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Peter N. Herndon
“Even if I had to die tomorrow I would not give up my pride ... I don’t want to die, so I can fight in all the battles to come. And I’m not going into the trenches or using any of those mad modern weapons. A machete will do for me.”
—Esteban Montejo, in The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave
Since many of my ninthgrade students in the World History course are of an AfroAmerican background, this unit takes advantage of a perceived interest in black cultural roots. Students from an Hispanic ancestry should also bring a certain personal interest to the study of this topic as well.
Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the people of Haiti in a successful revolution against French rule, and whose career will be highlighted in this unit, warned the French (and the world) before his death: “In overthrowing me, the French have only felled the tree of black liberty in Saint Domingue. It will shoot up again for it is deeply rooted and its roots are many.”
This proposed unit is designed to stimulate, irrigate and cultivate interest in a past which is in many ways a very real part of our present.
- Code Noir
- “double standard”
- Enlightenment ideas
- external causes/internal causes
- grand maroonage/petit maroonage
- guerilla warfare
- immediate cause/underlying cause
- law code
- legal status
- “Maroon societies”
- slave trade
- social institutions
- social norms
- social order
Students will be challenged to grapple with generalizations about the institution of slavery, such as the following description by a French delegate who observed slaves in the colonies in the 1790’s:
“Sheltered by all the necessities of life, surrounded with an ease unknown in the greater part of the countries of Europe, secure in the enjoyment of their property ... cared for in their illnesses ... protected, respected in the infirmities of age; ... free when they had rendered important services. ... The most sincere attachment bound the master to the slave; we slept in safety in the middle of these men who had become our children, and many among us had had neither locks nor bolts on our doors.”A description such as this is intended to give the students clues as to the underlying assumptions about slaves and myths about their conditions. Other quotations and statistics will be examined to test whether this thesis is credible as a general statement. How docile and manageable was this human property? How content were the slaves of the Caribbean?
Students will also discover differences in the attitudes of many members of the “civilized” and “respectable” members of free society. A glimpse at quotations from landowners, plantation owners, plantation bookkeepers (managers), peninsulares, creoles, mestizos, Catholic priests, freed blacks, and others, including government officials, should stimulate the students. Was there an “accepted, general view” of slavery and AfroAmerican slaves? What was the prevailing attitude?
Next, students will examine the sets of codified laws governing the behavior of slaves. What can these laws tell us about the principles that regulated the lives of black slaves in the region?
The students again will be divided into groups to study and report back their findings regarding the three basic sets of rules by the Spanish, British and French:
Questions asked of the students will be these: What do the laws reveal about the principles of the lawmakers? the view of personhood of slaves? the rights of slaves? the privileges of slaves?
1. Spanish laws. In examining the Siete Partidas, the basis of slave regulations in the Spanish colonies, students will discover the legal “personhood” of the slave and his legal incorporation into the family of the master. Also, the custom of cartacion allowed the slaves to buy their freedom. 2. English laws. The English slave laws, by way of comparison, make the slaves out to be a “special kind of property” (chattel) consistent with the United States experience in the South. The laws here give the masters virtually complete control over the slaves’ lives. 3. French laws. The French Code Noir was the most liberal and egalitarian of all. Students will discover provisions such as fixed allowances for food and clothing, legal rights in court to sue masters for mistreatment, etc.
Following the study of law, records will be examined in each of the three societies regarding the enforcement of these laws. Also, what were later laws like (particularly in the Spanish and French colonies)? What reasons can be given for the harsh nature of later laws and the ignoring of earlier laws? How can law preserve stability and order without sacrificing true justice? Do the demands for social order and maintaining a class structure outweigh certain other demands? The students will observe a direct correlation between rising slave-tomaster ratios and repressive laws and practices.
Now that we have explored inequities and inequalities in legal systems and how they may have contributed to the slave discontent, we turn our attention to immediate causes of rebellion as we examine rebellions in Jamaica and Cuba, where “Maroon Societies” of runaway slaves were established.
Maroon Societies were communities formed by rebel slaves and were in existence for more than four centuries throughout the Americas. In size, they ranged from small bands to powerful states comprising hundreds of membercitizens. The very fact of their existence represented a significant threat to white power and authority, with the accompanying annoyance of encouraging slaves to run away to the Maroon communities in the woods and mountains. In Haiti, from the 17th century onward, Maroon villages kept up guerilla warfare to the extent that a permanent horse patrol was formed to hunt down runaways and resist attacks. In Guiana during the 1740’s, after one hundred years of costly wars, government treaties were drawn up with Maroon tribes as the only viable way of stopping the serious raids on local plantations.
As we examine the Maroon Societies, we will look for the conditions which existed to make slave rebellion attractive. Students will examine factors: (1) the mastertoslave ratio (it was 1:10 in Jamaica during the later part of the 18th century and into the l9th); (2) the ratio of foreignborn slaves to nativeborn slaves (did African slaves behave differently from creole chattel?); (3) geographical factors (how did the landscape lend itself to escape and guerilla warfare?); (4) the number of absentee masters (did bookkeepers do as good a job as owner-masters?); (5) was there a dominant alternative society for exslaves to integrate into with overall customs and lifestyle (was there a cohesive culture ruled over and defended by the “ruling class”?) which stabilized life and which established social norms?
In Jamaica, we will survey the revolts, try to examine the causes of revolts and form an hypothesis (above) as to their causes.
In Cuba, we will read a brief description of the palenques (sanctuary of huts housing runaways) and their lifestyle, as a way of illustrating the rather loose societies that developed in some of the islands.
The final few days of the unit will be spent examining the conditions that led to revolution in San Domingo (Haiti). On November 29, 1803, the Republic of Haiti was officially founded and became the first independent nation in the Western Hemisphere dedicated to the equality of the black man. The success of the revolution there proved a strong challenge to the myths of the slaveholder: that the slaves were naturally inferior, that they were unorganized and docile by nature, and incapable of competing with the white man. Students will examine the underlying causes of rebellion and will be encouraged to draw their own conclusions explaining how this movement could have had even the slightest chance of success.
As the students examine the underlying causes of revolt, they will discover a highly immobile class society controlled by a ruling class of “big whites”—the creole plantocracy, clergy and merchants. The second class of whites, the “small whites” were the shopkeepers, overseers and small planters. The bottom tier of Haitian society, the “free men of color”, who made up fortyfive percent of the free population, included Mulattoes and free blacks who had either purchased their freedom or who had been freed by their masters. Though this last group represented many who owned large landholdings, there was very little chance that they would ever gain social or political equality from the “big whites.” The slaves, who outnumbered their masters by a fifteentoone margin, were a discontented desperate lot. Mortality was high, since the prevailing slaveholder philosophy assumed that it was cheaper to work a slave to death within a few years and buy another than to allow the slave to reach old age.
Slave discontent in Haiti was evident in the large number of permanent Maroon communities in the mountains. Between 1679 and 1778, seven slave conspiracies had been organized; one of which was very well planned but failed because the leader, Mackandal, was betrayed and later executed. In 1790, a wealthy free Mulatto named Vincent Ogé led a rebellion armed with revolutionary slogans of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and weapons from France. The rebellion was quickly put down and a wave of terror against the slaves began. In response, the slaves, many of them recent arrivals from Africa, revolted and burned most of the plantation lands to the north of the city of Le Cap. The terrified whites were forced to forget their differences for a time to face the common enemy. But the Free Blacks slowly realized that they had more to gain by joining with their darker brothers, particularly after the small whites began to massacre Mulattoes in the area around PortauPrince. Events became very confusing, with the Spanish aiding the slaves, the British aiding the white liberals, and the white Royalists fighting the white Patriots. Commissioners sent from France were powerless to settle the differences and prevent new revolts from spreading. In 1794 after Le Cap was destroyed in the fighting, and with opposing Spanish and British forces controlling much of Haiti, the French Republic was successful in persuading former slave general Toussaint L’Ouverture to join forces with them. Touissaint, active in the rebellion for two years on the side of the Spanish and French supporters of the king, decided to unite with the Republic after learning that the Jacobincontrolled French Assembly had officially emancipated the slaves early in 1794. What kind of a man was Toussaint? What were his goals? How important was he to the success of the Revolution? These and other questions students will attempt to answer as they study the events and ideas of those concerned with the Haitian revolution from 1794 through 1804.
Toussaint had been uniquely prepared for his role in history. The students will learn that, although a slave, he became educated and well-read, managed his master’s affairs with great skill and became respected by masters and slaves alike for his diplomatic abilities. As the students study quotations by Toussaint and his contemporaries (found in books by Tyson and James) they should gain insight into the nature of the man and the course of his controversial leadership of a successful revolution resulting in his being named Commander-inChief of the French armies, LieutenantGovernor of Haiti and finally Dictator for Life of the Republic of Haiti.
In closing this section of the unit, two poems by nineteenth-century contemporary poets are presented for analysis by historians and students alike. The first is by William Wordsworth; the second by John Greenleaf Whittier.
The final day of the unit of study will be spent in attempting to evaluate how life changed for those who participated in rebellion and also their posterity was affected. When and how did eventual emancipation come, and what price did individuals and groups have to pay to secure a life of “freedom?”
1. Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men: ...
- Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
- Live and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
- Powers that work for thee: air, earth, and skies.
- There’s not a breathing of the common wind
- That will forget thee: thou hast great allies;
- Thy friends are exultations agonies,
- And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.
2. He stood the aged palms beneath,
- That shadowed o’er his humble door,
- Listening, with halfsuspended breath,
- To the wild sounds of fear and death,—
- Toussaint L’Ouverture!
- What marvel that his heart beat high!
- The blow for freedom had been given;
- And blood had answered to the cry
- That earth sent up to Heaven!
- Yes, darksoured chieftan!—if the light
- Of mild Religion’s heavenly ray
- Unveiled not to thy mental sight
- The lowlier and the purer way,
- In which the Holy Sufferer trod
- Meekly amidst the sons of crime,—
- That calm reliance upon God
- For justice, in his own good time,—
- That gentleness to which belongs
- Forgiveness for its many wrongs, ...
- For other hands than mine may wreathe
- The laurel round thy brow of death,
- And speak thy praise as one whose word
- A thousand fiery spirits stirred,— ...
- Amidst whose gloomy vengeance shone
- Some milder virtues all shine own,—
- Some gleams of feelings, pure and warm,
- Like sunshine on a sky of storm,—
- Proof that the Negro’s heart retains
- Some nobleness amidst its chains,
- That kindness to the wronged is never
- Without its excellent reward,
- Holy to humankind, and ever
- Acceptable to God.
Students will keep lists of vocabulary words and concepts within their groups. Glossaries will be available to them to consult. Research will also be encouraged independently.
The teacher will hand out specific questions to answer based on readings to make certain factual material is summarized.
Maps will be handed out to each student, so that he or she can locate important geographical areas, and see that different islands were controlled by different European powers.
Student “instructors” will be utilized whenever possible to explain facts and ideas according to the areas studied in small groups.
The topic lends itself to such innovative and creative methods as the teacher wishes to employ. Appropriate methods of student involvement could include debates (to revolt or not to revolt that is the question); roleplays (typical masters and slaves reacting to a maroon raid on the plantation); and small group activities.
Objectives After completing the lesson students should be able
A. Lesson One “Early Revolts Against Spanish Rule”
1. To describe two early revolts against Spanish rule; 2. To be able to describe at least three underlying causes of discontent in Spanish America; 3. To locate areas on a map.
1. Distribute maps of South and Central America along with Map Worksheet. (Any textbook map of Latin America ca. 1790Ð1800). 2. Students are instructed to label maps: (boundaries are already defined)
- New Spain
- Caribbean Sea
- New Grenada
- La Plata
- Buenos Aires
- Atlantic Ocean
- Gulf of Mexico
- the Guianas
- Pacific Ocean
Homework assignments could include quotations from people of various classes of Spanish America, voicing their discontent with Spanish rule.
3. Review with students which areas were held by Spain, Britain, France, Portugal and Holland. Which countr(ies) have the largest landholdings? 4. Have students read the paragraph on “Early Revolts” on the Map Worksheet. Why did the Indians in Peru and around Bogota protest against Spanish rule? What was the result of these protests? Why did Francisco Miranda lead a revolt near Caracas? How successful was he? 5. End the class with a discussion of how poor social or economic conditions can turn into underlying causes for protests or revolt. Also discuss the concept of leadership: how important is good leadership to the success of a revolt or protest? What other factors are needed? Relate discussion to twentiethcentury leaders such as Gandi or Martin Luther King. If time allows list “Qualities of Good Leaders” on the chalkboard.
Objectives After completing the Lesson students should be able
B. Lesson Two “Class Structure and Revolt in Spanish America”
1. To describe the three main social classes of Spanish colonial society; 2. To describe conditions of the Indians and slaves in Spanish America; 3. To participate successfully in a Role Play.
Sample Role Card: CREOLE MERCHANT
1. Students have been assigned background information on reasons for discontent among the creoles and the mestizos, and the conditions for slaves in Spanish America. 2. Teacher hands out “ROLE CARDS” to several of the more verbal students in the class. Each role card contains information about an imaginary but historically accurate person in one of the following six groups: Viceroy, Peninsulare, Creole, Mestizo, Indian, Slave, Former Slave. More than one card for each group can be printed up. 3. Teacher hands out “COUNCIL MEMBER” Cards to students who will serve as representatives from the Council of the Indies who will hear testimony from the Role Card holders. 4. After giving each group time to read over the information on the cards and to ask questions, the Role Card holders begin to give their “testimony” before the Council. Council members may choose to ask follow-up questions of the “witnesses” and are expected to keep record of testimony. 5. After the Role Play is over, students are expected to write out recommendations to keep order in the colonies: either by giving in to reform demands or by increasing military aid. Other options (changing Viceroy leadership) could also be considered.
Instructions: Your name is Jose Pendilla. Your Grandfather and Grandmother came over directly from Spain and your Grandfather was a high government official and became very influential and wealthy. Since you were born in the colony you cannot hold important government jobs, since these jobs go only to the Peninsulares (Spanish-born). You think that Creoles like yourself are better able to know what’s best for the colonies and should be allowed to serve in high government posts. You are becoming more and more upset at the decisions made by the Peninsulares and feel that Creoles need more privileges. Church positions are taken only by Spanishborn. You feel this is unfair too. Slaves should be treated better, also, or they will begin to rebel against the Spanish authority.
Sample Role Card: FORMER SLAVE
Instructions: Your name is Abu. You and a small group of former slaves live in the mountains in a “maroon” community. Some of the slaves have been set free by their masters because they have earned their freedom; others have run away from their masters; others were allowed to wander off the plantations because the persons in charge did not keep good security. You feel that the laws which affect the slaves are basically pretty good, but very few masters live by them. The masters violate the law by severely whipping slaves for almost any excuse. Some days slaves are allowed to do very little work; other days they are whipped and beaten if they slack off for a few moments to rest. And there is really no “place” in Spanish society for the former slave—no one wants him around. There are very few ways a former slave can “make good” in this place. And the government better face factsin some places the blacks outnumber the whites by more than eighttoone! And blacks outnumber the whites by more than eighttoone! And they are getting fed up! Something’s got to be done about these masters who do not respect the laws, and ignore the human rights of their slaves ... or there is going to be real trouble!
Sample Council Member Card:
As a member of the Council of the Indies, it is your job to hear testimony from the different residents of SpanishAmerican colonies. You want to keep order in the colonies, and keep any rebellion from spreading. You are becoming more and more aware of the Creole demands for more political and social freedoms; and the Mestizos aren’t too happy either. But you realized the importance of a strong social order that has been built up over the last two hundred years. You don’t want to do anything that would upset the social structure of the colonies too much.
The Slaves are protected by law from harsh treatment. The Catholic Church believes that all men are equal in the sight of God. You are aware that Slaves that have escaped to places like Cuba could not be sold again or returned to their Masters because they wished to become converts to Catholicism.
Does the Council want to make it easier or more difficult for Slaves to become Freedmen by purchasing themselves through earning the money and paying their way out of slavery?
What should the Council do for the Slaves, without upsetting the Landowners too much?
After class discussion and sharing ideas about various conditions and what should or could be done, the teacher should hand out a list of Slave Codes from the Siete Partidas, which contains many of the regulations governing legal rights of slaves and masters. Students should see a discrepancy between some of these laws and the “testimony” of former slaves given in class.
Homework assignment: Reading from The Autobiography of a Runawav Slave, by Esteban Montejo.
Objectives After completing the lesson students should be able
C. Lesson Three “Should the Haitian Slaves Revolt in 1791?”
1. To describe the issues facing the leaders of the San Domingo revolution in 1790; 2. To empathize to a certain extent with those facing the decision to lead a violent revolt; 3. To evaluate key factors in the decisionmaking process.
1. Teacher hands out a “Fact Sheet” to the students, which includes necessary information about the coming revolution (see below); 2. Teacher divides the class into two groups. One group is instructed to use the “Fact Sheet” information to support the coming revolution; the other group is told to oppose the revolution using the same facts. 3. After giving students adequate time to sift out appropriate “facts”, the teacher moderates the debate between the two groups of San Domingo citizens and residents. Some are Landowners, some are Mulattoes, some are Freedmen, some are Slaves. 4. After the debate, the teacher informs the class how in fact the Haitian revolution did come into being, and particularly the role of Toussaint L’Ouverture.
Samples from the Fact Sheet
1. The plantation slave: “The Manager patrols us with several foremen armed with long whips. If we dare take a rest we are whipped—women and old folks, too. We work all year planting and harvesting sugar cane. Our huts have no windows, only a door, with a floor of packed earth, and straw for beds.” 2. The escaped slave: “There are over three thousand of us. Maroons we call ourselves. We live in the mountains and live in bands. We cannot live as slaves and never will return to the plantation alive. Meanwhile, we wait. Our time will come.” 3. The French thinker, Diderot: “Let the colonies such as San Domingo be destroyed rather than be the cause of so much evil, that is slavery.” 4. The French priest and writer Abbe Raynal: “Natural liberty is the right which nature has given to every one to dispose of himself according to his will.” 5. The white master: “The French home government can pass what laws it want to. We will not allow any interfering with the ways we choose to treat and keep our slaves. If we treat our dogs better than our slaves, that is our business.” 6. Geography factors: San Domingo (Haiti) has several mountain ranges, with rivers and valleys and plains between the hills. There is burning sun and a humid atmosphere. Plantations are miles apart from each others. Towns are small. There are only two cities: PortauPrince and Cap Francois (called Le Cap). 7. Mulatto laws: “Free Mulattoes must serve three years in a police organization hunting down runaways. Also Mulattoes must join the local militia, but cannot receive high rank or enter into the government military department. Also Mulattoes may not become professional workers or serve in public government offices.” 8. Race laws: “Persons with mixed white and black parentage are assumed to be black, with appropriate restrictions on behavior. A person with 127 white parts and 1 black part is called a sangmFle, and full citizenship is denied to him.” 9. Other Mulatto laws: (17581791)—“Mulattoes are not to own swords or other weapons; cannot dress in the European style; are not allowed to plan meetings; are not allowed passports for long stays in Europe; and no official documents are to be drawn up for them by priests or other officials.” 10. An observer’s report of San Domingo: “Planters are born to own slaves. Slaves are born to be slaves. In this country everyone is in his place. And that’s it.” 11. Wealth of the colony (1767): Exports to France
Also: Coffee, tobacco, hides, molasses, cocoa, and rum of high quality is produced.
- Raw sugar 72,000,000 pounds
- White dye 51,000,000 pounds
- Indigo dye 1,000,000 pounds
- Cotton 2,000,000 pounds
12. Constituent Assembly in Paris (May, 1791): “All Mulattoes who are children of free parents should have the vote.” 13. San Domingo plantation owner (March 1791): “I have cut off the heads of my rebel slaves and placed them on spikes as an example to any others with similar ideas.” 14. Words of a voodoo African cult song kept alive in San Domingo: “We swear to destroy the whites and all that they possess; let us die rather than fail to keep this vow. 15. Toussaint L’Ouverture, rebel leader: “We will defend our liberty or perish. Brave soldiers, generals, officers, and rank and file, do not listen to the wicked ... I am a soldier, I am afraid of no man and I fear only God. If I must die, it shall be as a soldier of honor with no fear of reproach.” 16. Battle song of the black soldier:
Follow-up: After the debate and an explanation by the teacher as to the decision by Toussaint to enter the rebellion, students could be given copies of some of Toussaint’s speeches, found in Tyson’s book, Toussaint L’Ouverture.
- “To the attack, grenadier,
- Who gets killed, that’s his affair.
- Forget your ma,
- Forget your pa,
- To the attack grenadier,
- Who gets killed, that’s his affair.”
Captivating historical novel set in Haiti, with vivid descriptions of the slave revolts of Macandl and Bouckman, which students should find fascinating.Comitas, Lambro and David Lowenthal, eds., Slaves, Free Men, Citizens: West Indian Perspectives. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press, 1973.
This book examines the conflicts and shaping forces of multiracial societies, using eighteenth and nineteenthcentury Latin America as its focal point. Particularly helpful are the articles on freed blacks and Mulattoes; several are firstperson articles, and bring out gutfeeling attitudes of blacks and whites.Foner, Laura and Eugene D. Genovese, eds., Slavery in the New World. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: PrenticeHall, Inc., 1969.
A collection of enlightening readings on West Indian Slave Laws, the Sugar Plantation Labor System in Jamaica, and comparisons of slave treatment in different countries in Latin America. Good bibliography by geographical areas.Genovese, Eugene D., From Rebellion to Revolution. AfroAmerican Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979.
A helpful general work on the subject of slave revolts.Goveia, Elsa V., Slave Societies in the British Leeward Islands at the End of the 18th Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965.
A wellwritten welldocumented volume, including an excellent chapter on British slave laws and their enforcement in the British Islands.James, C.L.R., The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.
A remarkably dramatic and detailed account of the events and causes of the Haitian revolution. A Marxist, obviously an admirer of Toussaint, the author skillfully paints an heroic picture of the “Black Consul,” while clarifying many of the complex social and political events of the revolution.Montejo, Esteban, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, edited by Miguel Barnet. New York: Pantheon Books, 1968.
Divided into three sections, “Slavery”, “Abolition”, and “The War of Independence,” this remarkable firstperson account of Cuban slavery is chockfull of countryside anecdotes, amusing stories, and graphic battle scenes. Recommended student reading.Pescatello, Ann, ed., The African in Latin America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975.
A valuable general collection of articles. Of particular interest is “Autobiography of a TeenAge Slave”, which describes the life of favored slave, religious instruction and the workings of self-purchase (coartacion) in Cuba.Price, Richard, The Guiana Maroons. An Historical and Bibliographical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1976.
Over 100 pages of helpful bibliography.Price, Richard, ed., Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
The authoritative work on the subject of runaways in the French, Spanish, English and Dutch colonies. Rich in statistics and bibliographical assistance.Rout, Leslie B., Jr., The African Experience in Spanish America. 1502 to the Present Day. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Useful statistical charts on slave rebellions and resistance; good analysis of Spanish policy toward slave uprisings. Of limited use, but helpful.Ruben, Vera and Arthur Tuden, eds., Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1977.
An encyclopedia of helpful articles with over 100 pages of information on slave revolts, resistance and maroonage, in Haiti and Jamaica.Tyson, George F, Jr., ed., Toussaint L’Ouverture. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: PrenticeHall, Inc., 1973.
Following an excellent introduction, the editor has assembled valuable letters, declarations and decrees penned by Toussaint. Following sections include evaluations of Toussaint by domestic and foreign contemporaries; as well as nineteenth and twentieth-century politicians and historians.
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