Haitian Immigration : Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Overview
From Saint Domingue to Louisiana
The Black Republic and Louisiana
Soldiers, Rebels, and Pirates
Afro-Creoles and Americans
From Revolution to Romanticism
The Haitian Influence on Religion
The Civil War
The Consequences of the Haitian Migration
References
Links

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< From Saint Domingue to LouisianaSoldiers, Rebels, and Pirates >

In January 1804, an event of enormous importance shook the world of the enslaved and their owners. The black revolutionaries, who had been fighting for a dozen years, crushed Napoleon's 60,000 men-army - which counted mercenaries from all over Europe - and proclaimed the nation of Haiti (the original Indian name of the island), the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere and the world's first black-led republic. The impact of this victory of unarmed slaves against their oppressors was felt throughout the slave societies. In Louisiana, it sparked a confrontation at Bayou La Fourche. According to white residents, twelve Haitians from a passing vessel threatened them "with many insulting and menacing expressions" and "spoke of eating human flesh and in general demonstrated great Savageness of character, boasting of what they had seen and done in the horrors of St. Domingo [Saint Domingue]."

Haiti: The Sun of Hope, 1800-1865     , Chapter 1Haitians and African Americans: A Heritage of Tragedy and HopeHaiti: The Sun of Hope, 1800-1865 , Chapter 1 from Haitians and African Americans: A Heritage of Tragedy and Hope by Leon D. Pamphile
Revolutionary Saint Domingue in the Making of Territorial LouisianaRevolutionary Saint Domingue in the Making of Territorial Louisiana by Robert Paquette

The slaveholders' anxieties increased and inspired a new series of statutes to isolate Louisiana from the spread of revolution. The ban on West Indian bondspeople continued and in June 1806 the territorial legislature barred the entry from the French Caribbean of free black males over the age of fourteen. A year later, the prohibition was extended: all free black adult males were excluded, regardless of their nationality. Severe punishments, including enslavement, accompanied the new laws.

However, American efforts to prevent the entry of Haitian immigrants proved even less successful than those of the French and the Spanish. Indeed, the number of immigrants skyrocketed between May 1809 and June 1810, when Spanish authorities expelled thousands of Haitians from Cuba, where they had taken refuge several years earlier. In the wake of this action, New Orleans' Creole whites overcame their chronic fears and clamored for the entry of the white refugees and their slaves. Their objective was to strengthen Louisiana's declining French-speaking community and offset Anglo-American influence. The white Creoles felt that the increasing American presence posed a greater threat to their interests than a potentially dangerous class of enslaved West Indians.


American officials bowed to their pressure and reluctantly allowed white émigrés to enter the city with their slaves. At the same time, however, they attempted to halt the migration of free black refugees. Louisiana's territorial governor, William C. C. Claiborne, firmly enforced the ban on free black males. He advised the American consul in Santiago de Cuba:

Letter from William Claiborne to Robert Smith, New Orleans, November 12, 1809Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 5Letter from William Claiborne to Robert Smith, New Orleans, November 12, 1809 from Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 5 by William Clairborne

Males above the age of fifteen, have . . . been ordered to depart. - I must request you, Sir, to make known this circumstance and also to discourage free people of colour of every description from emigrating to the Territory of Orleans; We have already a much greater proportion of that population than comports with the general Interest.

Letter from William Claiborne to William Savage, New Orleans, November 10, 1809Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 5Letter from William Claiborne to William Savage, New Orleans, November 10, 1809 from Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 5 by William Claiborne

Claiborne and other officials labored in vain; the population of Afro-Creoles grew larger and even more assertive after the entry of the Haitian émigrés from Cuba, nearly 90 percent of whom settled in New Orleans. The 1809 migration brought 2,731 whites, 3,102 free persons of African descent, and 3,226 enslaved refugees to the city, doubling its population. Sixty-three percent of Crescent City inhabitants were now black. Among the nation's major cities only Charleston, with a 53 percent black majority, was comparable.

Letter from James Mather to William Claiborne, New Orleans, July 18, 1809Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 4Letter from James Mather to William Claiborne, New Orleans, July 18, 1809 from Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 4 by James Mather
Letter from William Claiborne to Robert Smith, New Orleans, November 5, 1809Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 4Letter from William Claiborne to Robert Smith, New Orleans, November 5, 1809 from Official Letter Books of W.C.C. Claiborne, 1801-1816, vol. 4

The multiracial refugee population settled in the French Quarter and the neighboring Faubourg Marigny district, and revitalized Creole culture and institutions. New Orleans acquired a reputation as the nation's "Creole Capital."

The rapid growth of the city's population of free persons of color strengthened the "three-caste" society - white, mixed, black - that had developed during the years of French and Spanish rule. This was quite different from the racial order prevailing in the rest of the United States, where attempts were made to confine all persons of African descent to a separate and inferior racial caste - a situation brought about by political reality in the South that promoted white unity across class lines and the immersion of all blacks into a single and subservient social caste.

The Free People of Color in Louisisana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-caste Slave SocietiesJournal of Social History (Summer 1970)The Free People of Color in Louisisana and St. Domingue: A Comparative Portrait of Two Three-caste Slave Societies from Journal of Social History (Summer 1970) by Laura Foner

In Louisiana, as lawmakers moved to suppress manumission and undermine the free black presence, the refugees dealt a serious blow to their efforts. In 1810 the city's French-speaking Creoles of African descent, reinforced by thousands of Haitian refugees, formed the basis for the emergence of one of the most advanced black communities in North America.

Interview with Mrs. FaymanInterview with Mrs. Fayman

< From Saint Domingue to Louisiana
Soldiers, Rebels, and Pirates >