"Effectively integrates Caribbean history with Louisiana history, with a touch of Europe thrown in. It will be welcomed by scholars of Atlantic history."--Virginia Meacham Gould, author of No Cross on Earth, No Crown in Heaven: Black Nuns in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans, and the forthcoming Colonial New Orleans (UPF)
"An important book [that will] contribute much to the historiography on Louisiana as well as to a wider understanding of circum-Caribbean migrations and influences."--Daniel H. Usner, Vanderbilt University, author of Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783
Dessens examines the legacy of approximately 15,000 Saint-Domingue refugees--whites, slaves, and free people of color--who settled in Louisiana between 1791 and 1815. Forced to flee their French Caribbean colony following a slave rebellion that gave birth to the Haitian Republic in January 1804, they spread throughout the Caribbean and along the North American Atlantic coast. Forming a relatively coherent diaspora for at least two decades, they concentrated in New Orleans. In this first comprehensive study of the Saint-Domingue influence, Dessens brings to light a refugee community composed in almost equal proportions of three population groups, yet completely forgotten by Louisiana historiography for more than 150 years, despite its arrival during a crucial historical era, its participation in the economic, social, and political life of a new homeland, and its cultural legacy to the “Creole capital.”
A few pioneer historians of Louisiana raised the Saint-Domingue refugees from oblivion in the mid-20th century, but only one collection of articles, The Road to Louisiana, has ever been published about them. Dessens finds that the new arrivals established New Orleans’ first newspapers and many of its oldest schools and left their cultural influence on the city’s music and architecture. The immigrants also brought with them inclusive ideas about people of African descent that helped shape local race relations. The children of these refugees carefully orchestrated shoemaker Homer Plessy’s vain attempt to outlaw segregation.
Drawing on sources in France and the United States, as well as civic, church, and other primary documents in New Orleans, Dessens examines the salient features of the refugees’ former society, the reasons they left, the migration itself, and their reception and integration into New Orleans society. Revealing a better understanding of migratory movements and of Louisiana’s exceptionalism in the United States, this study will be of special interest to historians of the South, Gulf South, Louisiana, and New Orleans, as well as African American, Latin American, and Caribbean history, migration, and genealogy.
Nathalie Dessens is professor of American history and civilization at the University of Toulouse. She is the author of Myths of the Plantation Society: Slavery in the American South and the West Indies (UPF).
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This book will make valuable contributions to the growing scholarship on the impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.
--Journal of American Ethnic History
" A very valuable and well-written work. Dessens cogently establishes the significance of the Saint-Domingan refugees on the Louisiana landscape, and encourages the field to further investigate their far-reaching influence. Future scholars of this disapora are deeply indebted to Dessens for laying this scholarly foundation and for establishing its significance so convincingly."
" Students of New Orleans and Louisiana will find this a serviceable introduction to many of the best-documented refugees and their contributions to the robust French Creole society that took shape in the early decades of the nineteenth century, echos of which persist even today."
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
" This focused and nuanced look at Louisiana at the turn of the nineteenth sentury underscores how far scholarship on Haitian refugees in the United States has come with the rise of Atlantic studies. Much to offer students and scholars of New Orleans and the Haitian Revolution."
--Journal of Southern History
"A thoroughly academic study, but also very readable, and it adds considerably to the relatively small body of research available to local historians and genealogists."
"Provides the best available introduction to the subject of the Saint-Domingue refugees, their wanderings, and their ultimately successful quest for a North American safe haven."
--American Historical Review
An extremely detailed, intricate account of life during the early days of the Republic in the swiftly transforming city of New Orleans.