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Facing Racial Revolution

Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection

The only truly successful slave uprising in the Atlantic world, the Haitian Revolution gave birth to the first independent black republic of the modern era. Inspired by the revolution that had recently roiled their French rulers, black slaves and people of mixed race alike rose up against their oppressors in a bloody insurrection that led to the burning of the colony’s largest city, a bitter struggle against Napoleon’s troops, and in 1804, the founding of a free nation.

Numerous firsthand narratives of these events survived, but their invaluable insights into the period have long languished in obscurity—until now. In Facing Racial Revolution, Jeremy D. Popkin unearths these documents and presents excerpts from more than a dozen accounts written by white colonists trying to come to grips with a world that had suddenly disintegrated. These dramatic writings give us our most direct portrayal of the actions of the revolutionaries, vividly depicting encounters with the uprising’s leaders—Toussaint Louverture, Boukman, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines—as well as putting faces on many of the anonymous participants in this epochal moment. Popkin’s expert commentary on each selection provides the necessary background about the authors and the incidents they describe, while also addressing the complex question of the witnesses’ reliability and urging the reader to consider the implications of the narrators’ perspectives.

Along with the American and French revolutions, the birth of Haiti helped shape the modern world. The powerful, moving, and sometimes troubling testimonies collected in Facing Racial Revolution significantly expand our understanding of this momentous event.


“Jeremy Popkin’s collection of first-person narratives of the Haitian Revolution is an extremely valuable work, accessible, sound and intelligent. I only wish such a book had been available fifteen years ago when I was in the early stages of researching my series of novels. Popkin has been deft and tactful in stitching together these excerpts, and as a result, he manages to tell a complete version of the Revolution almost entirely in the words of the people who experienced it—this book engaged me deeply.”

Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Soul’s Rising

“As anybody who has tried to teach, research, or write about the story of the Haitian Revolution knows, it is not easy. The memory is scrambled, local archives are in disarray, the relatively few records that survived, are dispersed. The events themselves are of a mind-boggling complexity and contextualizing sources can be very challenging. This is thus a much needed book. Weaving together translated documents and framing narratives into an easily readable, engaging text, it makes accessible one of the most important events in Atlantic history and the revolutionary age. Popkin’s book is equally useful for historians and literary scholars and will no doubt be indispensable for anybody who researches and teaches issues ranging from the revolutionary age and racial politics in the Americas to modern subject formation and violence and narration.”—Sibylle Fischer, author of Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Sibylle Fischer, author of Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution

“Carefully researched and expertly presented, Facing Racial Revolution provides a series of often riveting accounts of Haiti’s revolutionary period. Most of these texts have never before been translated, and indeed many have been unknown even to many specialists until now. The texts represent a range of styles and political perspectives, providing much insight into the complexities of this period of rapid and profound social and political transformation. The book is not only an invaluable resource for scholars and teachers, but also an often moving window into the daily experiences of individuals caught up in the dramatic events of the Haitian revolution.”

Laurent M. Dubois, author of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

"In this new and valuable anthology, historian Jeremy Popkin has done a great service to the profession, and undergraduate students in particular, by compiling a collection of mostly unpublished primary sources left by eyewitnesses. . . . This most welcome book is sure to be consulted regularly in the classroom and in broader scholarship."

Karen Racine | Hispanic American Historical Review

"Popkin offers scholars a valuable text that complements much of the existing works on the Haitian Revolution. . . . The collection also offers remarkably detailed narratives that illustrate the battle tactics and efforts at diplomacy on the part of the revolutionaries . . . and the massacres of the remaining whites in Haiti."

Walter Rucker | Research in African Literatures

"The book, with its fascinating collection of personal narratives, helps to demonstrate and to explain the complexity and ambiguity of the Haitian Revolution."

William S. Cormack | H-France Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: From Saint-Domingue to Haiti: Eyewitness Narratives of the Haitian Revolution       
1. Becoming a Slavemaster       
2. The Ogé Insurrection
3. The First Days of the Slave Insurrection        
4. A Poet in the Midst of Insurrection: Amon Odyssée
5. An Expedition against the Insurgents in November 1791          
6. Inside the Insurgency: Gros’s Historick Recital        
7. Prisoners of the Insurgents in 1792    
8. Fighting and Atrocities in the South Province in 1792-1793     
9. Masters and Their Slaves during the Insurrection        
10. The Destruction of Cap Français in June 1793          
11. A Colonist at Sea, 1793
12. Imagining the Motives behind the Insurrection           
13. A Colonist among the Spanish and the British           
14. A White Captive in the Struggle against the Leclerc Expedition          
15. A Family Reunion and a Religious Conversion          
16. A Woman’s View of the Last Days of Cap Français           
17. A Child’s Memories of the Last Days of Saint-Domingue     
18. A Survivor of Dessalines’s Massacres in 1804         
19. The Story of the Last French Survivors in Saint-Domingue    

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