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A Tale of Two Brothers: Haiti’s Other Revolutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2015

Vanessa Mongey*
Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee


Sévère Courtois's modest ambition was to revolutionize the world. “It is man's holy cause and duty to protect and aid the defense and to establish Independence in all the Universe,” he instructed his brother Joseph in October 1821. At the time, the Courtois brothers were a mere hundred miles apart; Sévère had set up an independent government on Providencia Island, in the western Caribbean, and Joseph was embarking on a political career of his own in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Though the two brothers were born in the French colony of St. Domingue, the tumults of the Age of Revolutions had swept them away from their native island. At the time Sévère penned the letter urging his brother to support his universal liberation enterprise, Joseph had just come back from fighting in the Napoleonic wars in Europe. Sévère had participated in multiple revolutionary coups and moved from New Orleans to Cartagena, and from there to Texas and then Florida.

Research Article
Copyright © Academy of American Franciscan History 2012

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I would like to thank Kathleen Brown, Daniel Richter, and Katie Paugh, the members and participants in the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Cultures colloquium, and the Association for Caribbean Historians, as well as the reviewers and editors of The Americas for their comments, criticism, and advice on this piece.

1. Sévère Courtois to Joseph Courtois, October 15, 1821, Secretaria de Guerra y Marina [hereafter SGM], torn. 343, f. 1032, Archivo General de la Nación, Colombia [hereafter AGNC].

2. Expression is found in Darrell Meadows, R., “Engineering Exile: Social Networks and the French Atlantic Community, 1789–1809,French Historical Studies 23:1 (2000), p. 647.Google Scholar Most of the scholarship has focused on the St. Dominguan diaspora in the United States. See , Lachance, Paul, “Politics of Fear: French Laws and Slave Trade, 1786–1809,” Plantation Society 1 (1979), pp. 162197;Google Scholar Hunt, Alfred N., Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988);Google Scholar White, Ashli, Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010);Google Scholar Geggus, David, “The Slave Leaders in Exile: Spain’s Resettlement of Its Black Auxiliary Troops,” Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), pp. 179203;Google Scholar and Brasseaux, Carl A. and Conrad, Glenn R., eds., The Road to Louisiana: the Saint-Domingue Refugees, 1792–1809 (Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana/Center for Louisiana Studies, 1992).Google Scholar Three essays by Branson, Susan and Patrick, Leslie, Lachance, Paul, and Geggus, David appear in The Impact of the Haitian Revolution on the Atlantic World, Geggus, David, ed. (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2001).Google Scholar

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5. See James, C.L.R., The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1963).Google Scholar The literature on the Haitian Revolution has grown exponentially in the last two decades; see Garrigus, John, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue (London: Palgrave, 2006);CrossRefGoogle Scholar Finck, Caroline, The Making of Haiti: The Saint-Domingue Revolution from Below (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990);Google Scholar Geggus, David, ed., The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002);Google Scholar and Dubois, Laurent, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004).Google Scholar

6. France informally recognized Haiti in 1825, but the new nation would have to wait until 1838 for the definitive and unconditional recognition of its independence. The United States followed suit in 1862. Sepinwall, Alyssa, “Les Etats-Unis et Haïti: étude historiographique,” in 1802, rétablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies françaises. Aux origines d’Haïti, Bénot, Yves and Dorigny, Marcel, eds. (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2003), pp. 387401;Google Scholar Wesley, Charles H., “The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti and Liberia as Independent Republics,” Journal ofNegro History 2 (1917), pp. 369383;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Hickey, Donald R., “America’s Response to the Slave Revolt in Haiti, 1791–1806,” Journal of the Early Republic 2:4 (Winter 1982), pp. 361379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar On French-Haitian relations, see Brière, Jean-François, Haïti et la France, 1804–1848: le rêve brisé (Paris: Karthala, 2008);Google Scholar and Stein, Robert, “From Saint-Domingue to Haïti,” Journal of Caribbean History 19 (November 1984), pp. 189226.Google Scholar

7. The study of the importance of military service for the construction of citizenship and male political participation, for whites and blacks alike, remains underdeveloped for the postrevolutionary periods. Exceptions are Sheller, Mimi, “Sword-Bearing Citizens: Militarism and Manhood in Nineteenth-Century Haiti,” Plantation Society in the Americas 4 (1997), pp. 233278;Google Scholar and Heuer, Jennifer, The Family and the Nation: Gender and Citizenship in Revolutionary France, 1789–1830 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005).Google Scholar

8. Information regarding Joseph is drawn from his file in the Service historique de la defense, Archives de l’armée de terre [hereafter SHD], “Joseph Courtois, sous–lieutenant,” series 2YE, file 943, and from the Archives nationales, F2C13. See also Bellegarde, Dantès, Histoire du peuple haïtien (Port-au-Prince: Collection du Tricinquantenaire de l’Indépendance d’Haïti, 1953), pp. 155156.Google Scholar

9. Madiou, Thomas, Histoire d’Haïti (Port-au-Prince: Courtois, 1847), vol. 3, p. 331.Google Scholar

10. Gainot, Bernard, Les officiers de couleur dans les armées de la République et de l’Empire (1792–1815) (Paris: Karthala, 2007), p. 155.Google Scholar

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13. According to Leo Elisabeth, 1,071 were deported from Guadeloupe and St. Domingue: “Déportés des petites Antilles françaises: 1801–1803,” in Bénot and Dorigny, 1802: rétablissement, pp. 6–94.

14. “Arrêté portant défense aux Noirs, mulâtres et autres gens de couleur d’entrer sans autorisation sur le territoire continental de la République,” July 1802, reprinted in Bénot and Dorigny, 1802: rétablissement, p. 564.

15. These words were reported by one of the pensionnaires, Blaise Lechat, to Placide and Isaac L’Ouverture, July 10, 1814, and reproduced by Le Gorgeu, G., Étude sur Jean–Baptiste Coisnon (Vire: A. Guérin, 1881), p. 67.Google Scholar

16. “Certificate of captain commandant Moreau,” n.d., SHD.

17. Laforest, citoyen de couleur, député de Saint-Domingue, à son collègue Gouly, député de l’Isle de France (Paris: De I’imprimerie de I’Union, an IIIe de la République [1795]).

18. Bellegarde, Dantès, Ecrivains haïtiens (Port-au-Prince: Société d’éditions et de librairie, 1947), p. 53.Google Scholar

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21. A census in 1807 recorded 821 men and 461 women who were “noirs ou de couleur” in metropolitan France. Sibalis, Michael, “Les Noirs en France sous Napoléon: l’enquête de 1807,” in Dorigny, , 1802: rétablissement, pp. 95106.Google Scholar The census is in the Archives nationales, Paris, F7–8705 and F7–8444, and did not include Paris, where the majority of nonwhites lived.

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23. Joseph Courtois to Ministre de la Guerre, October 10, 1815, SHD.

24. Joseph Courtois to Ministre de la Guerre, June 23, 1815, SHD.

25. Mémoire à Mrs “les Membres de la commission chargée d’examiner la conduite plus ou moins active des officiers depuis le 20 mars 1815 au mois de juillet suivant,” November 16, 1815, SHD.

26. Heuer, Jennifer, “The One-Drop Rule in Reverse? Interracial Marriages in Napoleonic and Restoration France,” Law and History Review 27:3 (2009), p. 29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar The same year, the Minister of Justice lifted the Napoleonic ban on interracial marriages.

27. Daget, Serge, La répression de la traite des Noirs au XIXe siècle: l’action des croisières françaises sur les côtes occidentales de l’Afrique, 1817–1850 (Paris: Karthala, 1997), pp. 3438, 51–53;Google Scholar Stein, Robert, The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Old Regime Business (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980), p. 198;Google Scholar and Geggus, David, “Haiti and the Abolitionists: Opinion, Propaganda, and International Politics in Britain and France, 1804–1836,” in Abolition and Its Aftermath: The Historical Context, 1790–1836, Richardson, David, ed. (London: Frank Cass, 1985), p. 117.Google Scholar

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29. Clement, Joe B., “History of Education in Haiti: 1804–1915,” Revista de Historia de América 88 (July-December 1979), pp. 174;Google Scholar Bouchereau, Madeleine, Education des femmes en Haïti (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de Fétat, 1944).Google Scholar

30. Madiou, , Histoire d’Haïti, vol. 1, p. 6.Google Scholar

31. In France, an ordinance of April 1833 gave political and civil rights to free blacks (a reinstatement of the April 4, 1792, decree that had granted full citizenship to free blacks, but was reversed by Napoleon).

32. Notable among contributors to the literature are Blanchard, Peter , “The Language of Liberation: Slave Voices in the Wars of Independence,” Hispanic American Historical Review 82:3 (2002), pp. 499523;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Vincent, Theodore G., “The Blacks Who Freed Mexico,” The Journal of Negro History 79:3 (1994), pp. 257276;CrossRefGoogle Scholar Helg, Aline, Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995);Google Scholar and Ferrer, Ada, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, ana" Revolution, 1868–1878 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).Google Scholar See also Vinson, Ben III and King, Stewart R., “Introducing the ‘New’ African Diasporic Military History in Latin America,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 5:2 (2004), pp. 122.Google Scholar

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35. Ibid., p. 42. Roland McConnell asserts that Colonel Savary raised a battalion of 256 free men of color, mostly veterans of the French republican army. Negro Troops of Antebellum Louisiana, A History of the Battalion of Free Men of Color (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968), p. 70.

36. Narrett, David, “José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara: Caudillo of the Mexican Republic in Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 105 (October 2002), pp. 194228;Google Scholar Garrett, Julia, “The First Constitution of Texas, April 17, 1813,Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 40 (1937), pp. 290308.Google Scholar The presence of armed black men in the expedition made some U.S. Americans uncomfortable and a campaign was launched through papers and pamphlets in the Louisiana/Texas region to undermine Gutierrez’s legitimacy, overplaying the influence of foreigners, “Napoleonic agents,” and his association with men of color like Savary.

37. Sévère Courtois to General Santander, May 30, 1823, cited in Verna, Pétion, p. 295.

38. War of 1812 service records, 2 Batt’n [D’Aquin’s] Militia, National Archives, Service records of volunteer soldiers who served during the War of 1812 in the state of Louisiana, Washington, D.C., roll boxes 47 and 87.

39. Savary, Joseph et al. to Jackson, Andrew, Orleans, New, March 16, 1815, in The Papers of Andrew Jackson, Moser, Harold, Hoth, David, MacPherson, Sharon, and Reinbold, John, eds. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991), vol. 3, p. 315.Google Scholar

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49. SGM, torn. 343, fol. 1019–1032, AGNC.

50. “Relación reservada del Coronel L. Peru de Lacroix,” January 20,1822, SGM, torn. 343, fol. 1020, AGNC.

51. Courtois, SévèreProclama a los estranjeros,” Gaceta de Cartagena 21 (December 1822).Google Scholar

52. Italics are mine. “Guárico” was often used to refer to St. Domingue/Haiti at the time. Courtois to Santander, n.d., Providencia, Correspondencia dirigida al General Francesco de Santander, Roberto Cortázar, ed. (Bogota: Editorial Voluntad, 1964–1970), vol. 5, p. 211.

53. Courtois to Mademoiselle Mimi Florette, October 19, 1821, SGM, torn. 343, fol. 1038, AGNC.

54. For biographies on these three figures, see Garrigus, John D., “Opportunist or Patriot? Julien Raimond (1774–1801) and the Haitian Revolution,” Slavery and Abolition 28:1 (2007), pp. 121;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and “‘Thy Coming Fame, Ogé! Is Sure’: New Evidence on Ogé’s 1790 Revolt and the Beginning of the Haitian Revolution,” in Garrigus and Morris, Assumed Identities, pp. 19—15.

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57. Sévère Courtois to Santander, November 15 and November 30, 1823. Request accepted by Santander, December 29, 1823, Correspondencia a Santander, vol. 5.

58. Sévère Courtois to Santander, May 30, 1823, Cartagena, in Correspondencia a Santander, vol. 5, p. 214.

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63. Sévère Courtois to Mademoiselle Mimi Florette (sic), October 15 and October 19, 1821, SGM, torn. 343, fol. 1036–1038, AGNC.

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68. Gaceta de Cartagena, January 4, 1823.

69. Sévère Courtois accused one of Lacroix’s followers of calling him a mulatto. Deposition of JeanLouis Dutrieu aboard the Amazon, August 9, 1822, SGM, fol. 1041, AGNC.

70. “Acusación documentada que hizo al tribunal de censura el día 26 abril de 1823, Severo Courtois del artículo firmado ‘El Censor’” (Cartagena: Imprenta del Gobierno, 1823), Archivo Histórico Restrepo, fondo II, vol. 51, fol. 106–107.

71. República, Hoja de Servicios, tom. 19, fol. 1019, AGNC. Jealousy might have played a role, since Guillot started his military career at a higher rank: he was a captain in the War of 1812 while Sévère was a sergeant major. At the time of the petition to Jackson, Guillot is listed as “Capt. Gers,” Courtois as “Ensign 2nd Bon.” Courtois’s career took a turn after meeting Aury. He became commandant and owned three ships. Guillot also rose through the ranks but was “merely” a colonel on Providencia. Aury’s settlement of estate, August 30, 1820, Luis Aury Papers, folder 9, U.S. Library of Congress. Marcelin Guillot signed the petition sent by the officers of the St. Domingue battalion requesting Andrew Jackson’s protection from Louisiana discriminatory legislation: “From Savary et al.,” Papers of Andrew Jackson, p. 315.

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75. Lacroix, Relación.

76. Copia de la declaración de Tiburcio López, June 6, 1817, New Orleans, in Cuba 1900, Archivo General de las Indias.

77. The Weekly Recorder, November 12, 1817.

78. Alexandria Gazette, December 28, 1819.

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