Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo and Laura
  • Publication Date: June 11, 2007
  • ISBN: 9781551113463 / 1551113465
  • 320 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo and Laura

  • Publication Date: June 11, 2007
  • ISBN: 9781551113463 / 1551113465
  • 320 pages; 5½" x 8½"

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Based on Leonora Sansay’s eyewitness accounts of the final days of French rule in Saint Domingue (Haiti),
Secret History is a vivid account of race warfare and domestic violence. Sansay’s writing provocatively draws comparisons between Saint Domingue during the Haitian Revolution and the postrevolutionary United States, while fluidly combining qualities of the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, colonial travel writing, and political analysis. Laura, Sansay’s second novel, features as its protagonist a beautiful impoverished orphan who throws herself headlong into a secret marriage with a young medical student. When her husband dies in a duel in an effort to protect his wife’s reputation, Laura finds herself once more alone in the world. The republication of these works will contribute to a significant revision of thinking about early American literary history.

This Broadview edition offers a rich selection of contextual materials, including selections from periodical literature about Haiti, engravings, letters written by Sansay to her friend Aaron Burr, historical material related to the Burr trial for treason, and excerpts from literature referenced in the novels.


“Michael J. Drexler’s splendidly documented, richly contextualized edition of Leonora Sansay’s Secret History and Laura is indispensable to anyone studying the complexities of the Haitian Revolution, the conventions of gothic literature, and the history of the Americas. The appendices gather together for the first time letters between Sansay and Aaron Burr, as well as news reports of the Haitian Revolution in the U.S. press, observations by Charles Brockden Brown, memoirs by Condy Raguet, and paintings by Agostino Brunias. These appendices alone constitute a repository of materials that will offer scholars and students everything needed for an interdisciplinary course on romance and race—with Haiti as rightful progenitor and ancestor spirit.” — Colin Dayan, Vanderbilt University, author of Haiti, History, and the Gods (1995)

“Michael J. Drexler’s superb new edition of Secret History and Laura places two enormously significant literary works within easy reach of students and scholars. As Drexler’s insightful introduction indicates, the cultural and political connections between the early U.S. republic and the Haitian Revolution have been overlooked by generations of scholars. This edition places issues of Atlantic race slavery, republican revolution, colonialism, and gender relations squarely at the center of early American literature and culture and makes readily available texts that will become required reading in the fields of Atlantic and early American studies. The historical documents collected in this edition bring into focus the complex and compelling historical and literary interconnections between the U.S. and Haiti at the moment when Haiti saw the first and only successful slave rebellion in the western hemisphere.” — Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Yale University

Chronology: Haiti/USA/France/Leonora Sansay
Maps of Haiti (1853) and the Caribbean (2005)
A Note on the Text
Secret History; or, the Horrors of St. Domingo

Appendix A: Biographical Documents

  1. Letter from Leonora Sansay to Aaron Burr (6 May 1803)
  2. Letter from Leonora Sansay to Aaron Burr (6 November 1808)
  3. Letter from Leonora Sansay to Aaron Burr (29 July 1812)
  4. William Wirt’s Speech at Aaron Burr’s Trial (August 1807)
  5. Review of Laura from The Port-Folio (1809)

Appendix B: Literary Selections

  1. Alexander Pope, “Eloisa to Abelard” (1717)
  2. From John Armstrong, The Oeconomy of Love (1736)
  3. From Germaine de Staël, Influence of the Passions (1796)
  4. From [Leonora Sansay?], Zelica, the Creole (1821)

Appendix C: Contextual Documents

  1. From Baron de Wimpffen, A Voyage to Saint Domingo (1797)
  2. From Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia (1794)
  3. [Anonymous], “Renewed War in St. Domingo” (1802)
  4. Charles Brockden Brown, “On the Consequences of Abolishing the Slave Trade to the West Indian Colonies”
  5. Engravings from Marcus Rainsford’s Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (1805)
  6. From Condy Raguet, “Account of the Massacre in St. Domingo” (1807)
  7. From [Condy Raguet], “Memoirs of Hayti” (1809–12)
  8. Agostino Brunias, Scenes of the West Indies (ca. 1780)

Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Michael J. Drexler is an Assistant Professor of English at Bucknell University.