Designing Incendiaries: The Haitian Revolution and White Americans' Fears of Arson inEarly American Cities

McInerney, Adele, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Taylor, Alan, Department of History, University of Virginia

Fires raged up and down the East Coast of the United States in the 1790s, set by slaves and free blacks in apparent imitation of the bloody insurrection taking place in the French West Indian colony of Saint Domingue. That is, at least, the impression advanced by some contemporary historians. White Americans read voraciously news of the racial unrest in Saint Domingue. No doubt some pictured Saint Domingue's ashen fields and burning port cities and worried that their own slaves dreamed of the same. Historians focused mainly on trans-Atlantic approaches or the history of black resistance expand our understanding of this era, but do not entirely account for white Americans' fears of arson. White Americans' images of “designing incendiaries” related as much to their general fear of urban fire as racial anxiety. White Americans' fears of black arson cannot be fully comprehended without also giving attention to the growing problem of fire in American cities.

MA (Master of Arts)
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