Posted on September 13, 2017
By Rob Taber
“A pamphlet circulates in the colonies of America with the title ‘Common Sense.’ Mister Adams, one of the delegates to Congress, happens to be the author. This work entirely erases the idea of reconciliation and excites the Colonies to independence.”
–“Nouvelles D’Europe: Angleterre,” Affiches Américaines, Cap Français, Saint-Domingue, 17 July 1776.
The last decade has seen an explosion of work on the impact of the Haitian Revolution on the United States. But what of the influence the American Revolution may have had on colonial Haiti? Studies of French Saint-Domingue and the rebellion in British North America tend to focus on the free soldiers of color who fought in the Battle of Savannah.  A few scholars have also explored the “independent spirit” (l’esprit autonomiste) within the colony’s white population, largely by examining correspondence or travelers’ accounts.  The dispatch in Saint-Domingue’s (state-sanctioned) colonial newspaper indicates that Dominguans, free and captive, who could read or listen, received regular doses of news about the political unrest in North America. Rumor and report alike shaped what Dominguans heard about the American Revolution, shaping their perspective on why colonial rebellions occurred and what they might achieve.
Despite the tremendous spread of printing in France and British North America during the eighteenth century, the print environment in Saint-Domingue was more limited and entirely in official hands. The colony had two printing presses, one in Port-au-Prince and one in Cap Français, used for printing official proclamations. The newspaper began as an initiative of a new intendant to bolster the economy after the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War in 1763. Like many newspapers of its era, Affiches Américaines focused on information that 1) performed state functions, or 2) would be of interest to the mercantile / planter elite. Ship arrivals and departures, the price of goods in various ports, colonialists’ intention to depart (required notice to their creditors), and, most famously, ads describing enslaved runaways and lists of those captured made up part of every issue. Advertisements of plantations or enslaved workers for lease or sale, lists of books available for purchase or rent at the printer’s office, and notice of escaped horses or donkeys rounded out the short ads. Occasionally there would be longer “sponsored content” type articles, including a two-page “prospectus” regarding a special mineral water to prevent the spread of venereal diseases “among slave crews” that ran at the end of May 1769.