Colonial Slavery: The Establishment of Slave Caribbean Culture
In the age of global colonialism, European imperial powers often looked to slaves from Africa for essentially free and expendable manpower on their plantations. As seen in Pierre Force's book Wealth and Disaster, these Africans hailed from various tribes, some of which were the Mandingo, Congo, and Calabalí nations (126). The slave trade thus led to the conglomeration of men and women from different areas who, although on the same continent, had little prior interaction with one another. This inadvertently led to the rise of cultural and ideological assimilation between the small groups of roughly forty or fifty slaves (76), which began to spread to other plantations whose workers were in comparable situations. Because the island's population was largely made up of slaves, this transition occurred rapidly and enabled the later organization and mobilization of slaves against the French during the Haitian Revolution.
The French in Haiti: French Immigration on Account of the Revolution in France
In 1789, the French Revolution erupted in Europe as the culmination to a series of unresolved social and economic issues in France. As the lower working classes became increasingly radicalized against the elite, many members of the noble classes sought to refuge themselves in the French Empire's various territories. In the book Migration Control in the North Atlantic World, Andreas Fahrmeir, Olivier Faron, and Patrick Weil show that although access to passports and travel documentation to leave the country (or even just a city) was difficult to obtain on paper, in practice "passport requirements could often be skirted" (75). This enabled various French citizens, mostly noblemen, to flee the country, though not without encountering unforeseen issues upon their arrival. For many attempting to live a new life in Haiti, the onset of the Haitian Revolution in 1791 made peace almost impossible. One such Frenchman was John Baptist Toussant Corneau, whose memoir indicates the level of violence he encountered there and his decision to escape the new danger by fleeing to Cuba (1).
An Island in Turmoil: The Haitian Revolution and Universal Chaos
Although built upon a new understanding of freedom and identity, the Haitian Revolution was a bloody and devastating conflict. The Haitian revolutionaries, tired of being seen as inferior to their European counterparts, rose up against the French to put an end to slavery and the denial of their rights. As can be imagined, many people were displaced over the course of the several years of fighting, and the literary record points to mostly French citizens fleeing to escape death and destruction for their role in the plantation lifestyle. Subsequently, Pierre Force writes about many French refugee stories that tell the tales of lost fortunes, ruined lands, depleted health, and loss of hope (92-95). Some of these people could not leave the island and subsequently lived in exile as the war raged on, while others were able to escape to Cuba and other territories to establish new, profitable plantations in peace (124-128).