ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



This decree contains the essence of Toussaint’s social and economic policy.

It is intended to restore prosperity and domestic tranquility simultaneously.

To this end the entire state is militarized. 



Books on the Caribbean

Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)

George F. Tyson, ed. Toussaint L’Ouverture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973.

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Doscourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet’s Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)


Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.  Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)

David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.  University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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Forced Labor Decree

Regulations Respecting Field Labor 

Promulgated by Toussaint

(12 October 1800)



After putting an end to the war in the South, our first duty has been to return thanks to the Almighty; which we have done with a zeal becoming so great a blessing: Now Citizen, it is necessary to consecrate all our moments to the prosperity of St. Domingo, to the public tranquility, and consequently, to the welfare of our fellow citizens.

But, to attain this end in an effectual manner, all the civil and military officers must make it their business, every one in their respective department, to perform the duties of their offices with devotion and attachment to the public welfare. 

You will easily conceive, Citizens, that Agriculture is the support of Government; since it is the foundation of Commerce and wealth, the source of Arts and industry, it keeps everybody employed, as being the mechanism of all Trades. And, from the moment that every individual becomes useful, it creates public tranquility; disturbances disappear together with idleness, by which they are commonly generated, and everyone peaceably enjoys the fruits of his industry.

Officers civil and military, this is what you must aim at; such is the plan to be adopted, which I prescribe to you; and I declare in the most peremptory manner, that it shall be enforced: My country demands this salutary step; I am bound to it by my office, and the security of our liberties demands in imperiously.

But in order to secure our liberties, which are indispensable to our happiness, every individual must be usefully employed, so as to contribute to the public good, and the general tranquility.

Considering that the soldier, who has sacred duties to perform, as being the safeguard of the people, and in perpetual activity, to execute the orders of his Chief, either for maintaining interior tranquility, or the fighting abroad the enemies of the country, is strictly subordinate to his superior officers; and as it is of great importance that overseers, drivers and field Negroes, who in like manner have their superiors, should conduct themselves as officers, subalterns, and soldiers in whatever may concern them.

Considering that when an officer, a subaltern, or a soldier deviates from his duty he is delivered over to a court-martial to be tried and punished according to the laws of the republic, for in military service no rank is to be favored when guilty: The overseers, drivers and field Negroes, as subject to constant labor, and equally subordinate to their superiors, shall be punished in like manner, in case of failure in their respective duties.

Whereas a soldier cannot leave his company, his battalion, or half-brigade, and enter into another, without the severest punishment, unless provided with a permission in due form from his chief; field Negroes are forbidden to quit their respective plantations without a lawful permission. This is by no means attended to, since they change their place of labor as they please, go to and fro, and pay not the least attention to agriculture, though the only means of furnishing sustenance to the military, their protectors. They even conceal themselves in towns, in villages, and mountains, where, allured by the enemies of good order, they live by plunder, and in a state of open hostility to society.

Whereas, since the revolution, laborers of both sexes, then too young to be employed in the field, refuse to go to it now under pretext of freedom, spend their time in wandering about, and give a bad example to the other cultivators; while, on the other hand, the generals, officers, subalterns, and soldiers, are in a state of constant activity to maintain the sacred rights of the people . . . .

I do most peremptorily order as follows:

Article 1. All overseers, drivers, and field Negroes are bound to observe, with exactness, submission, and obedience, their duty in the same manner as soldiers.

Article 2. All overseers, drivers, and field-laborers, who will not perform with assiduity the duties required of them, shall be arrested and punished as severely as soldiers deviating from their duty. After which punishment, if the offender be an overseer, he shall be enlisted in one of the regiments of the army in St. Domingo. If a driver, he shall be dismissed from employment and placed among the field-Negroes, without ever being permitted to act as a driver again. And, if a common-laborer, he shall be punished with the same activity as a private soldier, according to his guilt.

Article 3. All field-laborers, men and women, now in a state of idleness, living in towns, villages, and on other plantations than those to which they belong, with an intention to evade work, even those of both sexes who have not been employed in field labor since the revolution, are required to return immediately to their respective plantations, if, in the course of eight days from the promulgation of this present regulation, they shall not produce sufficient proof to the commanding officers in the place of their residence of their having some useful occupation or means of livelihood; but it is to be understood that being a servant is not to be considered a useful occupation; in consequence whereof, those amongst the laborers who have quitted their plantations in order to hire themselves, shall return thereto, under the personal responsibility of those with whom they live in that capacity. By the term “an useful occupation” is meant, what enables a man to pay a contribution to the State.

Article 4. This measure, indispensable to the public welfare, positively prescribes to all those of either sex that are not laborers to produce the proofs of their having an occupation or profession sufficient to gain their livelihood, and that they can afford to pay a contribution to the Republic. Otherwise, and in default thereof, all those who shall be found in contravention hereto, shall be instantly arrested, and if they are found guilty they shall be sent to the field and compelled to work. This measure, which is to be strictly enforced, will put a stop to the idle habit of wandering about, since it will oblige everyone to be usefully employed.

Article 5. Parents are earnestly entreated to attend to their duty towards their children; which is, to make them good citizens; for that purpose they must instruct them in good morals, in the Christian religion, and the fear of God. Above all, exclusive of this education, they must be brought up in some specific business or profession to enable them not only to earn their living, but also to contribute to the expenses of the Government.

Article 6. All persons residing in towns and villages, who shall harbor laborers of either sex, all proprietors or tenants who shall suffer on their plantations laborers belonging to other estates, without immediately making it known to the Commandant of the district, or to her military officers in the place of their residence, shall pay a fine of 200 or 800 livres, according to the abilities of the delinquent; in case of repetition of the offense, they shall pay three times as much; if the fine cannot be levied for want of effects, the offender shall be imprisoned for a month, and, in case of repetition for three months.

Article 7. The overseers and drivers of every plantation shall make it their business to inform the commanding officer of the district in regard to the conduct of the laborers under their management; as well as of those who shall absent themselves from their plantations without a pass; and of those who, residing on the estates, shall refuse to work. They shall be forced to go to the labor of the field, and if they prove obstinate, they shall be arrested and carried before the military commandant, in order to suffer the punishment above prescribed, according to the expediency of the case.

Article 8. The generals commanding the departments shall henceforth be answerable to me for any neglect in the cultivation of their districts. And when going through the several parishes and departments I shall perceived any marks of negligence, I shall proceed against those who shall have tolerated it.

Article 9. I forbid all military men whatsoever, under the responsibility of the commanding officers, to suffer any women to remain in the barracks; those excepted that are married to soldiers, as well as those who carry victuals to men confined to their quarters; but these shall not be allowed to remain any time; plantation women are totally excluded. The commanding officers shall answer to the execution of this article.

Article 10. The commandants of the towns, or the officers in the villages, shall not suffer the laborers or field-Negroes to spend the decades [a unit of time] in town; they shall also take care that they do not conceal themselves. Such officers as shall not punctually attend to this order shall be punished with six days confinement for the first time, a month for the second, and shall be cashiered for the third offense.

They shall give information to the commandant of the district of such laborers are found in the town during the decade, and the persons at whose houses they were taken up, that the said person may be condemned to pay the fine imposed by article 6 of this present regulation.

The plantation people, who shall in such cases be brought before the Commandant of the district, shall be sent back to their plantations after receiving the punishment, as above directed by article 2, with a strong recommendation to the commanding officer of their quarter that a watchful eye may be kept on them for the future.

Article 11. All the municipal administrations of St. Domingo are requested to take the wisest measures, together with the Commandants of towns and of the districts to inform themselves whether those who call themselves domestics really are so, observing that plantation Negroes cannot be domestics. Any person keeping them in that quality will be liable to pay the above-mentioned fine, as well as those who shall detain laborers of either sex for any kind of employment.

Article 12. All commissaries of government in the municipalities will make it their duty to inform me of all the abuses respecting the execution of this regulation; and to give advice of the same to the Generals of department.

Article 13. I command all the Generals of department, generals, and other principal Officers in the districts to attend to the execution of this regulation, for which they shall be personally responsible. And I flatter myself that their zeal in assisting me to restore the public prosperity will not be momentary, convinced as they must be, that liberty cannot exist without industry.

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Note By George F. Tyson

This decree contains the essence of Toussaint’s social and economic policy. It is intended to restore prosperity and domestic tranquility simultaneously. To this end the entire state is militarized. The estates become the units of local government, with the cultivators or field-Negroes deprived of their freedom of movement and subject to a harsh military discipline.

They are depicted as soldiers, whose duty is to serve the State and only the State. Severe penalties are imposed on all offenders. Vagrancy and idleness are crimes against the state. The publication of this proclamation throughout the colony marked the beginning of the erosion of Toussaint’s hold over the black masses. For them, as for the new freemen everywhere in the West Indies following emancipation, freedom meant the freedom to dispose of their labor as they pleased. It meant the freedom to desert the hated plantations and to cultivate small plots in the hills.

Toussaint understood the deep roots of this impulse, but he also knew that such a mass exodus would destroy the plantation system and thereby serve as a pretext for the reimposition of the ancien régime. This cruel contradiction was the malignancy at the heart of Toussaint’s administration. The blacks had to be mobilized and disciplined, not in the name of an abstract principle, but in order to preserve their hard earned gains. But to accomplish this Toussaint had to set himself against their most fundamental desires.

Source: George F. Tyson, ed. Toussaint L’Ouverture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—


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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 12 January 2012




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Related files:    The Paradoxes of Liberation