“The Shame of the Nation”: The Force of Re-Enslavement and the Law of “Slavery” under the Regime of Jean-Louis Ferrand in Santo Domingo, 1804-1809

In: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids
Graham Nessler Department of History, University of Michigan.

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From 1804 to 1809, the slaveholding Napoleonic regime of General Jean-Louis Ferrand attempted to erase the gains of the era of French Republican emancipation (1793-1802) by re-enslaving thousands of individuals in Santo Domingo (modern Dominican Republic). This article examines the aims and methods of the Ferrand regime, situating it within the contexts of the birth of independent Haiti and the resurgence of institutionalized racism and slavery in the French world. Using governmental correspondence, notarial acts, and other sources, I argue that those targeted by Ferrand’s racist laws and efforts to re-impose slavery devised innovative means of carving out their own versions of freedom. The article centers on the ways in which “slaves” and colonial officials negotiated the meanings of slavery in a context in which the institution’s legality was unclear.

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