Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

A Colony of Citizens

Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804

Laurent Dubois

Paper: 978-0-8078-5536-2 ($33.95)

Copyright 2004
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • David H. Pinkney Prize, Society for French Historical Studies (2004)
  • James A. Rawley Prize in Atlantic History, American Historical Association (2004)
  • John Edwin Fagg Prize, American Historical Association (2004)
  • Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (2005)

The idea of universal rights is often understood as the product of Europe, but as Laurent Dubois demonstrates, it was profoundly shaped by the struggle over slavery and citizenship in the French Caribbean. Dubois examines this Caribbean revolution by focusing on Guadeloupe, where, in the early 1790s, insurgents on the island fought for equality and freedom and formed alliances with besieged Republicans. In 1794, slavery was abolished throughout the French Empire, ushering in a new colonial order in which all people, regardless of race, were entitled to the same rights.

But French administrators on the island combined emancipation with new forms of coercion and racial exclusion, even as newly freed slaves struggled for a fuller freedom. In 1802, the experiment in emancipation was reversed and slavery was brutally reestablished, though rebels in Saint-Domingue avoided the same fate by defeating the French and creating an independent Haiti.

The political culture of republicanism, Dubois argues, was transformed through this transcultural and transatlantic struggle for liberty and citizenship. The slaves-turned-citizens of the French Caribbean expanded the political possibilities of the Enlightenment by giving new and radical content to the idea of universal rights.

About the Author

Laurent Dubois is professor of history and Romance studies at Duke University. He is author of Les esclaves de la Republique: l'histoire oubliee de la premiere emancipation, 1789-1794.


A Colony of Citizens is the leading edge of a new wave of historical work on slavery and slave resistance in the Caribbean. Using the widest possible range of archives and manuscripts, Laurent Dubois offers a compelling account of slave emancipation in the era of the French Revolution—and more tragically, of Napoleon’s reimposition of slavery. This rich and nuanced work restores the colonial story of slavery and emancipation to its rightful place as one of the most significant moments in the history of revolution, democracy, and human rights.

--Lynn Hunt

Imaginatively crafted and deeply probing in argument and interpretation, A Colony of Citizens focuses on the French colony of Guadeloupe to explore the role of enslaved Africans and their descendants in imagining and creating new worlds of universal freedom. In this very important book, Laurent Dubois demonstrates how the dynamic for change in societies and empires can be powerfully influenced by the agency of an underclass who make their own way upward and forward. The book throws much-needed light on the quite complex relations among slavery, revolution, race, ideology, and freedom during a critically significant era in world history.

--David Barry Gaspar

Adroitly linking the dramatic black revolutions of Guadeloupe and Saint Domingue, Laurent Dubois neatly balances the local and Atlantic dimensions and stakes a claim to the centrality of those revolutions to the history of empire and democracy.

--David Geggus

A milestone in the ever-expanding historiography of Atlantic slave emancipation. . . . Exhaustively researched, richly detailed, and superbly written.

--The International Journal of African Historical Studies

A rich and important study on Guadeloupe . . . during the Revolutionary period. . . . An extended and subtle analysis of the changing meaning of republicanism and race. Opens the door to such future research, and not just fills the gap in the historiography but firmly places the question of the universality of the Revolution at the forefront of historical research.

--Latin America and the Carribbean

Dubois convincingly argues that no history of the Age of Revolution or of human rights is adequate without including the actions of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean, who fought for emancipation and against racism. An important, thoughtful, and eloquent book. . . . Highly recommended.


An outstanding contribution to Caribbean historiography and Dubois has arguably written one of the best monographs on the Age of Revolution to date.

--Estudios Interdisciplinarios de America Latina y el Caribe

An inherently fascinating tale, and one rich in significance for our understanding of the history and legacies of slavery and racism, revolution and enlightenment, and democracy and human rights. . . . Beautifully written and exhaustively researched. . . . One hopes that . . . the book will be read across the traditional geographic boundaries of the academy.

--The Americas

Elegantly written and meticulously researched . . . will be regarded as the standard account for some time to come. . . . Dubois has done a marvelous job.

--William and Mary Quarterly

A Colony of Citizens, based on much original research, at last enables us to assess the true importance of battles in the Eastern Caribbean.

--The Nation

An impressive, erudite and engaging work. . . . Will undoubtedly be considered provocative. . . . Meticulously researched and well-written. . . . Exemplary. . . . Makes a significant contribution to Atlantic history.

--The Southern Quarterly

In this impressive work, Dubois reveals a world of ideas and conflicts that will astonish even most specialists of eighteenth-century history. One of the most informative works of history [I] have read in a long time.

--American Historical Review