The only truly successful slave uprising in the Atlantic world, the Haitian Revolution gave birth to the first independent black republic of the modern era. Inspired by the revolution that had recently roiled their French rulers, black slaves and people of mixed race alike rose up against their oppressors in a bloody insurrection that led to the burning of the colony’s largest city, a bitter struggle against Napoleon’s troops, and in 1804, the founding of a free nation.
Numerous firsthand narratives of these events survived, but their invaluable insights into the period have long languished in obscurity—until now. In Facing Racial Revolution, Jeremy D. Popkin unearths these documents and presents excerpts from more than a dozen accounts written by white colonists trying to come to grips with a world that had suddenly disintegrated. These dramatic writings give us our most direct portrayal of the actions of the revolutionaries, vividly depicting encounters with the uprising’s leaders—Toussaint Louverture, Boukman, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines—as well as putting faces on many of the anonymous participants in this epochal moment. Popkin’s expert commentary on each selection provides the necessary background about the authors and the incidents they describe, while also addressing the complex question of the witnesses’ reliability and urging the reader to consider the implications of the narrators’ perspectives.
Along with the American and French revolutions, the birth of Haiti helped shape the modern world. The powerful, moving, and sometimes troubling testimonies collected in Facing Racial Revolution significantly expand our understanding of this momentous event.