Welcome to the Nèg Mawon Podcast! In today’s episode, titled “A Secret Among the Blacks-A Conversation with John Garrigus,” we have a thought-provoking discussion with our guest, John Garrigus, as he shares his insights into the role of community in revolution and resistance against slavery.
Garrigus challenges the common belief that enslaved people were always rebelling against slavery, highlighting the importance of creating a community of trust for revolutionaries. He also challenges the stereotype that the Haitian Revolution was solely driven by violence, shedding light on the nonviolent means used by individuals like Medor to work towards ending slavery.
We delve into the topic of Garrigus’ book, which examines resistance communities chronologically and geographically, uncovering a poison scare in Haiti and the secret killer behind it. As we explore the period leading up to the Haitian Revolution, Garrigus reveals fascinating connections between key revolutionaries through his thorough geographical research.
Join our host, Patrick Jean-Baptiste, as he engages in an enlightening conversation with John Garrigus, uncovering the challenges of studying colonial Haiti and the importance of understanding the perspective of the enslaved people. This episode takes us on a journey of exploration, reflecting on the complexities of history and the need to center the stories of the enslaved individuals.
So, grab your headphones and prepare for an engaging and eye-opening conversation on the Nèg Mawon Podcast. Let’s dive in!
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:00:01]:
Well, hello. Hello, Patrick.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:00:04]:
How are you, John?
John Garrigus [00:00:05]:
I’m good. How are you?
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:00:07]:
Okay. Whenever I talk to, to the audience or other of your colleague, For some reason, I’m always confusing you with David Gegis. I guess it’s the g, It
John Garrigus [00:00:23]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:00:24]:
So I don’t think that’s gonna happen anymore now that I’ve actually spoken to you. You know?
John Garrigus [00:00:28]:
Oh, good. No. That’s entirely to my advantage My whole career, David has been such a huge, help to me, and his work is such an inspiration that I I I’m a big benefit of that, A very common mistake people make.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:00:43]:
Oh, okay. So, yeah, talk to talk to me about that, Chris. It seems like I’ve been doing this for the last 2 years, and I’m into my 70th episode in the last 2 years. Wow. Yeah. I know. Right? It’s amazing. And everything I’ve read almost everything I’ve read, you’re cited or he cited.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:01:04]:
What what was that like Good for you, you know, coming into the academy. And and why first of all, why Haiti? Why why what is that your your it seems to be your primary interest from everything I’ve read.
John Garrigus [00:01:18]:
Oh, for sure. Yeah. You know, I, I, I grew up in Indiana In the middle of the United States from a family that had kind of historical connections to the French Huguenot diaspora, and my grandparents lived in a town called Avincennes, which was a French, settlement. I was always just fascinated by France, so I went off to graduate school to study the French Revolution. And then when I got to graduate school, I realized there were so many books On the French revolution and so few books written about the Haitian revolution. And my adviser, who was a French historian by the name of Robert Forster, had Just got interested in Saint Domingue, and he strongly encouraged me and gave me a copy of Marco De Saint Marie’s, you know, description and Really just strongly urged me to to look at Saint Domingue and the Haitian revolution. So so, yeah, I just decided, wow. This is a wide this is such an important event in the history of the world, and it Still remain so mysterious and so misunderstood.
John Garrigus [00:02:26]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:02:29]:
About more of the survey, he he pops up everywhere. Mhmm. What what are some of the pitfalls of relying too much on more of this area that you’ve seen throughout your career. And what what what did he get right? What what what should how are you trained to know what specifically Since I it seems to be popped up almost every book that I read, people sort of go back to him. What what what is he good at, and what what are some of the pitfalls?
John Garrigus [00:02:58]:
Well, it’s, I mean, it’s an incredible let me see. I mean, the the pitfalls are the pitfalls of any historian of colonial Haiti, Which is that the, you know, the French colonial documents are not at all interested in the kinds of things that we’re interested in if we are Trying to tell the story of the revolution and black liberation and, you know, self determination in the 2nd American country and the 1st Latin American country. These are things that the colonists are trying to obscure. So Moro de Saint Marie definitely has that problem. What I think is marvelous about him is that, I mean, many, many, many things. Geography is so important in telling these stories, and moral disseminate is Like many 18th century, you know, people from France is extremely interested in geography and climate and all the little Regions of the the mountains and the plains and all the, you know, all the specifics of of that that Makes Santo make this kind of tapestry of so many different places and people. So I found him it’s like It’s like walking through the colony with, you know, this guide at your side. Mhmm.
John Garrigus [00:04:19]:
Also, Maruti Senegui was A very was really the architect of the French colonial archive. So his private archives, he collected documents and stored them and kept them safe, and then eventually, the French government purchased them from him in Napoleon’s Time. And so so much of the documentation that we have is, you know, in the paper form in Is because he put his hand on a on that piece of paper and decided to keep it.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:04:50]:
Mhmm. I wanna kinda Stick to the archives for a little bit here. You I wanna get your reaction to this quote by Michel Woff to Yo from Silas in the Past. Here’s what he wrote. The history produced outside of Haiti is increasingly sophisticated and rich empirically, Yet its vocabulary vocabulary and often its entire discursive framework recall frighteningly Those of the 18th century.
John Garrigus [00:05:19]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:05:20]:
Papers and monographs take the tone of plantation records, End of quote. How did you navigate your way through what you cite as the the conundrum of the archives? And I remember Laurent Dubois mentioned in in one of the webinars that it’s a kind of hostile, Discursive quagmire that that historians have to navigate their way through. I and I think you even admitted to the fact that you find yourself sort of taking on the voice of Was it a lawyer I think you were describing? And
John Garrigus [00:05:53]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:05:53]:
that you had to kinda you had to write the ship as it were, you know, to Yeah. Talk about that. Talk
John Garrigus [00:05:58]:
about that. It is so, I mean, Rolf Frio is one of my professors. I’m so sorry that he’s not, With us anymore. I would love to get his thoughts on on this project. And people who’ve read my earlier 2 monographs know, You know how easily I fall into that that pattern that he’s describing. You know, you immerse yourself in these documents and You you wanna you you wanna explore who the people were who created the documents, who the audience was, the conditions Of document creation. And in the process of doing that, it’s so easy to lose track of the actual People on the ground who are living in slavery, who are unable to leave their mark in the archive, you know, in any other way except through these enslavers. So in this in this last project, I worked really hard to escape that perspective, and The stories that I found were so extraordinary to me after a lifetime my own lifetime of, you know, working in this area.
John Garrigus [00:07:05]:
I found Stories that really could be turned around, in a sense kind of flipped away from A figure like, you know, Sebastian Cortin, who is the man who interrogated Mackandal and created this document that’s Full of contradictions, you know, accusing Machandal of being a mass murderer, arranging for his unjust execution, And then creating a document recording the interrogation that makes it clear that Korsair never could find the slightest bit of evidence of any use of poison or medicine by by Maca and Daul. So when I when I you know, court for Corta in particular, I realized, you know, I have to put mock and dala at the center of this. I can’t I can’t make this a story about Quartet and his mistakes Mhmm. Because the mistakes were really quite obvious to anybody who who reads that document.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:08:07]:
So let’s so was Machanduel The lord of poisoner.
John Garrigus [00:08:13]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:08:14]:
Has has he’s been, depicted in history?
John Garrigus [00:08:18]:
No. Machandal was Very, very likely from West Central Africa, from the many, many nations that comprise, you know, the basin of the the Congo River Valley? And what he was doing was not making medicines or or anything like that that people would take, They would put they would put in their mouth or touch. Instead, he was making he was making power objects, What people in the Congo tradition call, and people in Cuba, you know, have have their forms of this in the Apollo religion and maybe Haitians have their pocket Congo. These are are packets of Dirt and bones and iron iron and plants that hold a spirit inside them and allowed Makandal To foresee the future and to protect his followers from evil. And this comes out very clearly in Cortez Interrogation document. Even though he’s confused, he thinks Mackandal is from maybe Senegal. He thinks Mackandal is saying the word Allah Allah. Of course, Quartet didn’t speak any African language.
John Garrigus [00:09:32]:
How would he know Mhmm. You know, what those words meant? So to me, it’s quite clear that Mackandal is not a Muslim, Not from West Africa. He’s from the Congo River and area, though scholars are still debating how deep inside Central Africa, he may have come.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:09:51]:
So so so is Kothen then responsible For because there’s a portion of the Haitian community who thinks was Muslim. Did it come from that depiction from About the Allah. He thought he was saying Allah Allah?
John Garrigus [00:10:07]:
Yeah. He said he was saying it in the the language of the Turk.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:10:11]:
Oh, wow. So that would
John Garrigus [00:10:12]:
be, yeah, that would be for Cortell. Of course, France’s great enemy in the Mediterranean was the Turkish, You know, the Turkish empire or the Ottoman empire. And so he’s he’s trying every way he can to make Machandal a personification of The other, you know, the evil destruct destroyer. Mhmm. When really what Machandala is doing is Creating a very powerful community and the power of his leadership and the power of the loyalty people felt towards him, that was his real crime. That’s what really led to his execution.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:10:48]:
So you you said that Haitian friends of yours Say that you you decentered with this book. Mhmm. Can you talk about that a little bit, what they meant by that?
John Garrigus [00:11:01]:
Well, I think yeah. Those were friends of mine who were, here in Dallas area who read a very, very early account of of my my attempt to, You know, to tell the mock and dull story, and they were right. I think they were right. I wrote that early version and parts of that appear in a book called Plantation Machine, Which is Saint Domingue in Jamaica, book that I wrote with Trevor Barnard. So that that book is the story of Mackandal there is very much about Cortin. And I I didn’t really understand I didn’t understand that something Was killing thousands of people and animals in the area around Mackandal. I didn’t understand how central Mackandal was To the communities that eventually arose on the night of August 22nd 17, 91. I I didn’t know the map To see the connection.
John Garrigus [00:11:54]:
So I think I did make that mistake, and and that that friend really helped me, you know, correct over about a 10 year period, Correct my my storytelling to better reflect the reality.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:12:06]:
But but not in this book. They don’t see they don’t see you as decentering him in this book.
John Garrigus [00:12:11]:
No. My my my same friend has the book now, and I I think he likes it quite a lot. I hope I hope so. I haven’t talked to him yet about it. But
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:12:17]:
So so this mythology I’ve I’ve talked about your book, for months now to to some in the audience and that I was gonna interview you. And what is the source because some Haitians take pride in the fact and that mythology Mhmm. That he poisoned a lot of whites And Sendomeng. Mhmm. And that to come up with this this, evidence that that was in Fact not the case is in some ways removing some of the I guess you were worshiping, for lack of a better term. Mhmm. That they like the idea of revenge
John Garrigus [00:12:56]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:12:57]:
And the means of it. Right? Well, now the means are not Factual. How do you how do you answer them with that?
John Garrigus [00:13:05]:
Well, I would say
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:13:05]:
think of Mackandal now?
John Garrigus [00:13:07]:
I would say that they should still think of Mackandal As a great leader, as a great like a founding, founder of Haitian culture, and that the stories of the people who followed Machandal and the other people Who were fighting in, similar but also in different ways, fighting the same mysterious Killer in the area all around him, in a call, perish, in in Lamb Bay over a 30 year period. Those people are all Sort of deserve to be part of the pantheon of of of Haitian heroes even though they’re ordinary people. And I think the Mackandal our our our need to make Mackandal a hero comes from the insistence of French colonists That there was no resistance against slavery. And that insistence is so so ludicrous. So in the in the conclusion of my book, I cite a man by the name of Pierre Mussoot, who was the manager on the on a major plantation that was That was it. And he he said, as he was, evacuating the plantation, he said, how could we have known that among these men You’re previously so docile. There was such a determination to rise against us. I’m not not quoting it exactly, but the same lawsuit 2 years earlier was the target of a a strike on his plantation where 24 enslaved men Left that plantation for 2 weeks, and Mesut was the man who personally Stuck a piece of hot steel into their skin when they were recaptured and brought back.
John Garrigus [00:14:50]:
He knew exactly The power of the will that these people had, and yet it was in his interest to to say, You know, the slavery was not a big problem. Enslaved people were happy and content under French leadership. That was That was a political story that people told after Haitian independence to convince the French government to reinvade Haiti and re and restore slavery in the island. And so the French obscured that those stories of resistance, and the only one that was that was that that they Did not obscure was the story of Mackandal. But Mackandal was always a kind of evil figure for the French, and it was only in the 20th century that Caribbean scholars like C. L. R. James and, and, Alejo Carpentier in his wonderful novel, That they took that story of an evil Machandal and flipped it on its head to turn Machandal into, You know, CLR James calls called him a Trotsky, like a like a revolutionary terrorist.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:15:55]:
John Garrigus [00:15:56]:
But on even But, you know, the French colonial fantasy, even when flipped to become, like, a antislavery fantasy, It’s still a fantasy, and I think it’s one that really does disservice to the Dozens, maybe hundreds of people who were who who spent their lives fighting for the Haitian revolution before it ever happened and who laid the groundwork for it.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:16:24]:
Let’s talk about the word resistance. Mhmm. You you you cite in a story, and his name escapes me at the moment, Who wanted a more narrow definition of resistance. Can you talk about that and And sort of the broader definition of resistance, which you also cite that perhaps it’s gone too far Or or, like, what’s the what’s the what is the the demarcating line here and how we should define Resistance. You know? There’s the extreme of it where everything is resistance versus this this scholar you you cite Who who’s who’s very narrow in in in his definition. Can you talk about that?
John Garrigus [00:17:08]:
Yeah. Sure. This is my my my friend and colleague, Frederic Regent, who, is from Guadalupe and who, is, holds one of the Sorbonne chairs in the French revolution and was a very, very perceptive scholar of Guadalupe and the revolution in in Guadalupe. But I I think he is reacting to, you know, to this idea that that enslaved people were always Always rebelling against slavery in some way or or another. And, I mean, I take a different I take a very different view because I think that you cannot have a revolution without community. Mhmm. And that creating a community of people who can trust each other Because, you know, being a rebel, being a revolutionary is a terrible a terrible thing to be. I mean, it it’s you’re It’s a huge risk that you’re putting yourself out and everyone you everything you care about, all your descendants who may never come who may never exist because you’re gonna be killed in the Coming minutes.
John Garrigus [00:18:08]:
It’s a terrible decision to make, and people were only able to make it because they had Confidence in each other and maybe also in the spirit world that they believed was behind them. And so anything that created that kind of confidence In, you know, in in in we created a community in this terrible place, I think should be considered resistance. Now Mhmm. That said, I also think we we, Again, the French colonists are the ones who planted the idea that the Haitian Revolution was the Product of a kind of a bloodthirsty lust for violence. And these are these, like, you know, these terrible sort of, You know, racist images that, right, surround French accounts of the Haitian revolution. So one of the things that I found was I found At least, you know, one probably several examples of enslaved African people in Saint Domingue thinking politically, thinking long term, Thinking about ending slavery in a way that would not be violent. Mhmm. In this time, I’m talking about the story of Medor, Who he was using West African medicines along with other people to bring their masters closer to manumission.
John Garrigus [00:19:32]:
And they were very clear that if I’m manumitted and you’re manumitted and our children will be born free, over time, slowly, Saint Domingue will have A large free black population that will be able to stand up to the whites. And that idea of standing up, of course, implies violence, But it also implies negotiation. It implies a long term vision of political evolution That, of course, the French were never willing to to acknowledge was part of enslaved people’s, you know, perspective.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:08]:
John Garrigus [00:20:09]:
So that that idea that everything is blood and fire. Obviously, blood and fire were necessary, and blood and fire was Describes what did happen, but there were many people, I believe, who were thinking at other terms about changing the society they were enslaved to.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:29]:
John Garrigus [00:20:31]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:32]:
I said the revolution’s fought on all fronts. Right? This is
John Garrigus [00:20:36]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:37]:
John Garrigus [00:20:37]:
Yeah. That’s a good that’s a good way of putting it.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:39]:
So what how is the book structured? Can you go through that for us? You had the
John Garrigus [00:20:47]:
Let me see. I have to hear. You’re you’re cutting out a little bit.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:20:49]:
Yes. But let me yeah. How’s the book the structure of the book, How’s it structured?
John Garrigus [00:20:54]:
Well, it’s structured, I think, chronologically with the story of this poison scare that was eventually Blamed on Machandal. So it starts with a man named Medor and then follows the in different chapters, it follows the other people who were accused of poisoning Until finally, it comes to Machandal, who, of course, was considered the the the mastermind and, oh, that was wrong. So the I I guess one way of thinking about the book is it’s structured around individual people and individual specific regions of the colony, Specific regions of the North province, really. So it’s very geographical, and it kinda follows the stories of different resistance communities.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:21:37]:
John Garrigus [00:21:37]:
And then after the mock and dull story, I begin to investigate what was it that was killing thousands of people. And, of course, most of the victims were black people, enslaved black people. Some free, but probably mostly mostly like, 7 6 or 7000 Enslaved people were killed according to the French the French, you know, colonial ministry. They didn’t believe there was a mock end of plot because To them, it didn’t make sense that a black revolutionary would kill 7,000 black people.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:22:09]:
John Garrigus [00:22:09]:
To the colonists, however, it did make sense. And so they continue to look for poisoners right down to Lujhun, right down to 17/88. But in chapter 5 of the book, I I unveil the secret the secret killer. It sounds melodramatic, but it was an un the unknown killer that was killing animals and people Rapidly and brutally. And it was a disease brought from France, which is, you know, still endemic in, in Haiti today, which is anthrax. Mhmm.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:22:42]:
You you you what time period are you covering here? About 30 years before August 17, 91. Right?
John Garrigus [00:22:50]:
Right. It starts with Medor in 17 fifties, so really maybe 40 years.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:22:55]:
John Garrigus [00:22:56]:
Well, the the late fifties, and then on through to and then on through into King Jay and, Zhong Deep Deep, Plateau in Marmalade and and then finally to Boukman.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:23:09]:
And you say you argue that, like, it’s about a 30 mile radius area in the north, right, that is geographically sort of the foundation for the Haitian revolution. Did I get did I read that right? I don’t know if I heard I might have heard that incorrectly in the No. In the webinar. Yeah. So
John Garrigus [00:23:30]:
what happened was I I want to write a book about The mock and daw mystery. Like, what was really happening? And who was killing all these people? And what was mock and daw really doing? And then when I submitted the book to Harvard Press, my editor, they said, well, this is really interesting, but you have to connect it to the Haitian Revolution. And So I sat down, and I put all my cases on a map. And I began to see because I was able to trace, like, where did Maca Ndau live specifically, and where’s the The the Le Mans Plantation and who enslaved Mackandal first. I was able to trace his life on the map and the other people as well. And then I found an extraordinary story about the Noe plantation. And then and then I discovered that Boukman, It was always said the French colonists said he lived on the Claismont plantation, and I discovered a French article that pointed out that the Claismont Had married into the Dutti family. So Boukman Dutti lived on the Dutti plantation, and that that was only about 5 miles from where Mackinder was arrested.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:24:34]:
John Garrigus [00:24:34]:
So at the very end, I was able to tie all this stuff, all these poison stories into the night of August the 22nd. And I was able to show the Lembe Valley and the Akol Parish, you know, all all As hotbeds of of different kinds of resistance that then culminated in August 17, 91. But I I didn’t No. I could do that. I mean, I I I stumbled onto this by accident. Mhmm. And So I’m not, I mean, I’m not really able to say this is the only resistance that led to the
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:25:12]:
John Garrigus [00:25:13]:
But It really struck me once I saw the pattern. I thought, my gosh. Mackandal was 5 miles from the place where the first fires were lit.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:25:23]:
John Garrigus [00:25:23]:
Mhmm. Even though he’d been dead for 30 years, something there remained.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:25:27]:
John Garrigus [00:25:27]:
And the book tries to fill in all those different communities.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:25:32]:
Can you talk about the another fascinating part of your book was you talk about how The the colonists intentionally destroyed court records.
John Garrigus [00:25:44]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:25:44]:
And and what impact that had on you as a researcher And and and its overall impact to try and understand what happened during that time period. Can you talk about that, the intentional destruction of I’m good. It’s Saint Domingue.
John Garrigus [00:25:59]:
I mean, the the best evidence we have for that, the specific orders to say, you know, burn these useless papers That that have to do with the trials of slaves. The best evidence of that is from the 17 forties and 17 fifties, but I’m Quite convinced that it continued on throughout the throughout the the the colonial period. I mean, we I always thought it was The revolution and the fires and the tropical environment. But I think it it becomes quite clear that, you know, Colonists had no interest in revealing 2 things. They didn’t wanna, they didn’t wanna show that there were That there was slave resistance. I mean, the Le Jeune for example, the the the sadistic story of the Le Jeune family Only came to light in spite of their neighbors.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:26:48]:
John Garrigus [00:26:49]:
So they didn’t wanna reveal that. And then secondly, Even though the code noir was in many ways a charade. Right? It was an illusion. It it it did very little to protect enslaved people. Nevertheless, many of these court cases that were destroyed might well have shown that colonists were not living up even to the Most minor regulations of the code noir, for example
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:27:16]:
John Garrigus [00:27:17]:
Food provision of just food and clothing. And so much of the resistance was based around the problem of food and disease. And so there was little interest in, You know, I’m preserving evidence of how planners were disregarding those laws.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:27:33]:
Mhmm. And that you said the judges and without you, the judges were also planners.
John Garrigus [00:27:38]:
Right. The the the members of the the Conseil Superieure were were were all successful plan were successful planners, and they were the ones Who, for example, refused to prosecute Nicolas Le Jeune.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:27:51]:
Mhmm. Tell us about the Nicolas Le Jeune Story.
John Garrigus [00:27:55]:
Talk to you soon. Story’s been told a a number of times. Of course, he was a terrible he was notorious because On 2 different occasions 10 years apart, people enslaved in his plantation managed to make it to and Tried to get the judge there to protect them from the torture and murder that Le Jeune was inflicting on his enslaved people. Mhmm. And in 17/88, there was in fact a royal a major case against Le Jeune that collected an enormous amount of evidence detailing detailing his Tortures and all the other problems. But Le Jeune was somebody who could not be hidden because of this royal case even though he was not prosecuted Because the judges didn’t wanna do that. But French colonists in the revolutionary period always portrayed Le Jeune as a an aberration, As kind of, you know, one of the very rare rare occasions of cruelty. And what I’m hypothesize is that, in fact, Le Jeune Le Jeune’s plantation was a site of, an endemic anthrax infestation.
John Garrigus [00:29:02]:
The bacteria were killing hundreds of people And thousands of of his animals over a 30 year period. And even though colonial doctors, by The time of the court case, even though they understood what anthrax was, Le Jeune and other people who lived in the coffee zone, was a coffee planner in Plaisance. They didn’t either didn’t have access to those doctors or were not interested in In the story of a disease that was killing people, they wanted the myth of Mackandal and the myth of the ongoing, You know, poison conspiracy.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:29:41]:
John Garrigus [00:29:42]:
And, of course, Mackandal was just about 10 had died about well, had been arrested about 10 miles from, Plaisance Plantation. And another Congo person known as King Ge probably was also Active on the June plantation because she understood that there was some mysterious forces killing people, and she was trying to use African Techniques to find the source of that death, but it was.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:30:11]:
So you’re not arguing that there wasn’t that the enslaved weren’t poisoning their enslavers. It was just that it it wasn’t as prominent. The fear From the, from the colonizer were much more was much more of a bigger thing than the actual Poisoning events themselves. Right?
John Garrigus [00:30:32]:
Right. I well, I found I was really looking hard for cases where people might have used anthrax as a poison to kill To kill all their enslavers. And I there are a couple of cases Mhmm. And there are certainly a couple of cases where the authorities took chocolate That people that enslaved people had made, and they fed that chocolate to dogs and also to mules, and it killed them. So we I definitely know enslaved people were using anthrax to make deadly substances. Mhmm. But I can’t I don’t I don’t have a particular case where I can see an enslaver dying of anthrax. Mhmm.
John Garrigus [00:31:08]:
Most of the time, it’s almost always enslaved people who are dying.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:31:12]:
And, Tasso, the way you spelled it and compared to how it’s spelled today, is that the same Tasso? The The
John Garrigus [00:31:20]:
the the same little little pieces of meat that people grill in hot oil? Yeah. You know, I think so. I mean, Tassaj0, it’s t a s a j o in Spanish is a product, you know, that’s sold throughout the hemisphere. Jerky from Argentina was sold in Cuba just like jerky from Santo Domingo. Dominican Republic is sold in Haiti, but, all the tassel that I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Haiti is always cooked in very hot oil.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:31:48]:
John Garrigus [00:31:49]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:31:50]:
Really So it’s different. Okay. So it’s Casau. I I I I couldn’t I did I thought the pronunciation was French, but okay. You say it’s Spanish. Okay. Cool. Where did the title come from? Talk about the title.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:32:02]:
A secret among the blacks.
John Garrigus [00:32:04]:
Yeah. This was the the interrogation of this man named whose Whose enslaved name was Medor, because we don’t know his real African name. But Medor was Had been enslaved in Cap Francaise for a number of years and had many friends in the free black region of that town. But then his enslaver, who’s A surgeon, took him to a new coffee plantation in in the Far East, like, closer to Fort Dauphin. And And there, Medor came to believe that he had killed dozens of people and animals on the estate. And I believe he was in fact a witness of an anthrax infestation, but that he was giving African style medicines to people. And so Medor was interrogated, and he told a long it’s a very long interrogation, and he reveals a lot of Secrets he had been keeping for 20 years, but the most, you know, devastating one from a colonist point of view was this idea of a secret among the blacks, Which was to use, you know, I would say medicines. Right? Because the word Poisson and medicine are very similar even in French in 18th especially in different African countries.
John Garrigus [00:33:17]:
So so Medawar said that he and, was part of a of a group of people who were sharing medicines to help get freedom from their masters. And, of course, the whites believe that they were killing the masters With the. But everything I know about slavery in Saint Domingue suggests that if you’re Enslaved to someone and that person dies, you’re you have very little hope of getting freedom. It’s much better to to make that person love you, to build a strong relationship with that person maybe through a medicine that will Be a potion
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:33:57]:
John Garrigus [00:33:57]:
That will make a connection between you, and then they’ll have sympathy for you and see you as a human, and then they’ll maybe give you freedom.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:34:05]:
So so when was saying, yes. I I use, he didn’t mean in the lethal sense. That’s what it got misinterpreted.
John Garrigus [00:34:18]:
Exactly. That’s my that’s my my interpretation. And, of course, Medor didn’t The the interrogation was being written by the neighbors of his master. Mhmm. And they were all convinced already that he was guilty, so They were not trying to understand his cultural context when they Mhmm. Put that word down.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:34:36]:
So so because also mean medicine in French too. Right?
John Garrigus [00:34:41]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:34:42]:
Good day. Okay.
John Garrigus [00:34:43]:
In fact, in French and in many African languages can also mean spiritual power.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:34:48]:
John Garrigus [00:34:48]:
So witches in France were often, You know, often burned at the stake for using poison, but the poison was something like a ground up piece of, of a of Of a of a bible, for example.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:35:01]:
John Garrigus [00:35:02]:
It wasn’t poisonous in a chemical sense. It was poisonous in in a spiritual sense.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:35:06]:
John Garrigus [00:35:07]:
In the older definition.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:35:09]:
So so this poison scare that this fear and of poison being poisoned by the colonists and Sendomeng. What what talk about this sort of what what to me seemed like an adversarial role that medical science had with that type of colonial thinking. Can you talk about this sort of tug in war Between what the Metropole who send their doctors and what the metropole thought about This notion of widespread poisoning versus what the science was saying at the time. Talk about this sort of tug of war between those 2 camps.
John Garrigus [00:35:46]:
Yeah. I mean, as as probably many listeners will know, the the modern, like, a science of of, you know, of veterinary practice Really began in France in the 18th century in the in the 17 sixties, and it was in large part a response to terrible waves of Livestock disease that were destroying the French agricultural economy, and one of those livestock diseases was anthrax. And so the French were French doctors and veterinarians were the first to really identify anthrax, to describe its symptoms, To point out that anthrax can be can work in inside a human being who eats anthrax infested meat, And the person will die almost mysteriously because the anthrax is invisible. It’s in their stomach. And yet and colonists Gradually came to accept that even though the attachment to the poison theory was very strong. I mean, on the On the Breda plantation at Haute de Cap where Toussaint Louverture was enslaved. One of the managers wrote the the account of Breda Asking for permission because he believed there was a poisoner on the estate, asking for permission to kill 1 of the enslaved people To as a to to force the poisoner to reveal himself. And that pro that man was fired, but Bayon de Libertat came On his manager and Baron Libertad accepted the anthrax diagnosis, but he said, I don’t really believe it.
John Garrigus [00:37:18]:
All my neighbors believe that I think the blacks are poisoning each other, but I don’t wanna be you know, I I don’t wanna I don’t wanna reject the advice of my neighbors, So I’ll I’ll accept that. So so, I mean, himself, lived through this kind of In this kind of poison inquisition that was really caused by anthrax. And, of course, it’s like like Mackandal, Toussaint was someone who worked closely with animals, And he would have understood that it was actually a disease that was affecting the animals, not a poison.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:37:50]:
You had 4 definitions of Communities for community resistance communities. Can you can you, kinda Sketch them out for us.
John Garrigus [00:38:03]:
Yeah. I mean, the the book is is really you know, the book is really about the the people? So I didn’t wanna make it a book of sociology or whatever, but I do know, you know, professors and other history students like a list. What kinds of resistance were there? So I I I, when I when I read the book, I see 4 different types of resistance activity. I see People like Machandal, who are using spiritual African spiritual techniques to protect themselves and their followers and create a community around spiritual practice. Mhmm. I see people like Medor Who are working to get individual manumission. You may be using medicines or other techniques, but I also believe that they understood that not as a selfish act, but as an act of community formation and Transformation of Saint Domingue, so that’s the 2nd group. The 3rd group were people like Lizette, a very courageous woman, and also the people on the Le Jeune plantation You tried bravely to use the French legal system to protect themselves from accusations of poison, and that almost always failed.
John Garrigus [00:39:17]:
And yet they understood what the French law was and they understood that it might be used as a weapon against enslavers even though, of course, They were always unable to do that. And then the 4th trying to think what was the 4th oh, the 4th group was a series of strikers, Like, dozens of people on on 8 different plantations that the records have survived. Dozens of people saying We’re we’re we’re gonna shut down work on this plantation because conditions are unacceptable. The food is terrible or Accusations of poison or destroying us or whatever. Different reasons they they left and shut the plantation down. Almost like, you know, what’s happening in In, Detroit right now with the auto workers, it almost seems like a modern labor stoppage. Mhmm. And that was sometimes effective and sometimes Sometimes fail.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:40:12]:
Were were they working in coordination as far as the strikers are concerned, or is it just individual Areas just kinda take up the resistance to to push back and go on strike. How much coordination was going on Fine.
John Garrigus [00:40:28]:
There’s definitely you know, you can see that these plantations in Acal and Petitants are are not far away from each other. But those strikes happen at different times Mhmm. And they seem to happen for for specific plantation specific reasons. But, of course, when people strike on a plantation, they have to leave. I mean, they they literally you know, you might like, my My colleague, Crystal Edens, might call them maroons. Right? Mhmm. Because they’re leaving, and they have family and friends and places where they can go and be sheltered and protected for a while, but then they come back. But I see it not as melonage, but I see it as a kind of labor Resistance, understanding their power as workers Mhmm.
John Garrigus [00:41:14]:
And and understanding that the plantation managers were desperate to produce profits. So there was a sophisticated understanding, I think, of the colonial economy on the part of these men and women and a lot of courage also.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:41:28]:
Would it be reductive to say that, overall, the Haitian revolution was a labor dispute, or was it more than that?
John Garrigus [00:41:43]:
Yeah. I I think it would be. I I I think the labor the labor disputes are are, you know, one of 3 or 4, Certainly more kinds of resistance than other scholars hopefully will find. I mean, I see what I see fundamentally underlying all of these Resistance activities is a deep understanding by enslaved people that there’s something sick about the society in which they’re Enslaved. Mhmm. And, of course, I mean, it’s a sickness both like as actual bacteria that is killing people. But they also understand They also understand that there’s something sick about the structure of this colonial society. I mean, people like people like Madhur, Many people came from societies where there were different forms of bondage and different forms of social alienation, you know, different forms of slavery.
John Garrigus [00:42:34]:
Right? But it was nothing like the killing machine that existed in Saint Domingue. A killing machine, of course, that we remember mostly because of the way it destroyed the lives of Hundreds of thousands of humans, but Mhmm. Was also a killing machine that was killing hundreds of thousands of animals too, Who were simply being used like the people were for their bodies and discarded. And that those conditions were, of course, a deep, What maybe I’m sure African people saw as a deep moral sickness
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:43:04]:
John Garrigus [00:43:05]:
But also an actual medical sickness And a political sickness at the same time. So that’s what I think the Haitian revolution really was was a recognition of how Of how sick? I mean, I’m I’m trying not to use my maybe more moralistic terms like evil, but there was a kind of a, They must have perceived a kind of evil in that society Mhmm. And understood that there were different ways that they might fight against it in a community with their own spiritual power behind them.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:43:35]:
Is there a chance that the McDonald and Bookman kinda knew each other? Did you find any evidence for that? You said the the any chance of that?
John Garrigus [00:43:46]:
No. I think I mean, don’t we don’t know we don’t know how old Boukman was Or I mean, we know he was enslaved in Lambe at first before he was sold into Akko. So I think Boukman Would have known people who knew mock and dull Right. And who remembered mock and dull. Mhmm. And certainly, he knew people who knew King Gay. Mhmm. Catherine Mary Catherine King Gage, she’s sometimes called, who was very much a new Mackandal.
John Garrigus [00:44:14]:
She was using Mackandal’s techniques, And might have certainly have heard of her and known people who worked with her.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:44:20]:
Mhmm. So might have been well, he was born in 17 circa 1740 ish. Right? Yeah. So could so he was probably about 10 years old or something like that. They probably would would have known Oh, no. Of. Right?
John Garrigus [00:44:36]:
Right. And he I mean, different biographers have said maybe he was in in caps for the execution of.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:44:43]:
This is one of the shortest books I’ve read, professor. Usually, they’re, like, a little over 300 pages. Did you leave anything out of this one, or did you kind of threw everything in there you found?
John Garrigus [00:44:55]:
Well, Patrick, I mean, I really I wrote the book, and I had a really good editor who was helping me overcome my tendencies as a college professor to to say too much. Right? And to and to, and to abstract too much. But I really wanted a book that would tell the story of the people, Not the colonists. And I wanted a book that would retell the Mackandal story in a way that made historical sense, But also honored his legacy. And I honestly, I’m a college professor, here in Texas, and I want a book that my students can read. I want a book that People across in Haiti or other countries can read that won’t be that won’t put them to sleep, hopefully. Mhmm. A book a book in which they can because see the the historical reflection of real people.
John Garrigus [00:45:44]:
So I I want to keep it short. Tell those stories and let people, You know, make their own lists and debate resistance and other things outside of the those pages.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:45:54]:
What did you leave That you think we might find interesting. Little bit of historical fact that you found that, for whatever reason, you couldn’t include.
John Garrigus [00:46:03]:
Well, one of the things I’m I’m, You know, I’m working. I’m really, really interested in, but I I didn’t have enough proof in the book because I’m really interested in Grand Riviera And the connections between Grand Riviere and places like Lambe. And I know for ex I found that the Siobhan family, You know, Jovan family were married to other families in Lambe. So, you know, there are connections, But they’re hard to prove between what happened with Vessa Ojejian and Chauvin on, you know, Grand Riviere and Limonade on the one hand, and then What’s happening in Lambaye and other another area? So I’m still I’m still looking for evidence about what What the the the the Grand Riviera who who was living in Grand Riviera, and what were their connections to other parts Of the north.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:46:54]:
Mhmm. About about what time period?
John Garrigus [00:46:56]:
So in the in the, you know, in the 89, 90, 91, in this whole period when the revolution Started.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:47:03]:
Okay. Okay. Well, any any final thoughts, professor?
John Garrigus [00:47:08]:
Well, I mean, I think I’m so glad To be able to talk to talk to you, I know that, you know, many of the people listening to our voices are are are Haitians and Haitian Americans, and maybe many people will Will be you know, have lived in the northern part of Haiti or, are still living there or have family there. I would love to know more about what they think about about these places, about Marmalade and Place Anse and Lambaye and Cool. And, the town of Duthi. Yeah. I would like to know more from the readers of the book about About their families and the histories that they’ve learned just growing up in in 80 about these extraordinary people 200 years ago.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:47:52]:
There is a group. I don’t know if you belong. Patient genealogy
John Garrigus [00:47:55]:
group? Yes. They have some some amazing, databases.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:47:59]:
Are you are you in the in that group?
John Garrigus [00:48:01]:
I I have been at different at different times. They’re they do a lot of good 20th century works, so that’s not my interest. But they have
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:48:07]:
been good. They they I I, one of the leaders of that group, I told her about this book, and she said it’s gonna blow them away. So you might wanna kinda reach out, let them know The book is out, and I’m not too much for it to do that as well too.
John Garrigus [00:48:22]:
Well, thanks very much. Yeah. I’d I’d I’d I’d be happy if any of your readers wanna email me at my, My UT Arlington address, I’d be very happy to, to to hear what they think.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:48:34]:
Awesome. I hope to do other sessions with you of some some of your other works, So, John, I’d love to to continue the conversation with you.
John Garrigus [00:48:41]:
Okay. I’d love to do that, Patrick. Yeah. This, I think is this is the most accessible of all the books. But, yeah, the other ones are I have their place too, I suppose.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:48:48]:
Right. We can we can break them down. So
John Garrigus [00:48:50]:
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:48:51]:
Alright. Thank you. Thank you for all your work, and thank you for for educating us Okay.
John Garrigus [00:48:55]:
Thank you so much.
Patrick Jean-Baptiste [00:48:56]:
Alright. You take care. Yeah.
John Garrigus [00:48:58]:
02:58 Moro de Saint Marie is a marvelous historian interested in geography and colonial Haiti.
05:58 Rolf Frio’s thoughts on project, immersion in documents, escaping perspective.
08:18 Power objects made for protection and foresight.
13:07 Mackandal and others fought against slavery.
18:08 Confidence creates resistance in terrible circumstances.
20:54 Structured chronologically, blaming poison on Machandal.
23:30 Author traces mysteries, connects to Haitian Revolution.
27:55 Plantation owner infamous for cruelty and corruption.
32:04 Enslaved man confesses to African medicines secret.
35:46 French veterinarians identified anthrax; accepted with skepticism.
38:03 4 types of resistance: spiritual, individual manumission, community formation, legal system failure.
41:43 Labor disputes reveal resistance against colonial society.
44:55 Book honors Mackandal’s legacy, engaging readers worldwide.
47:08 Curious about Haitians’ thoughts on historic places.
- Host and guest exchange greetings and initial confusion with another person named David Gegis
II. Guest’s interest in studying the Haitian Revolution
- Guest explains his interest in studying the Haitian revolution and how he was encouraged by his advisor, Robert Forster, to focus on it
III. Challenges of studying colonial Haiti
- Guest and host discuss the challenges of studying colonial Haiti, including the limited availability of French colonial documents and the need to consider the perspective of the enslaved people
- The value of Moro de Saint Marie’s work in providing important geographic details is highlighted
IV. Navigating the archives
- A quote by Michel-Rolph Trouillot about the discursive framework of history and the difficulties of navigating the archives is discussed
- Guest reflects on his own experience of getting caught up in the perspective of the enslavers and the need to center the stories of the enslaved individuals
- The contradictions in the document regarding Sebastian Cortin’s interrogation of Mackandal are highlighted
V. Clarifying Mackandal’s role
- Guest clarifies that Mackandal was not a lord or poisoner, contrary to historical depictions
- Mackandal’s role as a powerful community leader and founder of Haitian culture is emphasized
VI. Types of resistance against slavery
- Various forms of resistance against slavery are discussed, including spiritual practices, individual manumission efforts, utilization of the French legal system, and plantation strikes
- Coordination among plantation strikers in resisting the conditions is mentioned, but the level of coordination remains unclear
VII. Understanding the connection between deaths caused by Makandal and the 1791 revolution
- Guest acknowledges his previous mistake in not understanding the connection between the deaths caused by Makandal and the communities that arose in 1791
- The pride and mythology surrounding Makandal’s role in poisoning whites is discussed, with the guest arguing that the evidence does not support it
VIII. Makandal as a revolutionary figure
- The portrayal of Makandal as an evil figure by French scholars and his reinterpretation as a revolutionary figure by Caribbean scholars is discussed
- Guest argues for acknowledging the contributions of the many individuals who fought for the Haitian revolution, not just focusing on Makandal’s story
IX. Debate over the definition of resistance
- A debate over the definition of resistance is mentioned, with some advocating for a narrow definition and others for a broader one
X. Closing remarks and future conversations
- The author invites readers to share their family histories and knowledge about specific places mentioned in the book through email
- Host thanks the guest for his work in educating them, and both parties express gratitude and say their goodbyes.
The Importance of the Haitian Revolution: “Wow. This is such an important event in the history of the world, and it still remains so mysterious and so misunderstood.”
— John Garrigus [00:02:19 → 00:02:25]
The Challenges of Colonial Haiti: “Well, it’s, I mean, it’s an incredible let me see. I mean, the the pitfalls are the pitfalls of any historian of colonial Haiti, which is that the, you know, the French colonial documents are not at all interested in the kinds of things that we’re interested in if we are trying to tell the story of the revolution and black liberation and, you know, self-determination in the 2nd American country and the 1st Latin American country.”
— John Garrigus [00:02:58 → 00:03:22]
Viral Topic: Makandal’s Power Objects
Quote: “What he was doing was not making medicines or anything like that that people would take, Instead, he was making power objects… These are packets of dirt and bones and iron and plants that hold a spirit inside them and allowed Makandal to foresee the future and protect his followers from evil.”
— John Garrigus [00:09:04 → 00:09:12]
Resistance Against Slavery: “I would say that they should still think of Mackandal as a great leader, as a great like a founding, founder of Haitian culture, and that the stories of the people who followed Machandal and the other people who were fighting in, similar but also in different ways, fighting the same mysterious Killer in the area all around him, in a call, perish, in in Lamb Bay over a 30 year period. Those people are all Sort of deserve to be part of the pantheon of of of Haitian heroes even though they’re ordinary people. And I think the Mackandal our our our need to make Mackandal a hero comes from the insistence of French colonists That there was no resistance against slavery. And that insistence is so so ludicrous.”
— John Garrigus [00:13:07 → 00:14:02]
The Haitian Revolution and the Resistance of Confidence: “Anything that created that kind of confidence in, you know, in in in we created a community in this terrible place, I think should be considered resistance.”
— John Garrigus [00:18:20 → 00:18:35]
The Haitian Revolution and the Mystery of Macandal: “I was able to trace his life on the map and the other people as well.”
— John Garrigus [00:23:30 → 00:24:33]
Le Jeune and the Dark Legacy of Slavery: “[Le Jeune] was notorious because, on 2 different occasions 10 years apart, people enslaved in his plantation managed to make it to and tried to get the judge there to protect them from the torture and murder that Le Jeune was inflicting on his enslaved people.”
— John Garrigus [00:29:01 → 00:29:02]
“A Secret Among the Blacks: ‘…the most devastating one from a colonist point of view was this idea of a secret among the blacks, Which was to use, you know, I would say medicines.'”
— John Garrigus [00:33:00 → 00:33:08]
The Impact of Veterinary Practice in France: “Yeah. I mean, as as probably many listeners will know, the the modern, like, a science of of, you know, of veterinary practice Really began in France in the 18th century in the in the 17 sixties, and it was in large part a response to terrible waves of Livestock disease that were destroying the French agricultural economy, and one of those livestock diseases was anthrax.”
— John Garrigus [00:35:46 → 00:36:11]
Different Types of Resistance: “I see 4 different types of resistance activity. I see People like Machandal, who are using spiritual African spiritual techniques to protect themselves and their followers and create a community around spiritual practice. Mhmm. I see people like Medor Who are working to get individual manumission. You may be using medicines or other techniques, but I also believe that they understood that not as a selfish act, but as an act of community formation and Transformation of Saint Domingue, so that’s the 2nd group. The 3rd group were people like Lizette, a very courageous woman, and also the people on the Le Jeune plantation You tried bravely to use the French legal system to protect themselves from accusations of poison, and that almost always failed.”
— John Garrigus [00:38:22 → 00:39:16]
- How does John Garrigus challenge the stereotype that enslaved people were always rebelling against slavery? Do you agree or disagree with his perspective? Why?
- What role does community and trust play in revolution and resistance against slavery, according to John Garrigus? How does this challenge the common narrative of violent uprisings?
- How does John Garrigus uncover the secret killer in the poison scare in Haiti? How does this discovery connect to the larger historical context of the Haitian Revolution?
- In what ways does the perspective of the enslaved people differ from the perspective of the enslavers in colonial Haiti? Why is it important to consider both perspectives in understanding the history of resistance?
- Discuss the contradictions and complexities in the document detailing Mackandal’s interrogation. How does John Garrigus critique the depiction of Mackandal as a “lord of poison”?
- How did enslaved individuals resist slavery through actions such as spiritual practices, individual efforts for manumission, and strikes on plantations? How did their understanding of the colonial economy contribute to their resistance?
- What evidence does John Garrigus present to challenge the notion that Boukman and Macdonald knew each other? How does this challenge the existing narrative of the Haitian Revolution?
- How does the destruction of court records by colonists impact our understanding of the events surrounding the Haitian Revolution? What challenges does this pose for historians like John Garrigus?
- Discuss the different interpretations and debates surrounding the definition of resistance. Should resistance be defined narrowly or broadly? How does this impact our understanding of the history of resistance against slavery?
- Reflecting on the episode, how has your understanding of the Haitian Revolution and the resistance against slavery evolved? What aspects or stories do you find particularly intriguing or important to explore further?