Cul de SacPatrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue

Cul de SacPatrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue

Paul Cheney

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226079356

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book is a micro-level study of one plantation in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), situated on the Cul de Sac Plain, near Port au Prince. The sugar economy of eighteenth-century Saint-Domingue produced profits for planters and merchants, but it was based upon social, political, ecological, and market foundations that rendered it weak and crisis-prone. Socially, it was based upon the importation of forced labor that was the source of profit, but that also limited the incentive for technical innovation and constantly posed the threat of violent revolt; politically, it was built upon a collaboration between metropolitan and creole elites that evinced many of the conflicts characteristic of old regime French society; ecologically, the sugar islands of the Antilles were rich places subject to declining soil fertility and periodic crises that ruined crops and weakened slave populations; and the markets that the plantations of Saint-Domingue served were frequently interrupted by warfare, which affected every aspect of plantation life, including the possibility of continuous investment and improvement. Planters and administrators were aware of these shortcomings but the demands of global markets, the politics of old regime states, and the patrimonial logic that guided the families who invested in these plantations excluded meaningful reform of the plantation complex, let alone the search for alternatives. Even beyond the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue, planters, administrators, and metropolitan politicians struggled to maintain the plantation complex for the production of tropical export commodities.