“Our Crown and Glory”: The Jesuits in Haiti, 1704–1763

History/Catholic Studies

The French monarchy admitted the Jesuits to Haiti (Saint-Domingue) in 1703 to replace the departing Capuchins as ministers to the souls of (white) colonists. By the time the Jesuits were themselves forced from Haiti in 1763, they had not only expanded their mission to encompass the conversion of slaves. They were also accused of fomenting slave resistance in the French colony. The story of the Jesuits in Haiti is a history of the rise of the large-scale sugar plantation economy and of the ultimate sources of its decline, most notably the phenomenon of marronage (slave flight from the plantation). It is also a narrative about the complicated role of Christianity in the long night of slavery. This study will involve research into the Jesuits' own plantation economy in Haiti, their role as missionaries to the slaves, and their relationship to the broader Catholic Church—up until the moment, in 1762–1763, when the Haitian Jesuits were tried and convicted of conspiracy to encourage slave insubordination, the promotion of regicide, and other offenses. (A decade later, in 1773, the papacy ordered the worldwide suppression of the Jesuit order.)

The student will review archival documents in French, published primary sources detailing the Jesuits' missionary and plantation work, and sources on the trial of the Jesuits in 1762–1763; help to organize this information into qualitative or quantitative summaries of the Jesuits' activities in Haiti; and also look more broadly at existing scholarship on the relationship between slavery and the Catholic Church/Catholicism.

The student will ideally help me to organize and understand a body of primary source material that I hope to organize into a short book about the Jesuits in Haiti, and will help me to understand what we already know about the role of Catholic missionaries in the slave communities of the New World and what we still need to learn.

The student will gain skills in reading and interpreting 18th-century archival material (in French), reviewing and analyzing/summarizing secondary sources on the Catholic Church and the Jesuits' role in slavery, and in making sense of some crucial and complicated questions of religious and political ethics. The student will also gain a sense of how a historian goes about the process of converting a set of archival documents into a historical narrative.