History

Inside the Kingdom of Hayti, ‘the Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere’

This post was originally published on The Conversation US.

marlene daut

An 1811 wood engraving depicts the coronation of King Henry. Fine Art America

Marvel’s blockbuster “Black Panther,” which recently became the first superhero drama to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, takes place in the secret African Kingdom of Wakanda. The Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, rules over this imaginary empire – a refuge from the colonialists and capitalists who have historically impoverished the real continent of Africa.

But fans of the box-office hit might not realize that they don’t need to look to the make-believe world of the Black Panther to find a modern-day black kingdom that aspired to be a safe haven from racism and inequality.

The fictional kingdom has a real-life corollary in the historic Kingdom of Hayti, which existed as a sort of Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere from 1811 to 1820.

The Haitian Revolution led to the creation of the first free black state in the Americas. But the world was hardly expecting a former enslaved man named Henry Christophe to make himself the king of it.

Media accounts from the era, some of which I’ve collected in a digital archive, serve as a window into a brief period of time when the kingdom stood as a beacon of black freedom in a world of slavery. Yet, like Wakanda, the Kingdom of Hayti wasn’t a utopia for everyone.

A new kind of kingdom

On Jan. 1, 1804, an army led by former enslaved Africans in the French colony of Saint-Domingue staved off France’s attempt to bring back slavery, and declared themselves independent and free forever.

The leader of the revolutionaries, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, had defeated Napoleon’s famous army and made himself emperor of the newly-renamed Haiti.

But in October 1806, Dessalines was assassinated by political rivals, leading the country to be divided into two separate states: General Henry Christophe named himself president of the northern part of Haiti, while General Alexandre Pétion governed a completely separate republic in the southern and southwestern part of the country.

‘I am reborn from my ashes’ was the motto of Henry I, the former slave who became king.Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA

In March 1811, President Henry Christophe surprised everyone when he anointed himself King Henry I and renamed the northern republic, the Kingdom of Hayti. Henry I soon had a full court of nobles that included dukes, barons, counts and knights to rival that of royal England.

Haiti’s first and only kingdom immediately attracted the attention of media outlets from around the world. How could there be a republic on one side of the island and a monarchy on the other, they wondered? Was the new black king trying to mimic the same white sovereigns who had once enslaved his people, others asked?

The edicts establishing the royal order of Haiti were immediately translated into English and printed in Philadelphia, while many American and British newspapers and magazines ran celebrity profiles of the Haitian king.

One newspaper described him as “the elegant model of an Hercules.” Another described him as “a remarkably handsome, well-built man; with a broad chest, square shoulders, and an appearance of great muscular strength and activity.”

The ‘First Monarch’ of the ‘New World’

In 1813, construction of the opulent Sans-Souci Palace – meaning literally “without worry” – was completed.

The palace was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1842; today, its remains have been designated a world heritage UNESCO site.

During its heyday, the palace dazzled.

There were the elegantly manicured gardens and a unique, domed cathedral. The structure was flanked by a dramatic double staircase leading to the entryway and two arches detailed with etchings and inscriptions. One acknowledged Henry, rather than Jean-Jacques, as the country’s “founder.”

A woman climbs the stairs on the remains of Sans-Souci Palace in 2017. Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

There were also two painted crowns on the principal palace façade, each of which stood at 16 feet tall. The one on the right read “To the First Monarch Crowned in the New World.” The one on the left said “The Beloved Queen Reigns Forever Over Our Hearts.”

King Henry lived in the palace with his wife, Queen Marie-Louise, and his three children, Prince Victor Henry, and the princesses, Améthyste and Athénaire.

An April 1815 issue of The Gazette Royale details how the Kingdom of Hayti foiled France’s attempt to reconquer its former colony.

Newspapers around the world reprinted articles from the monarchy’s official newspaper, the Gazette Royale d’Hayti, detailing the royal family’s lavish dinners, replete with bombastic speeches and lengthy toasts to famous contemporary figures such as King George III of England, U.S. President James Madison, the King of Prussia, and the “friend of humanity,” the “immortal” British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

The Gazette also recounted the decadence of Queen Marie-Louise’s August 1816 official birthday celebration, which lasted for 12 days and had 1,500 people in attendance. On the final day of the party, 12 cannons fired after the Duke of Anse toasted the queen as “the perfect model of mothers and wives.”

A free island in a sea of slavery

There was much more to King Henry’s reign than luxurious parties.

On March 28, 1811, King Henry installed a constitutional monarchy, a move lauded by many in the British elite. The famous British naturalist Joseph Banks championed Henry’s 1812 book of laws, titled the “Code Henry,” calling it “the most moral association of men in existence.”

“Nothing that white men have been able to arrange is equal to it,” he added.

Banks admired the code’s detailed reorganization of the economy, from one based on slave labor to one – at least in theory – based on free labor. This transformation was wholly fitting for the formerly enslaved man-turned-king, whose motto was “I am reborn from my ashes.”

The code provided for shared compensation between proprietors and laborers at “a full fourth the gross product, free from all duties,” and it also contained provisions for the redistribution of any land that had previously belonged to slave owners.

“Your Majesty, in his paternal solicitude,” one edict reads, “wants for every Haytian, indiscriminately, the poor as well as the rich, to have the ability to become the owner of the lands of our former oppressors.”

Henry’s stated “paternal solicitude” even extended to enslaved Africans. While the Constitution of 1807 had announced that Haiti would not “disturb the regimes” of the colonial powers, royal Haitian guards regularly intervened in the slave trade to free captives on foreign ships that entered Haitian waters. An October 1817 issue of the Gazette celebrated the Haitian military’s capture of a slave ship and subsequent release of 145 of “our unfortunate brothers, victims of greed and the odious traffic in human flesh.”

Too good to be true?

Yet life in the Kingdom of Hayti was far from perfect.

Henry’s political rivals noted that people frequently defected to the southern Republic of Haiti, where they told stories of the monarch’s favoritism and the aristocracy’s abuse of power.

Worse, Henry’s famous fortress, the Citadelle Laferrière, was, according to some accounts, built with forced labor. For this reason, Haitians have long debated whether the imposing structure, which was restored in 1990, ought to symbolize the liberty of post-independence Haiti.

Henry’s dreams of a free black kingdom would not outlive him. On Aug. 15, 1820, the king suffered a debilitating stroke. Physically impaired – and fearing a fracturing administration plagued by the desertion of some its most prominent members – Haiti’s first and only king killed himself on the night of Oct. 8, 1820.

Illustrator Mahlon Blaine depicts King Henry on the cover of the 1928 book ‘Black Majesty.’@paulclammer/Twitter

Despite some questions about living conditions in the Kingdom of Hayti, its ruler can still be recognized as a visionary. Even one of his most ardent rivals from the south, Charles Hérard Dumesle, who often referred to Christophe as a “despot,” nonetheless praised the remarkable “new social order” outlined in the Code Henry. Dumesle appeared to lament that the king’s “civil laws were the formula for a social code that existed only on paper.”

For all those who still dream of black liberation, strong – if ultimately flawed – leaders, like both the King of Hayti and Black Panther, have always been central to these visions.

King Henry was even depicted as a sort of superhero in his time. As one article from 1816 noted of Henry,

“History demonstrates that no people has ever done anything great entirely by themselves; it is only ever in collaboration with the great men who become elevated in their midst that they raise themselves up to the glory of accomplishing extraordinary deeds.”

Marlene Daut is Associate Professor of African Diaspora Studies, University of Virginia. She is also the author of Tropics of Haiti.

 

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News

Liverpool University Press: Forward-looking for 120 years

This year Liverpool University Press will be 120 years old.

The UK’s third oldest university press, after Oxford and Cambridge, came into being on the 4th October 1899 with its founding Secretary/Director an Irish immigrant to Liverpool ‘possessed (of) a semi-divine inspiration, being endowed with a fertile imagination and a robust constitution,’  who left school at the age of 14 but rose off the back of an aptitude for languages to become the University Librarian and a globally recognised expert on the Romani.  John Sampson’s threads of migration, Ireland, languages, Romani Studies and Liverpool are of course still in evidence in LUP’s publishing today, so too the founding memorandum’s specification that ‘the work of the Press shall maintain a high standard of excellence.’

sampson

John Sampson, founding Secretary (Director) of Liverpool University Press

Across 2019 we will be celebrating and exploring 120 years of LUP through events, blog posts, partnerships, archival research, an elegant anniversary logo, the hashtag #LUP120 and the opportunity to read some of our books and journals for free.

As with the scholarly communities it serves, LUP’s fortunes waxed and waned over many decades but the unfailing commitment of Press staff, authors and editors, and a wider community of scholars who understood the distinctive and important contribution of university press publishing, have helped to lay the strong foundation on which LUP stands today.  Publishing more than 100 books a year, 33 journals and a number of digital products, and still the only university press to have won both The Bookseller and IPG awards for Academic Publisher of the Year, Liverpool University Press has been widely acclaimed for its willingness to embrace change.  To that end, we have chosen to celebrate the future as well as the past in 2019 with the strapline ‘Forward-looking for 120 years.’

At a time when scholarly communication is undergoing scrutiny and the higher education policy sands are shifting, the importance of university presses has been largely under-articulated and we hope that this milestone anniversary is an opportunity to remedy that. For, as the introduction to The University Press of Liverpool: A Record of Progress, 1899-1946 (LUP, 1947) makes clear: ‘This is a continuous story which, in the main, is a tale of high ideal…  There can be no better advertisement of a University than a University Press steadily producing books of high standing and sending them all over the world.’

 

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Irish Studies

Artistic works inspired by the Great Famine struggle to do it justice, but they keep the memory alive

This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

How do you represent in film an experience as keen and painful as hunger? Director Lance Daly’s recently released film Black ‘47 – a revenge epic set during the 1840s Irish famine – is the latest attempt to depict the devastating catastrophe which left more than a million dead in Ireland in one of the worst episodes of human suffering in the 19th century. The famine’s legacy is profound: today Ireland remains the only European country with a smaller population than in the 1800s.

Robert Fripp’s ‘An Irish Peasant and her Child’, a saccharine portrait of curiously well-fed looking victims of the famine. Robert Fripp/Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

Yet the problem of how (and whether) to convey the horrors of the famine in visual art perplexed artists of the period. There were few conventions in Victorian art practice to represent the starving human body in extremis. More commonly, paintings of the famine reverted to saccharine images of noble peasants at the mercy of external forces, or caricatures of Irish indolence and fecklessness, or simply ignored the crisis altogether, since it didn’t accord with the values or interests espoused by academic painting.

Illustrated journalism – which was in its infancy, with the Illustrated London News founded only in 1842 – fared somewhat better. Many of the best-known depictions of the famine are from journalistic coverage of the crisis, such as the sketch of Bridget O’Donnel and Children from the Illustrated London News, December 22 1849. Black ‘47 makes ample use of this source material, with its opening sequences explicitly mimicking the monochrome palette of 1840s wood engraving.

 

The sketch accompanying the story of Bridget O’Donnel in the Illustrated London News has become one of the best-known depictions of the famine. Illustrated London News

But newspaper coverage was uneven, as what they published was also constrained by their perception of what readers would tolerate. Although frequently based on eyewitness accounts, newspaper images generally pale in comparison with the words that accompany them: too shocking an image and the viewer would quickly turn the page.

Did a silence descend upon Britain and Ireland on the subject in the aftermath of the famine? Has it really remained an unspoken horror left in the past? Recent research on the visual and textual representation of the famine challenges this broad view. Today scholars of “famine memory” seek to more closely observe when, and crucially why, the famine emerges or shifts as a subject of representation. Far from being an unrepresentable event, the memory of the famine has assumed a wide array of visual and textual forms from the 19th century to the present. These include popular and literary fiction, drama, political rhetoric, print and painted depictions, photography and film.

Touted as the “first famine film”, Black ’47 is intriguing example of the genre, but not the first. That distinction belongs to the silent film Knocknagow (1918), the first feature entirely shot and produced in Ireland by the Film Company of Ireland, set loosely during the famine period and based on the popular 1873 novel by Charles Kickham.

With a sentimental and convoluted storyline combining star-crossed lovers, forced emigration, an absentee landlord and a rapacious land agent, and with a dramatic centrepiece scene depicting an eviction, Knocknagow drew upon stock characters and vignettes with broad appeal to the anticipated (largely American) audience. It used a repertoire of images of famine and eviction well known to contemporary audiences through their repetition in decades of painting, engraving and in popular fiction.

Black ’47 adopts many of these same elements, but its dramatic action is situated in the genre of the revenge western (a kind of O’Django Unchained), and it offers a far more sophisticated telling of a familiar story. For example, the targets of its central character’s fury range from the indifferent landlord, a frequent villain in 19th and 20th-century famine fiction, to the gombeen-man, a complex figure who exploited the suffering of his own people (and in the film, his own family).

During the 150th anniversary of the famine in the 1990s, hundreds of public memorials were constructed across Ireland and in the new homelands of the expansive Irish diaspora, something I discuss in my book Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and the Monument. Public interest shows no sign of waning since: new memorials are planned, from Glasgow to San Francisco, and the Irish government has adopted an annual National Day of Famine Commemoration. Nevertheless, all representations of the famine respond to pre-existing literary or visual traditions, are crafted to appeal to specific viewers, and stem from a range of political and social motivations. As such, any image of the famine is a complex artefact of its own time and place, not merely an illustration or reflection of historical experience or collective cultural memory.

Since the 19th century people have questioned whether the famine is a suitable subject for creative reinterpretation. Howls of outrage greeted news of Hugh Travers’ “famine sitcom” pilot commissioned by Channel 4 in 2015, a project eventually abandoned. But the famine should not be considered any kind of sacred cow: this has certainly never been the case historically. As the genealogy of its depiction shows us – from The Black Prophet by William Carleton, writing at the time of the famine, to Black ’47 today, the seismic shock of the famine has continued to haunt all subsequent generations, each seeking forms of comprehension and meaning.

As Walter Benjamin observed: “To articulate what is past does not mean to recognise ‘how it really was’. It means to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger.” The making, and remaking, of the famine will recur so long as its memory unsettles us.

Emily Mark-FitzGerald is Associate Professor in the School of Art History and Cultural Policy, University College Dublin and is the author of: Commemorating the Irish Famine: Memory and the Monument.

 

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History

How Battles Over Booze Shaped Modern Liverpool – In Conversation with David Beckingham

How did Liverpool transform its 19th century reputation for drunkenness? David Beckingham, author of The Licensed City explains the social impact of licensing laws in a city centred on drinking culture. 

What made you decide to study Liverpool and what did you focus on in your research?

For much of the nineteenth century, Liverpool enjoyed a terrible reputation for drunkenness. According to police statistics it was at various times the most drunken city in England. At its peak in the 1870s, there was something like 20,000 annual police proceedings for drunkenness. I was interested to find out more about why Liverpool looked so at odds with other cities.

I began by considering the role of numbers in constructing municipal reputations. I was cautious of these numbers, aware that they were counting incidents of policing and not every act of consuming alcohol. But I wanted to know what that record said about Victorian Liverpool, a city whose civic ambitions betrayed a series of social anxieties.

This meant asking why the authorities in Liverpool thought that the city had such a drink problem. Because policing reflecting anxieties about largely public behaviours, I started to consider the role that drink played in the social and street life of the city. This took me on a kind of archive tour of the docksides, the slums of north Liverpool, the mercantile heart around the Town Hall, and the theatre land of Williamson Square. I focus on the regulatory mechanism for controlling the sale of alcohol through pubs. This is the licensed city of my title, a city where regulators were keen to address the links between drink and a range of social problems.

How did you go about your research for this book? Were you surprised by any of your findings?

My book grew out of a PhD in Geography. Most of my research was done in Liverpool’s Central Library, where I read the minute books of the Council, Watch Committee (which was in charge of policing) and magistrates. Newspapers were also fantastically useful. I particularly liked reading old satirical papers like Porcupine. They provide a very different angle on the sometimes rather dry tone of official minute books and, even through their criticisms, revealed the sense of civic pride and identity so central to social reform.

The archives also have some wonderful temperance material, produced by reformers campaigning against drink. This included an amazing set of maps of pubs in different parts of town, which are reprinted in the book. Being trained as a geographer, I was interested to think about what kind of political work was done by representing information in this way. They show us how tempting it can be to construct reductive moral arguments about people and places.

I really wanted to learn about the cultures of Liverpool’s pubs. We know what they looked like: plans formed part of the licensing process and there are plenty of street photographs that reflect changing branding and design. Liverpool still has some famous examples of pubs from the period. I tried to imagine what they would have sounded like as people talked over their beer about their daily concerns. The written records aren’t really set up for that, of course. Things were usually recorded when they went wrong, but by understanding this it is still possible to glimpse daily life.

Most surprising, to me, was just how detailed these records could be. They show magistrates manipulating the layout of pubs, doing away with screens or doors to cosy corners where people could get up to mischief. My favourite examples come from cases where publicans were tasked with managing women who were reputed to be prostitutes. The law didn’t ban women from seeking liquid refreshment, but it asked that they stay no longer than was necessary for ‘reasonable refreshment’. Importantly, it didn’t spell out how long this was. One London Road publican was told that if he spotted a known prostitute she should not be allowed to stay on his premises for longer than four minutes. The obvious concern was to prevent pubs being used by prostitutes to solicit for sex. To me it conjures up an image of the pub’s staff lining up clocks along the bar. I can’t imagine the magistrates’ intention was to endorse speed drinking, but this tells us a lot about their priorities. It has been really instructive to see just how these gendered moral codes ran right the way down through the social life of the city.

Photograph courtesy of Colin Wilkinson at Blue Coat Press

Why did alcohol become such a pressing political issue in the nineteenth century?

In a way, that concern with prostitution helps explain something very important about drink. It intersected with such a broad range of social issues and policy arenas, right the way from labour productivity and criminality through to health and housing reform.

It is clear to me that the problem of prostitution played a particular role in politicising the management of pubs in Liverpool, in no small part because of the political clout of some of the city’s brewers. This helped turn drink from a question of individual moral responsibility into a collective question about the city’s management to be challenged through the ballot box.

Nationally, the growth of the temperance movement also reflects a distinctive feature of drink: it made really very tangible an important and unresolved debate about the rights and reach of the state to govern individual behaviours. This is really what got me interested in drink in the first place. It is a great case study for understanding the developing governance of everyday life in Victorian Britain.

To what extent did you find that reforming licensing laws tackled the social issues that Liverpool was facing in the nineteenth century?

That’s a really important question. It is wrong to assume that the broader social changes I narrate were all down to licensing. Licensing has to be seen alongside other reforms such as slum clearance, as well as changes in prosperity and social attitudes to drink. But that’s the interesting thing about drink: it links to so many other features of urban life. The magistrates reduced the numbers of licences, particularly beerhouses in the working-class parts of town, and they really did try to address what went on in pubs. They also learnt how to use licensing to shape the world beyond the pub. In that, they showed that licensing was a useful tool of social governance, and the argument I make is that this was often directed at behaviours other than simply drinking.

It would also be wrong to see any successes as all their own work, however: I place great emphasis on the campaigns of social reformers. They were central to the definition of particular behaviours as problems that required intervention. For me the most telling thing is that reformers thought that licensing was working. This fed into a really useful political narrative that their social action was helping transform how their city was run. That takes us full circle back to the idea of reputation.

 

For more information on The Licensed City please visit our website.
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History

Archaeology and The Anarchy

The long-awaited paperback edition of The Anarchy is now available! We caught up with authors Oliver H. Creighton and Duncan W. Wright to discuss what archaeology can tell us about this turbulent time in Britain’s history.

Could you explain a bit about the history behind the ‘Anarchy’ and King Stephen’s reign?

The dramatic epithet ‘The Anarchy’ has been applied to the rule of Stephen, King of England, since the nineteenth century. This was one of the most turbulent reigns in English medieval history. Stephen of Blois, grandson of William the Conqueror, was crowned at Westminster in 1135 following a coup after the death of his uncle Henry I. The period until Stephen’s death in 1154 is notorious for the English crown being contested between the king and his cousin Matilda, while rebellious barons and Scottish invasions fermented the chaos. According to chroniclers the English landscape bristled with new castles while robber barons desecrated and fortified churches and ravaged the landscape, although our book tries hard to look beyond the image of the period painted by contemporary writers.

 ‘The Anarchy’ is the first ever archaeologically based study of the ‘Anarchy’ of King Stephen’s reign. Why do you think this is the case?

There is a vast body of work on Stephen’s reign written by some towering figures of English medieval history. In contrast, precious little had been written of the period’s archaeology, although we could glean enough from excavations of sites such as siegeworks (mini-castles, built to besiege other fortresses) to see that this approach had great potential. Our project was driven by deepening curiosity about what archaeology could (and could not) tell us about this bleak but fascinating period and its ‘real’ impact on society and landscape. We were keen to marshal and interrogate the full range of available archaeological evidence, from individual artefacts such as weapons and coins through to entire landscapes, and conduct fresh fieldwork to explore on a range of sites — especially castles, siege castles and settlements.

What were you able to learn about this particularly turbulent period by taking an archaeological approach?

In terms of the big question for historians — whether we genuinely see ‘anarchy’ in mid-12th-century England, or whether revisionist views that downplay the levels of chaos and violence are vindicated — what did our work show? Anarchy in the UK or business as usual? Is it playing safe to say that the material evidence of archaeology shows a bit of both? On the one hand, everyday material culture, such as pottery for example, shows precious little evidence for any Anarchy-period ‘event horizon’ in the archaeological record, and there are signs that in certain spheres, such as sculpture for instance, this was a period of experimentation and investment in the arts. On the other hand, our mapping of conflict events and portable material culture, such as coin hoards, (which can be argued to provide an index of insecurity) show that in those areas of the country where it was focused, the conflict hit the landscape hard. The fortification of churches and even cathedrals (Hereford’s had catapults positioned on its tower!) was just one indication of how the rules of war were being stretched. The focus of conflict in the Thames Valley and Wessex also shows that this was not a struggle over peripheral or separatist regions, but for the very heartland of English kingship. But the area of life brought into the sharpest focus by the archaeology is the rise to prominence of local lords and the seigneurial image —not just through castle-building, but through investment in sculpture within parish churches and through an unprecedented boom in monastic foundation. As local lords made their mark on local landscapes, this was unmistakably a period of image-making as well as war-mongering.

 How do you think this book paves the way for further research into this period of history?

We hope that our project and book can help inform and even inspire the study of other conflicts in Britain and Europe. While battlefield archaeology is a booming area of research, this project has highlighted that archaeology can help reconstruct and understand other modes and methods of conflict, especially siege warfare. Whatever form future archaeological studies of the Anarchy take, it is hoped that our work provides a useful springboard either for further investigation of other castles, siege-works and settlements or, indeed for research in other, as yet unexplored areas.

Duncan W. Wright is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Heritage at Bishop Grosseteste University.
Oliver H. Creighton is Professor of Archaeology at the University of Exeter.

 

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