The subtitle, Slumbering Volcano, refers to the successful slave revolution in Saint-Domingue. It served as a symbol onto which antebellum Americans projected their acute sense of the potential of insurrection and race war inherent in slavery. Alfred Hunt juxtaposes manipulation of this symbol by white southerners and northern abolitionists, the former to defend slavery as necessary to contain the ever-present potential for violence, the latter to condemn slavery as the source of an inevitable bloody retribution if allowed to continue. Among abolitionists, reactions ranged from that of advocates of colonization, who accepted in effect the premise that emancipation without removal of blacks meant race war, to black nationalists for whom Haiti furnished a model of revolutionary action. Similarly, Hunt contrasts the various ways U.S. observers stereotyped Toussaint Louverture and the nation of Haiti that emerged from the revolution.
A secondary theme is the impact of Saint-Domingue refugees on the U.S. South. Largely on the basis of their influence on creole society in Louisiana, Hunt adopts the perspective that the lower South was the northern extremity of Caribbean culture. This theme clashes with the failure of schemes to promote emigration of U.S. blacks to the “alien environment” of Haiti (p. 181). As for the refugees, recognition of their social and racial heterogeneity does not prevent Hunt from characterizing them as the “dominant force in the French-speaking community” of New Orleans (p. 83), a generalization that slights natives of Louisiana and does not even take into account the European French. Nowhere does he cite Gabriel Debien, the author of major studies on Saint-Domingue refugees in Jamaica, Cuba, and Louisiana. The time invested in searching out allusions to Haiti over the antebellum period does not appear to be matched by comparable attention to secondary and primary sources on Haitian history and the refugee movements.