From Santo Domingo to ‘the Spanish part of Haiti’: Contests of Race, Nation, and Citizenship on Hispaniola, 1809-1822
On February 9, 1813 an official in the far eastern tip Spanish Santo Domingo hastily scrawled an arrest order for fugitives who had allegedly fomented an anti-Spanish, pro-Haitian conspiracy. Evidence suggested that a circuit of smuggled correspondence linked these conspirators to the influence of Alexandre Pétion and the Republic of Haiti. In this and numerous other episodes of popular anti-colonial organizing Dominicans of color collaborated with Haitians (expatriates, travelers, and spies) to explore their collective differences with Europeans, ideas of citizenship, rights, and belonging, and visions of an inclusive nation. Nine years to the day after Spanish authorities foiled this plot Jean-Pierre Boyer, President of Haiti, led an army into Santo Domingo, where he was met with a raucous reception from popular classes. This cemented Dominican independence from Spain through union with Haiti. These two events were not directly related, though they were punctuations in the tenuous equilibrium of power and social relations on Hispaniola. In this evolution of cultural politics Dominicans of color came to associate the promise of full rights and equality with being Haitian citizens.
The Haitian annexation is wistfully mourned in elite Dominican historical memory and state-sanctioned nationalism as a racially-regressive, anti-modern, unwanted merger. Informed by the ambition of Atlantic history to subvert and move beyond the paradigm of the powerful, as defined by Jack Greene, my work with Spanish and Dominican archival sources reveals something different. A common theme that scholars trace across the Age of Emancipations is that people of color were often excluded from participation in the nation after independence, and from rights after the end of slavery. Many people of color constantly fought to attain these benefits in the nineteenth century, some stories of which are quite familiar to scholars. How, though, did such struggles over freedom, independence, and inclusion appear quite differently in Santo Domingo, where Dominicans of color fought against European colonialism and also restrictive elite nationalism expressly to align with Haiti, an established nation-state founded by people of color who already enjoyed citizenship and autonomy?
The colony, ceded earlier, became a French possession after Toussaint L’Ouverture’s 1801 invasion and the 1802 arrival of Napoleon’s forces amidst the Haitian Revolution. After 1804 Santo Domingo shared Hispaniola with independent Haiti. During this turbulent period resurgent French racism rescinded an ephemeral Dominican emancipation. With impending Spanish American independence movements, Santo Domingo witnessed a middle-sector revolt against French rule and for Spanish recolonization. After 1809 Spain’s colonialist revival confronted the revolutionary era’s residues, exacerbated by the sovereignty crisis of Napoleon’s Iberian interference.
The Cortes de Cádiz and 1812 Spanish Constitution promised liberalism, representation, and citizenship for the colonies, however it specifically withheld inclusion from African-descendants. French re-enslavement and Spanish citizenship exclusivity diminished imperial loyalties and underscored Haiti’s novelty. Alienated enslaved and free Dominicans of color harnessed a range of resources to combat their subordinate status in the tumultuous 1810s. They specifically dallied with enticements of citizenship and symbols of black autonomy from both Pétion’s southern republic and Christophe’s northern kingdom. Exploiting fractured Spanish power, Dominicans of color undermined their colonial subjectivity with conspiracies and revolts, churning Santo Domingo into a Spanish colony of aspirant citizens. Officials responded by deporting Haitian and French nationals, arresting suspected Dominican subversives, restricting foreign travelers, and banning incendiary writings.
By 1821 this nascent Dominican nation pushed for independence and affiliation with Haiti. In what was at least partly a reactive move, Dominican elites then declared a moderate independence to rein in popular power and pursued association with Bolívar’s less-progressive Gran Colombia. They were, finally, rid of the Spanish imperial inability to quell social unrest and stave off Haitian advances. Yet even the name of this short-lived elite project, the “Spanish part of Haiti” (la parte Española de Hayti), used lexicons of anti-colonialism infused into local cultural politics by popular Dominicans and was predicated upon claims of authenticity and Atlantic location forged by their neighboring rival republic, which Jean-Pierre Boyer had unified in 1820. Ensnared by reticulated Atlantic networks of upheaval, it was one of the societies most changed by transformations endemic to this era, and this paper centers Santo Domingo within these roiling political modernities of nation and citizenship in the Age of Emancipations.