James Tredwell, the 1816 Haitian Constitution and the Migration to Haiti
October 30, 2014 1 Comment
This entry is not about the British cricketer, but about the United States’ Black (African-American) who travelled to Haiti in 1817 and brought back with him the first English version of the refurbished 1816 Haitian Republican Constitution to become broadly quoted in the U.S. and Atlantic print culture. In addition to the Constitution, he also published other documents that Joseph B. Inginac gave him. Most of these documents related to French intrigues attempting to recapture Haiti. But in his brief introduction to the papers, Tredwell included a letter that Inginac gave him with an answer to his question about the possibilities of U.S. Blacks relocating in Haiti.
It hit the Northern Atlantic news much like it would have been with blogs today: The Boston Centinel was the first to spread the news and then other papers and publications picked up in fragments. The news of Tredwell’s publication was reblogged in several papers. These news included portions of Inginac’s letter and just a few of the articles. This was the first time that the Haitian government was passing a direct invitation to U.S. Blacks to settle in Haiti, and it did so through the promise of citizenship. That’s why the constitution was at the center of the invitation. In fact, without the constitution there would have been no invitation.
The so-called “Pétion’s Constitution of 1816,” introduced articles that guaranteed citizenship to all “Indians and Africans” regardless of their birthplace (See Ada Ferrer). Runaways from nearby islands appeared to have responded to the news by fleeing toward Haiti. Others who were not enslaved also responded and relocated to Haiti (i.e., Joseph Saint Remy‘s family) What Tredwell brought to the U.S. was the same type of invitation, but Inginac worded his letter in such a martial and masculine tone that is hardly surprising why it was filtered by the U.S. media. For example, as part of his invitation to U.S. Blacks who were living under a racist society, Inginac wrote: “Let them come and show to white men that there yet exists coloured and black men who can raise a fearless front, secured from insult and from injury.” Here Inginac was just warming up. He was obviously very upset, and his source of anger was the American Colonization Society, which, according to the chattering of sea captains, it wanted to deport all U.S. Blacks to Africa. Inginac knew this type of scheme well because it had been part of the French colonization project a few years back. And it is within this context that we should understand what he said here:
Well! Let them know how to oppose to persecution the firmness of men made to be respected. Let them abandon an ungrateful country, which repulses them, and seek elsewhere a more hospitable land, before violence drags them into regions uninhabitable by civilized men… The Republic of Hayti has no more to fear of invasion than that from the United States.
Of course, none of this belligerent rhetoric transpired in the U.S. papers; you would have to read the original document in Tredwell’s publication to get it. The Boston Centinel did not want to raise more the specter of Haiti as a source of fear. Their interest was to promote the emigration of free Blacks to the island as opposed to colonizing Africa. And it was their version of the news that was reblogged in no less than 7 other papers along the U.S. eastern coast and in Britain. But by extracting the causes of Inginac’s anger, the papers presented the news of Haiti’s invitation out of context. As it appeared in the Atlantic print culture, Inginac’s voice came out as a desperate call for immigrants– a grave mistake, because the reason why Inginac had given Tredwell those papers, including the constitution and the letter he wrote himself, was to rescue U.S. Blacks from the ACS’s schemes.
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