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date: 23 April 2017

Exile in 19th-Century Haiti

Summary and Keywords

Of the many conditions pronounced that have been strongly featured in the Caribbean experience since the ending of slavery in the 19th century, exile ranks as one of the most profound. Its impact is far-reaching. The circumstances that encourage exile are well known and involve either a willful decision to leave one’s country as a result of political and economic distress or a forced departure sanctioned by the state in an effort to quash internal dissent. There is also the case of political exile of state leaders who fall from grace, a situation associated more with Haiti than with other countries in the Caribbean. Whatever the reasons, exiles and refugees—like other migrants from the Caribbean—brought the Caribbean experience to wider attention. People from the islands surrounded by the Caribbean Sea have since the first days of colonial rule made of that sea a highway for travel to other places, an escape and entry into the wider Atlantic.

The personal impact of exile is manifest in several domains, but most obviously in Caribbean culture. The Rastafari faith in Jamaica has as one of its fundamental beliefs that blacks in the Caribbean are in a state of displacement, taken by force to an oppressive Babylon. The Rastafari desire for repatriation to Africa as necessary to bring to an end centuries of exilic life in the Caribbean is not uncommon, nor is their spiritual and cultural preoccupation with exile. Caribbean writers have consistently written about exile and a yearning to return to an imagined home: Barbadian writer George Lamming’s The Pleasures of Exile, Martinican Aimé Césaire’s Return to My Native Land, Jamaican Thomas MacDermot’s poem “A Song for Exiles” (written under the name Tom Redcam), or Bob Marley’s Exodus document the exile experience from several perspectives. Common to all these examples is a melancholic sense of rootlessness and guilt that exile creates among those who have left. There is also a persistent theme of the Caribbean exile as wanderer, moving in and out of different locations across the Atlantic while searching for both a spiritual and physical home and a rationale for their condition. It is a perceived inability to settle completely in a foreign country that produces this guilt. Bob Marley captured this perfectly in “Running Away,” the most poignant of his songs recorded during his exile from Jamaica in 1977: “You must have done something wrong / Why you can’t find a place where you belong?” which is followed later by the rationalization of the decision to leave—“It is better to live on the house top than in a house full of confusion.”

The longing to return, whether to Africa, Europe, or Haiti, has been a constant theme in Haiti and the Caribbean, and it is linked to the long centuries of slavery. Metaphors of slavery and its associated sense of displacement are replete in the literature on exile not only in the 20th-century writings of Depestre, Dany Lafferière, Danticat, the art of Edouard Duval-Carrié, and the music of the Haitian diaspora, but also in references to the social conditions of the Caribbean’s populations during the period of slavery. If exile has been a persistent theme in Caribbean history, popping in and out of narratives of the nation at various points on a temporal map of the region, in Haiti it has been woven completely into the fabric of Haitian national history. Exile has always carried a powerful resonance in Haitian culture because it has been a pervasive aspect of Haitian political life. Twentieth-century cultural references to exile and displacement are numerous. In the decades since the coming to power of François Duvalier in 1957, which precipitated mass migration from the island, the theme of exile has been consistently and most powerfully articulated by Haitian writers and singers. From Réne Depestre’s famous poem “Exile,” in which he compared the country itself to a departure gate in an airport with people waiting to leave, to Edwidge Danticat’s novels, the theme is ever-present. Rodrigue Milien’s painful song of exile in the Duvalier years, “Nostalgie,” sung in both Creole and English, poignantly captured the loneliness of the Haitian exile: “When someone leaves his country far away and life is mistreating you and you want to kill yourself … take me back to Haiti, take me back to Haiti.”

This article considers the roots of exile in Haiti’s long 19th century, which Haitian scholar Patrick Bellegarde-Smith has suggested began with independence in 1804 and ended with U.S. military occupation in 1915, through the personal experiences and writings of three prominent 19th-century exiles: Joseph Balthazar Inginac (Mémoires, 1843), Edmond Paul (Les causes de nos malheurs, 1882), and Anténor Firmin (Lettres de Saint-Thomas, 1910). None of these men were ever president of Haiti, but they all wielded political and intellectual influence. Common to all three was their forced departure from Haiti for political reasons. They each settled in locations across the Caribbean at different times. Notably, none of these writers settled in North America or Europe. From afar they wrote extensively on Haiti’s predicament and the impact of exile on Haiti and their personal lives. Through a reading of their experiences in exile it is possible to arrive at a fresh perspective of the place of exile in the unfolding of Haiti’s post-independence development.

Keywords: exile, Haiti, Caribbean, long 19th century, Joseph Balthazar Inginac, Edmond Paul, Anténor Firmin, slavery, displacement

Joseph Inginac’s Mémoires from Jamaica

General Joseph Balthazar Inginac published his Mémoires in Kingston, Jamaica, late in the summer of 1843. It appeared at a decisive moment in his country’s history. Haiti had entered a long phase of destabilization that started in May of that year with the country’s first coup d’état and Haiti’s first case of presidential exile. The president who suffered this revolutionary overthrow was Jean-Pierre Boyer, a veteran of the Haitian Revolution and ruler of Haiti since 1818. Inginac was Boyer’s secretary of state for much of that time. As such, he had tremendous influence on the shaping of the country’s policies throughout Boyer’s long years. Inginac joined Boyer in Kingston following the coup. It was not Inginac’s first exile. In 1799, during the war between Toussaint and Rigaud, Inginac was denounced by Dessalines and followed hundreds from Saint-Domingue who immigrated to Jamaica. He returned from exile in Kingston in 1802 and participated in the War for Independence.1 His second exile to Jamaica, forty-four years after his first, offered the aged Inginac an opportunity to reflect on the circumstances that led to his banishment, the transformations in Haiti, and his influence in the early years of Haitian state formation.

It is clear in his Mémoires on which side of the Haitian political division Inginac placed himself. He explicitly defended himself against accusations of treason laid by Haiti’s revolutionary government of 1843 and proclaimed himself the ever-faithful patriot. “I am confident that my memory and my reputation will be avenged,” and that the “name of Haiti, happy, free, and triumphant, will sound in my ears until I go into my grave.”2 In his recount of his exile Inginac maintained that his primary obligation had always been to Haiti, even above his own protection. When he left Haiti with his wife, it was quietly and, in his words, in “perfect poverty”:—he had trusted all his personal savings in Haiti and his “confidence in his country and his countrymen knew no bounds.”3

The fundamental reason for the 1843 revolution was the refusal of the Haitian state to allow liberal reforms. Restrictive laws, including the 1826 Code Rural drafted by Inginac himself, drew great resentment. Haiti, a free nation, had limited the exercise of that freedom. In the countryside the Code Rural, in tandem with a tightened militarism, created severe restrictions on the peasantry. From exile, where he was now restricted in his movements, Inginac placed himself on the outside of the problems that created widespread distress and revolution. He also claimed that he repeatedly told Boyer to adopt more liberal policies in his administration. Inginac claimed to have supported these ideas himself but was unable to get Boyer to agree. “If he had listened to my advice,” wrote Inginac, “I believe that a revolution would not have been necessary in order for there to be ameliorations.”4

Inginac’s self-defense is indicative of one of the functions of exile writings: to clear his name and exonerate himself of any charge of influence in the crisis that followed the coup. Haiti had certainly entered unchartered waters in 1843. Boyer, the last of the presidents who fought in the Haitian Revolution, was gone, and the political space that opened up in his absence saw many political leaders emerging. The popular liberal movement of the “Army of Sufferers” in the south had raised the stakes of the political competition and kept alive the demands for a more liberal democratic structure than that which prevailed under Boyer.

Bound by the Chain of Exile: Edmond Paul’s Les Causes De Nos Malheurs

Inginac had no way of knowing that the Revolution of 1843 would lead to a cycle of instability and with it an institutionalization of exile. The men he wrote about, the ones who were responsible for his overthrow and exile, had also been forced out of Haiti when their time came. Although Inginac was able to return to Haiti, where he would die in 1847, many of Boyer’s successors were not, and for the next four decades the republic’s politics were defined by a conflict between authoritarian rulers who applied “perpetual exile” as punishment for dissent and their exiled opponents who conspired from afar to overthrow them. Over these long years the condition of exile hardened, and thousands of Haitians left the island for safety abroad. The frequency of this migration and the conditions that caused it concerned later generations of Haitian political thinkers who desired to see an end to the problems that had become fodder for foreign commentators who saw in Haiti’s politics evidence of black inferiority.

By the 1880s several Haitian ideologues considered Haiti’s predicament from a variety of perspectives. One of the most notable was Edmond Paul, a politician and writer from Port-au-Prince who had helped establish the Liberal Party in the 1870s. The Liberal Party formed in the wake of a bitter civil war in Haiti. The men who organized the party sought to remedy political turmoil in Haiti by advocating a form of enlightened elite rule. “Power for the most capable” was their rallying cry. The party was not exclusive to any one color. While some of its leaders were in fact members of the light-skinned bourgeoisie, others, like Paul, were not.5 A bitter and violent clash in the Liberal-led parliament in the summer of 1879 provoked yet another coup and more exile. Liberals were forced out of the country, some literally running for their lives, as the rival Nationalist Party assumed power.

Edmond Paul ended up in Kingston, where he lived with other leading lights of the Liberal Party—Boyer Bazelais, Hannibal Price, and J. A. Dunbar. In the years he lived in exile he continued to agitate on behalf of the Liberal cause.

In 1882, from Jamaica, he wrote an important treatise on the circumstances that had come to define Haitian politics four decades after Boyer’s overthrow: Les Causes de Nos Malheurs.6 The book was part call to arms and part meditation on Haiti’s political present. “People,” he wrote, “this book is a call to your heart—the last refuge of patriotism.”7 The reference to patriotism was a common feature in many exile writings and speeches in the 19th century. A foreign diplomat in the late 19th century noted with condescension that Haitians were most patriotic when not in power.

Paul’s main motivation for writing the book was obvious in the opening pages: it was a strong critique of his Nationalist successors who had forced him out of Haiti. It was also an attempt to bring their failings to international attention. In Paul’s case, the situation was deeply ironic: Haiti’s president and leader of the Nationalist Party was Lysius Salomon, a man who had spent many years living as an exile in the Caribbean and Europe. For Paul and his colleague Hannibal Price, who also wrote extensively from Kingston, Salomon had destroyed the country and the liberal program of democracy that they had created in the 1870s. Even worse, Salomon had made it almost impossible for them to return home.

In Les Causes, Paul’s indictment of Salomon is scathing. He detailed the extent to which Salomon had reawakened a divisive color politics, dismantled the economic and political structure of the country, and replaced it with a brutal authoritarianism that held Haiti back. Salomon’s achievements with various modernization projects, which drew notice outside of Haiti, was for Paul, writing almost eighty years after Haitian independence, “a false imitation of 1804.”8 Yet Paul was insistent that Haiti’s politics under Salomon was not to be taken as an indictment of the country as a whole. “The field is still open for those of us who have faith in the future.” Haiti was “imperishable” and remained a “unique place in the world,” even if it fell into the hands of Salomon. Exile as punishment is a theme repeated in the book: “If one is found abroad … lost, crazy … he cannot see his homeland without a passport … This is the issue right now with several exiles in Kingston.” It was a cruel retribution on Salomon’s part since, as Paul was wont to point out, while in exile in 1872 Salomon protested against the denial of passports to exiles, since passports were a Constitutional right for citizens.9

Paul further highlighted Salomon’s preoccupations with the activities of the exiles in the Caribbean. In this he was correct. Salomon had issued several warnings to the governments of Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, and Saint Thomas to keep the Haitians living there under surveillance. Salomon grew even more concerned following the clandestine circulation of an antigovernment pamphlet, Haiti au soleil, written by Paul in Kingston in 1880.10 Salomon knew the subversive potential of such activity, as he was a supporter of conspiracies during his own exile and often resorted to the very same tactics.

But what bothered Paul more was Salomon’s revision of the constitution, which acknowledged explicitly the state’s fear of exiles and their potential destabilization attempts. According to Paul, “The sentence of exile admitted in our previous legislation to replace the death penalty in politics was removed by Mr. Salomon in his constitution.”11 By removing “perpetual exile” from the constitution, according to Paul, Salomon intended to punish his enemies with imprisonment or death.

There is much more here than an ideological clash or a competition for power. There is even more than a defense of Haiti on the claims of patriotism that we saw in Inginac’s writings. If we consider Paul’s frequent reference to what his colleague Hannibal Price, also writing from Kingston, called “the anguish of exile,” it is evident that exile was an integral part of Haitian political life as both motivation and consequence. The unfulfilled desire for political power or Haitian improvement was inevitably bound with the personal desire to return. Only a revolution could produce the circumstances for that return and an end to the oppression of exile. Once again, in reference to Salomon and the events of 1879, Paul revealed his own thoughts in a line directed to Salomon: “It was a revolution which broke the chain of your exile.”12

The “chain of exile” is an appropriate metaphor. Salomon himself once called exile “an indignity that had robbed me of my freedom.”13 One aspect of freedom in the perspective of elite Haitian intellectuals and politicians meant the ability to choose not to move. It is this sense of loss that drove Salomon to support the 1879 revolution and it also drove Paul to endorse an ill-fated revolution led by exiles in 1883, the year after Les Causes was published. The Liberal Revolt was led by Paul’s political ally Boyer Bazelais and included exiles from Jamaica, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Saint Thomas. It was brutally suppressed by Salomon and all the leaders of the revolt were killed. Paul remained in Kingston until Salomon’s eventual fall and flight to Paris in 1888. He would eventually go back to Haiti, only to leave again for exile in Kingston, where he died in 1893.

Anténor Firmin’s Lettres De Saint-Thomas

Liberal leaders Edmond Paul and Boyer Bazelais fought for a cause that deepened within them during their years outside of Haiti. For the strength of their convictions and their determination to fight they were once called “two of the most remarkable men Haiti has ever possessed.”14

This assessment was made by Haiti’s most celebrated thinker of the 19th century, Joseph Anténor Firmin. Firmin was a lawyer, politician, and highly respected intellectual who attached himself to Boyer Bazelais and the liberal cause in the 1880s. After Salomon’s overthrow his political career blossomed. In the 1890s he served as minister of foreign affairs and also minister of finance under President Hyppolite. By the end of the decade, he had grown more convinced that Haiti’s problems stemmed from a tendency to assert militarism over liberal democracy.

As the world entered a new century of uncertainty marked in the Caribbean by an assertion of U.S. imperialism, Firmin’s political activities were directed to creating a more liberal, open, and nonmilitaristic Haiti that would abandon the political practices and restrictions imposed after 1804 and become more integrated with other countries. In 1885 his monumental L’egalité des race humaines, he challenged European racism by using Haiti as an example of black progress.15

In his later writings he focused more on the future possibilities for Haiti in a changing world. His ideas won him much favor outside of the republic. In 1902 he launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency that drew heavily on support from the remnants of the Liberal Party. After his defeat he left Haiti for exile in Saint Thomas. Although he made two more failed attempts to become president, he would spend the rest of his life as an exile on the small Danish island.

A year before his death, Firmin published his final book, Lettres de Saint-Thomas, written in exile in Saint Thomas and completed while he was serving as Haitian plenipotentiary in London.16 We must bear in mind Firmin’s position in 1910 when the book appeared. He had a far greater international reputation and following than either Inginac or Paul. In Haiti, the idea of Firminism had taken hold for almost a decade as opponents of the successive governments since 1902 aligned themselves with Firmin. Firmin was close with activists, writers, and political figures in Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States. He had kept up a correspondence with Booker T. Washington for over a decade, and his writings were read widely. Many of his supporters outside of Haiti considered Firmin the best-suited leader for Haiti given his experience and ideas, which were indeed ahead of his time. But Firmin like so many others was also banished from Haiti and longed to go back as much as he wanted to lead. Haiti was in a state of grave instability by the time he penned Lettres, and his return was not assured.

This point underlines the entire book, which is a collection of essays on sociology, history, education, and literature and the wider possibilities for Haitian development. But it is most clearly articulated in the book’s preface. Haitians have experienced the “pangs of exile,” Firmin writes, and can relate to the feeling of the children of Jerusalem who sang in Psalm 137, “By the Rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”17

The Haitians in Saint Thomas knew this well. To quote Firmin: “The name St. Thomas invariably evokes for the Haitian a life of exile with its anguish, its temptations, often aggressively proposed suggestions, driven both by a patriotic nostalgia and the burning desire to reform an order of things thought to be bad.”18

Here we find a sober comment on exile that comes after the decades of repeated revolutions that followed Inginac’s reflections. The sense of hope is still present. But it is counterbalanced by a realization that in exile Haitian politicians often exaggerate their potential for bringing about the changes the country needs. Each episode of revolutionary overthrow produced such men, and Firmin was no different in thinking that the Haitians living outside the island understood more keenly what was to be done and who could be the agents of reform. Yet he is cautious in promoting his own superiority. It is a mature viewpoint arrived at after the bitter lessons of history.

J. Michael Dash in his analysis of Lettres has suggested that the central power of the text is Firmin’s “remapping of Haiti’s location in the archipelago of the Americas.”19 In Saint Thomas—a small island crowded by many transient foreign nationals—he was even more aware of the Caribbean’s importance in the hemisphere. He called for a Caribbean Confederation, a point that was also articulated by other writers from the region. What is important about Firmin’s position was his acceptance of Haiti’s destiny being tied to that of its neighbors. Where Haiti’s leaders in the past like Boyer fought to protect the country from foreign intervention, Firmin argued that some degree of foreign influence and investment would be necessary if Haiti was to join the other countries in the Americas on the march toward modernization. His opponents were quick to label him a pro-Americanist who intended to hand Haitian sovereignty to the United States. Firmin maintained that without a more liberal political structure, controlled by Haitians, the Haitian state would be weak and vulnerable to a more belligerent form of intervention such as that which took place in nearby Cuba. A Caribbean Confederation would work for the benefit of all the islands including Haiti as it would regulate the type of foreign intervention. “We are in the middle of the Caribbean Sea,” wrote Firmin; “it is impossible to remain indifferent to the aspirations and even dreams which are taking shape around us … by joining together … and attracting other Antillean islands, which live today under colonial rule, [the Caribbean Confederation] would ultimately form a substantial state.”20

A few months after Lettres de Saint Thomas appeared, Haiti suffered another coup. Firmin left exile for a third and final time with the intention of contesting the presidency. He was not even allowed to land. His ship turned around, and Firmin went back to Saint Thomas. Before he left he is said to have written a letter in which he stated that he had “abandoned” Haiti to its fate. There was no doubt a sense of bitterness in this note. It also suggests, however, an inversion of the exile experience. It was the exile who had given up on the island and not the other way around. Yet what is most revealing about this final note is that the hope for progress in the Haitian political situation found in Paul’s work or even in Lettres de Saint-Thomas was absent in his final thought on Haiti.

One may argue that each of the writers discussed in this article was writing in a similar vein, that these writers’ comments on and analysis of Haiti’s political problems were similar to those of the defeated politician, something of an exile’s lament. But if we consider how they each set their personal experience against the backdrop of Haiti’s evolution, the differences are clearly apparent. Each writer looked at 19th-century Haiti from the perspective he was familiar with. With the passage of time the perspective on the past widened and the failures and achievements since 1804 could be reconsidered in light of more recent events at the time of writing. From their remove they could look at Haiti differently. There is an increasing frustration with the circumstances that continued to plague Haitian politics when we read each writer. And each offered different solutions: Inginac cautioned against the promises of the liberals of 1843; Paul advocated for a return to liberal democracy along the lines of a political program he devised; and Firmin, more radically, claimed that Haiti should look beyond its shores to its neighbors in the Caribbean for support.

In exile all three writers faced the isolation of being “everywhere alone,” as the French writer Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais famously wrote.21 But their experiences reveal a great deal about Haiti’s 19th-century development and the consequences of what another Haitian exile, Osman Piquant of the National Party, called in 1892 Haiti’s disturbing habit of “throwing her sons on the pavements of other countries.”22

This is not to suggest that these experiences are representative of how Haitian exiles lived their lives in a new place. Many Haitian exiles then, as now, adjusted themselves to their new realities and built social networks in their host countries, giving up the idea of returning to Haiti. The majority of 19th-century exiles did not have the social and political capital of dozens of Haitian politicians who ended up scattered across the Atlantic. They found a different type of freedom in their new locations.

But as these writings make clear, political exiles still hoped for a physical return to Haiti. They also hoped that each coup would be the last and that the idea of universal freedom promised in 1804, and, for that matter, in several subsequent constitutions, could be fully realized. Amédé de Pichon, a Haitian poet of the 1860s, put the point most dramatically when he said that he hoped that with the final overthrow of despotism not only would the exiles return to Haiti but also the very concept of freedom itself, which like the exiles had been forced to flee.23 There was therefore a conscious sense among Haiti’s 19th-century exiles that Haitian freedom was a contradictory issue with clear distinctions drawn between its application in national and private spaces. Haiti’s 19th-century rulers no doubt regarded exile as necessary for the preservation of national security, but the exiles saw it as a denial of their freedom.

There is a thread that ties together all Haitian exile experiences in the 19th century. Haiti’s diplomatic ostracism and the problems that the republic faced both internally and externally meant that the Haitians who settled in other countries drew a mix of responses. Some were well respected, like Firmin and Paul. Others were seen as conspirators, threats to public order, or simply sources of ridicule. Whatever their station in life, all Haitian exiles had to contend with the challenges of adjusting to a new and unfamiliar setting. They all left an independent nation to settle in neighboring territories that were still colonies. Over time the relationships they built in these new locations would deepen linkages with Haiti. Even if Haiti was diplomatically alienated, at the personal level there emerged deep ties between Haitians and foreigners, ties that Inginac could not fully appreciate in 1843 but Firmin was acutely aware of when he wrote Lettres in 1910.

The ultimate value, then, of rethinking the place of exile in Haitian history is that it presents us with another angle of vision from which we may read Haiti’s complicated course after slavery.

Discussion of the Literature

Still a slowly growing field, the study of 19th-century Haiti nevertheless has a significant literature. Any investigation of it must perforce begin with the Haitian Revolution and independence, for which there is now a weighty body of work. This was not always the case. Serious scholarship on the Revolution began with C. L. R. James’s 1938 classic The Black Jacobins. Historians since the 1980s have taken the story of the beginnings of Haiti in impressive new directions marked by high-quality research. Laurent Dubois’s updated synthesis Avengers of the New World is a new standard. David Geggus, offers much guidance in Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Carolyn Fick’s The Making of Haiti broke new ground. These works are excellent entries into a large field that continues to expand in depth and quality.24

Interest in the Revolution has inspired the study of the early years of nation building up to mid-century. Classic multivolume studies such as Thomas Madiou, Histoire d’Haïti, and Beaubrun Ardouin, Etudes sur l’Histoire d’Haïti, remain essential. The first two volumes of Leslie Péan’s Haiti: Economie politique de la corruption cover the 19th century with fascinating insight. Julia Gaffield’s Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World is indicative of the fresh new work of scholars of the early independence years. The period after 1843 is the subject of Mimi Sheller’s important comparative study Democracy after Slavery. Ada Ferrer’s Freedom’s Mirror is similarly pathbreaking in its analysis of the links between Haitian independence and the rise of Cuban sugar. For the 19th-century roots of Haiti’s complicated relationship with its island neighbor the Dominican Republic, see, among others, Eugenio Matibag, Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint, and Ernesto Sagas, Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic. Independent Haiti had major influence on provocative discussions of race, imperialism, and self-government, and this has been the focus of several studies such as Marlene Daut’s, Tropics of Haiti, which considers the literary implications of these debates, and Sybille Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed, a penetrating analysis of the fundamental philosophical and cultural influences of Haiti on 19th-century discourses on race.25

Histories of exile and migration from Haiti, though far fewer in number, have been rigorous. The wide movement of people during the revolutionary era is treated in several works, some of which are mentioned elsewhere in this section. More specific studies include Nathalie Dessens’s From Saint-Dominigue to New Orleans. Rebecca Scott and Jean Hebrard’s Freedom Papers shows the value of meticulous genealogical research in mapping out trans-Atlantic itineraries. U.S. black interest in immigration to Haiti emerged at various moments throughout the century. The story of the first of these is told in Sarah Fanning’s Caribbean Crossing. Chris Dixon covers a wider span in African America and Haiti. Connections between Haiti and U.S. blacks more broadly are also treated in Millery Polyné’s From Douglass to Duvalier and Léon Pamphile’s Haitians and African Americans, and Haiti-U.S. relations are covered in, for example, Ashli White, Encountering Revolution, Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America, Rayford Logan’s classic Diplomatic Relations between Haiti and the United States, and Brenda Plummer’s The United States and Haiti.26

Some scholars have chronicled the circulation of Haitians within the circum-Caribbean. Matthew J. Smith’s Liberty, Fraternity, Exile examines inter-island migration and connections between Haiti and post-slavery Jamaica. The earlier history of movement between the two islands is examined in Patrick Bryan, “Conflict and Reconciliation,” and Gabriel Debien and Philip Wright, “Les colons de Saint-Domingue passés à la Jamaïque.” On Haitian migration to Cuba see Matthew Casey’s “From Haiti to Cuba and Back.” The fruits of the interdisciplinary interest in Haitian migration in both the 19th and 20th centuries can be found in edited collections such as Regine Jackson, ed., Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora, and Phillipe Zacaïr, ed., Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora in the Wider Caribbean. Also of note is the more eclectic anthology Haiti and the Americas, edited by Carla Calargé and colleagues.27

Prominent political figures of the 19th century have been the subject of biographies by historians of Haiti. A sampling would include Roger Gaillard’s study of Sylvain Salnave, Marcel Salnave’s Vive Salnave!, Max Antoine’s Louis-Étienne Lysius Salomon jeune, Léon-François Hoffmann’s, Faustin Soulouque d’Haïti, and Jean-Price Mars’s Anténor Firmin. Though dated, John Baur’s articles on Boyer, Soulouque, and Geffrard still have relevance. Fascination with the dramatic episodes of the Haitian past have inspired less critical studies of major heads of state such as Henry Christophe. Works by creative writers such as Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World, and Derek Walcott, Henri Christophe, have given imaginative assessments worthy of mention. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for the many novels that deal with issues of exile and political power in the 19th century. Anténor Firmin’s classic 1885 study The Equality of the Human Races has been translated into English by Asselin Charles with a valuable introduction by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban.28

Scholars interested in the interior political and cultural worlds of Haiti’s 19th century will be rewarded by early chapters in Kate Ramsey’s The Spirits and the Law. Also on religion, Phillipe Delisle’s Le catholicisme en Haïti au XIXe siècle and Laënnec Hurbon’s “Les religions” are particularly insightful. David Nicholls’s intellectual history From Dessalines to Duvalier has typically probing analysis of the 19th century.29 Scholarly attention to 19th century Haiti is much healthier now than at any other time. Creative use of new types of sources has deepened our knowledge of the Revolution, its reach, and its aftermath. Research of subsequent decades is much less advanced but no less engaged. Though they approach the century with different lenses, the combined effect of this work has been to present Haitian history as less uniform between the Revolution and the U.S. occupation (1915–1934) than earlier believed. Importantly, the long-standing view of Haitian isolation has been persuasively challenged. Still, there are a great many issues left to be explored. Migration and exile constitute one such area where there remains tremendous potential for further research. Fortunately, interest shows no sign of abating, and one can confidently expect future quality studies of 19th-century Haiti.

Primary Sources

Historians of 19th-century Haiti out of necessity must search for disparate and sometimes weakly catalogued collections of Haitian material scattered in various locations. An inconsistency with record keeping and the ravages of political conflict and natural disasters have made historians of the period less privileged than their counterparts who work on other places. A fair degree of innovation is required. For those interested in migration histories, it is even more imperative that they cast a wide net. There are important rewards. Haitian archives hold, however unevenly, relevant documents for the patient researcher. Much can be learned from a close reading of period newspapers such as the government periodical Le Moniteur and extant titles from Haiti’s independent press. There is a very strong list of newspapers in the private collection of the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne in Port-au-Prince. Another important private collection in the capital is the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Pères du Saint Esprit, which holds a significant portion of the important Edmond Mangonès manuscript collection. The Archives Nationale is the repository for civil records and government documents, and perseverance can result in useful finds. Some 19th-century materials are also held at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

All Haitian libraries contain irregular government serials and publications of various eras. A fair number of the collections in these places have been digitized. The interested researcher would do well to search through the Haitian material held at the Digital Library of the Caribbean. The John Carter Brown Library has similarly made its impressive Haiti Collection—strongest in Revolutionary-era material, though containing important documents of the early republic—available online. The Latin American and Caribbean Collection of the University of Florida contains one of the best collections of primary sources on Haiti.

Contemporaries and later historians were consistent in writing their reflections on Haiti’s politics, society, and personal experiences of exile. Haitian intellectuals were prolific, leaving a valuable literature. The writings of Inginac, Paul, and Firmin can be found at the Bibliothèque Nationale and elsewhere. Other 19th-century writers who wrote extensively—sometimes in exile—included Hannibal Price, Louis Janvier, J. B. Dorsainvil, and Alcius Charmant. Some had their works translated, for example, Jacques Nicholas Léger’s Haiti, Her History and Her Detractors. It is worthwhile to consider non-Haitian writers, if only for their contrasting perspectives. A great many relevant travel journals, diplomatic reports, abolitionist assessments, guide books, memorials, diplomatic records, and memoirs can now be found online. Good places to consult for these are the Internet Archive, Google Books, and the Library of Congress. Apart from these published books, much insight can be gained from the records of missionaries that settled in Haiti. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of the University of London has impressive holdings of Methodist and Baptist missions in Haiti. Similar records exist in the United States.

Haitians who settled outside of Haiti left traces of their lives in local records of their countries of exile. In addition to the published works mentioned in this section, profitable research can be done in local archives. Relevant sources are often found in unexpected places. Research on Haitians in Jamaica is a good example. The Jamaican Archives in Spanish Town holds correspondence between Haitian exiles and government officials with Jamaican politicians. The British National Archives in London has documents with references to Haitian exiles in British colonies. For the United States, the Louisiana State Archives is very useful for research on Haitians who settled there. Local archives are indispensable for historians who wish to further pursue genealogical research on Haitian families that settled outside of Haiti during years of exile, of which there were many. This sort of work requires the researcher to follow the trails of their subjects, who often moved quite frequently.

Further Reading

Bryan, Patrick E. “Conflict and Reconciliation: The French Émigrés in Nineteenth Century Jamaica.” Jamaica Journal 7 (1972): 13–19.Find this resource:

Casey, Matthew. “From Haiti to Cuba and Back: Haitians’ Experiences of Migration, Labor, and Return, 1900–1940.” PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 2012.Find this resource:

Dash, J. Michael. “Nineteenth-Century Haiti and the Archipelago of the Americas: Anténor Firmin’s Letters from St. Thomas.” Research in African Literatures 35.2 (Summer 2004): 44–52.Find this resource:

Debien, Gabriel, and Philippe Wright. “Les Colons De Saint-Domingue Passes a La Jamaïque.” Bulletin de la Societie d’Histoire de la Guadeloupe 4.26 (1975): 3–216.Find this resource:

Dessens, Nathalie. From Saint-Domingue to New Orleans. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Dixon, Chris. African America and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000.Find this resource:

Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2004.Find this resource:

Fanning, Sara. Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement. New York: New York University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Fick, Carolyn. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxsville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Firmin, Joseph-Anténor. Lettres De Saint Thomas Études Sociologiques, Historiques Et Littéraires. Paris: V. Girard E. Brière, 1910.Find this resource:

Gaffield, Julia. Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Geggus, David Patrick. Haitian Revolutionary Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Inginac, Joseph Balthazar. Memoires De Joseph Balthazar Inginac Depuis 1797 Jusqu’à 1843. Kingston: J. R. DeCordova, 1843.Find this resource:

Jackson, Regine O., ed. Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. London: Routledge, 2011.Find this resource:

Paul, Edmond. Les Causes De Nos Malheurs: Appel Au Peuple. Kingston: Geo. Henderson, 1882.Find this resource:

Ramsey, Kate. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Sheller, Mimi. Democracy after Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Smith, Matthew J. Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Zacaïr, Phillipe. Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora in the Wider Caribbean. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2011.Find this resource:


(1.) Joseph Balthazar Inginac, Mémoires de Joseph Balthazar Inginac Depuis 1797 jusqu à 1843 (Kingston: J. R. DeCordova, 1843), 6–7. Unless otherwise stated all translations are by the author.

(2.) Inginac, Mémoires, 124.

(3.) Inginac, Mémoires.

(4.) Inginac, Mémoires., 109; Sheller, Democracy After Slavery (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2001), 127.

(5.) Daniel Supplice, Dictionnaire biographiques des personnalitiés politiques de la République d’Haïti, 1804–2001 (Port-au-Prince: Daniel Supplice, 2001), 536.

(6.) Edmond Paul, Les causes de nos malheurs: Appel au peuple (Kingston: George Henderson, 1882).

(7.) Paul, Les causes, 8.

(8.) Paul, Les causes, 7.

(9.) Paul, Les causes, 7.

(10.) Edmond Paul, Haïti Au Soleil De 1880: 113 Millions Pour 16 Millions!: Nos Trésors Aux Mains Des Étrangers!!: L’étranger En Possession De Nos Propriétés!!! (Kingston: n.p., 1880).

(11.) Paul, Haïti Au Soleil De 1880, 18.

(12.) Paul, Haïti Au Soleil De 1880, 21.

(13.) Matthew J. Smith, Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica after Emancipation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 214.

(14.) Joseph-Anténor Firmin, M. Roosevelt, Président Des États-Unis Et La République D’Haïti (Paris: F. Pichon & Durand-Auzias, 1905), 394.

(15.) Joseph-Anténor Firmin, The Equality of the Human Races: (Positivist Anthropology) (New York: Garland, 2000).

(16.) Joseph-Anténor Firmin, Lettres De Saint Thomas Études Sociologiques, Historiques Et Littéraires (Paris: V. Girard E. Brière, 1910).

(17.) Firmin, Lettres, v.

(18.) J. Michael Dash, “Nineteenth-Century Haiti and the Archipelago of the Americas: Anténor Firmin’s Letters from St. Thomas,” Research in African Literatures 35.2 (Summer 2004): 50.

(19.) Dash, “Nineteenth-Century Haiti,” 50.

(20.) Dash, “Nineteenth-Century Haiti,” 50.

(21.) Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais, Œuvres Complètes de F. De La Mennais: Revues et mises En Ordre Par L’Auteur, vol. 2 (Brussels: Société Belge de Librairie, 1839), 510.

(22.) Osman Piquant, “Jamaica: Comparative Economical and Administrative Studies,” Jamaica Post, December 31, 1892.

(23.) Amédé de Pichon, “Anniversaire du 22 décembre,” Le Moniteur, December 22, 1861.

(24.) C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (1938); Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2004); David Patrick Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002); Carolyn E. Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990).

(25.) Thomas Madiou, Histoire d’Haïti. 8 vols. (Port-au-Prince: Henri Deschamps, 1987); Beaubrun Ardouin, Etudes sur l’Histoire d’Haïti. 11 vols. (Paris: Dézobry et E. Magdeleine, 1855–1860); Leslie Péan, Haiti: Économie Politique De La Corruption. 3 vols. (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2003–2006); Julia Gaffield, Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition After Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015); Mimi Sheller, Democracy after Slavery: Black Publics and Peasant Radicalism in Haiti and Jamaica (Gainesville: University of Press of Florida, 2001); Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Eugenio Matibag, Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, State, and Race on Hispaniola (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Ernesto Sagas, Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000); Marlene Daut, Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press); Sybille Fischer. Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

(26.) Nathalie Dessens, From Saint-Dominigue to New Orleans (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007); Rebecca J. Scott and Jean M. Hébrard, Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Sarah Fanning, Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2015); Chris Dixon, African America and Haiti: Emigration and Black Nationalism in the Nineteenth Century (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000); Millery Polyné, From Douglass to Duvalier: U.S. African Americans, Haiti, and Pan Americanism, 1870–1964. (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011); Léon D. Pamphile, Haitians and African Americans: A Heritage of Tragedy and Hope (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001); Ashli White, Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012); Alfred N. Hunt, Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988); Rayford Whittingham Logan, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776–1891 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941); Brenda Gayle Plummer, Haiti and the United States: The Psychological Moment (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).

(27.) Matthew J. Smith, Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Patrick Bryan, “Conflict and Reconciliation: The French Émigrés in Nineteenth Century Jamaica,” Jamaica Journal (1972): 13–19; Gabriel Debien and Philip Wright, “Les colons de Saint-Domingue passés à la Jamaïque.” Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de la Guadeloupe 4.26 (1975): 3–216; Matthew Casey, “From Haiti to Cuba and Back: Haitians’ Experiences of Migration, Labor, and Return, 1900–1940.” PhD, University of Pittsburgh, 2012.; Regine Jackson, ed., Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora (London: Routledge, 2011); Phillipe Zacaïr, ed., Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora in the Wider Caribbean (Gainesville: University Press of Florida); Carla Calargé, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, eds., Haiti and the Americas (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013).

(28.) Roger Gaillard’s study of Sylvain Salnave, La République Exterminatrice: Le Cacoisme Bourgeois Contre Salnave. Vol. 1 (Port-au-Prince: Éditions FORG, 2003); Marcel Salnave, Vive Salnave! (Port-au-Prince: Blurb, 2010); Max Antoine, Louis-Étienne Lysius Salomon jeune; Léon-François Hoffmann, Faustin Soulouque d’Haïti; dans l'histoire et la littérature (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2007); Jean-Price Mars, Anténor Firmin (Port-au-Prince: Séminaire adventiste, 1978); John Baur’s articles on Boyer, “Mulatto Machiavelli: Jean-Pierre Boyer and the Haiti of his Day,” Journal of Negro History 32.3 (1947): 307–353, Soulouque, “Faustin Soulouque, Emperor of Haiti, His Character and His Reign,” The Americas 6.2 (1949): 131–166, and Geffrard, “The Presidency of Nicolas Geffrard of Haiti,” The Americas 10.4 (1954): 425–461; less critical studies of major heads of state such as Henry Christophe; Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); Derek Walcott’s drama on Henry Christophe, in The Haitian Trilogy: Plays: Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours, and the Haytian Earth (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002); Anténor Firmin, The Equality of the Human Races (Positivist Anthropology), trans. Asselin Charles (New York: Garland Press, 2000).

(29.) Kate Ramsey, The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Phillipe Delisle, Le catholicisme en Haïti au XIXe siècle (Paris: Karthala, 2003); Laënnec Hurbon, “Les religions Dans La Construction de L’État (1801–1859),” in Genèse de L'État Haïtien (1804–1859), eds. Michel Hector and Laënnec Hurbon (La Rochelle: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’homme, 2009); David Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti. 3d ed. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1995).