The Haitian Revolution has often been described as an oddity that had little impact on the world. Since then, historians have challenged this narrative and argue that Haiti’s victory over France had a huge impact on the Atlantic World. Dr. Matthew Clavin of the University of Houston argues that the Haitian Revolution had an enormous impact on the world.
Gary: Hello everyone. Today’s episode is an interview with Professor Clavin of the University of Houston. Professor Clavin is a historian of early America and the Atlantic world with a focus on slavery and the abolitionist movement. He is the author of The Battle of Negro Fort: The Rise and Fall of a Fugitive Slave Community, which just came out last month. In this episode Professor Clavin explains how the Haitian revolution impacted France and the United States. For a century after the Haitian revolution, Western historiography held that this successful slave revolt was an isolated event. Then in 1938 CLR James published The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Overture and the San Domingo Revolution. In the book he argued that black Haitians were influenced by French Enlightenment ideas but also brought their own ideas and experiences into play. They in turn influenced French actions during the French Revolution. James overturned the previous history by showing that black Haitians were not an undifferentiated mass that spontaneously rose up against the white masters but were in fact eloquent, intelligent, organized revolutionaries, who shaped the future of Haiti while impacting events in France. Professor Clavin’s work follows James by expanding the Haitian revolution further. In this interview he explains how the overthrow of French colonialism in Haiti radicalized American abolitionists, inspired slave revolts, and was enormously influential on both sides of the civil war. Please enjoy.
Gary: When I’m out of the classroom and not doing my dissertation work and that sort of thing. I actually don’t like to immerse myself too much in history. I need a break every now and then I gotta listen to my, my books and stuff. Non history fantasy stuff.
Clavin: This summer I’ve read Hamlet for the first time I just loved it but I like the history. Like my I like to contextualize it historically. I try reading novels, fiction, and they just very rarely do they grip me. And so I always try to mix it up in the summers but I just always fall back. And even now when I’m lounging on the sofa, watching a show invariably it’s the history channel or Discovery Channel and it’s some sort of, even if there looking for the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. You know, I’m still I’m still fascinated by the history of where the legend of Bigfoot, things of that nature. So I’m kind of obsessed with it.
Gary: Really, and you never get burned out?
Clavin: I do. But like I said you know if I’m a little bit burnt and I go run three miles and get a good night’s sleep, I’m ready to go the next day, ready to go, my head is clear.
Gary: Well maybe we can talk a little bit about the Loch Ness or myths or something in the next interview. You know what I think is funny and I know because I think a lot of the time when we as historians, because we are taught to look at facts and that sort of thing that these sort of myths they look as something silly. But one thing that I thought was very interesting was when I was reading about Indian history under Britain. They had the tea plantations and literally tens I think maybe even hundreds of thousands of people were sent there. And the death rate was so high. Literally tens of thousands. And there were a lot of Indians who were saying that the British are vampires and that they were eating people. And I mean you know obviously the whole the cannibalism thing wasn’t true but I mean they might as well have been. So I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but there were the slaves in Haiti had certain myths as well about the French people having evil powers and that sort of thing. So maybe that’ll get brought up. Do you have any good stories?
Clavin: In the book I talk about how if there was the opposite perspective the French and American slave owners, they started to advertise that throughout the revolution rebel slaves were cannibalizing white plantation owners and their families. And there’s this legend it’s now largely deemed apocryphal where the slaves are running through the town square with white infant impaled on the spear and the rebel slaves are waving that as their flag as their standard. And it turns out there’s no evidence of that but you see that in the French Revolution as well. People are accused of doing the Jacobins events and things like that. So we just don’t know. These atrocity stories, whereas where it is fiction pick up from fact and all this stuff is probably rooted in some sort of reality but it’s just hard to determine sometimes. Myth versus reality.
Gary: While on the issue of myth versus reality I think that’s a good way to start this because the first question that I wanted to ask you was how was the Haitian revolution’s ultimate triumph over France received within France? Because of course Napoleon was obviously not very happy but did some French people look at it as a triumph of freedom, Or was it sort of an opposite view?
Clavin: Absolutely. And what is often lost about the Haitian Revolution is that A) it doesn’t begin with the French Revolution and B) there is a role that free people of color from Saint-Dominque they play in helping to launch the French Revolution. These free men of color come to Paris 1788, 1789 and they start clamoring for voting rights ,equal political rights on the island and ultimately the government grants them those powers and right there is stark evidence that there is widespread support for people of color in the French Caribbean to have equal civil and political rights which is pretty revolutionary as you can imagine at the time. Now there’s no discussion of slaves at this point but at least racially speaking there’s a lot of French people, politicians, they’re willing to you know be radical here and support these free men of color free men of color go back to the island and hell breaks loose. There’s a vicious civil war. Eventually the slaves get involved and then we have the Asian revolution and you know can move a couple of years forward and there is still a lot of support for the black rebels, not the majority in any way shape or form. But by 1794 for the French Directorate abolishing slavery in the Caribbean and so France is way ahead of its time offering people of color Civil and Political Rights abolishing slavery I always thought it was the first Emancipation Proclamation and move ahead five years forward. Napoleon tries to reinstitute slavery in the French Caribbean so I would never, I would not say that the majority of the French people or the French politicians or government officials ever really supported the Haitian Revolution but large numbers did. And just as just about everything is divisive in France during the Revolutionary period, the way they discuss, talk about, vote on Haiti is also extremely strongly divisive. There is support for sure.
Gary: Yeah absolutely. So now I want to talk about how the ideas of the Haitian Revolution spread particularly across the United States because for a long time the other powers tried to take over Haiti, Britain, Spain. There was a French blockade. And yet despite this the news and ideas of the Haitian Revolution spread even to slaves themselves in the United States. Can you tell us about that.
Clavin: Yeah, two ways. I mean, I think most obviously today would be cell phones and the internet. Turn of the 18th century its newspapers, pamphlets to a lesser extent, but day by day reports are coming out of Haiti. And oftentimes they are reported in Europe. They appear in European papers first and then they are transferred to American newspapers sometimes as European newspapers themselves are physically transported to the United States. But there’s also in Philadelphia, in South Carolina, in Boston, New York City, they have reporters sometimes correspondents sometimes refugees from Saint-Domingue are telling their stories. So there are just non-stop you know countless eyewitness accounts of what’s going on in Haiti at the time. At the same time I think the second way that the information is spread is through this oral tradition of sailors and refugees. So you have white sailors. You have plantation owners fleeing the island. You have white non plantation owners fleeing the island. You have black participants in the Haitian revolution. They may be full time soldiers, part time soldiers, they may be French, they may be Spanish, they may be British, but they’re criss crossing the Atlantic. And so especially in the southern United States, in fact wherever there are slavery New York City at the time you have black sailors who’ve been to Haiti even if not Haitian themselves they have seen things they’ve heard things they’ve talked to people. And so this is how the information spreads. And so we look back sometimes and we think wow they didn’t have email. They didn’t have CNN. How could they be kept abreast of events. How can Americans know really what’s going on in Haiti, or in France, or in London. But they know. And just as information today can be fictionalized or sensationalized or in some cases extremely accurate. So too the information coming out of Haiti it’s time.
Gary: Yeah I think you make a good point in your book because on the one hand there is the highest people in various countries who want to keep the genie in the bottle, want to blockade Haiti, make sure this doesn’t get out and yet at the same time it does get out. I believe there was an anecdote in your book where a slave master made his slave read newspapers on Haiti. You’d think it wouldn’t we wouldn’t want that to get out like that.
Clavin: No, no and my book really takes place, much of it, mid 19th century, before, during and even after the American Civil War. But we have their accounts of these runaway slaves during the American Civil War with copies of pamphlets, newspaper articles describing the Haitian revolution and probably my favorite part of the entire book is I think his name was Norris Wilkerson. He’s a runaway slave, a contraband in outside Charleston, South Carolina during the Civil War. And he claims, he swears, he fought alongside Toussaint 60 years ago in the Haitian revolution. Maybe he didn’t, but still he believed he did. He claimed he did. And so there’s definitely people in the generations before him who had seen the Haitian revolution and participate in the Haitian revolution and they lived in the United States ultimately. So they are telling stories. New Orleans historiography is just filled with French refugees, French Haitian refugees. They come to New Orleans and for generations and generations. They tell stories to their ancestors their descendants about what they experienced in Haiti.
Gary: So one thing which I do think we should probably talk about and which is a central theme to your book is not just the Haitian revolution itself but the person, of Toussaint Louverture. Because Toussaint Louverture looms in your book and in the history itself as this titan of black emancipation. Do you want to explain why he among all those was the great figure and not this cast of characters like Dessalin and the others.
Calvin: Certainly. You know we’re looking here at the late 18th century, and this is an era of great men. You know this is an era of George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Simón Bolívar, and there’s just a different way that Western civilization is viewing history. And today historians generally prefer the social history they prefer the common man. They prefer the cultural history and they’re still political and diplomatic. But the great man is no longer the favorite or first choice of historians and even students. Late 18th, early 19th century that’s not the case. And so I think people are just at this point time, they tend to view and understand history through the biography of great men. Just so happens he is the greatest man to emerge from the Haitian revolution. So I think there’s a sort a cultural tendency to sort of embrace him. But he’s also sort of, he’s so symbolic that he can represent for people who are either for or against the Haitian revolution. He can represent both sides. So if you’re a radical egalitarian and you think black people should all be free and Toussaint says and does things that he just would really appeal to your sensibilities. He’s this literate black man. He shows mercy to his opponents. He tries to abolish slavery. He’s an egalitarian. He’s a great man. At the same time if you are fearful of the Haitian revolution, the precedent it sets. If you want black people to remain in chains and then Toussaint represents the evils of emancipation and liberation because he’s a black man, he’s violent. He’s in charge. He’s egotistical, he’s dictatorial on occasion. And so you might argue as people did that he’s a savage and if we free the slaves, if slaves earn their freedom or take their freedom then our country our world will be ruled by black savages like Toussaint.
Gary: Yeah, and I think one very interesting thing about your book is that you talk about how white Southerners whenever they dealt with a slave insurrection they attributed it to Louverture personally or to the Haitian revolution in general. And you talk about Nat Turner’s revolt. Why didn’t the Southern slave owners realize that this was perhaps an indigenous response or that largely their grievances were Indigenous. Why did they attribute everything to Haiti?
Clavin: I think generally they actually did, and in particular in the case of Nat Turner, you know, the Virginia state government really considers seriously 1831 and 1832 to abolish slavery for that very reason. Slavery is so oppressive these black people are so mistreated they are so filled with vengeance that things like slave revolts are inevitable. So I think generally that’s their initial response. But as you get deeper into the 19th century and slavery continues its demise globally, not just in the northern United States and other parts of North America, the Caribbean other parts of world slavery is disappearing and as white Southerners become more defensive about their institution more paranoid about losing their valued institution they then start to create this myth that their slaves will not revolt, their slaves could never revolt, their slaves actually enjoy being enslaved. So I think their initial reaction is, well, we knew this was going to happen but that’s not the face that they put forward. When they communicate with outsiders, when they communicate with Northerners, when they communicate with Britain’s, when they communicate with us, posterity, that’s when they start to shape this idea of the contented and happy slave. And it’s much easier if you’re making that argument in Virginia, in South Carolina, and Georgia that your slaves are happy. Well if they rise up one way you can explain that as you point overseas and you say What’s it that’s because it’s in the French Caribbean and that would never happen here, that happened with those crazy radicals during the French revolution, that would never happen here. So I think over time historians talk a lot about paternalism in this really absurd mythology that only in the antebellum south were slaves treated well, happy and content. Slaves they would admit, slaves everywhere have been mistreated but an antebellum South slaves were well taken care of. They never revolted they love their masters et cetera. Well Haiti obviously would be a way for them to explain away all these acts of violent resistance.
Gary: So speaking of the chupacabra then because we’ve got quite a few myths you bring up the myth of the docile slave, but also in your book you talk a lot about this myth in a vast transnational conspiracy to inspire slave revolts. Can you tell us a bit about this.
Calvin: Yeah, I just think it’s sort of goes to my previous point where quite honestly in the antebellum period so many steps are taken legislatively, militarily to make sure slaves don’t revolt. The black population is a small part of many parts of the South in the decades before the Civil War. Where in Haiti, in Jamaica, Brazil, you know slaves of the vast majority of the population and there are exceptions in the antebellum south like Charleston, South Carolina but in most parts of the South like Virginia the largest slave state. Slaves are a clear minority of the population. So all odds are stacked against them. And so every time there is an upheaval, a slave runs away, and you know, resist violently or you have an actual uprising like Nat Turner. Then again people will look overseas to say that there is, there must be somebody outside abolitionist. These these rebel pirates from Haiti they’re coming to our community and they’re telling our slaves to do this and do that. And so what you will see is laws like the Negro seem and acts where for many years in the decades the civil war in the antebellum South. Black sailors who go into ports like Charleston, they have to sit in jail as long as they’re in the city because they’re not trusted. And so we look back and we sort of see that Southerners invented this conspiracy. It was actually more than that, they actually thought this was a realistic possibility. So when they see these black sailors getting off these boats they force them to be incarcerated until they leave. They’re so scared that they’re going to spread their radical ideology to their slaves.
Gary: and correct me if I’m wrong, but even though there wasn’t some global black revolutionary conspiracy there were Haitians who went across the Americas spurring on revolution.
Clavin: Undoubtedly. And what I always remember first and foremost is that there were Haitian revolutionaries who fought in the American Revolution. people of color. So during the American Revolution, the siege of Savannah, is the most famous example. There’s a whole regiment of people of color from Haiti who helped the Americans fight the tyrannical British. They fight for the freedom of Americans. A couple of years later these free men of color many of them are leaders of the black insurrection known as the Haitian revolution and then moving forward. You have former rebel slaves in the Haitian revolution. They criss cross the Atlantic world. They are involved in Cuban insurrections or these they’re accused of being involved, they’re involved in Brazil. Bolívar welcomes a whole whole boatload of armed Haitians who come to assist him in freeing Latin America from Spanish tyranny. And so again there’s there’s a myth and there’s a legend of this conspiracy but there’s enough facts to sort of demonstrate. Now this was an actual real thing. You know this this isn’t a conspiracy it’s actually occurring where black Haitians who fought in the revolution. They are traveling the Atlantic world. They’re not only spreading their ideology through their face to face conversation with people but they’re carrying weapons and they’re joining these revolutionaries in places like Latin America. And so it really is sort of this, you really can’t tell this story without sort of taking cognizance of an Atlantic perspective or trans Atlantic history because there is a movement not only ideology but actual revolutionaries and they’re involved all over the place.
Gary: Right. So earlier you mentioned the Negro Seamen Act. Did I get that correct?
Gary: The what other measures then did the South take to prevent slave uprising?
Clavin: You know you know it’s very fascinating. One question that you always get discussing the Haitian revolution was what was the impact on slavery in the United States. And I think the assumption is usually that this helped slaves. Maybe they were inspired by the Haitian revolution as many were. Maybe they were motivated to do things they wouldn’t have done before. And there’s evidence of that. But the way I come away from this typically I think a lot of historians would agree that the Haitian revolution set a precedent that forces white slave owners to amp up their vigilance, to pass more laws, to make the pre-existing slave codes more harsh, to restrict the movement of their slaves even further, to punish their slaves move even further. These white American slave owners are so justifiably fearful of their slaves rising up that they go to even more extreme measures to make sure a Haitian revolution doesn’t happen in Virginia, Maryland, or South Carolina. So it’s debatable but certainly for many American slaves as a result of the Haitian revolution their lives probably get worse moving forward.
Gary: So one thing I want to talk about before we get into the Civil War itself is one of the major catalysts for the Civil War which is John Brown’s infamous raid on Harpers Ferry which you argue was in part inspired by the cult of Louverture. Can you talk a little bit about that.
Clavin: Yes, and if you read anything on John Brown history of this radical, white, egalitarian, very unsuccessful in most parts of his life. But boy he is a freedom fighter. He is zealous about it, he’s eager to be a martyr if need be for the cause. And there are many things that inspire him. The language in Declaration Independence the Preamble of the Constitution. While I was doing research for the book in addition to Norris Wilkerson story maybe the coolest thing I found was an interview that one of the jailers in today West Virginia where John Brown was imprisoned after his Harpers Ferry raid. So many decades later this lone jailer said that he used to socialize with Brown in the evenings. These to have long conversations. And he found Brown to be quite reasonable, quite sensible, quite affable, he seemed to be a pretty much good guy, despite what he had tried to do to the south. But this interview, which was and I think the New York Sun, the jailer goes on to say that Brown had a small collection of books. One of them was a biography of Louverture. And at one point the conversation turned to that book and Brown made it crystal clear to this this jailer that this was his idol. He said that he had read everything he could through his lifetime of this amazing man, Toussaint and the Haitians proved that slave revolts could be successful in using mountains and marooned camps could be a great way to launch them and make this rebellion endure. And so there’s very good evidence to suggest this is why John Brown targeted the Appalachian Mountains and so people for generations for years historians have argued that John Brown is crazy, he was insane. He had no chance of winning and I think I see their point of view. But if you are so obsessed with Haitian history as John Brown appears to be, you could convince yourself very easily that a slave revolt could be successful if you’re in guerrilla war today. You know we’ve seen throughout the centuries you know small groups of indigenous people, willing to fight for decades, unwilling to give in to a militaristic empire. You can survive and endure and you can actually become free eventually. And I think that’s what Brown was trying to accomplish. He was just trying to launch a second Haitian revolution. And so I think calling him insane is not giving him his due.
Gary: One thing I think is interesting about the book is that not only do you talk quite a bit of detail about how the Haitian revolution was a very influential in the build up to the Civil War but that it was actually influential in policy during the Civil War. In particular you argue that the procession of the Civil War was affected by the Haitian revolution because one tactic that abolitionists favored, if not the military at large was arming black slaves in emulation of the Haitian revolution. Can you tell us a little bit about this and the difference between the idea and then the actual practice?
Clavin: You might remind me of the two part question. So I will say, so the the idea is now can Americans, people today we like to simplify history to a fault. And so there is this myth again, there is this myth that northerners lacked racism and southerners were racist because they were slave owners in the decades before the Civil War. Many white northerners were extremely prejudiced, bigoted, and racist in the early 19th century. Yes they had gotten rid of slavery, but there were still racial discrimination, some cases violent racial discrimination. So there was a lot of issues regarding that sort of ideology of white supremacy. It was an American phenomenon. It was a global phenomenon. It was not just a southern thing. So as the Civil War breaks out and as all of these runaway slaves as they call them contrabands from even before the war starts, they start to volunteer for service. And it takes a couple of months even a year or so before the North is desperate for soldiers, but this issue persist. The North starts to run out of volunteers and these runaway slaves and increasingly it’s tens of thousands, eventually hundreds of thousands, are begging for weapons and and a union uniform. And logic would say well armed these people, it will hurt the South. It will help the North. This is just an easy solution right. But many white Northerners did not think blacks had the manliness to fight. They lacked the courage to fight. They were quote unquote savages who would shoot northerners instead of southerners. And this is where the abolitionists come in with their history books and all they do is they point to the Haitian revolution as concrete evidence that if the slaves are promised freedom if they are given what you know what they want, they will fight manly, they will fight revolutionary style, they will fight gloriously for the cause and so from even before this war breaks out there is a lobbying effort to arm black soldiers. And ultimately it comes down to the commander in chief Lincoln and he hesitates for several years but ultimately with the Emancipation Proclamation he officially allows black Southern slaves to enlist in the union army and in the Navy. And so what you really see here is this incredible sort of lobbying effort. And ultimately you have some of Lincoln’s closest advisers like William Whiting and he publishes a book early in the war about the war powers of the president. And this is all John Quincy Adams had made arguments decades before. But Whiting very close associate of Lincoln. He makes this clarion call to arms slaves and he says it is that it is in the quote war powers of the executive, the president to do this during wartime. So whether or not you can arm slaves, know slaves or black people were not even allowed in the U.S. Army at the time but during war. Whiting says Mr. President you have the powers and this is like a bestselling book. And Lincoln just like he also becomes convinced of the idea that this is a war over slavery. This is a war of black freedom. We need to free the slaves. Does the Emancipation Proclamation. But he also is convinced of not only doing it to free these people. We need to give them what they want, guns and jackets. And once he does this going back to ancient history. This is the recipe for citizenship the way you earn and prove citizenship is you fight for the country. And by Lincoln understood this and he knew that he was gonna give these men the right to fight. He’s basically granting them citizenship rights. So it shows you how far he evolved in a very short period of time.
Gary: So you’re going to have to help me out in this because I’m a Europeanist not an Americanist. But there was a particular battle led by slaves. It was not by slave but I believe just African-Americans in general though there might have been slave soldiers. It was featured in the movie Glory, right. Help me out which was it?
Clavin: The Battle of Fort Wagner and you have the Fifty fourth and fifty fifth regiment. The movie Glory. Great movie about the fifty Fourth Regiment white officers but all black soldiers and some sergeants and, I fall out of your chair moment when you’re doing research, I was in the Massachusetts Historical Library going through some newspaper about the fifty Fourth Regiment. And right after they organized. And right before they departed for South Carolina a lot of the regiments would name you know have these company names regimental names. Well “C” company of the Third Fourth Regiment which is if they play a big role in the movie Glory and in the ballot for Wagner but they call themselves the Toussaint Brigade.
Clavin: And so there is just more evidence that the the story the history of Haiti and Toussaint survive among African-Americans long after the revolution.
Gary: And it’s always good as a historian to see your theories turn out to have some weight to them but the reason why I bring that up is because and again I’m not an Americanist so forgive me if I’m wrong but I believe that before that moment. Abraham Lincoln originally was planning on moving the slaves from the South to Liberia and Africa but after the Battle of Fort Wagner he saw African-Americans fighting for the United States and he decided that there was a possibility they could live together. Is that apocryphal?
Clavin: No, you’re very close. Like many, you know, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. You could argue he became one during the civil war. Prior to the Civil War he was a staunch anti slaveryite. So he absolutely hated slavery, sickened by slavery. So a slave trade when he was a teenager in New Orleans and he never forgot the sight of human beings being bought and sold on the auction block. It just disgusted him. That being said he was not like John Brown a full racially egalitarian and so Lincoln is all over the place he’s a politician. He straddles multiple lines all the time. But what I think Lincoln tried to do is he tried to find the easiest solution to placate all those racist northerners and even some of those white slave owners. And he adopted a plan that goes back to Thomas Jefferson and the founding generation was to abolish the plan was to abolish slavery and then remove these emancipated people from our shores, because I think Lincoln understood there was such a racial problem in America particularly in the north. And he said these people will not be allowed to live here. These people will not be allowed to go to school. They are not allowed to have good jobs and careers. So you know it’s not that he was looking out for their best interests primarily, he was looking out for Americans and white Americans best interest primarily. So he was a colonizationist. That’s what they called it. So as late as 1861-1862 he is getting the federal government to fund a project of colonizing slaves. Where? Off the coast of Haiti, the Illavach. I think it was called the Island of Cows. And early Civil War several hundred former slaves, they volunteer for this, they are exported if you will, to this island. Many die, they’re miserable. They hate it. They’re not doing well and they come back. And so wasn’t like the battle for Wagner it was that failed experiment in conjunction with black military service made Lincoln start to realize the colonization thing is not going to happen. And if that’s not going to happen they’re going to have to become citizens at some point. And I think that does help encourage him to sort of lean towards military service for black Americans.
Gary: That is an absolutely fascinating thing that America was trying to essentially colonize with black people. That’s a book in and of itself. Maybe you should. Maybe we should cut this part out so nobody can take your idea.
Clavin: Trust me they weren’t the first. The British did this and Sierra Leone becomes a colony of expatriates former slaves and so Americans were late to the game and abolition. They sort of follow the British on some hand and the colonization scheme was sort of a British invention that they will try to mimic albeit unsuccessfully.
Gary: So one thing I wanted to bring up when you were talking about the African-Americans trying to arm themselves like the Haitians. But you said that the northerners wouldn’t allow it. One major theme of your book is the rewriting of black masculinity. You argue that before the Haitian revolution whites believed or at least propagated the idea of blacks as naturally subservient. Then the Haitian revolution and viewed blacks with virility and strength. Can you tell us how this affected the view of blacks not just in Haiti but across the world?
Clavin: Yeah I think there was for many centuries as part of the whole slavery project. Europeans adopted these ideas, racialzed ideas that African-Americans, African descended people were inferior to start but also increasingly this idea that African descended men, black men were incapable of rising to the level of masculinity that white men innately had. And so for black Americans, for black Haitians they have a doubly difficult task of proving their A) humanity what you think today. It’s just accepted that human beings are not animals but this is not the way this was done hundreds of years ago. I mean the argument was widespread that these were subhuman species. Look at Thomas Jefferson had to say so not only do black people are out there trying to free themselves get their freedom they’re trying to prove that they’re humans. And for men, black men they’re trying to prove that they are men and it’s such a hard thing to balance. If you take up arms and you kill your slave owner who is enslaved you and your family for your entire life and then you kill a white soldier who’s come into free and slave you. What a lot of Europeans and white Americans, it’s very likely they will say that you are not gentlemanly or you’re not master and you’re a savage and so you know you’re being accused of being effeminate because you are enslaved and you don’t rise up enough but then when you do rise up and you do it successfully like the Haitians you’re called Savage, you’re not even given the credit of being manly in this time period this revolutionary era you know really more than ever in Western history there’s this notion that people are only deserving of citizenship if they fight and kill for it. And so for black people in Haiti they’re killing for freedom but they’re still not being called men. And I really think this is where Toussaint becomes very valuable because of his actions and he is so imperfect. Haitians today extremely critical of him. Historians over the years but in that time period antislavery advocates, abolitionist, radical egalitarians, they really put forth this really positive image of this black man who looked like, he dressed like, he sounded like, George Washington and Napoleon. It’s amazing if you look at the artwork of all of these men including Toussaint. They’re dressed similarly. They’re the same height. Their hair is coming out of their hat the same way, they’re all wearing soldiers uniforms. They ride horseback similarly. And you really begin to see that you know he’s not a black man in some of these images he’s just a great man. As we discussed before. So I think Toussaint is really a symbol of positive black or just masculinity in general at the turn of the 19th century. And that’s why it resonates. It definitely resonates among people who despise slavery. But I think there begins to be cross over, especially in Europe that they for years think they’ve really put him on a pedestal. And you know, all these great French writers French historians they fought for more than a century. They say they really do compare him favorably to Napoleon. They compare him favorably to George Washington. And so it’s really pretty, for him to accomplish Haitian independence is one thing. But he also accomplishes just more globally establishing the humanity of black people but also the masculinity of black men. So he accomplishes quite a bit to say the least.
Gary: And beat three empires when Napoleon sent Le Claire out but then also Britain tried to invade and Spain. Yes.
Clavin: So and So just think every time he does, he these unprecedented historical military accomplishments he has to be very careful. Once you defeat them, once they submit. What do you do next? Because if you injured imprisoned too many, if you slaughter people on the battlefield, obviously then you will be labeled all sorts of things and that will work against the project of emancipation. So he just handles it masterfully. And again he’s imperfect but he really accomplishes what very few if anyone could have done that situation at the time. He really is. He deserves the label of a great man.
Gary: So, one question that I did want to ask you is particularly about the historiography of the Haitian revolution because for a long time the view on the Haitian revolution was that this was one isolated event of a slave uprising because there weren’t many if any other successful slave uprisings throughout the rest of the European dominated world. However you and other historians are making the point that this actually was hugely influential. We’ve talked about America and the Atlantic world in general but can you explain a little more how the Haitian Revolution wasn’t just this confined space even though there wasn’t necessarily another slave revolution.
Clavin: You know words and phrases are so important, and I still struggle with how to quickly describe the Haitian revolution. And I think there is a long time when I first started studying it I would refer to it as the largest slave revolt in world history. But then you look at the ancient world and there probably may have been larger revolts. Maybe not. I used to refer to the Haitian revolution as the only successful slave revolt in world history. That’s not really the case. If you look at Palmeiras and the Jamaicans and they signed these treaties with these colonial powers to leave them alone for perpetuity. So not necessarily. So now the terms I like to use is the one of the most successful slave revolts in world history or one of the largest slave revolts in world history. So the point is there is stuff like this happening all over the place particularly in the age of revolution. And you know I just published a book on the battle of Negro Fort. There’s another example. During and after the war of 1812. You have in Spanish Florida an abandoned British fort occupied by hundreds close to a thousand fugitive slaves and they are led by a quote unquote French Negro whose name was Garson. He’s a runaway slave from Pensacola. Very likely came from Louisiana before that. And so we have no evidence to suggest that he’s from Haiti or he spoke Haitian or knew the Haitian revolution but I bet you he knew about the Haitian revolution. He very well may have been from Haiti or his parents probably were refugees from the island. And so you just have these, there’s too many examples of not only actual Haitian people or their descendants fighting for freedom throughout the Atlantic world but it’s just you have these other sort of isolated incidents which is slave upheaval in general is contagious in this time period. And quite honestly wherever you have slavery you have slave resistance, wherever you have of slave resistance you have slave revolts. I think the Haitian revolution deserves a little special attention because it results in an actual nation. And you don’t see that anywhere else. So so it is exceptional. But by the same token it’s just it’s a larger version of what we see copied throughout the Atlantic world in this time period.
Gary: All right. Well thank you very much. This has been great. We talked about chupacabras and black masculinity I think in particular it’s interesting how black men when they were trying to prove that they were masculine were competing against Frenchmen and powdered wigs with high heels. But that’s the world that we lived in. Yes. So I want to thank you very much. Thank you. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like to tell us about.
Clavin: No I think we’ve covered all I could talk about the Haitian revolution forever. So you better cut me off at some point or we’ll be in trouble.
Gary: All right that’ll be for our next episode. Thank you very much.
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