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Blue Coat or Powdered Wig

Blue Coat or Powdered Wig: Free People of Color in Pre-Revolutionary Saint Domingue

Stewart R. King
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Blue Coat or Powdered Wig
    Book Description:

    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 matters. 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4235-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxvi)

    On 9 August 1780, in the bustling colonial city of Cap Français, a young free black couple, Sergeant Pierre Augustin and his wife, Marie Janvier Augustin née Benjamin, visited a notary. They had come to offer a house in the town as security to one of their neighbors, a woman of mixed race, for a loan of 9,000 livres.¹ (All amounts of money in this book are denominated in livres colonial unless otherwise stated. The colonial livre was worth two-thirds of a livre Tournois. Each livre was subdivided into 20 sols, and in turn each sol was worth 12 deniers....

  5. Part One. The Colony and Its People

    • CHAPTER ONE The Notarial Record and Free Coloreds
      (pp. 3-15)

      To understand this book, it is important to understand the data on which it is based. In addition, the nature and function of the notarial system illustrates some important facts about both the colonial society of Saint Domingue and the place of free people of color in that society. Therefore, this first chapter considers the notarial system of the colony, primarily by examining notarial documents.

      Notaries in the French system, both pre-revolutionary and modern, were important government officials who ensured that contracts were framed in accordance with the law, which helped to guarantee the legally binding nature of those contracts....

    • CHAPTER TWO The Land
      (pp. 16-41)

      Geography, on Hispaniola, was the mother of history. This chapter looks at the places that are the stage on which the actors in this book play out their parts. First, it explores briefly the geography of the island as a whole. Next, it turns to the geography of each of the parishes selected for special consideration, beginning with a brief history of French settlement in the area. This is supplemented in the two units dealing with the major cities by a look at economic developments in that city’s hinterland during the eighteenth century. Then, each unit considers the cities, towns,...

    • CHAPTER THREE The People
      (pp. 42-51)

      After examining the physical geography of Saint Domingue in the last chapter, we now turn to human geography: the demography of free people of color on the island. The chapter begins with a general analysis of fertility, gender ratios, age distribution, and mortality among free coloreds in the colony as a whole. Then, a separate subunit is devoted to each of the six selected parishes. The gender and age distribution of each parish is related to the general trends exposed earlier.

      The demographic analysis will serve to place the people of color of this colony in the context of other...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Free Coloreds in the Colonial Armed Forces
      (pp. 52-78)

      “The mulattos do all the military service of the colony; it is only they who can destroy the maroons.” So said Governor de Fayet of Saint Domingue in 1733.¹ Two generations later, the situation was basically unchanged. This chapter explores the role of military service in the life of the colony and the lives of the free colored men who served.

      On 3 November 1785, a Sr. Jean Louis Martin Theron, a (white) militia officer who was described by the local notary in his report as an habitant and thus was an important personage in Terrier Rouge, appeared before notary...

  6. Part Two. The Free Colored in Society and the Economy

    • CHAPTER FIVE Slaveholding Practices
      (pp. 81-120)

      Zabeau Bellanton of Cap Français was one of several free colored women in the sample to qualify for the status of economic elite. Unlike some wealthy free colored women, she seemingly achieved success through her own entrepreneurship and not as a gift or inheritance from anybody. Her background is hazy. She was a mulâtresse but did not bear a French name and seemingly had no close white relatives. She had a girl child, a quarteronne, who was also surnamed Bellanton and who also did not have a visible white father. Her only white business associate was her procureur, or business...

    • CHAPTER SIX Landholding Practices
      (pp. 121-141)

      Sieur Thomas Peignanan, a sugar planter originally from Bordeaux, made his will in 1782.¹ He wanted to leave his sugar plantation to his menagère (housekeeper) of twenty-five years, Julie Dahey, a free Creole black, and her (presumably their) seven mulatto children. He had a legitimate heir in Bordeaux, however, his sister Catherine. He willed all his personal property, a quite luxurious collection of furniture, household utensils, jewelry, clothing, and so forth, to Dahey directly. Then, he left the plantation and slaves to his sister with the condition that she be required to lease the property in perpetuity to Dahey for...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Entrepreneurship
      (pp. 142-157)

      The la Bastide family of Croix des Bouquets, military leaders who reappear in chapter 12 of this work, launched its family fortune with a gift from a white man, possibly the father, although this is hazier even than such things usually are, to two young mulatto men named Pierre and Joseph la Bastide in 1755, just after their liberties became final. They received a piece of land in the hills between Mirebalais and Croix des Bouquets.¹ From these humble beginnings, the la Bastide brothers built a substantial collection of real estate, both urban and rural, located in three parishes. In...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Non-Economic Components of Social Status
      (pp. 158-179)

      The Raimond family of Aquin are among the most famous of the free coloreds of Saint Domingue. Their most illustrious member, Julien Raimond, was sent to France as an unofficial envoy of the free colored planter elite to help gain legal protections from the royal government just before the Revolution. He was still in France in 1789 and played an important role in the debates of the revolutionary assemblies over slavery and civil rights for people of color. His writings constitute an important source for students of the politics of race in the French Revolution.¹ The Raimond family offers an...

    • CHAPTER NINE Family Relationships and Social Advancement
      (pp. 180-202)

      In 1777, in Mirebalais, Jean Pierret fils, a quarteron, 27 at the time and seriously ill, called the notary to witness his will. After a fairly flowery affirmation of his Catholic faith, Jean’s only bequest, to his brother, was funds to pay the liberty tax of his slave housekeeper Charlotte, negresse, and her two children Jean Charles and Marie Jeanne, mulâtre et mulâtresse. Once the liberties were confirmed, the two children were to receive 2,000 livres each “to take the place of a living allowance.” Any remaining property was to be retained by the brother, the only legitimate heir. One...

  7. Part Three. Group Strategies for Economic and Social Advancement

    • CHAPTER TEN Planter Elites
      (pp. 205-225)

      The reader has already met the Laportes, the best-documented members of the planter elite in the sample of notarial acts. They were by no means the only family of free coloreds who achieved power and social position during this period. For another example, there are the Baugés of Galets, Croix des Bouquets, mulatto relatives of the powerful white planting family of the same name. They were small planters who seized the day as the economy boomed after the end of the War of American Independence and became big planters by the end of the 1780s. In 1777, they established a...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN The Military Leadership Group
      (pp. 226-265)

      At the beginning of this book, the reader was introduced to Pierre Augustin, the archetype of the military leadership group. He represents the 1770s generation of military leaders. However, the group was not new to the colony in that decade, and Augustin had many illustrious predecessors. Prominent among them was Capitaine Vincent Olivier, first introduced in chapter 4.

      Olivier provides the best example of great economic success among the military leadership. He is mentioned in Moreau de St. Méry:

      In the parish of Grande-Rivière (or more properly Sainte-Rose), a free black named Captaine Vincent Olivier died in 1780, aged about...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Conclusion
      (pp. 266-274)

      This author, like many other newly minted Ph.D.s in history, has spent some time teaching part-time in a community college. On the first day of class, I always mention my research, as a way of showing students that we all write research papers—just before I assign them theirs. Questions about my research often include the unspoken question—sometimes it is a spoken one, depending on the tact of the questioner—of why someone would spend five years studying this group of people.

      It is a question that any reader should have the right to ask any author, and one...

    (pp. 275-275)
  9. Appendix Two. SURNAMES
    (pp. 276-280)
    (pp. 281-282)
    (pp. 283-286)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 287-314)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 315-320)
  14. Index
    (pp. 321-328)