Key Text: Relation d’une Conspiration tramée par les negres
“Relation d’une conspiration tramée par les Negres, : dans l’Isle de S. Domingue; défense que fait le Jésuite Confesseur, aux negres qu’on suplicie, de révéler leur fauteurs & complices” [Account of a Conspiracy organized by the Negroes on the Island of St Domingue; the prohibition that the Jesuit confessor made to the Negroes who were being tortured, to reveal their partners in crime and their accomplices”] (1758) – John Carter Brown Library
This book was probably produced between 1764 and 1804 at a press in Cap Français, Port-au-Prince, or at Les Cayes, Haiti, since there are several nearly identical editions that were printed at this time and place.
One copy of Relation d’une conspiration is with the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Pères du Saint-Esprit in their Les Imprimés à Saint-Domingue (Imprints from Saint-Domingue) collection--a collection with around one hundred and fifty texts dating to this period. That edition was digitized in 2006 by the World Digital Library (Library of Congress) (WDL).
The Digital Library of the Caribbean notes that the source of their 1758 digitized edition is unknown but adds that theirs was originally a part of the collections at the Digital Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Spiritains.
Another 1759 edition has been digitized and partially transcribed and translated for the Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom, and that work has been helpful to our translation.
This exhibit’s edition is a 1758 printing from the John Carter Brown Library made available through Internet Archive and is eight pages long as opposed to the five-page 1759 Newberry copy. This digitized edition (in color) differs from the others because there are detailed maps of the colony on either end of the document.
Further research is needed to determine how the maps might attend to historical issues of where and how Makandal was injured, as the author of the letter from the colony mentions living five places away from where Makandal was captured. Because according to Description (1797), he was on loan to another plantation’s sugar mill when injured and has been associated with other named planters besides Lenormand in this document, any maps of the proximity of plantations to one another may help clarify the relationships among agronomists, with both their economic and agricultural practices, and map their systems of labor exchange (which provided opportunities for increasing wealth even in a planter’s absence). Given the descriptions of where accomplices were captured in several spaces and kinds of spaces (in town and out) and the document’s mention of Makandal having known four species of toxic plants, the document’s maps might also in future assist analyzing patterns of movement or proximity among slaves and maroons across the boundaries of the plantation in relation to the topography and containment in/of the area. Knowing their location may help document important information related to the history of Caribbean ethnobotany and knowledge of Africans in the Americas.
Structurally speaking, the book is a printing of the editor’s introduction to a letter which already came with a preliminary introductory letter, so the actual account is removed from the immediacy of the historical moment by a number of years (1764 printing…) as well as being removed by several narrative perspectives (a published letter about a letter written a decade before). Despite this distance, one interesting aspect of the letter is that it speaks of whispers in the colony, which suggests an intimate knowledge of the situation as well as anxiety about the general state of worry over what is still not known about what other forms of conspiracy may be taking place at the moment of writing the letter. It also references the interrogation of slaves by royal administrator, Sébastien Courtin, whose Memoire sommiare (1758) on Makandal is in the network.
“Account of a Conspiracy Organized by the Negroes in the Island of Saint-Domingue,” 1758. World Digital Library. Library of Congress. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/14720/.
“Relation d’une conspiration tramée par les Negres, : dans l’Isle de S. Domingue; défense que fait le Jésuite Confesseur, aux negres qu’on suplicie, de révéler leur fauteurs & complices. [Account of a Conspiracy organized by the Negroes on the Island of St Domingue; the prohibition that the Jesuit confessor made to the Negroes who were being tortured, to reveal their partners in crime and their accomplices”] [Paris? : s.n.], 1758. John Carter Brown Library. http://archive.org/details/relationdunecons00pari.