The Persistence of Félicité Kina: Kinship, Gender, and Everyday Resistance

In January of 1803, the sixteen-year-old Félicité-Adelaïde Kina (née Quimard) traveled from Paris to Pontarlier to protest the imprisonment of her stepson Zamor and her husband Jean for allegedly inciting revolution in British-occupied Martinique two years earlier. All three had been deported from the Caribbean island to England in 1801 and then detained in France in December of 1802. Félicité obtained permission from Parisian officials to be reunited with Jean since she was in the late stages of pregnancy.

Félicité presented herself before the commander of the Fort de Joux prison and refused to leave the surrounding village until Jean and Zamor were released. Due to her pregnancy, Félicité agreed to be housed by a female innkeeper in the nearest town and later in a hospice for women in Pontarlier, where she gave birth to her child.1

Carte de l’Isle de Saint Domingue, Paris 1722. (Guillaume Delisle/Wikimedia Commons)

Eighteen months later, Jean and Zamor consented to serve the Napoleonic army in Italy as a condition of their release. Both men had fought in the insurgent army battling against the French in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) as well as for the British in southern Saint-Domingue and Martinique, for which they won their freedom. Once again, the pair were forced to negotiate freedom from captivity with military service.

In order to keep their family and kinship ties together, Félicité, along with her infant, accompanied Jean and Zamor to the French town of Menton along the Italian border to prepare for another war.

Recent stories of the Kina family tend to revolve around the military careers of Jean and Zamor.2 These tellings, however, overshadow Félicité’s exceptional story. Félicité was born a free woman of color in the Martinican capital of Fort Royal (present-day Fort-de-France). A literate woman, Félicité also had extensive legal knowledge of French legislation and a strong desire to retain contact with her only kin in France.

Scholars often overlook Félicité’s time in France because it coincided with the imprisonment of one of the most famous leaders of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, who died in a French prison only three months after Félicité arrived to protest her own family’s captivity. But Louverture’s imprisonment is one of the reasons why we know so many details about Félicité.

Jean and Zamor were forced to share resources like firewood and food rations with Louverture in prison — conditions that Félicité frequently protested by visiting the prison’s commander. Each time Félicité presented herself at the fort, the commander and his secretaries made a record of it, including details of her pregnancy and health.

Highlighting a story in which Félicité Kina is a key actor and protagonist requires looking at the details. The archive of Jean, Zamor, and Toussaint Louverture’s imprisonment cannot be reduced to, as historian Philippe R. Girard hastily argues,“[a] record [of] petty fights over receipts.”3

Toussaint Louverture, chef des insurgés de Saint-Domingue (Wikimedia Commons)

By examining these receipts, documents, and details of Félicité Kina’s presence in the carceral archive of Napoleonic France, her ambitions as a mother and wife, her knowledge of French colonial law, and the network of women caretakers who aided Kina in her pregnancy come into plain view.

In perhaps the most comprehensive English-language narrative of the life of Jean Kina, David Geggus recounts Jean’s heroic journey from a proslavery enslaved soldier in the southern province of Saint-Domingue to a French prisoner for presumably spreading insurrection in the neighboring French colony of Martinique. While Geggus mentions Félicité Kina, he grants her little subjectivity apart from her role as wife and mother.4

As Haitian literary historian Marlene L. Daut reminds us, women’s narratives in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Caribbean often slip from view because women are either assumed to be actors only when it entails willing or forced sexual encounters, but also because in the history of slavery “what often counts as rebellion is violent armed resistance.”5 Sociologist of slavery Stéphanie Mulot refers to this process as a political and scientific discourse in which “the bases of colonial domination are reinforced by their relationship to sexual domination.”6

In short, to account for the stories of free and enslaved women of color is to understand the way that sex and gender shape colonization. We must engage with the full spectrum of personal and political acts that make up women’s lives. Unlike her husband and her stepson, Félicité Kina did not have a military career; however, her actions while Jean and Zamor were imprisoned acutely constituted acts of resistance.

A walled stone prison with a tunnel entrance set in an otherwise pastoral landscape.
Fort de Joux prison where Jean and Zamor Kina were held. (Nathan H. Dize/Nursing Clio)

Félicité Kina understood that in order preserve her family ties she had to follow Jean and Zamor to Pontarlier and physically present herself before the French government to protest their detention. She did just that. On New Year’s Day, 1803, Félicité obtained a passport to travel from Paris to the prison at Fort de Joux to reunite with her husband. On January 18, the prison’s commander wrote to his superiors in Paris that Félicité traveled the distance of over 400 kilometers pregnant and alone.

Félicité informed the commander of the fort that she would not leave her husband and stepson, and she planned to give birth in a nearby town. Before leaving the prison, she demanded to see her husband. But the commander refused, and Félicité left the fort to seek refuge at an inn, where she stayed on credit.7

On February 3, Félicité returned to the prison to collect the family’s luggage, including a number of her dresses, since she only brought with her the clothing on her back. Félicité left the fort with her belongings and, on the recommendation of local officials, took up residence at a hospice in Pontarlier where a midwife helped deliver her baby for a reasonable allocation.8

Even though the personal belongings of all three Kinas fit into a suitcase, it is important to remember that not even a decade prior both Jean and Zamor were considered property as enslaved persons. As people with intimate ties to slavery, Félicité’s protection of her family’s only remaining possessions recalls what Saidiya Hartman says about the “unwilling and coerced migrants who […] fashioned themselves again, making possibility out of dispossession.”9

According to the local government ministers, by March 25 Félicité had given birth to her child and had overstayed her welcome at Pontarlier’s hospice. The two ministers wrote that Félicité had to leave because she was with child and without either a profession or financial means to pay for her room and board.10

Félicité, nonetheless, remained. We can only speculate as to how Félicité managed to negotiate her stay at the hospice because there is a gap in the archival record. The ministers’ letter concluded only that “[Félicité] stayed thanks to the gifts of a few well-meaning people.”11

It appears that the midwives and the charity of women innkeepers in Pontarlier allowed Félicité to safely give birth to her child and remain close to Jean and Zamor until they were released from prison. After receiving authorization from the Napoleonic army, the four Kinas left for Menton on August 20, 1804.

The story of Félicité Kina’s travel not only runs counter to the “Great Man” tradition of history, but also allows us to understand how a sixteen-year-old pregnant woman of color navigated Napoleonic French law, collaborated with local networks of women and care, and reunited her family based on her firm ties of kinship. Instead of focusing on Toussaint Louverture, Jean Kina, or the commanders of the Fort de Joux prison, Félicité’s narrative allows us to “take seriously how the hero[ine’s] achievement is guided and limited by a community’s participation.”12

Finally, we must take seriously the call for a Caribbean and African Diasporic history that imagines the lives of women and how they moved through the world and negotiated with individuals and institutions. To do so, we must revisit traditional texts that focus on men like Louverture.13

Re-reading these histories, we see that even though Félicité Kina never bore arms, her actions and investment in her family reunited the Kina family after deportation and nearly three years of imprisonment. Far from trivial acts, Félicité made it possible for Jean to meet their first child and for their family to survive thousands of miles away from Martinique, the only home she ever knew.

Notes

  1. This story is adapted from the narrative woven by the Haitian historian Alfred-Auguste Nemours and the archival documents he collected and published in Auguste Nemours, Histoire de La Captivité et de La Mort de Toussaint Louverture : Notre Pèlerinage Au Fort de Joux (Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1929). Return to text.
  2. See, David Patrick Geggus, “Slave, Soldier, Rebel: The Strange Career of Jean Kina,” in Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 137-151. Return to text.
  3. Philippe R. Girard, Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 251. Return to text.
  4. The treatment of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Caribbean women’s history in literary studies has long garnered attention with texts such as Maryse Condé’s 1979, La Parole des femmes: essai sur des romancières des Antilles de langue française (Women’s Voices: Essay on Women Writers from the French-Speaking Antilles). For the most recent scholarship on black French women see the forthcoming Germain, Félix, and Silyane Larcher, eds., Black French Women and the Struggle for Equality, 1848-2016 (University of Nebraska Press, 2018). Return to text.
  5. In her most recent work, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism, Daut explores the history of Élisabeth “Mimi” Dumas, the mother of early Haitian writer Jean-Louis Vastey. She analyzes the potential for accounting for the history of women even when the archival record seems to present a paucity of sources on women’s lives. Marlene L. Daut, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism (London: Palgrave, 2017), 28-31. Return to text.
  6. Stéphanie Mulot, “Quand la Race Croise le Genre: Le Fondement des Sociétés Antillaises,” Chemins Critiques 6, no. 1 (2017): 147-162. Return to text.
  7. Nemours, Histoire de La Captivité, 254. Return to text.
  8. Nemours, Histoire de la Captivité, 257. Return to text.
  9. Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007), 7. Return to text.
  10. Nemours, Histoire de la Captivité, 258. Return to text.
  11. Nemours, Histoire de la Captivité, 262. Nemours acknowledges the women and men who aided Félicité Kina only by profession, like the midwife and male functionary who helped process her passport documents. Return to text.
  12. Richard Drayton, “The Problem of the Hero(Ine) in Caribbean History,” Small Axe 15, no. 1 (2011): 29. Return to text.
  13. Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). See also Ashley D. Farmer. “In Search of the Black Women’s History Archive,” Modern American History (2018): 1-5, https://doi.org/10.1017/mah.2018.4. Return to text.

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