Louisiana Identity On Trial: The Superior Court Case Of Pierre Benonime Dormenon, 1790-1812

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Louisiana Identity On Trial: The Superior Court Case Of Pierre Benonime Dormenon, 1790-1812

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Title: Louisiana Identity On Trial: The Superior Court Case Of Pierre Benonime Dormenon, 1790-1812
Author: Johnson, Erica Robin
Abstract: Louisiana and Saint-Domingue have intertwined histories with a number of similarities and periods of various interactions, most notably during the Haitian Revolution from 1791-1804 and the flight of refugees from Cuba from 1805-1810. Usually the exchanges of goods, people, and ideas between the two French lands were one-way, from Saint-Domingue to Louisiana. Understanding the pasts of each region and the significance of relations between the two colonies seems daunting without a point of reference. The Superior Court Case of Pierre Benonime Dormenon demonstrates how the combination of larger events within the western hemisphere influenced the reception of immigrants from the Caribbean by nineteenth century Louisianans. Dormenon's case involved the curious histories of the three characters whose paths overlapped in France and the Caribbean and finally collided within the parish of Pointe Coupée, Louisiana. L'Abbé L'Espinasse, the parish priest and former Caribbean resident, accused Dormenon of traitorous activity during the Haitian Revolution. Julien Poydras, businessperson, planter, politician, and perhaps the parish's most prominent citizen, and who had lived for a time in Saint-Domingue, came to Dormenon's defense. Both sides attracted sizeable followings. In 1809, the dispute came before the Superior Court of the Territory of Orleans. Within an expanded scope, Dormenon's case seemed minute and irrelevant to Louisiana's larger history. Dormenon did not in fact bring the Haitian Revolution to the area. It is likely that Louisianans attempted to sacrifice the reputation an innocent man to strike fear in other Saint-Dominguan immigrants, much like the questionable rumored slave conspiracies that kept the institution of slavery under control. He returned to civil service and died with honor, so his personal humiliation used to benefit territorial society has gone unrecognized. Dormenon's case illustrates how perceptions of the French and Haitian Revolutions, regime changes, and racial prejudices within Louisiana affected reactions to Saint-Dominguan refugees in the area. In addition, his case represented an unattractive period of crisis concerning the identity of Louisianans under the United States directly following the Louisiana Purchase.
Date: 2007-09-17
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