Saint-Domingue Refugees

Nathalie Dessens

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Saint-Domingue Refugees

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  • History of the Americas
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From the onset of the Haitian Revolution in 1791 to the proclamation of the Republic of Haiti in January 1804, inhabitants of the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, on the island of Hispaniola, left the island and found refuge throughout the Caribbean basin and in North America. Some did return to metropolitan France, although they were not the majority. The refugees included whites and free people of color, together with some of their slaves. Although all the territories of the greater Caribbean basin did receive some small contingents of refugees, the territories that most attracted the refugees were the Spanish part of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo—for obvious reasons of proximity—as well as Jamaica—where many refugees followed the British troops after their evacuation from the island—and Cuba—whose Oriente was within sight of the northwestern coast of Saint-Domingue. The eastern United States was another common destination for the refugees, as was the Gulf Coast, although in smaller numbers. For two decades, the refugees constituted a diaspora that remained in close epistolary contact, due to the relocation of acquaintances in several refuges of the Americas. Although many refugees remained in these original asylums, a second movement occurred in the first decades of the 19th century, this time a movement of convergence of the diaspora to Louisiana, more specifically to New Orleans. Because of the Napoleonic wars, non-naturalized French citizens were expelled from Jamaica (in 1803–1804) and from Cuba (1809–1810), and many settled in Louisiana. For cultural and linguistic reasons, many of those who had initially found refuge in the United States also came to Louisiana. Although Louisiana had received only a few hundred refugees in the last decade of the 18th century, it came to host about 15,000 former inhabitants of Saint-Domingue, the last wave from Cuba (in 1809–1810) being by far the largest. Almost equally distributed among the three categories of population (whites, free people of color, and slaves), more than 10,000 refugees proceeded to swarm into the city of New Orleans over a period of about six months, 90% of whom stayed in the city. Their arrival doubled the population of the city, where refugees from other waves already resided. Their influence on the city at the crucial time of its integration within the United States is only starting to be understood.

Article.  8141 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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