In his classic text, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Michel-Rolph Trouillot asked of the Haitian Revolution: “How does one write a history of the impossible?”1 Planters and colonial powers represented the thirteen-year event that resulted in the enslaved overthrow of colonial power and the independent state of Haiti (the first black republic of the Atlantic World) as an “unthinkable history,” “a non-event,” even as it was happening. Although Trouillot wrote specifically of Haiti, his work on how social and political inequalities of the past shape the ways historical events are recorded in their moment and then archived, retrieved, and written about in the present is widely applicable to historians of slavery.

The archive of slavery is steeped in silences. This is true especially for the colonial Caribbean, where enslaved individuals left few if any sources of their own and often appear in the archives...

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