History & Genealogy

History and Genealogy... 

...the two are inextricably linked. No study of genealogy can be undertaken without first understanding the forces of history that affected our ancestors - what they did, how they lived, what they believed in and fought for, what they fled from.
The following works are valuable resources for Saint-Domingue research because they address the subject on a historical level and a personal level. They are not only detailed studies of the colony but also of the colonists.

1. "The Bible"

Moreau de Saint-Méry, Médéric-Louis-Élie. Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie Française de l'isle Saint-Domingue. Revised and expanded edition. Edited by B. Maurel and E. Taillemite. 3 vols. Paris: Société de l'histoire des Colonies Françaises et Librairie Larose, 1958. (1,565 pages, in French)

Médéric-Louis-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry was a Creole, born at Fort Royal, Martinique in 1750. His ancestors had emigrated from Poitou in the 1600s to settle the island, and had become one of it's prominent families. He was raised in the island, and, at age 19, went to Paris to pursue a formal education, where, at the end of three short years, he attained the rank of avocat au parlement.

He returned to the French West Indies in 1772 and moved to Cap Français, Saint-Domingue, where he began the practice of law and was so successful that he was made a member of the Superior Council of the colony. It was during this time that he began, with the sanction and aid of the royal government, to amass his collection of laws and other information about the French in the West Indies which would form the basis for his later works. He visited all of the French island-colonies in the West Indies, rescuing records and documents from relentless insects and a devastating climate, and taking copious notes.

Moreau returned to Paris in 1784 to aid in the administration of the colonies. After 1789, he served in various capacities in the Revolution government, but he eventually fell out of favor as one more radical and bloodthirsty Republican faction superseded another, and in 1793, he was forced to flee France, just one step ahead of the order for his arrest. He had narrowly escaped his appointment with the guillotine.

Moreau sailed for New York, and eventually settled in Philadelphia (1794-98) where he established himself as an author, and published two of his most important works, the above Description... being one of them. For a more detailed account of his life and his stay in America, the reader is referred to Moreau de St. Méry's American Journey 1793-1798, translated and edited by Kenneth and Anna M. Roberts (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1947)

For a more detailed biography of Moreau, click here.

Moreau's Description... describes in great detail the physical and political geography of the colony, as well as the social customs of the colonists and the slaves and free people of color as well. He dedicates considerable page space to the differences between the social classes of whites and free people of color, and to naming the different kinds of offspring that result in marriages between Negroes and native Indians with different amounts of mixed blood. Also included in this monumental work are histories of all the towns in the colony, right down to a listing of the Latin inscriptions on statues and water fountains in town squares, as well as frequent notes about the more prominent citizens of the colony.

Description... is an excellent source because it "stops" with the year 1789 and is not "contaminated" by the effects of the French Revolution and the slave uprisings. Whether or not you know where in Saint-Domingue your ancestor lived, a browse through Moreau's "bible" is time well spent.

In this new 1958 edition of the author's original work (unfortunately out-of-print, the editors reviewed the original manuscript and re-integrated passages that were deleted from the proofs of the 1797 publication. A listing of all the cantons (the smallest sized administrative district in the colony), and an alphabetical appendix of surnames with biographical sketches were added. This is "The Bible" for colonial Saint-Domingue study. Large university libraries with Latin American collections will probably have a copy.

§Great News !! The Société Française d'histoire d'outre-mer is planning to re-publish the 1958 edition of Moreau's work. They are presently taking subscriptions, and the book will be available some time after October 2003. Their order form is easy to fill out... can be returned by e-mail -- just don't forget to send the money afterwards... the price is reasonable - 50€ for all three volumes. Overseas postage is a bit hefty 18€, but it's worth the expense. They are only able to accept Euros.

2. The Babb Dissertation

Babb, Winston C. French Refugees from Saint-Domingue to the Southern United States: 1791-1810. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1954. (430 pages) Available from UMI Dissertation Services, 300 N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48106.

The first thorough study of refugee life in the U.S. examines many critical aspects: social, political, economic, and religious. It explores refugee contributions to and influence on American life. Babb's frequent citation of refugee names, gleaned from many kinds of local records, makes this dissertation a valuable study for historian and genealogist alike. It also contains an excellent bibliography. The Saint-Domingue S*I*G* has compiled an index of surnames in this study. Search the Babb Index for your ancestors.

Chapters include:
• Santo Domingo [Saint-Domingue]
• The Revolution in Saint-Domingue
•The Refugees in Cuba
• Local Reception of the Refugees in the United States
• The Federal Government's Aid to the Refugees
• The Refugees and the French Government
• The Economic Adjustment of the Refugees
• The Santo Domingans in Theatre and Opera
• The Santo Domingans and Negro Slave Rebellions
• The Refugees and the Catholic Church in the United States
• Refugee Contributions to American Education
• The Santo Domingan Refugees and American Politics
• Characteristics of the Refugees
• The Number of the Refugees
• The Contribution of the Santo Domingans

3. The Saint-Domingue Epic

Cobb, Isabel Hillery and Elizabeth Sullivan-Holleman. The Saint-Domingue Epic: The de Rossignol des Dunes and Family Alliances. Bay St. Louis, MS: The Nightingale Press, 1995. (623 pages) ISBN 0-910705-02X.

This is not just the story of one family, but of many others that married into it, touched it or came under it's influence. The Epic... traces the early de Rossignols from their medieval beginnings in France through their rise to economic and social prominence in the French West Indies colonies of Saint-Christophe and Saint-Domingue, follows their flight to refuge in Cuba, Jamaica, and the U.S., and closes with their eventual ultimate renewal of prosperity in succeeding generations in New Orleans.

This is not just a listing of relationships and personal data, but a history of the era and places in which the de Rossignol des Dunes families lived. Extensive endnotes and complete citations document the work; many photos, copies of documents, charts, and maps from French archives enhance and embellish its pages. Some of the maps detail various districts in Saint-Domingue, even listing the names of all property owners. Each of the 14 chapters has an alphabetical name index, but the page numbers are not included. There are about 1,000 names listed.

Chapters include:
• Medieval Rossignols
• Saint Christophe
• The Mysterious Island Back to:
• L'Etable and the Chevalier Louis de Rossignol de La Chicotte des Dunes
• The Colonial Dynasty
• The Multitude...
• The Golden Years
• Chronicle of the Dead
• Refuge at Cuba
• Refuge on the Atlantic Coast
• Refuge at Jamaica
• A La Nouvelle Orleans
• A New Beginning
• New Orleans: Continuation of the Generations

Note: The first publication is out-of-print. The other two are still available.

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