Title

This country is exceedingly fertile: Gender, African American Emigration, and Visions of Rural Autonomy in Haiti, 1824-1880

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

African American Studies

First Advisor

Feimster, Crystal

Abstract

This dissertation argues that African Americans' and Haitians' advocacy for labor autonomy, land claims, and mobility illuminate how gender politics shifted across the nineteenth century as emancipation unfolded throughout the Americas. It demonstrates how Haitians and African Americans developed a hemispheric, gendered understanding of collective and individual freedom as bound up with enduring access to land. Haitian-state sponsored emigration movements in the 1820s and 1860s offered African Americans both land grants and the possibility of escape from white supremacist violence and political marginalization. In the same period, rural Haitians developed their own claims to land by contesting the state's attempts to restart a plantation economy. By analyzing African Americans' pursuits of land grants alongside Haitian activism around land use, this dissertation shows how disputes between governments and freedpeople over land claims were hemispheric in scope and profoundly gendered. This dissertation's first two chapters analyze the masculinist rhetoric of abolition activity alongside the Haitian government's gendering of landholding. In doing so, they highlight elite men's growing association of freedom with manhood. The final two chapters enrich this analysis with a critical social history of how women in Haiti rejected this masculinization of freedom. They focus especially on how Black women, Haitian and American, enacted legal, diplomatic, and religious strategies to combat racism and misogyny. These chapters contend that Black women viewed land claims as integral to their freedom in the 1860s movement and beyond, and they trace the strategies Black women used to acquire land.

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