All Souls' Rising - By Madison Smartt Bell


This novel was completed with invaluable assistance from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. My thanks also to George Garrett and Russell Banks for good advice and good examples, and to Isabel Reinharez, Caroline Gifford, Tom McGonigle, Cassandra Dunwell, Thomasin LaMay of the Goucher College Library, Caroline Smith of Special Collections at the Johns Hopkins University Libraries, Jennifer Bryan of the Manuscripts Division of the Maryland Historical Society, Daryl Phillip of the Cane Mill Museum of Dominica, and M. Emmanuel Leroy Ladurie of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, for their critical research assistance—may fortune smile upon you all.


IN 1791, THE COLONY OF SAINT DOMINGUE, established on the western half of the island which Columbus had named Hispaniola and which the native Amerindians (before their wholesale extermination by the Spanish) had called Hayti, was the richest and most productive French possession overseas, known as the Jewel of the Antilles. Plantations in the colony, run by slave labor, produced fortunes in sugar and coffee, which could create for their proprietors, who were frequently absentees, luxurious lives in Paris. From the point of view of French landowners, locally known as grand blancs, Saint Domingue was not a place to settle permanently but a place to get rich quick.

The shock of the French Revolution in 1789 traveled along social and racial fault lines already present in the colony. The grand blanc landowners, who owned most of the plantations and most of the slaves, were conservative and royalist by disposition and for the most part unfriendly to French Revolutionary radical ideas. By 1791 the idea was already afoot in this group that at worst the colony might splinter off from the home government and reconstitute itself as a royalist refuge or perhaps make itself a protectorate of the British (who maintained slavery in Jamaica and their other Caribbean colonies). The grand blanc royalists in the colony identified themselves by wearing a white cockade and were therefore sometimes known as Pompons Blancs.

Meanwhile there existed a lower class of white people in the colony, an artisan class mostly concentrated in the two principal cities of the coast: Cap Français (commonly known as Le Cap) in the north and Port-au-Prince in the western department. Members of this group were not necessarily French in origin; they were an obscure and shifting community, including a great many professional criminals, adventurers, and international fugitives. Some originated from an earlier period when the island had been a haven and stronghold of pirates. These petit blancs, who embraced French Revolutionary ideas, were at odds with the grand blanc landowners, and between 1789 and 1791 the struggle between these two groups for political control of the colony sometimes came to violence. The petit blanc revolutionaries distinguished themselves by wearing a red cockade and were known for this reason as Pompons Rouges. Their declared loyalty to the French Revolutionary government led them to call themselves Patriots.

Whatever their differences among themselves, white people were in a minority in Saint Domingue. In 1791 there were about thirty-nine thousand white people in the colony, twenty-seven thousand people of mixed blood, and four hundred and fifty-two thousand black slaves. The large mulatto population, descendants of white landowners and black slaves, had come into being because there had never been many white women in the colony, which had always attracted opportunists and entrepreneurs rather than settlers proper. Some mulattoes were enslaved but many were free, and there existed a class of freedmen, or affranchis, who were mostly of mixed race, though some full-blooded blacks were also included.

Sixty-four different shades of color were identified (and named) among the mulattoes, and social status depended on the lightness of the shade. Economically, the mulattoes were a powerful group. Many were wealthy and owned land and slaves of their own, and many had been well educated—sometimes in France. But the mulattoes had no political rights whatsoever. Though required to serve three years in the militia, they could not vote or hold office—only white people played any part in the political life of the colony. Apart from a lively business in prostitution, mulattoes had little social contact with whites, were forced to give precedence to whites in all circumstances, and were sometimes victims of spontaneous genocidal pogroms.

There was a special animosity between the mulattoes, who had wealth but no political rights, and the petit blancs, who had rights but little money. These tensions were exacerbated after 1789,