Reporting Haiti’s Independence in British India

As many of the writers for this blog have noted, news of Dessalines’ victory over French forces in November 1803, and the formal Declaration of Independence in January 1804 made newspapers across the Americas and Europe. As a historian of British India, I’m always eager to show how the “Atlantic World” was not always confined to the Atlantic. Commercial, imperial, and family networks linked the Atlantic and Indian Ocean world together from the beginnings of European imperialism and it should be no surprise that readers in British India were kept well-informed of events in Saint-Domingue and then Haiti.


ColophonBombayCourier Supplement to the Bombay Courier  June 2, 1804 (British Library Newspapers)

Copies of early newspapers from South Asia are scarce, but Adam Matthew has digitized a large run of microfilmed issues of The Bombay Courier held at the British Library. In these issues one can see how reports from English and American newspapers about the Caribbean trickled into circulation in India. Most relevantly for this blog, in June 1804, the Courier dedicated nearly an entire page of its “Supplement” to reprinting correspondence relating to the capitulation of Rochambeau’s forces the previous November. To close its coverage, the Courier reproduced the November 29th declaration of independence issued at Fort Dauphin. I’m especially taken by this reprinting as it shows nicely the interconnectedness of the early nineteenth-century world – that is, a proclamation of independence issued by an army of African ex-slaves and people of color in French, translated into English, and printed for a reading public thousands of miles away by a Prabhu [1] printer.

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The 29 November 1803 declaration of independence (post by David Geggus)

This is the controversial 29 November 1803 declaration of independence as it appeared in English translation in London in the 6 February 1804 edition of The Times. This was a month after its first appearance in the United States. It thus circulated more quickly than did the 1 January declaration. Sailing times to the US and Europe were shorter from Fort Dauphin, where it was drawn up, than from Port-au-Prince. And as it probably was distributed in manuscript, it was not delayed by the need for a printer. The January declaration did not appear in The Times until 28 April 1804 (and the third section not until May 21). This appears to be the version used in Rainsford. It presumably arrived on a slow merchant ship, whereas the copy Julia Gaffield found that reached London via Jamaica on March 10 no doubt came on the packet boat.

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First Publication of the Acte D’Independance in an American Newspaper

According to Deborah Jenson’s research, this is the first publication of part of the Declaration of Independence in any American newspaper. See: Deborah Jenson, “Dessalines’s American Proclamations of the Haitian Independence,” Journal of Haitian Studies, (2009) 15(1): 89.

Evening Post - March 7