Lewis, Mary Dewhurst - Legacies of French Slave-Ownership, or the Long Decolonization of Saint-Domingue (article)

April 27, 2017

jacketMary Dewhurst LewisHistory Workshop Journal, Volume 83, Issue 1, 1 April 2017, Pages 151–175, Published: April 27, 2017. Link to Article

After insurgent slaves in Saint-Domingue proclaimed the colony’s independence from France in 1804, France refused to recognize the new state of Haiti. When it finally did so in 1825, it was with gunboats outside Haitian harbors, and in exchange for favourable terms of trade and an indemnity of 150 million French francs to be paid to the former planters for the loss of their landed property. Although King Charles X and his advisors intended the indemnity to bring liquidity into the hands of a class deemed essential to restoration politics, in the event it did not achieve this goal. While the indemnity paid to British former slave-owners after the abolition of 1833 served in part as venture-capital for British industrial expansion, the Haitian indemnity and other payments to former planters cultivated a different legacy of slave-ownership: a preoccupation with lost grandeur with a politics of resentment. This legacy was fed in no small part by the protracted nature of the payments, which encouraged planters’ descendants to continue the financial claims of their forebears, investing them with emotional significance. The article explores the more than a century-long process of ‘decolonizing’ Saint-Domingue and its significance for the culture of French imperialism.

Mary Lewis

Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History

Mary Lewis is Professor of History at Harvard, and Affiliated Faculty at the Harvard Law School.  Her current research interests center around international and imperial history, with particular attention paid to the connections between international relations and social or economic life.  She has taught courses on comparative empires, the Modern Mediterranean, Modern France and its Colonial Empire, European capitalism, and nation- and state-building in the modern era, as well as graduate seminars on method.