This project was created using the online “Marronnage in Saint Domingue” database developed by the Université de Sherbrooke in conjunction with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database developed by Emory University. My aim is to put these to vital sources of information into conversation, creating an expanded narrative of the life of a Haitian slave in the 18th century.
This project pursues two broad interests:
- First, the task of reconstructing individual slave narratives. This amounts to a question of identity radically transformed due to the consequences of violent, forced migration. The involuntary movement of individuals across thousands of miles of unknown space was marked by constant uncertainty about the future. I was struck by the significance of marronnage, or the act of running away, as a clear moment of agency that sharply contrasted with the state of controlled subjecthood on the slave ship and the plantation.
How should we approach the personal and social identity of displaced captives?
What is the significance of personal agency in the context of forced migration?
- Second, the historically-oriented task of determining the ethnic/national origins of slaves in Saint Domingue. There is a persistent difficultly in connecting nation labels invented and used by Europeans for trading purposes with actual cultural and ethnic identities as the Africans themselves would have understood them; importantly, these may or may not have been defined by stable geographic boundaries. Using multiple resources can help build a more complete picture of the individual journey and the trauma of forced migration. Correspondence between different primary and secondary sources may suggest the reliability of their contents for research purposes. However, it is important to remember that these African nation identities are still being written by slave owners rather than African men and women speaking for themselves.
How can we understand historical geographic and ethnic descriptors?
Are there correlations between the nation identified in an ad and the port information in a voyage record?