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Correspondence from Revolutionary Haiti: Hispanic Division Research Guides

(The following is a guest post by Giselle M. Avilés, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division.)

The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress has been publishing research guides to help you find materials in the collections related to the countries of Latin America and Spain and Portugal. In recognition of African American History Month, we are highlighting the country guide for Haiti, a country whose history, like that of the U.S., cannot be fully comprehended without understanding the role of its once enslaved peoples and their efforts to achieve equality. Among the items described in the research guide are 19th-century manuscripts related to the slave-led revolt on the island of Hispaniola, in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (today, Haiti). Haiti’s revolution for independence from France was the only successful slave revolt in modern history.

A 1762 map of the island of Hispaniola by British geographer Thomas Jeffreys. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

Preparing these country guides piqued my curiosity as a researcher, which led me to search deeper within the Library’s digital collections. While creating the Haiti guide, I learned about Jean Decout, a medical doctor who lived on the island of Hispaniola while the revolution was taking place. His correspondence can be found in the Thomas Jefferson Papers. After 13 years of battle and bloodshed, Haiti declared its independence in 1804 and became the first country in the world to be led by former slaves. Reading Decout’s letters transported me to this important historical period.

Detail of a letter from Jean Decout. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Letter from Jean Decout. The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress Manuscript Division.

Jean Decout’s correspondence narrates the events that occurred in the south of Saint-Domingue from 1801 to 1804—before its independence, Haiti was ruled by the French and shared the territory of what is today the Dominican Republic.

In his letter, written in French, Decout reflects on topics such as the white settlers’ thoughts on the re-establishment of slavery, the status of culture and commerce at the time, and the arrival of the French army, among other observations.

We invite you to explore the abundance of resources in the Hispanic Division’s guides and take an armchair journey to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Portugal, Venezuela, and many more places!

Useful links:

Explore the Hispanic Division Country Guides—we’re adding more all the time!

Listen to recordings of writers from all over Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, and other regions with Hispanic and Portuguese heritage populations in the PALABRA Archive. Recordings of several Haitian poets are available for online streaming.

Continue your research with the Handbook of Latin American Studies.  HLAS includes descriptions of books, journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, maps and atlases, and e-resources.


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