Caribbean Crossing

Caribbean Crossing: African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Caribbean Crossing
    Book Description:

    Shortly after winning its independence in 1804, Haiti's leaders realized that if their nation was to survive, it needed to build strong diplomatic bonds with other nations. Haiti's first leaders looked especially hard at the United States, which had a sizeable free black population that included vocal champions of black emigration and colonization. In the 1820s, President Jean-Pierre Boyer helped facilitate a migration of thousands of black Americans to Haiti with promises of ample land, rich commercial prospects, and most importantly, a black state. His ideas struck a chord with both blacks and whites in America. Journalists and black community leaders advertised emigration to Haiti as a way for African Americans to resist discrimination and show the world that the black race could be an equal on the world stage, while antislavery whites sought to support a nation founded by liberated slaves. Black and white businessmen were excited by trade potential, and racist whites viewed Haiti has a way to export the race problem that plagued America.

    By the end of the decade, black Americans migration to Haiti began to ebb as emigrants realized that the Caribbean republic wasn't the black Eden they'd anticipated.Caribbean Crossingdocuments the rise and fall of the campaign for black emigration to Haiti, drawing on a variety of archival sources to share the rich voices of the emigrants themselves. Using letters, diary accounts, travelers' reports, newspaper articles, and American, British, and French consulate records, Sara Fanning profiles the emigrants and analyzes the diverse motivations that fueled this unique early moment in both American and Haitian history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6008-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    When 120 free black New Yorkers gathered in the African Zion Church in early September 1824 to attend religious services, they received a blessing for a sea voyage that promised to transform their lives, their community, and perceptions of their race.¹ They were to be the first of as many as thirteen thousand African American emigrants who set sail for Haiti in the mid-1820s, taking up an offer of Haitian lands and liberty from President Jean-Pierre Boyer, Haiti’s president from 1818 to 1843.² Delivering the blessing and farewell address that evening, Rev. Peter Williams, the president of the Haytian Emigration...

  5. 1 Migration to Haiti in the Context of Other Contemporary Migrations
    (pp. 17-24)

    When Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer spent as much as $300,000 to finance African American migration to Haiti and sent a recruiting agent to the United States in 1824, his deep commitment to the migration project was evident. His commitment became ever more evident to observers when he met the arriving American settlers on the Portau-Prince docks, extending his personal welcome to them. Providing transport, food, supplies, and housing for up to six thousand migrants willing to cultivate lands in Haiti, Boyer’s offer was unique for the time in allocating these resources to migrants.¹

    Although organizations and sponsors called the migrants...

  6. 2 Haiti’s Founding Fathers
    (pp. 25-40)

    When Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed Haiti’s independence in 1804, he began the process of transforming the former colony into a nation. As a two-product slave state governed by a tiny elite, St. Domingue bequeathed few institutions or foundations to the new nation. Moving this society toward nationhood posed an enormous challenge to the first-generation leaders of Haiti—Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion, Henry Christophe, and Jean-Pierre Boyer—because the issues of land, labor, and diplomatic recognition remained unresolved.

    The question of recognition weighed on Haiti throughout the first two decades of its independence. Instead of agreeing on a peace treaty, France and its...

  7. 3 Boyer’s Recognition Project
    (pp. 41-58)

    In 1818, when Jean-Pierre Boyer became the president of Haiti upon President Alexandre Pétion’s death, he inherited the nation-building problems that his predecessor had faced—the costly standing army, the diminished capacity of the agricultural sector, and the stalled diplomatic maneuvers. In a departure from Pétion’s rule, Boyer concentrated his energies on securing diplomatic recognition. Recognition could bring security and allow for a reduction in the standing army and the attendant costs of feeding, clothing, equipping, and paying its soldiers. The forty thousand soldiers would then contribute their labor to Haiti’s economic standing. This army, by some estimates, consumed more...

  8. 4 The Marketing of Haiti
    (pp. 59-76)

    In the 1820s, debate in America’s public square returned again and again to the linked questions of slavery and race. Several groups came forward with comprehensive “solutions” to the perceived problem of managing slave and free black populations, most famously the American Colonization Society (ACS). This group envisioned African colonization as a sort of safety valve for America’s race problem, whereby excess black people could be siphoned off, reducing tensions between the races and between northern and southern states.¹ The ACS colony in Liberia began to fail as soon as the first settler made landfall in 1821, and yet the...

  9. 5 Push and Pull in Haitian Emigration
    (pp. 77-98)

    In 1824 and 1825, a range of social pressures pushed African American individuals to leave everything they knew in America, and a variety of hopes pulled them to settle in Haiti. Each migration was a mixture of push and pull factors, and each was motivated as much by the America left behind as by the hoped-for Haiti.¹ Backgrounds varied widely. The travelers included families, single men, and even single women. They came from all social levels—laundresses and merchants, skilled artisans and unskilled day laborers, farmers and urbanites. Such prominent figures as John Allen, son of Rev. Bishop Richard Allen;...

  10. 6 Haitian Realities and the Emigrants’ Return
    (pp. 99-118)

    On arrival in Haiti, many emigrants such as Daniel Copelain, Aaron Blandon, and Abel Reed wrote glowing letters about Haiti to friends and family back in the United States. Copelain described how he had purchased 147 acres of land in Samana and expected within three months to gather “about two thousand weight of coffee.” He declared, “I am very well satisfied with the country.”¹ Samana, a small port town in the former eastern Santo Domingo, received approximately 460 American settlers by April 1825, many of whom expected to work in the newly established shipyards while others grew coffee. Blandon, a...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 119-124)

    Caribbean Crossingargues that the 1820s was a critical time in the relationship between the United States and Haiti, a time when each exerted influence on the other that had the potential to change their respective histories even more radically. During this decade, Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer concentrated on U.S. relations in his work to improve the standing of his nation and opened up the island to African American emigrants as a gambit to strengthen his case for diplomatic recognition from the United States. Boyer’s emigration plan found support among a diverse group of Americans, from abolitionists to black-community leaders...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 125-158)
  13. Index
    (pp. 159-168)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 169-170)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-171)