Notes on reading Black agency in Guatemala: dismantling Black slavery while upholding White supremacy?

From my research site:

Caribbean & Atlantic Bibliographies

Blacks and Blacksness.jpgFront Cover

In “Becoming free, becoming Ladino,” Catherine Komisaruk argues that the Guatemalan Blackslavery crumbled before the 1824 dramatic emancipation. Though she acknowledged the arguments of other historians pointing to external causes (from the Haitian Revolution to the emancipation of the Spanish-American colonies), she relies more on internal and gradual developments to explain slavery’s demise.

“By the late eighteenth century slavery in Guatemala was increasingly unsustainable. Slaves were availing themselves of legal institutions and social structures to unravel their enslavement, and as the numbers of people of African descent are in free society, so too did the possibilities of slave liberation. Kingship and social networks, as well as passing unstopped into free society, continued as primary mechanisms of emancipation, while the state and reigning social ideologies persisted in legitimizing manumissions… The emancipation law of 1824 essentially ratified a long-term social transformation that was already almost complete.”


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Defiant Haiti: Free-Soil Runaways, Ship Seizures and the Politics of Diplomatic Non-Recognition in the Early Nineteenth Century

Johnhenry Gonzalez has written an article with engaging stories and on a topic that deserves even more attention.

I finally got to read Johnhenry Gonzalez’s article published in the latest issue of Abolition & Slavery 36:1 (2015): 124-135.  It deals with an understudied topic, but one that is important to me.  If this is an indication of a trend, I am glad for the budding interest in post-revolutionary Haiti (1820s) and the Atlantic World.

Runaways escaping by boat

Runaways escaping by boat

It is only at the end of the article that the reader notices that Gonzalez had nicely weaved in pirates’ and runaway accounts into a foreign policy study. Gonzalez knows that Prince Mary’s remarkable autobiography fits perfectly when talking about runaways from the Caicos’ islands. So, there she is, explaining readers that a lack of a sugar plantation system does not mean a more benevolent slavery, which only existed in the imagination of a few slavery apologists.  Attention to stories like hers bubbles up more than curiosity. It helps contrast the appalling lives of slaves on the Turks and Caicos islands with the freedom that boat-runaways most had gained in Haiti.

Gonzalez insists that Jean-Pierre Boyer’s prolonged regime (1818-1843) should be considered as part of an epoch of sputtering transition toward emancipation.  How did his rule managed to survive for so long in the midst of the sugar archipelago, encircled by the very same islands that were models of intensified slave labor?  And what about the legendary internal divisions? To explain his case, Gonzalez builds upon Ada Ferrer’s work on early Haitian Free-soil policy but does not stay there.  He soon moves toward a more time-honored position and brings with him an underlying assumption.  For Gonzalez, Haitian leaders (principally Boyer) quietly manipulated the “organic” 1816 Constitution for diplomatic ends (more like a bait):

While Pétion and Boyer’s policies of emancipation, free soil, and land reform grew organically from the aspirations of Haiti’s formerly enslaved citizens, these leaders also tacitly used these policies to threaten and punish the hostile British and North American governments. (132)

Here he reminds me of John Edward Baur’s article “Mulatto Machiavelli, Jean-Pierre Boyer, and The Haiti of His Day.” Baur focused on Boyer and presented him as the ideal Haitian practitioner of realpolitik, with an innate talent to negotiate Haiti’s survival.  Thankfully, Gonzalez’s portrayal of Boyer is more nuanced.  He showed Boyer as part of his time and in a mix with the masses of people who are not short in historical agency. But generally speaking, Baur would have agreed with Gonzalez’s main arguments.  It is at the moments when Gonzalez differed strikingly from Baur that the reader notices the author’s major contributions to historiography.

For example, Gonzalez highlighted a point that should have been obvious but is often ignored, one that Baur also assumed: Boyer’s Free Soil policy resulted in a better survival strategy than that of Jean Jaques Dessalines or Henri Christophe’s.  However, differently from Baur, Gonzalez’s understands that Haiti behaved defiantly against the US and British authorities (through consuls and traders) simply because it could do so at this time in history.  No imperial power was dominant enough in the Caribbean to submit Haiti into raw obedience– a situation clearly different after 1915 with the US invasion.  In other words, Gonzalez places Haiti solidly within a more nuanced milieu.  Still, Baur would have supported Gonzalez when explaining Pétion and Boyer’s motivations for their foreign policy of defiance: it was a retaliation against the British and US non-recognition policy.

Haitian officials sign a treaty with France. Date 1825.

Haitian officials sign a treaty with France. Date 1825.

One of the most interesting points in Gonzalez’s article is where he offers a distinct angle for considering the 1825 Indemnity Treaty. Far from justifying getting the country in (eternal) debt, he shows Boyer in a contrasting light. On the one hand, his Free-Soil policy makes him look like a successful postcolonial leader. On the other, however, Boyer looks like a fool when he gave in to French demands. On this point, Gonzalez departs from Baur, who had seen Boyer in 1825 as a prisoner of circumstances.  Boyer had alternatives.

Though many scholars and non-scholars have returned to this moment (see Joan Dayan, page 161 and Frédérique Beauvois). and have wondered about Boyer’s thoughts, most have deemed it as a mistake. Gonzalez makes Boyer’s submission seems even more absurd.

In this light, the French indemnity of 1825 appears especially tragic not simply because it siphoned away Haitian wealth and helped it along the path towards economic ruin, but also because Boyer’s government may have had sufficient military power, domestic political support, and neutral or clandestine trading partners to have continued defying France and Britain well beyond 1825.

Regardless of how inconsistent Boyer’s regime appeared, the most obvious beneficiaries of the Haitian revolutionary legacy were the few runaways from nearby islands, particularly those from the Turks and Caicos.

As with every good piece of scholarship, this article leaves many unanswered questions, which are the seeding grounds for future research.  How much can we speculate about Boyer’s authority and actual power? What role did the people play in shaping the law and foreign policy? How did enslaved families learned about the news in Haiti? Fortunately, recent research is helping find and better understand the runaways’ flights.

Sibylle Fischer on the early Haitian Law

Re-reading: Sybelle Fischer’s Modernity Disavowed.

Look here for a post on this book at the blog for Caribbean & Atlantic Bibliographies

Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Fischer’s book is always refreshing and helpful. I realized how much it had influenced me when in a meeting with the author I told a story from the book back to her without realizing that I had actually learned it from her book. I came back to it today to review what she had written on the early Haitian law in chapters 1113. Her in-depth study of the earlier constitutions, particularly that of 1801 (Toussaint Louverture’s) is crucial to my study on the Haitian law. Also helpful is how she projects these constitutions forward in time and see their implications for the rest of the 19th century.

Sarah Franklin’s review focuses on Fischer’s powerful analyzes of Haiti’s postrevolutionary or postcolonial condition. Franklin explains Fischer’s contributions in this area similarly to how I see it.

She notes that the […]  implicit incongruity of forming a society around both racial equality and national sovereignty could not be reconciled. Additionally, her analysis of Haiti’s post-revolutionary constitutions provides new, much-needed insight into the society. She notes that these documents clearly articulate the struggles that lay ahead for Haiti as it formulated its own identity at a time when Europeans were extending their colonies into Africa and Asia and scientific racism was increasingly viewed as a ba- sis for sound policy decisions. Moreover, within the Caribbean and the larger slave-holding world, Haiti was a contagion requiring quarantine and it became increasingly isolated. Thus, Haiti, founded on principles of revolutionary antislavery and personal rights, became consumed by issues of [the] nation and national sovereignty. “Clearly, ideas of citizenship, nationality, and rights of residence undergo severe changes in the first half of the nineteenth century” (244). As Fischer argues, the transnational ideology that provided the foundations of Haiti had to be cast aside, or disavowed, in order for Haiti to survive in a world that had chosen a path of borders and nations.

Franklin’s points in bullets (with my thoughts on reading Fischer):

1- Racial equality was incongruent with the European model of the nation, and thus, impossible to realize (make it happen) under European hegemony.

2- The early Haitian constitutions were more than constitutions (more similar to declarations of independence); they were documents that emerged from a collective of diverse people who were using the drafting of these constitutions as a way to assert their claims to perpetual freedom. The nation was not for them the bourgeoisie ideal that Genovese saw.

3- An isolated “contagion”:  I also agree with Franklin and Fischer in that the Haitian nation missed out in the increasingly fast and copious connections that the new American nations (former Spanish America) were developing among themselves, with the U.S. and Europe. Look for example at how the 1823 Monroe Doctrine ignored Haiti and then the 1826 Panamá Congress. Even when France granted conditional recognition after 1825, Haiti continued being ostracized by the U.S. and other American and European countries. And even when countries did recognize Haiti, it was more a token than a real recognition, which should have meant formal cultural exchanges, less lopsided trade, etc.

Haytian papers. A collection of the very interesting proclamations and other official documents, together with some account of the rise, progress, and present state of the kingdom of Hayti. By Prince Sanders [i.e., Saunders]

Haytian papers. A collection of the very interesting proclamations and other official documents, together with some account of the rise, progress, and present state of the kingdom of Hayti. By Prince Sanders [i.e., Saunders]

4- Transnationalism turns inside out. This is for me an important issue, not so much because through this analysis Fischer looks into future ideologies of resistance used against the U.S. invasion after 1915, but because it provides a well-thought explanation forthe oddity of the Haitian law at its beginnings, before it “turned inside out.” Franklin noticed, as I did, how Fischer’s idea of an anti-nationaltransnationalism thatwas embedded in the writing of the early Haitian law helps explain the recurrent clause assuring the world that Haiti was not going to export its revolution. Such a clause was necessary because the Haitian law was,unmistakenly, a threat to other nations, not simply because it offered refuge to all of those whohad been persecuted by European colonialism (i.e., Spanish-American patriots and runaways), but it diluted its borders with its vague attempt in defining who a Haitian was. If the enslaved families from North Caicos could legally call themselves Haitians, and taken steps toward assuring such an identity by boarding boats and crossing the channel of 130 miles separating them from Hispaniola, then, no nation, not even those who were not in the vicinity, couldmaintain its borders sealed; no country could articulate a monolithic vision of the nation while there was a nation without borders– better said, with borders that protected its citizens from outside threat, but was open to those who would come to stay as natives. The 1824 migrationexemplifies this point. The party (the euphoria for the migration) was over after the American Colonization Society was able toverbalize, more persuasively than before, the threat that an open-borders Haiti meant for the U.S. imperial projects.

Turks and Caicos Islands

Turks and Caicos Islands

Another related point that Fischer offers, which might required more space, is the concept that the nation and the state grew gradually apart; that while the people and the law held on to revolutionary ideals, the state moved away, not simply because it became more authoritarian, but because it rejected the transnationalism that had given Haiti its reason to exist. Such a notion is also crucial for Robert Futton’s Roots of Haitian Despotism. It links to my study by helping frame the early years, prior to the 1826 Rural Code, at a time when the state was still weak enough for the nation (as opposed to the state) to be able to exercise disproportionate influence in domestic as well as foreign affairs.

Further reading (not included in the text above)

Accilien, C., J. Adams, Elmide Méléance, and U. Jean-Pierre. Revolutionary Freedoms: A History of Survival, Strength and Imagination in Haiti. Caribbean Studies Press, 2006.

Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick. Haiti: The Breached Citadel. Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2004.

Bongie, Chris. “Monotonies of History‘: Baron de Vastey and the Mulatto Legend of Derek Walcott’s ’Haitian Trilogy.” Yale French Studies, no. 107 (2005): 70–107

Brière, Jean-François. “Du Sénégal Aux Antilles: Gaspard-Théodore Mollien En Haiti, 1825-1831.” French Colonial History 8 (2007): 71–79.

Calarge, Carla, Raphael Dalleo, and Luis Duno-Gottberg. Haiti and the Americas. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2013.

Daut, Marlene Leydy. “The ‘Alpha and Omega’ of Haitian Literature: Baron de Vastey and the U.S. Audience of Haitian Political Writing.” Comparative Literature Studies 64, no. 1 (2012): 49–72.

Dayan, Joan. Haiti, History, and the Gods. 1995.

Dubois, L. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Harvard University Press, 2005.

Smith, Matthew J. “Footprints on the Sea: Finding Haiti in Caribbean Historiography.” Small Axe 18:1 43 (2014): 55-71.

Fatton, Robert. Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002.

Ferrer, Ada. Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution. Book, Whole. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

———. “Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic.” The American Historical Review 117:1 (2012): 40–66.

———. “The Archive and the Atlantic’s Haitian Revolution.” Haitian History–Sepinwall: New Perspectives, 2012, 139.

Fick, Carolyn E. “The Haitian Revolution and the Limits of Freedom: Defining Citizenship in the Revolutionary Era.” Social History 32, no. 4 (11): 394–414.

Forsdick, Charles. “Situating Haiti: On Some Early Nineteenth-Century Representations of Toussaint Louverture.” International Journal of Francophone Studies 10, no. 1–2 (March 7, 2007): 17–34.

Gaffield, Julia. “‘Liberté, Indépendance’: Haitian Anti-Slavery and National Independence.” In A Global History of Anti-Slavery Politics in the Nineteenth Century, edited by W. Mulligan and M. Bric, 17–36. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Garraway, Doris Lorraine. Tree of Liberty: Cultural Legacies of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2008.

Ghachem, Malick W. The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution. Book, Whole. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Girard, Philippe R. “The ‘Dark Star’: New Scholarship on the Repercussions of the Haitian Revolution.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 36, no. 72 (2011): 229–47.

Gonzalez, Johnhenry. “The War on Sugar: Forced Labor, Commodity Production and the Origins of the Haitian Peasantry, 1791–1843.” Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012. –

James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. Vintage Books, 1989.

Jenson, Deborah. Beyond the slave narrative: Politics, sex, and manuscripts in the Haitian revolution.  Liverpool University Press, 2011.

Johnson, S.E. The Fear of French Negroes: Transcolonial Collaboration in the Revolutionary Americas. University of California Press, 2012.

Jones, Christina Violeta. “Revolution and Reaction: Santo Domingo during the Haitian Revolution and Beyond, 1791–1844.” Ph.D., Howard University, 2008.

Joseph, Celucien L. “‘The Haitian Turn’: An Appraisal of Recent Literary and Historiographical Works on the Haitian Revolution.” Journal of Pan African Studies 5, no. 6 (2012): 37–55.

Kaisary, Philip. The Haitian Revolution in the Literary Imagination: Radical Horizons, Conservative Constraints. University of Virginia Press, 2014.

Kaussen, Valerie Mae. “Romancing the Peasant: History and Revolution in the Modern Haitian Novel.” Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2000.

Kwon, Yun Kyoung. “Ending Slavery, Narrating Emancipation: Revolutionary Legacies in the French Antislavery Debate and ‘Silencing the Haitian Revolution,’ 1814–48.” Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012.

Leger, Natalie Marie. “‘A Tragedy of Success!’: Haiti and the Promise of Revolution.” Cornell University, 2012.

Mayes, April, Yolanda C Martín, Carlos Ulises Decena, Kiran Jayaram, and Yveline Alexis. “Transnational Hispaniola: Toward New Paradigms in Haitian and Dominican Studies.” Radical History Review 2013, no. 115 (2013): 26–32.

Middelanis, Carl-Hermann. “Blending with Motifs and Colors: Haitian History Interpreted by Edouard Duval Carrie.” Small Axe 9, no. 2 (2005): 109–23.

Mongey, Vanessa. “A Tale of Two Brothers: Haiti’s Other Revolutions.” The Americas 69, no. 1 (2012): 37–60.

Munro, M., and E. Walcott-Hackshaw. Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution And Its Cultural Aftershocks. University of the West Indies Press, 2006.

Nesbitt, Nick. Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment. The University of Virginia Press, 2008.

_______ “Turning the Tide: The Problem of Popular Insurgency in Haitian Revolutionary Historiography.” Small Axe 27 (2008).

Nessler, Graham. “The Shame of the Nation: The Force of Re-Enslavement and the Law of ‘Slavery’ under the Jean-Louis Ferrand in Santo Domingo, 1804-1809.” NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 86, no. 1/2 (2012): 5–28.

Nessler, Graham Townsend. “A Failed Emancipation? The Struggle for Freedom in Hispaniola during the Haitian Revolution, 1789–1809,” 2011.

Nicholls, David. From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour, and National Independence in Haiti. Rutgers University Press, 1996.

Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. “The Haitian Revolution in Interstices and Shadows: A Re-Reading of Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World.” Research in African Literatures 35, no. 2 (2004): 114–27.

Past, Mariana. “Reclaiming the Haitian Revolution: Race, Politics and History in Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature,” 2006.

Pisarz-Ramirez, Gabriele. “‘The Darkest Is Before the Break of Day.’ Rhetorical Uses of Haiti in the Works Fo Early African-American Writers.” Atlantic Studies 4, no. 1 (March 2007): 37–50.

Popkin, Jeremy D. “Race, Slavery, and the French and Haitian Revolutions.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 37, no. 1 (2003): 113–22.

Ramsey, Kate. “Performances of Prohibition: Law, ‘Superstition,’ and National Modernity in Haiti.” Columbia University, 2002.

Reinsel, Amy. “Poetry of Revolution: Romanticism and National Projects in Nineteenth-Century Haiti.” Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2008.

Scott, David. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. Duke University Press, 2004.

Scott, Rebecca J. “Paper Thin: Freedom and Re-Enslavement in the Diaspora of the Haitian Revolution.” Law and History Review 29, no. 04 (2011): 1061–87.

Semley, Lorelle D. “To Live and Die, Free and French Toussaint Louverture’s 1801 Constitution and the Original Challenge of Black Citizenship.” Radical History Review 2013, no. 115 (2013): 65–90.

Sepinwall, Alyssa Goldstein. Haitian History: New Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Sheller, Mimi. “The Army of Sufferers: Peasant Democracy in the Early Republic of Haiti.” New West Indian Guide 74, no. I/2 (2000): 33–56.

Sheridan, Richard B. “From Jamaican Slavery to Haitian Freedom: The Case of the Black Crew of the Pilot Boat, Deep Nine.” Journal of Negro History, 1982, 328–39.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press, 2002.

West, M.O., W.G. Martin, and F.C. Wilkins. From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International Since the Age of Revolution. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Metacognition | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University

Metacognition | Center for Teaching | Vanderbilt University.

Nancy Chick writes about using Metacognition in the classroom, but her suggestions are also relevant for individual usage. Keeping a weekly, or bi-weekly (depending on the intensity of your research) reflective journal is as helpful for students as it is for faculty. The question that remains for me is how to walk the line between disclosure and privacy, particularly about research material and ideas.

H-LatAm REVIEWS: Long views of economic history in Americas and the Atlantic World

Date Posted: Fri, 06 Nov 2014 13:03:34 -0500

Dear Neteros

The review project in H-LatAm was established in cooperation with the Conference of Latin American History to promote the study and analysis of book monographs (in any language) focused or related to Latin American History. The reviews could be written in Portuguese, Spanish, or English. The vision included a feature not common in traditional journals: to encourage the discussion of the publication. Obviously, there are books with a greater appeal than others, but I would like to emphasize that all neteros can utilize the publication of an online review to initiate further debates. These deliberations should not necessarily contain a controversial plot.

Today we publish two reviews. They both center on economics and differently from the common history monograph, have a link to present-day events. Xabier Lamikiz, from University of the Basque Country, reviews Elvira Vilches’ New World Gold: Cultural Anxiety and Monetary Disorder in Early Modern SpainNew World Gold

And Richard J. Salvucci, from Trinity University, examines Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato’s Industry and Revolution: Social and Economic Change in the Orizaba Valley, Mexico.

industry and revolution

Lamikiz tells us (in Spanish) that Vilches’ book reads well, covers a key and necessary topic, which fills a neglected space, but he would have wanted more in regards to silver’s interactions with gold. Salvucci evidently enjoyed reading Gómez-Galvarriato’s book and let us know that few books on economic history are so well written and cover so much time.

I want to thank our reviewers for their contributions, and I hope that you all neteros would find them useful.

I am including here the links to the reviews:

Lamikiz’ New World Gold

Salvucci’s Industry and Revolution


Dennis R. Hidalgo


Lynching and the Susquehannocks


Racial lynching, the tortuous spectacle of killing non-Whites without impunity, seems to have a unique tradition in United States. Certainly, people of color in colonial conditions all over the world have occasionally joined those in the U.S., who, without the protection of the law, have been forced to perform pain and death in public for no other crime than living among Whites. But the intensity and length of this practice in the U.S. have no rivals. Even the few late 19th and 20th centuries African states ruled by White minorities that practiced it, did so for a much shorter time.

Lynching is not the same as other racial brutalities. Differently, from what Las Casas wrote about the Spanish-Indian violence (even when exaggerating), lynching is not collateral violence that simply derives from an unfair system of labor or from social inequalities and acts of conquest. And in contrast to other forms of racial or ethnic exterminations (i.e., Nazi, Rwandan, Cambodian, Japanese), lynching is done, at most, against a handful of victims at a time and in public for the sadistic satisfaction of onlookers. Though extermination is the ultimate goal, the immediate aim is to plant terror within the non-White communities– often emasculating young males. In most cases, an overwhelmingly large-group descend on one or a few unsuspecting bystanders—a sort of super-bullying. And it shows no distinction of color, as long as the victims are not perceived as White (i.e., Indians, Latinos, Romas and Blacks).

Bartolome de las casas

The main reason a public performance so opposed to publicized U.S.’s religious and civic values became hence socially and culturally ingrained is because its long historical roots. The regular whipping of Blacks in plantations is a formative part of the lynching culture, as some historians have already pointed out. Mimi Sheller wrote, “A differential valuing of white and black bodies, as well as of socially acceptable forms of male and female bodies, is one of the most enduring legacies of slavery.” 1 But the violence of U.S. frontiersmen toward Amerindians is very similar to what later evolved into lynching. Indeed, it was the mob-culture mentality, sometimes mixed up with ideals of patriotic vigilantism, that gave shaped to a more pervasive and acceptable culture of lynching. Though the large majority of U.S. nationalist historians apologize for the frontiersmen by explaining they were simply reacting to Amerindian attacks, the reality is that these settlers and rangers were invading indigenous communal lands. Specific acts of “retaliatory” violence carried out against Amerindians are at the foundation of the U.S. lynching tradition. One such case, the Conestoga massacre, illustrates the argument.


On the winter of 1763-4, pressed between aftershocks of the French and Indian War, and the opening of the Pontiac insurrection, Presbyterian Scots-Irish, were in no mood for Quaker doctrines of nonviolence. Unfortunately, for the Susquehannocks, their type had become the driving force of the Pennsylvanian frontier expansion, the “peaceable kingdom” of the Quaker Penn family. More alarming was that these freshly arrived Ulster-Scots speakers, accustomed to conflict over land in the British Isles, saw no difference among Native Americans, even when they have settled along the Western frontier and should have been familiar with the diversity of Amerindian cultures. They have crossed the Atlantic as immigrants from the Irish Ulster, a zone of imperial expansion with a long history of religious and ethnic violence, where legends of massacres echoed through folk narratives. Some even descended from Border Reivers who for centuries have kept the Anglo-Scottish border in a state of low-conflict war. These were veterans of border cultures, but like the Spanish Conquistadors, who had come to the New World embodying the ethos of the Spanish Reconquista, the Scots-Irish came to conquer and control in order to better their social and economic status.

Conestoga India Tow

At daybreak on Wednesday, December 14, 1763, an armed mob of these Scots-Irish, who had traveled through a snowy night from northern Lancaster, showed up at the reservation-like village of Conestoga Town, what today is Millersville, PA. Witnesses put their numbers between 50 to 100 restless young and “unmarried” men. They did not come to barter or talk peacefully with the Susquehannock, who had been reduced to this location after their lands and power had disappeared, and were alarmingly dwindling in numbers— a sign of things to come for “peaceful” or pacified indigenous groups. The rangers came only to kill. 

conestoga mannorThe Susquehannocks, who were part of the Iroquois-speaking network of Amerindians of the mid eastern band in North America, would not have expected this misfortune. They had lived in Conestoga for over sixty years, and held copies of the treaties signed with the Penn family— they were a living historical patrimony for the “peaceable” colony. Some even professed Christianity and played key roles in negotiations between the colonial government and other Amerindian groups. They had already begun the process of assimilation by inserting themselves into White society— albeit as a permanent underclass bartering, selling their own crafts and begging at local farms. Following its legal and moral obligations, the Penn colonial government had unwittingly extended over them a sort of welfare system that many non-Quaker White colonists resented, a social order similar to the Spanish-American “República de Indios,” which tried keeping Indians in a subservient state while offering them protection from the ravages of White Creole colonists.

The morning of the Boys’ visit, only about six Susquehannocks were in the village. The rest had stayed among White neighbors the night before while weathering the snow storm— the same one that the armed mob had walked through with a sense of urgency. What ensued was pure calamity. The frontiersmen attacked the six unarmed Susquehannocks mercilessly, not only killing them, but torturing, scalping and cutting them into pieces. Death arrived brutally, quickly and without warning or reasonable justification. The victims’ mutilated bodies, of people who simply happened to look like the combative Indians fighting for their lives on the Western frontier, laid on the floor as evidence of the Boys’ “heroic performance.”


Though a vocal minority protested vigorously, it seems that the majority’s apathy or subtle support increased the group’s resolve. The other fourteen Susquehannocks found refuge in the Lancaster’s local prison, which also served as a workhouse. Among the refugees were children and pregnant women. While they may have felt secured under the sheriff’s eye, in reality, they had only about two weeks of grace. Their location had been given away and their safety rendered useless. On December 27, the Boys, who had time to put their animus on ice, but did not, came down to Lancaster “equipped for murder.”  They seemed to have represented a silent majority of colonists when they stormed, once more, into the Castenogas’ lives to perform an even more grotesque act of terror and extermination. Again, mutilated body parts laid across the prison’s yard, representing the hardening of racial divisions.

Lancaster Jail

That was not the last of the Paxton Boy’s feats. They organized an even larger assembly of frontiersmen to march against the colony’s capital city, Philadelphia, threatening to kill more Amerindians if the colonial government did not give them protection against Amerindian resistances. As if holding letters of marque, they felt completely entitled to venture into and appropriating Indian land while covered by the British Majesty’s safety. Though they did not meet their economic goal, which was to acquire indigenous-owned lands, they changed politics for ever in Pennsylvania. The Penn dream of racial harmony came to a screeching halt, and Quakers lost their long-held political grip on colonial power. But, most importantly, they left a powerful precedent of justified terror and violence against the “other” non-White. The tacit support from the population at large helped explain the high level of atrocity this event reached, and how it gradually became part of folk legends and culture. The assassins never saw a day in court because they were never prosecuted (one has to question the potential implications of public memorialization of such acts).

mason dixon

Charles Mason, one of the two surveyors of the Mason-Dixon Line, took time away of his surveying to investigate why the people of Lancaster, with the King’s Highlanders in town, did not show much effort in stopping the violence and protecting the last of the Conestogas, as the Susquehannocks living in the Conestoga Town were called. After a mourning and investigative visit to the Lancaster jail in January 1765, to envision the acts and confirm the atrocities he had heard about, Mason wrote in his diary the following words, which represent the view of an outsider who could not make sense of the American mob-culture.

[I] left Brandywine and proceeded to Lancaster (distance about 35 miles) a town in Pennsylvania distant from Philadelphia 75 miles, bearing nearly duly west. What brought me here was my curiosity to see the place where was perpetrated last winter the horrid and inhuman murder of 26 Indians, Men, Women and children, leaving none alive to tell. These poor unhappy creatures had always lived under the protection of the Pennsylvania Government and had lands allotted them a few miles from Lancaster by the late celebrated William Penn, Esquire, Proprietor. They had received notice of the intention of some of the back inhabitants and fled to the Goal (jail) to save themselves. The keeper made the door fast, but it was broken open; and two men went in and executed the bloody scene; while about 50 of their party sat on horse back without; armed with guns, etc. Strange it was that the town as large as most market towns in England, never offered to oppose them, though its more probable they on request might have been assisted by a company of his Majesties Troops who were in the town… no honor to them! What was laid to the Indians charge was that they held a private correspondence with the enemy Indians. But this could never be proved against the men and the women and children (some in their mothers wombs that never saw light) could not be guilty. 2 (emphasis mine)

This is the Mason-Dixon Journal kept at the Library of Congress

This is the Mason-Dixon Journal kept at the Library of Congress

In the perpetrators mind, Amerindians of all kinds should be distrusted. Their religiosity did not matter; neither the many years they have lived peacefully within White society, nor to which community they belonged (to the peaceful or aggressive Indians). They have been forever racialized, reduced to an unbreakable racial category, in which all the Amerindians were one single group, and thus deserving of any type of violence.

Precedents like this one were soon followed by many similar acts and thus became normal practices wherever Amerindians lived amidst fertile lands. Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, only makes sense in the context of the Conestogas Massacre. Similarly, the lynching culture, already taking shape under the whip in plantations all over the Americas, add up just after considering violent acts like the one in Conestoga. With the Amerindians gradual decline in the East, the more this sort of violence was deployed against Blacks.

The Haitian American anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote about how power relations shape the production of history, and this may lead to a silencing of the past. In bringing up the historical connections that explain the enduring power of lynching we dig beneath the tranquil surface of national timelines in search for the hidden scripts that often determine unconscious acts of violence against the racialized “other.”

1- Mimi Sheller, Citizenship from Below: Erotic Agency and Caribbean Freedom (Duke University Press, 2012), Kindle Locations 117-118.

2- Charles Mason, and Jeremiah Dixon, The journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1969).

3- Michel-RolphTrouillot, Silencing the past: Power and the production of history (Beacon Press, 2012), 26.

An island or not?

San Juan edicifios

When is an island surely an island? In Puerto Rico is common to hear people living in San Juan and adjacent suburbs referring to the rest of the country as “the island.” The implication is that San Juan’s metro region is not a physical part of the island of Puerto Rico, but it is instead linked to the United States, the American continent, or perhaps, to the world—as if the rest of the island is not. It further implies that the metro region, with its modern buildings, large professional workforce, and vibrant cultural life to which the elite and foreign visitors regularly attend, cannot possibly be an island. There seems to be a long history behind this split. To the urban-obsessed Spanish colonists, strategic port cities like San Juan stood at the crux of a complex network of communication that connected the colonies to Cadiz, Seville and ultimately, Madrid. The closer you were to the ports where ships brought news, products and instructions from the metropole, the closer you were to power. It was a matter of the empire assigning value to geography and this, in turn, determining power relationships. Circumstances have not changed much today. Yet, notwithstanding tensions between urban and rural populations, this reference to the rest of the island, to what is beyond the metro area as the proper island is a genuine state of mind that imagines space and power in relation to distance from the metropole.


Indeed, an island does not need to be a piece of land completely surrounded by water to be called an island. In other words, an island does not have to display all the physical traits of an island to be such. It simply needs to be its image, something resembling an island. The Random House Dictionary (2013) suggests this as one of its definitions for the term island. And the geo-political history of the Peninsula of Samaná, in the Dominican Republic, seems to confirm this idea. Samaná history also helps explain the epistemological assumption that those in lower ranks of power need to be controlled. It is the erotic pull that draws control over exotic islands emitting their naturally rebellious charm. An island is, thus, the erotized fresh and vivacious female requiring domesticity.

John Thomson, “Haiti, Hispaniola or St. Domingo,”

For most of the modern period, the Samaná Peninsula has been in an ambiguous category: an undefined status between an island and a peninsula. Today we know that it is a peninsula linked on the ground to the rest of the island of Hispaniola, the second largest in the Caribbean Sea. But that is not how it always was.

24x36 Poster; Map Of Hispaniola Haiti Dominican Republic 1767; Antique Reprint

Historical documents are to blame for our current uncertainty of the region’s real physical status in the past. They often refer to Samaná as an island, and historical maps frequently show it as a separated piece of land, but sometimes not. The pattern with most documents seems to point to a change after the mid 19th century. Historians are now trying to determine the exact last time Samaná was referred to as an island. The idea is to find what may have changed its geographical status; why it is no longer an island? It seems that geological or other natural changes may have lifted up, or dried up the “estéros” or swamps that stood between Samaná and the rest of Hispaniola. Was it the 1824 earthquake? Could it have been the new farming and irrigating methods extracting water from the Yuna? One thing is sure, that the present-day mangrove swamps of Maria Trinidad Sanchez, along the Rincón River’s estuary, is what is left of a larger wetland isolating Samaná and covering the neck from Bahia Escocesa to Bahia de Samaná.

24x36 Poster; Map Of Hispaniola Haiti Dominican Republic 1762; Antique Reprint

My scholarly interest goes beyond simply searching for the “event” that changed Samaná from an island to a peninsula. The reports we have from historical records show a persistent ambiguity about the nature of this region. It is very probable, as some historians have pointed out, that Samaná’s enigma resulted from occasional natural changes. At different times, the Yuna and Rincón estuaries at the neck may have flooded the area making passage through it almost impossible (in fact, a few of the colonial stories point exactly to this kind of experience). It may also have been that the region may have finally risen above the sea level after 1842, making land-access to Samaná easier.

Yet, what is most fascinating to me is to see how and when Samaná is presented as an island, and when is not. Its physical ambiguity, being sometimes accessible through land and sometimes not, lends Samaná to imaginative manipulation. Since you could never be completely sure about what it was (an island or a peninsula), you may call it whatever you felt it was right at the moment. So, looking at the contexts of these references to Samaná may offer us an insight about past geo-political perceptions of the regions.

My argument is that the rhetorical process of making Samaná an island or peninsula, in writing or in drawing, reveals at least two things. First, calling it an island or not is a matter of convenience. Claims for ownership would impact this perception, of course. Second, the perceived physical distance of Samaná in the minds of the authors and cartographers. If the region was seen as easily reachable, then, there is no mention of it as being an island: the distance to Samaná from Puerto Plata as opposed to the distance from Santo Domingo or Port-au-Prince.

Constitution Hayti Samana

This document is a portion of the 1805 Haytian constitution, also known as the Dessalines Constitution (Julia Gaffield made an interesting discovery about this documentHere is her blog). As mentioned at the bottom of the piece featured above, Samaná is not only considered part of Hayti, but it is included as an island.

At this time, Hayti claimed the entire archipelago of Hispaniola–not only the major island, but also all the smaller islands, islets and cays near its coastline. But this was also a time for regrouping and consolidating the gains made with independence of 1804. Haytian leaders could not yet enforce their claim over the eastern side– or more accurately, they could not yet liberate the island’s eastern side from slavery and European colonial yoke (French émigrés in Samaná still owned enslaved Haitians). The Spanish Santo Domingo was still under the control of some obstinate French soldiers led by Louis Marie Ferrand, who had arrived with Leclerc in 1802, and survived the resounding defeat at the hands of the united Haytian forces.

Not only did Samaná appear far from Port-au-Prince, but Haytian claim for it was only in name. It had no soliders there yet. And there was no other practical way of reaching this roadless region from the Haytian capital (which was at its exact opposite), but through water, the same way you reached an island.

Late 18th Century French naturalists wrote extensively about the natural wonders of Samaná. This was at a time when French expansionists impulses were checked by the Spanish control of Hispaniola’s larger eastern region. The case was different in Samaná since here the Spanish had but a precarious hold. So, the French writers’ focus of attention on this region shows more than the region’s wonders. It reveals what they thought was within their reach of controlling. The Samaná region, island or not, was begging to be controlled. I see no reason why these perceptions of geography would not have influenced Haytian leaders in 1805.

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution – Simon Schama – Google Books

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution – Simon Schama – Google Books.

Front Cover Schama, a well-known art historian, jumped ships to write a highly evocative and detailed history that should be central to the Black Atlantic. He did so after his popular work on A History of Britain, which should have given him the research background he needed to have written this work. It is arguably a history that only a British scholar could have written, and thus, a much needed one against the blinding American patriotic narrative. We should expect that his critics are not a few–we will get to that later, and mostly from the United States’ side.

I regret not having read it before.

In a way, this is a “British Atlantic History” done in reverse to what has been happening from the United States shores, which has emphasized the position of the former British North American colonies (i.e., 13 colonies) within the broader context of the English-speaking Atlantic. Schama, instead, raises the voices of those who has been writing about Blacks outside of the traditional U.S. patriotic paradigm by showing, more evocative than most, how for Blacks the rhetoric of freedom was clearer from the British than from the U.S. Patriots’ side. In doing so, he is able to help revise U.S. Black History.

Postcolonial Ecofeminism (Robert J. C. Young)

1863_world_map_You would not come to this class to read and learn about what you would normally get from standard media. So, the title of Monday’s discussion should not be a complete surprise. Its newness may require that you would read and meditate about these issues more carefully than you would with more familiar topics. These types of topics, nevertheless, would surely help you appreciate the human experience on the other side of nationalism.
battle-algiersYou already know that in this context postcoloniality means the people’s ambivalent experience and subordinate position even after independence from a colonial power. In other words, it is that state in which a former colony has nominal sovereignty because the former master (or new foreign ones) has not left entirely or has taken on new forms of domination. The struggle for freedom, thus, continues, not so much by pushing the foreign away, but in redefining the social structures that continues to promote inequality and subordination, which colonialism donated to the new nation (“inherited from colonialism”).

But what do ecology and feminism have to do with postcoloniality?

morroRobert J. C. Young’s challenge in chapter 5 is simply asking us to appreciate the perspective of the women who struggled against colonial and later postcolonial domination in India and other parts of Asia and Africa. Their experience is not totally transferable to other postcolonial female experiences because each group had faced different set of trials and had had different types of needs. Rather, it is the overarching theme of resisting a modern patriarchal nationalism that puts them together in the same crowd.

iron-ladies-The section titled “Gender Politics in India” illustrates how notions about traditional roles for women are hard to reject. Even Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the great reformer who appropriated ‘feminized’ modes of struggle, came at times to reinforce, instead of rejecting, conventional Hindu and puritanical Victorian concepts of women and femininity. Young vindicated Gandhi, though, by showing that he genuinely realized that women’s politics was more radical than most nationalism. It argued for equitable relations between men and women, sustainable connections to the land, and a life-style and medicine that encourage collective health. These are the contributions of postcolonial women and their politics.

Medeiros Murmuring CoastIn “Gender and Modernity” Young threw us several ideas about modernity that could easily mystify us. On the one hand, he wrote that technology and a politics of egalitarianism defines modernity. On the other, he asserted that (mythical) cultural nationalists and their obsession for a fabled past, where women stayed at home and were submissive, is all part of modernity. But his more interesting contribution, by far, was that there are several types of modernities, that there are different types of Third World modern experiences, and that even the West represent a diversity of modernities (think about how different is New Zeeland from the U.S.). The best explanation of modernity, however, is Young’s, and it appears in this section: the interaction of the West with the Rest.

Kongo Astronauts presents Postcolonial Dilemna Track #03 (Unended) – A psychotronic Film from DR Congo (2014) – Curated by SPARCK in collaboration with Kongo Astronauts for FUSE 37-2/Speculation.

Kongo Astronauts presents Postcolonial Dilemna Track #03 (Unended) – A psychotronic Film from DR Congo (2014) – Curated by SPARCK in collaboration with Kongo Astronauts for FUSE 37-2/Speculation.

Women’s struggle for equality and sustainability is the epitome of the postcolonial predicament according to the section “Women’s Movement after Independence.” While nationalist movements sought desperately to present a unified face during the conflicts against the direct colonial rule, after independence, the same nationalists (i.e., Religious nationalism) who preached equality and freedom tried relegating women to submission. Since the role of women actually degenerated with the “nation,” postcolonial feminism had been at the forefront of a “politics of egalitarianism that supports diversity rather than the cultural uniformity demanded for nationalism.” (99)

The section “Feminism and ecology” shows how “macho” nationalism continued with the same colonial politics of exploitation. It reinforced the same old social hierarchy; it exploited workers, women and the environment. Like the colonial government, the new nations colonized forests and minds in responses to market-oriented and scientific notions of the time. This brought deforestation and desertification to local economies and otherwise clean ecosystems.

All of this colonization was for the short-term commercial values of the marketplace, “trying to control nature just as patriarchy tries to control women.” (102) Women, however, because of their experience as cultivators and family enablers possessed repositories of knowledges about balances in nature and the effects of ecological disruptions. It is no wonder, then, that it were women activists who began the Chipko (tree huggers) movement and developed a philosophy of politics that resisted centralization, corruption and exploitation. Instead, they promoted justice, self-sufficiency, and empowerment of local knowledges.


In the section “What makes postcolonial feminism ‘postcolonial’?,” Young asked if postcolonial feminism amounted to a separate strand within postcolonial thought. His answer was simply no. In this section, Young addressed the malleability of postcolonial theory by explaining how feminism is at its core, and thus inseparable. It is also applicable to a wide variety of politics, and even though they might not include obvious gender perspectives, they all work from the same paradigm: the pursuit of collective justice and equality. These struggles may be waged inside the nation or in exile, as the examples of Radia Nasraoui and Gisèle Halimi shows.

Men of the Untouchables Caste, Holding their Daughters - Poodalur 1946In the last section, “The untouchables: caste,” Young readily admitted that the postcolonial struggle is not limited to the legacy of the colonies. There are older vices that plagued modern society. In the Indian example, we see the caste system, which is much older than the British colonial government. The plight of the Dalits is its most explicit case injustice. “A quarter of the Indian population is made of such Dalits.” And they do most of the menial jobs and live segregated from the rest, with little access to anything we normally see as good from modernity.

In class, I want you to think seriously about the meaning of feminism and its opposite, namely, patriarchalism. How women’s social position as historically close to the land and responsible for sustaining families shaped their politics differently to that of men.

You should also ponder over the dark side of macho-nationalism, its insistence on cultural uniformity. Most importantly, I expect you to deliberate on the reasons and causes of nationalisms continuing with the same unfair hierarchies imposed by colonial rules, and with the exploitations inaugurated by the colonial masters.

How do you fit Young in Benedict Anderson’s frame of thought? What parts correspond, even if slightly, and what elements are diametrically apart?

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