Island of struggle

An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom: Revolution, Emancipation, and Reenslavement in Hispaniola, 1709–1809
Graham T Nessler
2016, University of North Carolina Press
294 pages, plates, paperback

IT IS CLEAR than an exciting revision of the history of Hispaniola is under way (witness another title reviewed alongside this one) that emphasises, above all, what Haitian and Dominican history have had in common, as opposed to the underlying conflicts between these two countries that share one island. Graham Nessler’s book is an ambitious contribution to this trend which emphasises, primarily, the character of the Haitian Revolution as an islandwide and circum-Caribbean phenomenon. In An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom, the author examines the intertwined stories of Saint-Domingue – the French colony that secured emancipation and became Haiti – and Santo Domingo, the Spanish colony that became the Dominican Republic but witnessed a complex reenslavement. Santo Domingo was variously controlled in the period after the Haitian revolt by France, Haitian troops, and ultimately Spain (with the complicity of Great Britain, at that stage Spain’s ally, which had a vested interest in resisting emancipation in the Caribbean and competing with France). By tracing conflicts between Haiti and Santo Domingo over territory, the meaning of liberty and citizenship, Nessler argues that the borders and governance of these inevitable neighbours were blurred and mutually influential in this turbulent period. The underlying message is clear: events in Haiti/Saint-Domingue were inextricably linked to those underway in the other half of the island, and vice versa. – GO’T