Monday, November 23, 2020

Amerindian Presence in Saint Domingue

Grand Soleil, leader of the Natchez people. Their chief, also known as St. Cosme, was sold into slavery in Saint Domingue in the 1730s with 100s of his people. 

One topic that occasionally resurfaces is the theme of the indigenous past in Haitian history and literature. While the symbolism of the Taino or the indigenous past is worthy of research as a topic of its own merit, it is also interesting to consider French Saint Domingue's historically-documented "Indian" populations from the insular Caribbean and North and South America. These groups, rather than the Taino, were historically relevant and, arguably, significant in the early days of French settlement in Tortuga and Hispaniola. Indeed, during the time of the buccaneers and the frontier-like conditions of early Saint Domingue, indigenous peoples from the Caribbean and other lands were an important presence among the enslaved population and as trading partners of the French. By this era, the 17th century and early 18th century, there were no more indigenous Taino "Indians" on the island, unless one counts "mixed-race" descendants of Indians in corners of Spanish Santo Domingo. The village of Boya, for instance, was alleged by 18th century French and 19th century Haitian sources to have been founded as an Indian village in the 1500s, although none of its residents were "pure" Taino. Some 19th century Haitian authors such as Thomas Madiou and Emile Nau also admitted a degree of aboriginal ancestry among the Dominican population, but not for the Haitian population. Of course, that does not stop some more absurd manifestations of Taino revivalism from exaggerating Taino cultural traces in today's Haitians.

As for the indigenous populations of the island and Haiti, there seems to be very little evidence of any connection between modern Haitians and the precolonial inhabitants of the island. The "Indiens" of Saint Domingue appear to have come from Caribs, the Guianas, Louisiana, North America, and the Yucatan. To reiterate, by the time of the French presence in the 17th century, there were no more Taino groups on the island. Besides possible influence via Spanish Santo Domingo and today's Dominican Republic, one must look to the diverse "Indien" populations of the French colonial population. This makes it very unlikely that "Tainos" had any significant influence on Haitian culture, religion, and folklore, despite what one may find in Haitian literature or intellectual thought (Nau, Alexis, Beauvoir-Dominique). However, there very well could be influences from non-Taino populations in Saint Domingue, which is a topic of interest in its own right. This may explain some of the alleged "Amerindian" aspects to Haitian culture more than any far-fetched theory of cultural continuity from the pre-Columbian population of the island to modern Haitians.

Runaway ad for Joseph, a Carib. Caribs continued to appear in runaway slave ads and were imported to Saint Domingue. Even when held in low regard as captives, they continued to be exploited as chattel throughout the 18th century.

So, where does one begin with the "Indien" presence of Saint Domingue? One must go back to the origins of French colonization of the Caribbean, particularly St. Christophe and the Lesser Antilles. The French encountered "Carib" groups who were still autonomous, and occasionally a threat to Spanish and European settlements in the region. In their interactions with Caribs, the Dutch, English and enslaved Africans, the seeds of the French Antilles were planted. It was probably there, during the 17th century, that early French lexical Creoles evolved. By the second half of the 17th century, a French presence was asserting itself in Tortuga and northern Saint Domingue, propelled by expulsions from St. Christophe. According to 18th century Saint Domingue sources, many of the affranchi families claimed descent from "Indian" women and French men who left St. Christophe. Whether or not that was actually true is another question, but the French and English did interact with the Caribs in St. Christophe before slaughtering them. It is also likely the case that, due to the paucity of European women, some French married "Indian" women. Moreover, among the French and other Europeans in Tortuga were Caribs and "Indian" slaves. Indeed, in 1653, the number of "Indian" slaves was higher than those of Africans in Tortuga. "Indian" slaves from the Caribs and other groups were also acquired through raids on Spanish territories. One expedition to the Yucatan in the late 1600s brought several indigenous women to the southern part of Saint Domingue, where most ended up as wives to Frenchmen. Thus, "Indians" were, in the early period of French colonization, a significant part of the captive population while "Indian" women were probably represented among the mothers of "mixed-race" people in the colony's southern regions.

A woman departing for France listed an Indian women for sale, alongside two others of African descent, in her advertisement posted in the main Saint Domingue newspaper. The "Indienne" woman is said to have domestic skills many Indian women in the colony were employed for. She could also have been of "East Indian" origin, but Moreau de Saint-Mery mentioned the common use of "Amerindian" women for domestic labor.

"Indians" were not only captives to the French, but traders and fellow participants in French raids on Spanish colonies. The 17th century competition for Caribbean colonies among the European powers in the region led to conditions favorable for trading relations that may have created opportunities for various "Indian" groups to play Europeans against each other. For instance, 3 Indian chiefs from the Gulf of Darien, whose subjects had cooperated with French raids against Spanish colonies, were treated as guests of honor by the governor of Saint Domingue in Leogane. In 1701, a Pedre, chief of the Sambres, was also received by the interim governor in Leogane, suggesting trade relations that were still important. That "Indian" chiefs were honored guests to the political establishment of the colony in the late 17th century is a testament to trade links and raiding partnerships between French and "Indians" in the circum-Caribbean region. Indeed, Caribs and other "Indian" populations sold African or "Indian" slaves to the French, angering the monopoly company established by the French government to provide African slaves to Saint Domingue. This suggests that in those early frontier-like days of Saint Domingue, before plantation slavery was firmly entrenched and the shift to sugar and coffee plantations began, the French colony partly relied on partnerships and relations with indigenous populations in the region. Through their trading partnerships with "Indian" groups and other populations, they procured slaves, supplies, and relationships that likely profited both sides, at least initially. The "Indian" captives probably worked as domestics and, perhaps, alongside indentured French workers and African slaves on tobacco plantations in the 1600s.

Free people of "Indian" descent sometimes appeared in the newspapers. Marie-Magdelaine Nicole, for instance, is listed as a "mestive libre," and was tied to a merchant in Le Cap. While "mestives" (which was perhaps more ambiguous as a racial category than one might suspect) may not always connote "Amerindian" heritage, it often did. 

However, the transition to plantation slavery and the reliance on enslaved Africans altered the nature of "Amerindian" relations with French Saint Domingue. Tied to this process is French colonialism in Louisiana, Guyane, and Canada, as wars between the French and various native groups occasionally led to their enslavement. Or, as in the case of North America, the English colonies also sold Native Americans to the French. One particularly noticeable example occurred in the 1730s, when an estimated 500 Natchez were sold to Saint Domingue after losing a war with the French. While Indians were probably never more than a tiny minority of the enslaved population in 18th century Saint Domingue (Geggus suggests that the combined population of "Amerindian" and "East Indian" slaves in Saint Domingue was less than 1% of the total by the late 1700s), their presence shaped colonial definitions of race and inclusion. One cannot discount the possibility that they were more numerous among the free people of color, too.
According to Moreau de Saint-Mery, "Amerindian" slaves in the colony hailed from the "sauvages" of South America, Mississippi, the Fox and others in North America, and Caribs. While a Creole proverb would suggest Caribs were not seen as "good" slaves, a number of them appear in runaway slave ads. A few were identified as "mulatto" or mixed-race, and it is likely that Caribs were transported to Saint Domingue from other French colonies within the Caribbean, or perhaps the product of conflicts between independent Carib groups in the Lesser Antilles with the French. Indian women and children from Louisiana and North America were sometimes, per Moreau de Saint-Mery, brought by the English, and often employed as domestics. The English, it must be remembered, engaged in active slave trading of indigenous people in North America, often shipping them to colonies in the Caribbean. French Louisiana, according to Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, also engaged in a small-scale trade of Indian captives for African or black slaves, following English practices. It was probably an ongoing trade for much of the 1700s as French settlers in Louisiana expressed an interest in acquiring African slaves. The trade was common enough to the point that, as Jack Forbes cites, a Spanish ship of Santo Domingo intercepted a French vessel carrying Indians to Saint Domingue in the 1750s. Unfortunately for those interested in studying the "Indians" of Saint Domingue, quantifying the total  number of Indians in Saint Domingue from the initial French presence to the Haitian Revolution is extremely difficult. Colonial censuses stopped including them as a separate population group after 1713. Geggus's important article, "The Naming of Haiti", cites a 1681 Census that found 480 "mulattoes" and Indians, all enslaved. In 1631, the South of Saint Domingue had 128 Indians, but only 83 in 1713. The disappearing Indians probably merged into the general free people of color category.
Yota, a young Carib maroon, was only around 14 years old. His owner was a minister in Le Cap.

Moreau de Saint-Mery offers additional some hints, claiming there were more than 300 "Sauvages" and Indians enslaved in Saint Domingue at the beginning of the 1700s. Around 500 Natchez were sent to the colony in the 1730s, but how many actually survived the voyage is unclear. Some of their survivors lived on in the colony's chief city, today's Cap-Haitien. A study of 3 parishes by Jacques Houdaille, focusing on Jacmel, Cayes-de-Jacmel, and Fond-des Negres, found "Indiens" to have comprised 1.3% of legitimate births, 0.3% for illegitimate. Houdaille's study also claimed Indians from Yucatan and Veracruz were in the colony prior to 1700, probably a reference to Indian women from a 1685 raid. Some of the "Indiens" he located were apparently from Aruba, suggesting that there may have been a smuggling of small numbers of Indians from other parts of the region to the southern coast. For the captives from the French colony in South America, enslavement of Arouas, Palicours, Courarys was practiced, but on a small scale. Consequently, any trade of indigenous South Americans to Saint Domingue would have probably been a tiny proportion of the total Indien slave population in Guyane, which was always small. In short, a clear indication of their numbers is unavailable, but they were relatively important in the 1600s before becoming numerically negligible in the 18th century.

Indiens also appear in the parish records of Saint Domingue, such as Marie Louise, whose death was recorded in Baynet. A systematic study of each parish would likely reveal much more about the numbers and social relations of "Indiens" in Saint Domingue.

What can be said of the "Indien" presence in Saint Domingue? Occupational profiles, race relations, legacies, and other concerns remain somewhat speculative. Enslaved women may have been used primarily as domestics, and are sometimes advertised as such in newspapers. Males may have been servants, plantation workers, fishermen, cooks, or barbers. The runaway slave ads point to urban and plantation settings, suggesting they were used in both types of environments. How enslaved Indians got along with African slaves is unknown, but Contant d'Orville suggested an antipathy between Caribs and blacks in the French Caribbean. It is also clear that free people of color attempted to claim Indien descent to justify their claims to titles or political rights of whites in the second half of the 18th century. According to Hiliard d'Auberteuil, the "mixed-bloods" claimed descent from "Indians" in St. Christophe, who came to Saint Domingue in 1640. Garrigus, in Before Haiti, uncovers examples of free people of color families like the Gelée  in Les Cayes, who requested the Port-au-Prince council confirm his letters of nobility, claiming Indian descent rather than African. Clearly, by 1767, the French official position viewed Indians as "born free", unlike those of African descent. Indians, if not "stained" by African ancestry, were supposedly able to enjoy the rights of whites as assimilated peoples. And like free people of African descent, examples of "Indien" slaveholders can be found in at least one of the runaway slave ads, posted by a Roesayro, Mulatto Indian of Dondon. 
Like other free people of color, the "Mulatto Indian" Roesayro owned slaves. In this case, his "Senegalese" slave, Pierre, ran away.

The relationship of the "Indiens" to the free people of color population might be the best way to consider the "Indien" presence. As groups in between the enslaved majority and the white colonial population, it is not unlikely that the two often mingled, married, and combined their resources. It is possible that some may have strategically chosen Indian partners to facilitate their claims to rights increasingly taken away from those of African descent in the 1760s and 1770s. Some prominent families among the affranchis who also claimed Indien descent from St. Christophe or perhaps the early foundations of the colony were probably telling the truth in some cases. Thomas Madiou, prominent Haitian historian, also claimed an Indien ancestor in his autobiography. His mother was, according to him, the daughter of a woman of the Indien race from Le Cap. Historian Jean Fouchard found evidence of "Indian" descent among free people of color, using the example of the Dartigue family. Last, but certainly not least, relations between free people of African and "Indien" origin might explain the bizarre assertion of Amerindian ancestry Redpath assigned to President Geffrard in his Guide to Hayti. One should not be surprised if more than a few free people of color, particularly in the South of the colony, descend, in part, from Indians. It is also possible that certain names among Haitians after independence suggest "Indien" origin. The example of Benjamin Indien from Port-au-Prince in 1849 may very well reflect an "Indien" background or ancestry. 
After Haitian independence, one would assume formerly enslaved Indiens and free people of color of Indian origins probably stayed in the colony. Those who left may have returned from the US, France, and other lands later in the 19th century. Knowing that there was a small "Indien" population in Haiti on the eve of independence may help explain why "Indiens" were included in Haitian citizenship for various constitutions. Indeed, it could help explain why the indigenous name of the island was chosen to rename Saint Domingue. As for "Indiens" who immigrated after independence, I have yet to encounter any examples besides Benjamin Fruneau (whose mother was "East Indian). However, it is very likely that some of the African Americans who came to Haiti in the 1820s and 1860s included people of Native descent. As for "Indien" survival in Haiti after 1804, some of the more absurd theorists have even proposed sites where "Indiens" survived in isolated parts of the country. But Aristide Achille's study of the problem of Indian cultural survival in Haiti has pointed out the lack of evidence for assertions by Louis Emile Elie of Indian survival in the caves of the Grand Riviere du Nord, the "Vien-Viens" of Saltrou, habitation Lamarque in Kenscoff, and habitations Lebrun and Poulardier in Petit-Goave. It could very well be the case that some of the populations in those areas may descend, in part, from "Indien" slaves of the colonial period, but they are very unlikely to have any connection to the Taino.
Perhaps a testament to the loosely defined "races" in Saint Domingue, examples of runaway slaves who called themselves "Indien" appear. In this example, Francois is identified as a "Mulatto" by his owner, yet he calls himself Indian. Note that he is also described as having long, dark hair, perhaps making it easier for him to claim an "Indian" origin. It is possible that enslaved people were well aware of the legal rights of "free" Indians under French law, and may have, like free people of color, claimed it in their own interests.

Overall, the evidence for significant Taino influences and legacies in Haiti appear unfounded, or marginal at best. The story of the non-Taino Indians in Saint Domingue, however, was relevant to the history of the colony, slave trade networks, and conceptualization of race and differential status for free people of color. Although a clear understanding of their total numbers remains elusive, it is clear that Indians from other parts of the Americas were important to the colony in the 17th and 18th centuries. Their presence among the captive population and free people of color influenced the discourse of race and political rights. "Amerindian" people likely contributed to the formation of the free people of color group, whose role in the destabilizing of Saint Domingue and its racial logic cannot be forgotten.  Despite their small numbers, they may have also influenced Haitian religion, cuisine, language, and culture in ways not legible today. Considering the fact they actually interacted with the enslaved and free people of color of Saint Domingue, unlike the Tainos, any understanding of Native American influences on Haiti probably owes more to them than any alleged cultural tie to the Taino.

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