By the late 1700s, half the free population of Saint Domingue
was black. The French Caribbean colony offered a high degree of
social, economic, and physical mobility to free people of color.
Covering the period 1776-1791, this study offers the most
comprehensive portrait to date of Saint Domingue's free
black elites on the eve of the colony's transformation into the
republic of Haiti.
Stewart R. King identifies two distinctive groups that shared
Saint Domingue's free black upper stratum, one consisting
of planters and merchants and the other of members of the army and
police forces. With the aid of individual and family case studies,
King documents how the two groups used different strategies to
pursue the common goal of economic and social advancement. Among
other aspects, King looks at the rural or urban bases of these
groups' networks, their relationships with whites and free
blacks of lesser means, and their attitudes toward the acquisition,
use, and sale of land, slaves, and other property.
King's main source is the notarial archives of Saint
Domingue, whose holdings offer an especially rich glimpse of free
black elite life. Because elites were keenly aware of how a
bureaucratic paper trail could help cement their status, the
archives divulge a wealth of details on personal and public
Blue Coat or Powdered Wig is a vivid portrayal of race
relations far from the European centers of colonial power, where
the interactions of free blacks and whites were governed as much by
practicalities and shared concerns as by the law.
Subjects: History, Sociology
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