Initially, our project aimed to provide English translations of 12-15 pamphlets that could speak to the conditions of the slaves, wealthy and poor planters, free people of color, and the reactions to the system of slavery in mainland France. However, the scope of work to achieve these goals was too broad for our limited time and resources. Instead, we chose to focus on a less well-known portion of the history of Saint-Domingue: the situation of the white planters of Saint-Domingue and their relationship with Hexagonal Frenchmen. This narrowed down our sample to a more manageable corpus.
After setting these parameters, we generated a list of pamphlets that fit our criteria. From that subset, we identified pamphlets illustrating key historical moments. One particularly interesting pamphlet – Succinct Response from the Saint-Domingue Deputies, Regarding the Merchants of Sea Ports – documents a heated exchange between the colonial deputies of Saint-Domingue and the French merchants responsible for providing the colonies with their supply of flour and grain. Each side argued that they were being cheated by the other. The colonial deputies believed that the merchants were shorting them large quantities of flour, causing widespread famine among the slave population and threatening the economic viability of the colony; the merchants believed that the colonial deputies were trying to break up their trading monopoly by suggesting that foreign commodities be introduced into the colony. This is a crucial and yet little-known episode in the history of not only Colonial Saint-Domingue, but also in the history of the Atlantic. It brings up issues of commerce during the Ancien Régime, and is one of the first major issues that was brought forth to the newly formed National Assembly in 1789.
The situation in Saint-Domingue will thus serve as the primary focus of the first installment of our reader. We will provide students with documents that will facilitate a rich level of knowledge and understanding of the effect of the grain disputes in the colony of Saint-Domingue and its colonial Metropole. This will serve as scaffolding that might be filled in via future scholarship by historians, literary, scholars, and other individuals interested in the field of archival research.