From its founding, Martinique played an integral role in
France's Atlantic empire. Established in the mid-seventeenth
century as a colonial outpost against Spanish and English dominance
in the Caribbean, the island was transformed by the increase in
European demand for sugar, coffee, and indigo. Like other colonial
subjects, Martinicans met the labor needs of cash-crop cultivation
by establishing plantations worked by enslaved Africans and by
adopting the rigidly hierarchical social structure that accompanied
chattel slavery. After Haiti gained its independence in 1804,
Martinique's economic importance to the French empire increased. At
the same time, questions arose, both in France and on the island,
about the long-term viability of the plantation system, including
debates about the ways colonists-especially enslaved Africans and
free mixed-race individuals-fit into the French nation.
Sweet Liberty chronicles the history of Martinique from
France's reacquisition of the island from the British in 1802 to
the abolition of slavery in 1848. Focusing on the relationship
between the island's widely diverse society and the various waves
of French and British colonial administrations, Rebecca Hartkopf
Schloss provides a compelling account of Martinique's social,
political, and cultural dynamics during the final years of slavery
in the French empire. Schloss explores how various groups-Creole
and metropolitan elites, petits blancs, gens de
couleur, and enslaved Africans-interacted with one another in
a constantly shifting political environment and traces how these
interactions influenced the colony's debates around identity,
citizenship, and the boundaries of the French nation.
Based on extensive archival research in Europe and the Americas,
Sweet Liberty is a groundbreaking study of a neglected
region that traces how race, slavery, class, and gender shaped what
it meant to be French on both sides of the Atlantic.
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