The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbé Ouvière, Romaine Rivière, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World, by Terry Rey

Sue Peabody
2018 NWIG  
This labor of love, a twin biography of two figures operating at the margins of the Haitian Revolution, decenters most of the traditional historiography of that world event. While previous histories of the Revolution have generally explored it in the secular terms of class, politics, nation-building, and human rights, Terry Rey probes its religiosity: how African Vodou and, especially, Catholicism inspired its adherents. The protagonists of The Priest and the Prophetess embody the cultural
more » ... y the cultural complexity in Saint-Domingue's colonial crucible. Romaine-La-Prophétesse, a free black coffee planter, attracted thousands of insurgent followers convinced by his visionary revelations from the Virgin Mary to conquer Léogâne and Jacmel. Félix Alexandre Pascalis Ouvière, an ally of both André Rigaud and Robespierre, was a defrocked, married priest from Aix-en-Provence who fled his enemies in France to imagined safety in Saint-Domingue in 1790. The two men concluded a treaty in Le Trou Coffy in December 1791 and the priest returned to Paris, where Ouvière ran afoul of the Revolution and fled via England and Jamaica to Philadelphia. There he put his youthful scientific training to work, practicing medicine and publishing numerous tracts in the burgeoning American republic. Rey is the first historian to identify the abbé Ouvière as the American scientist and deist, Félix Pascalis, his American nom de plume. The book alternates between chapters that move the action forward and discursive asides on the religious and cultural contexts. Chapters 1, 4, and 6 narrate the rise of Romaine's 1791 Trou Coffy insurgency, his followers' conquests of Léogâne and Jacmel, the encounter of Romaine and Ouvière in treaty negotiations, and the French suppression of Romaine's insurgency. Chapters 2-3 backtrack chronologically to explore the two men's origins and influences. Chapter 5 considers the alliances of Catholic priests with slaves and free people of color in Saint-Domingue throughout the eighteenth century. Chapters 7-8 follow Ouvière to Paris and then to Philadelphia. Chapter 9 is devoted to exploring how Romaine-la-Prophétesse was represented in subsequent histories, fiction, and popular memory. The best chapters were those revealing the biographical trajectories of the two protagonists. Rey's nuanced reconstruction of Romaine's life from notarial records, parish registers, and eyewitness accounts strips away later historians' careless or ideologically suspect mistakes and makes for a lively, engaging, thought-provoking read. Likewise, the charismatic abbé Ouvière's repeated
doi:10.1163/22134360-09203045 fatcat:tdtmdbnuk5drfclbwmk5qlfzzi