Port-au-Prince and the collapse of French imperial authority, 1789-1793

Jeremy D. Popkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The establishment of the independent nation of Haiti in 1804 was made possible by the collapse of imperial authority early in the French Revolution. Events in the colony's capital, Port-au-Prince, had much to do with that collapse. Between the fall of 1789, when news of the storming of the Bastille reached Saint-Domingue, and the spring of 1793, when French revolutionary authorities recognized that their only hope of maintaining control of the colony was to ally themselves with its black and mixed-race populations against the remaining whites, Port-au-Prince was the most troubled of the island's urban centers and one of the most unstable sites in France's transatlantic empire. Understanding how Port-au-Prince went from a center of colonial authority to a locus of disorder where fatal wounds were inflicted on the colonial order is crucial to any explanation of the background to the Haitian Revolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-84
Number of pages26
JournalFrench Historical Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author thanks audiences at the 2018 meeting of the Haitian Studies Association in Port-au-Prince and at the 2019 Consortium on the Revolutionary Era and the anonymous reviewers for French Historical Studies for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. He is indebted to the staffs of the two branches of the Archives Nationales in Paris and at the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence for their assistance. Research on this article was made possible by the William T. Bryan Chair research fund of the University of Kentucky.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Duke University Press. All rights reserved.


  • French Revolution
  • Haitian Revolution
  • Port-au-Prince

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History


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