When it was first published in 1992, this book was refreshing for the singular way it approached Haitian history. Instead of focucing on the founding fathers (Christophe, Dessalines, Louverture), It chose instead to frame its narrative around masses, the unknown and unsung Haitian men and women who struggled to be free but didn’t have some grand, abstract ideas about freedom, who never fully articulated (and perhaps not even consciously framing) their aims, but who knew what they wanted from emancipation–which was to acquire a piece of land to feed their families.
To these simple folks (later called moun endeyo), squatters’ rights and cultivation of the land were all one needed to ‘own’ land. They rejected the platform of land ownership as a piece of paper sanctioned by the leaders of the Haitian state. Fick insists that we see the Haitian revolution “as the first serious histories of the revolution to see the slaves as the principal architects of their own freedom and independence.” (3)
As the title makes clear, it’s Haitian history from the bottom up. So rather than the early leaders leading them, according to Fick, the masses made the leaders possible and in so doing, made “…history which would alter the fate of millions of men and shift the economic currents of three continents.”
“The masses had resisted the French from the very beginning, despite, and not because of, their leadership. They had shouldered the whole burden and paid the price of resistance all along, and it was they who had now made possible the political and military reintegration of the leaders in the collective struggle.” (p228).