Caribbean Crossing

African Americans and the Haitian Emigration Movement

By Sara Fanning

From The NYU Press

192 pp / 2015

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Shortly after winning its independence in 1804, Haiti’s leaders realized that if their nation was to survive, it needed to build strong diplomatic bonds with other nations. Haiti’s first leaders looked especially hard at the United States, which had a sizeable free black population that included vocal champions of black emigration and colonization. In the 1820s, President Jean-Pierre Boyer helped facilitate a migration of thousands of black Americans to Haiti with promises of ample land, rich commercial prospects, and most importantly, a black state. His ideas struck a chord with both blacks and whites in America. Journalists and black community leaders advertised emigration to Haiti as a way for African Americans to resist discrimination and show the world that the black race could be an equal on the world stage, while antislavery whites sought to support a nation founded by liberated slaves. Black and white businessmen were excited by trade potential, and racist whites viewed Haiti has a way to export the race problem that plagued America.

By the end of the decade, black Americans migration to Haiti began to ebb as emigrants realized that the Caribbean republic wasn’t the black Eden they’d anticipated. Caribbean Crossing documents the rise and fall of the campaign for black emigration to Haiti, drawing on a variety of archival sources to share the rich voices of the emigrants themselves. Using letters, diary accounts, travelers’ reports, newspaper articles, and American, British, and French consulate records, Sara Fanning profiles the emigrants and analyzes the diverse motivations that fueled this unique early moment in both American and Haitian history.

Reviews & Quotes

"In this concise study of early nineteenth-century African American migration to Haiti, the only free nation at that time committed to anti-slavery and racial equality, Sara Fanning opens a new window on American views toward the black republic as both a haven for urban free blacks seeking refuge from racial oppression at home, and as a potential solution to the twin problems of U.S. slavery and abolition. Using various ship records, contemporary correspondence and memoirs, the book traces the crossings of individual African American exiles and offers for the first time an inside view of life in Haiti for these 'political pilgrims.' The book makes a much needed contribution to the history of race relations in the early national periods of the first two independent republics of the Americas."
— Carolyn Fick, Concordia University

"Most Americans know about the 'return to Africa' movement among free blacks in the US, which resulted in the formation of a new African nation, the Republic of Liberia, in 1847. Probably far fewer know about the slave rebellion against French colonial masters. To African Americans in the early 19th century, Haiti embodied racial equality and freedom from intense, institutionalized racial discrimination and insufferable white supremacy. Fanning provides the first comprehensive account of this forgotten chapter in US and African American history."

"Sara Fanning adds to the rich many-dimensional recent studies of the Haitian Revolution. . . . Fanning has demonstrated the two-sided effect of the revolution in the United States: how on the one hand it challenged the ever-growing new ideologies of white supremacy, and on the other hand inspired Blacks to form a revolutionary Black nationalist ideology of their own. Caribbean Crossing is a welcome addition and demonstrates anew how enslaved Africans and free Blacks imagined the Haitian revolution in their fight against slavery through struggle, emigration, and ideas as they proclaimed their equal status as human beings and their equal duty to humankind."
— Maurice Jackson, co-editor of African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents

About Sara Fanning

Sara Fanning is Assistant Professor of History at Texas Woman’s University.

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"The Early American Places series is an exciting development in scholarly publishing, one that will highlight the most important part of the study of history: the local and particular dimensions of global issues and trends. This is where the rubber meets the road, where ordinary people's lives help to make, and are made by, the bustling wider world in which they live. Early American Places is an original series, and it will publish important scholarship."

— Stephanie M. H. Camp, University of Washington