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They Always Knew Her to be Free: Emancipation and Re-Enslavement in French Santo Domingo, 1804-1809

Friday, January 27, 2012
5:00 AM
2333 Mason Hall

A mock job talk by Graham Nessler, postdoctoral fellow at the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies

Following Napoleon Bonaparte’s ostensible revocation in 1802 of the revolutionary 4 February 1794 law that had eliminated slavery in all French territories, thousands of men, women and children on the island of Hispaniola and other French domains who had been formally freed by virtue of this law found themselves vulnerable to re-enslavement. Their situation became particularly precarious when in early 1804 Napoleon’s General Jean-Louis Ferrand established a slaveholding regime in Santo Domingo (modern Dominican Republic) that sought to place many freed individuals back into bondage. This talk will examine several dozen notarial acts that recognized or granted the freedom of at least one individual under the regime of Ferrand in Santo Domingo, which lasted until 1809. Organized around three strategies that some of these individuals employed (presentation of prior evidence of free status, self-purchase, and calling witnesses), the presentation will argue that the freed subjects of these notarial acts exploited small openings in the sedimented legal system, archiving their freedom in the creation of these acts. For more information, please contact Graham Nessler at

Cosponsored by the Department of History.