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, “Le Mulâtre” (“The Mulatto”) by Victor Séjour (1817-1874), a New Orleans free man of color, was initially published in the March 1837 issue of Cyrille Bisette’s Parisian abolitionist journal La Revue des Colonies. La Revue was a monthly periodical of “Colonial Politics, Administration, Justice, Education and Customs” owned and sponsored by a “society of men of color.” A recent immigrant to Paris, Séjour was in an amenable environment among kindred spirits who shared his sentiments about slavery.

…Although little known in its era, “The Mulatto” presents the binary of submission and rebellion that became a motif in U.S. based slave narratives and novelized autobiographies treating racialized sexual harassment and/or exploitation of mulattas such as Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl, antislavery novels such as William Wells Brown’s Clotel or; The President’s Daughter and Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative, and even late nineteenth-century southern local color stories with embedded former slave storytellers, such as Charles Waddell Chesnutt’s Uncle Julius. In exposing the brutality of the slave system, such as the impact of miscegenation on persons of mixed race; the sexual violation of enslaved persons; and the physical and psychological brutalities of slavery—particularly the devastating effects on family life of whites as well as on blacks—“The Mulatto” deploys strategies for antislavery protest writing that will appear in antebellum slave narratives and anti-slavery novels and in postbellum fiction about slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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Redeeming the “Character of the Creoles”: Whiteness, Gender and Creolization in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-10-09 20:05Z by Steven

Redeeming the “Character of the Creoles”: Whiteness, Gender and Creolization in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Journal of Historical Sociology
Volume 23, Issue 1 (March 2010)
pages 40–72
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6443.2009.01359.x

Yvonne Fabella, Lecturer of History
University of Pennsylvania

This article examines the political significance of white creolization in pre-revolutionary French Saint Domingue. Eighteenth-century Europeans tended to view white creoles as having physically, morally, and culturally degenerated due to the tropical climate, the monotony of plantation life, and their interaction with enslaved and free people of color. Yet elite white colonists in Saint Domingue claimed that white creoles possessed certain positive traits due to their new world birth, traits that rendered them physically stronger and potentially more virtuous than the French. Focusing on little-known publications authored by the white creole Moreau de Saint-Méry, this article highlights the deployment of gendered notions of virtue and noble savagery in debates over white creolization. Moreau’s claims, when placed in the context of a conflict between local colonial magistrates and the French Colonial Ministry, challenge interpretations of white creolization as an undesirable, subversive side-effect of colonial slavery. Rather, white colonial men claimed that white colonists knew best how to ensure the obedience of the enslaved precisely because of their creolization.

Read or purchase the article here.

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Intimacy and the Atlantic World

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, Family/Parenting, History, Live Events, New Media, Papers/Presentations, Slavery, Social Science on 2010-01-08 02:16Z by Steven

Intimacy and the Atlantic World

American Historical Association
124th Annual Meeting
Friday, 2010-01-08 14:50 PST (Local Time)
Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
San Diego, California

Jennifer L. Palmer, Collegiate Assistant Professor of History
University of Chicago

In 1755 the merchant Aimé-Benjamin Fleuriau returned to his native city of La Rochelle, a bustling port on France’s Atlantic coast, after twenty years in the colonies where he made his fortune in indigo and sugar produced by slaves who worked his plantation. But he did not return alone: he brought five of his mixed-race children with him, his sons and daughters by a woman named Jeanne, one of his former slaves. The children’s gender determined their varied paths: the boys returned to Saint-Domingue where they supervised their father’s plantation, while the girls remained close to their father in La Rochelle. With his support, his daughters Jeanne-Marie and Marie-Charlotte set up house just a few blocks from where Aimé-Benjamin lived in the most splendid house in town with his new, white French wife and children. In spite of the ocean between them, Jeanne-Marie and Marie-Charlotte remained in touch with their brothers in the colonies, and made every effort to reinforce these family ties that distance threatened to pull asunder. In doing so, they drew on family strategies long-established in Europe and deployed them to define their own trans-oceanic, multi-racial family unit. This paper argues that intimacy provides a critical lens through which to view the Atlantic world. It was in the context of the family that enduring relationships between white men and people of color were most common, and examining how such intimate family relationships were constructed and maintained provides insight into how Europeans, including black and mixed-race Europeans, participated in and shaped the Black Atlantic. The results of such a view are sometimes surprising: free women of color, who might at first glance seem among the least influential members of a society that valued rank, name, and status, found ways to shape family structures and strategies.

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