Negotiating Race and Status in Senegal, Saint Domingue, and South Carolina: Marie-Adélaïde Rossignol and Her Descendants

Force, Pierre; Hoffius, Susan Dick

This article tells the story of a young Charleston physician, John W. Schmidt Jr., whose medical license was revoked in 1831 because he was accused of being of “mixed blood.” The physician’s ancestry was unusual: his grandmother Marie-Adélaïde Rossignol Dumont was born in Gorée, West Africa; she was not a slave but a wealthy merchant who came to the United States in the 1790s via the French colony of Saint Domingue, which she left in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. The grandmother used various strategies of social and racial self-reinvention as she roamed the Atlantic world. Her acceptance into the Charleston elite was consistent with a traditional definition of race that was social and political rather than biological. The decision by the Medical Society of South Carolina to revoke her grandson’s license following a denunciation by a fellow refugee from Saint Domingue and fellow physician, Vincent LeSeigneur, was a manifestation of the rising “scientific racism” whose early advocates were members of the medical profession.

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Early American Studies

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French and Romance Philology
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February 8, 2018