The Saint-Domingue Diaspora

Revolution, Refugees and the Transformation of the Atlantic World, 1790s–1820s


Jan C. Jansen

This project takes the example of Saint-Domingue/Haiti as the point of departure for a study of the role of political refugees and exile in the Atlantic world during the Age of Revolutions. The revolutionary upheavals that shook the Atlantic world in the years between 1776 and 1826 are commonly seen as having given rise to new conceptions of sovereignty, citizenship, and political participation. They were, however, also closely linked to the emergence of political flight as a mass phenomenon. Large numbers of individuals sought refuge abroad during this period primarily for reasons of politics rather than, as in previous centuries, of religion. Revolutions in North America, France, Saint-Domingue/Haiti, and Spanish America put more than a quarter million refugees on the move. Based upon extensive archival research in Europe, the United States, and the Caribbean, this project is a history of the revolutionary refugees from Saint-Domingue, an ethnically, politically, and socially diverse group of at least 25,000 men and women who sought refuge in the British and Spanish Caribbean, the United States, and France in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. (1791–1804). 

The history of this emigration and the responses to it will illuminate processes that fundamentally transformed the Atlantic world during the Age of Revolutions. The project examines, first, the role of the Saint-Domingue emigration in the reordering of political communities and in the redrawing of the distinction between citizens and aliens along with its impact on new citizenship regimes and migration-control systems.  Second, it considers the role that reception of and support for the Saint-Domingue refugees played in the development of “humanitarian” practices. Third, it analyzes the ways the refugees navigated the shifting boundary between freedom and unfreedom/slavery. Finally, the project explores the emergence of exile as a transnational/transimperial space with a dynamic all its own arising from the high degree of geopolitical uncertainty.