Luisa Coleta and the Capuchin Friar: Slavery, Salvation, and the Adjudication of Status (Havana, 1817)
Caraïbes : Rebecca J. Scott, Charles Gibson Distinguished University, Professor of History & Professor of Law, University of Michigan
This talk traces two modest "lives lived across empires" in the era of the Haitian Revolution: that of Marie Louise Colette, born into slavery on an habitation on the Plaine du Nord of Saint-Domingue; and that of Friar Félix Quintanar, a Spanish Capuchin who left Galveztown on the Mississippi after the end of Spanish sovereignty in Louisiana. Having taken passage to Havana as a frightened (and pregnant) adolescent refugee in 1796, could Marie Louise Colette maintain her freedom in Cuba? The answer seemed to be ‘no’. For the next twenty years Colette was held as a slave by María Francisca Lorignac, a fellow refugee who had paid for her passage to Cuba. But when Friar Félix was called to administer the last rites at Colette's deathbed in Havana in December of 1816, she implored him to transcribe her narrative of unlawful enslavement and submit her words to a judge, in order to initiate a suit for freedom for her daughters. Only then would she accept final absolution and be able to rest in peace.The extensive legal inquiry triggered by Colette’s action reveals the deep indeterminacy of status that followed the Haitian revolution, and a fragment of the Haitian diaspora that came together to try to assure freedom for the children of one of their own.