The Text Network - Key Texts Narrative

The story of Makandal can be traced in our network of texts from the 1750s to the present, though most are eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rare documents in early Caribbean, French, and American archives. There are others, and new texts are still being located and analyzed, but so far, we have incorporated Relation d’une conspiration (1758) an anonymous letter from a planter in Saint-Domingue, Mémoire sommaire … (1758), a record of interrogation by an attorney and judge involved in Makandal’s capture and confession, and Macandale, chef des noirs revoltés (1758), a judicial document detailing proceedings of how the powerful group of planters and lawyers, the Superior Council of Cap Français, charged and executed him as onlookers believed he had escaped as a fly and cried Makandal sauvé (Makandal is saved)! 

A better known text published two decades later, “Makandal, Histoire Veritable,” (1787) tells a supposedly true story by an all but anonymous author, [M de C] that revises, repeats, or repurposes in fictional terms some of the details related in the 1758 documents. “Histoire Véritable” was translated into English, German, and other languages, and circulated throughout North America and Europe from 1787 to 1846 in newspapers. Despite the fictionalization of the plantation’s horrors into a story of love and jealousy, the noble savage he becomes in these texts was an influential composite in the reproduction of Makandal’s revolutionary profile over time. In the late 1790s, M.L.É. Moreau de Saint-Méry, who escaped death in both the Haitian and French revolutions, wrote that Makandal lost his arm in an accident laboring at a sugar press, and tells the story in context of a larger agricultural assessment / history of the colony. While Description (1797) references the Mercure de France’s 1787 publication, his scientific and  agricultural writing brings Makandal’s story back in context of praise for the man who designed the sugar refinery equipment used at the plantation where Makandal may have lost his arm. 

Ten years before, without mention of Makandal, Moreau de Saint-Méry had already published engravings of this refinery’s new use of a five-boiler design in a larger work on the refinery’s operations, Mémoire sur un équipe, coauthored with the plantation’s owner, M. Belin de Villeneuve (1786). 

In the 1800s, he continues to appear in more fictionalized, romantic, and or a mixture of historical and fictional terms, and in these, he is a powerful former prince of Kongo or Africa, both slave and king, whose characteristics are an ambivalent mix of noble nature limited by savage impulses; while these seem more mythical, the stories retain the rational applications of race science produced by the same writers, such as Moreau de Saint-Méry, who associated with dark-skinned people a progressive immoral or evil according to darkness in skin tone, and in the same way, created associations between African spirituality and devil worship. At once, Makandal becomes an ambivalent function of both abolitionist thought and the sensationlism of African savagery associated with the Haitian Revolution. Such transformations are in the early 1800s works, a British pantomime, King Caesar; or, the Negro Slaves and Victor Hugo’s novel Bug-Jargal.  In 1820, Hugo first published it as a fictional short-story, and later as a novel of the Haitian Revolution. With numerous translations and retellings, this novel centers on a runaway slave character that has previously been likened to Georges Biassou, Toussaint Louverture, and other historical Haitian revolutionary figures. In the network, it co-locates European literary production and agricultural production through the real-world relationship of Hugo to the world of agronomy and agronomists in Saint-Domingue; these include his mentor, François de Neufchâteau, who was a major thinker and writer in agriculture at the time, as well as a former Attorney General to Saint-Domingue who interrogated African makers of macandals in the 1780s. Neufchateau’s book, researched with Hugo, repeats a story already related as early as 1758 about Makandal in his Gil Blas de Santillane. Bug-Jargal also relays the network back to Moreau de Saint-Méry, whose papers include writings by Neufchâteau and still other planters involved in investigating the later use of Makandals and/or who owned plantations between the 1750s and 1780s. These relationships are still unfolding in our research and incorporation/exploration of materials. Finally, our last nineteenth-century text, Le Macandal, is an American novel published in New Orleans by a late-century southern female author who revisits the tale almost one-hundred and fifty years later, shows that the tradition functions as a means of counter-colonial story-telling connecting the cultures of Haiti with the southern United States. These nine core texts of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries are really a first iteration of the texts that we hope will provide participants and visitors multiple means of reading Makandal and this ongoing tradition among multiple textual and generic points of access, including oral and visual-material modes that we continue to explore in Translations