Book recounts heroism of enslaved people in resistance movement

Garrigus’ work named one of 2023’s best by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, Feb 09, 2024 • Cristal Gonzalez : contact

A Secret among the Blacks book cover

A University of Texas at Arlington history professor’s latest book, about Black men and women in Haiti who resisted French colonial slavery, earned a nod from The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the best scholarly books of 2023.

John Garrigus is a leading scholar of the pre-conditions of the Haitian Revolution. His research focuses on understanding the origins of the world’s only successful slave uprising. In his newest book, “A Secret Among the Blacks: Slave Resistance Before the Haitian Revolution,” Garrigus tells the stories of a slave resistance movement that began in the mid-18th century.

“I really want to show general readers the heroism of ordinary people who were caught in this terrible slave system and how they were able to change society from the ground up,” Garrigus said.

The book, Garrigus’ third, also shows that anthrax spores, brought to the colony in livestock, caused waves of mysterious deaths that planters notoriously and incorrectly blamed on an African man named Makandal. They framed him as the leader of a massive poisoning conspiracy and burned him at the stake.

Garrigus’ research helped him win a residential fellowship at the National Humanities Center in 2017 and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship in 2019. The awards allowed him to continue his scholarship of the pre-revolutionary history of Haiti and complete his book.

“One of the goals of the Carnegie Fellows program is to make scholarship more accessible to the public, and I believe I was able to do this,” he said. “I’m able to show that the Haitian Revolution began in a zone where people had formed communities that were fighting slavery in four specific ways. This book is the first to locate the specific plantations where the uprising began and to show that enslaved people had long been fighting their mistreatment on those estates.”

The new book was one of 12 books named as “The Best Scholarly Books of 2023” by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the U.K., the Times Literary Supplement named Garrigus’ book as one of the “Books of the Year 2023.”

“I’ve received incredible support from my colleagues and the University, so I’m extremely grateful,” Garrigus said. “I’m pleased that other scholars appreciate the book, and I’m looking forward to hearing from general readers, since they’re the audience I was really targeting.”