Savages and Sable Subjects: White Fear, Racism, and the Demonization of Creole Voodoo in New Orleans in the 19th Century
About the Author
Christopher L. Newman is History PhD student at Howard University. His area of focus is 19th Century Caribbean and Diaspora History with special attention paid to the development of Creole Voodoo in New Orleans during the 19th century and its utilization as a tool of slave resistance. Christopher has a Master of Theological Studies degree from Duke University ('21) and a Bachelor of Arts in African American and African Studies from The Ohio State University ('19). Christopher is an active member of the Black Doctoral Network, Phi Alpha Theta, and the Graduate Student Council at Howard University. Upon earning his Doctorate, Christopher plans to become a Professor of 18th and 19th century Caribbean religions and slave religions in the United States.
Prior to the Haitian Revolution, the religion of Voodoo maintained a safe and uninterrupted presence in New Orleans. Practiced by free and enslaved Blacks, Voodoo thrived within the larger Creole culture of the Louisiana territory. However, after the rebellion, white slaveholders in New Orleans would come to regard Voodoo as an evil, savage superstition related to Haitian Vodou. The demonizing of New Orleans Voodoo would emerge from white slaveholders’ fears of slave uprisings inspired by the Haitian Revolution and a migration of Haitian rebels into New Orleans. Yet theological objections were not the primary impetus for white aggressions toward Creole Voodoo. Instead, this paper argues that anti-Black racism in New Orleans, not religious differences, contributed most to the demonizing of Voodoo.
This paper uses primary sources such as letters from the Territorial Governor of Louisiana to both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and archival journals and newspapers from New Orleans. Also used are secondary resources from scholars in the field of 18th & 19th Century Haitian and Southern Louisiana Studies to chart the development of anti-Voodoo opinion in New Orleans following the Haitian Revolution. Critical to this paper is identifying the components of white slaveholding anxieties of African scared technologies and how these fears manifested into anti-Black rhetoric throughout the 19th century which mischaracterized Creole Voodoo not because it was a religion practiced by free and enslaved Blacks, but because of its connection to Haitian Vodou which whites feared would be weaponized as source of Black resistance resulting in a Haitian Revolution in the United States.
Newman, Christopher L.
"Savages and Sable Subjects: White Fear, Racism, and the Demonization of Creole Voodoo in New Orleans in the 19th Century,"
Madison Historical Review: Vol. 20, Article 6.
Available at: https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/mhr/vol20/iss1/6