Manuel Covo, Entrepôt of Revolutions
The Age of Revolutions has been celebrated for the momentous transition from absolute monarchies to representative governments and the creation of nation-states in the Atlantic world. Much less recognized than the spread of democratic ideals was the period’s growing traffic of goods, capital, and people across imperial borders and reforming states’ attempts to control this mobility. Analyzing the American, French, and Haitian revolutions in an interconnected narrative, Manuel Covo centers imperial trade as a driving force, arguing that commercial factors preceded and conditioned political change across the revolutionary Atlantic. At the heart of these transformations was the “entrepôt,” the island known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” whose economy grew dramatically as a direct consequence of the American Revolution and the French-American alliance. Saint-Domingue was the single most profitable colony in the Americas in the second half of the eighteenth century, with its staggering production of sugar and coffee and the unpaid labor of enslaved people. The colony was so focused on its lucrative exports that it needed to import food and timber from North America, which generated enormous debate in France about the nature of its sovereignty over Saint-Domingue. At the same time, the newly independent United States had to come to terms with contradictory interests between the imperial ambitions of European powers, its connections with the Caribbean, and its own domestic debates over the future of slavery. This work sheds light on the three-way struggle among France, the United States, and Haiti to assert, define, and maintain “commercial” sovereignty. Drawing on a wealth of archives in France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Entrepôt of Revolutions offers an innovative perspective on the primacy of economic factors in this era, as politicians and theorists, planters and merchants, ship captains, smugglers, and the formerly enslaved all attempted to transform capitalism in the Atlantic world.