Inquiry into... Insurrection of the Negroes in... St. Domingo

William ROSCOE   |   Jean-Philippe GARRAN-COULON   |   Marguerite-Elie GAUDET

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"MILLIONS OF AFRICANS HAVE PERISHED ON THIS SOIL OF BLOOD": RARE FIRST EDITION OF BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY MINISTER ROSCOE'S 1792 INQUIRY INTO THE BIRTH OF THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION—"UNPRECEDENTED IN HUMAN HISTORY"—HANDSOMELY BOUND

(ROSCOE, William) GARRAN-COULON, M. [Jean-Philippe] . An Inquiry into the Causes of the Insurrection of the Negroes of St. Domingo. To Which Are Added, Observations of M. [Marguerite-Elie] Gaudet, Before the National Assembly, 19th Feb. 1792. London: J. Johnson, 1792. Slim octavo, period-style three-quarter brown calf and marbled boards, raised bands, red morocco spine label; pp.(i-iv), (1), 2-26, (27), 28-36, (37), 38-39 (1). $3800.

First edition of the outspoken British abolitionist's revealing look at news of the bloody insurrection in the French colony, issued amidst rumors of a "slave revolt far greater than anything the New World had ever known," laying blame on the "cold-blooded" acts of the planters, published with Garran-Coulon's timely Observations on the Insurrections that called on Britain "to be wiser" with its own island colonies in fresh memory of the American Revolution, reminding its readers that America's framers were "themselves the proprietors of Slaves."

The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) began when "the slaves of St. Domingue took charge of their destiny… [it] would alter the fate of millions of men and shift the economic currents of three continents" (C.L.R. James, Black Jacobins, 25). "Haiti's revolutionary birth… unprecedented in human history… was the most revolutionary revolution in an age of them" (Baptist, Half Has Never Been Told, 44-5). Haiti's emergence was largely crafted by Toussaint Louverture, who, in 1801, put forth what is known as "Toussaint's Constitution," a document that deserves "to stand alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, and the U.S. Constitution as a signal text" (Drexler & White, Constitution of Toussaint, 213). In 1855, with America on the edge of the Civil War, the preeminent African American abolitionist William Wells Brown warned: "the day is not far distant when the revolution of St. Domingue will be reenacted in South Carolina" (History of the Haitian Revolution).

This rare first edition of British financier, statesman and abolitionist William Roscoe's Inquiry, published in London in 1792, is especially important in recording England's responses to news of the slave revolt in the French colony, News had reached Britain just as its abolitionists aligned with the French Amis des Noirs to end the slave trade. At that time Britain was deeply divided over the impact of the French Revolution and still fractured by debates over the American Revolution. By late 1791, "rumors raced around London that there had been a huge and gory catastrophe in the Caribbean… a slave revolt far greater than anything the New World had ever known… [it] sharpened the debate over slavery and gave it new immediacy for the British public" (Geggus, British Opinion and the Emergence of Haiti, 125). In early 1792, this Inquiry was one of the most significant works concerning slavery and the future of Britain's own colonies. The St. Domingue planters' official account blamed the slave revolt on abolitionists and Black violence. To that William Roscoe, in these pages, lays greatest blame instead on the "mistaken conduct of Planters… cold-blooded sons of Europe, educated in the habits of improved ferocity," which ranks above any "native ferocity of Africa." In his analysis, Roscoe also draws extensively on French parliamentary debates and comments pointedly on the fiery speeches of Jean-Jacques Brissot.

Included here, as issued is Jean Philippe Garran Coulon's Observations on the Insurrections, which focuses on the impact of the May 15 and September 24, 1791 decrees of the French National Assembly. The May 15 decree, passed after news of the brutal execution in St. Domingue of a free Black man, had enacted a law permitting people of color born of two free parents to vote. While this affected, at best, only a few hundred freedmen, St. Domingue's governor refused to enforce the decree and "an all-white electorate" announced it would also rebel by convening a new colonial assembly. The September 24 decree then responded to the Planters' threats with a concession that revoked the May 15 decree. To Coulon, Britain should pay close heed to lessons of these actions, and called on Britain "to be wiser than" the planters. He also offers a gradualist view of lessons to be learned by the American Revolution and examines the path followed by America's framers of its constitution—"themselves the proprietors of Slaves." First edition. With half title; appendix. ESTC lists 39-page copies with title page containing,"Read in his absence by M. Gaudet" on two lines (this copy), or 32-page copies with the words on one line; no priority established. ESTC T11242; ESTC T1140. Sabin 75135. Goldsmiths' I:15171.

A fine copy, handsomely bound.

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