This book has been ten years in the making. One reason is that I wanted to explore the African diaspora more broadly than I had before, and my knowledge of English, French, and Dutch naturally led me to expand my research to several national contexts. Another is that I wanted this project to be interdisciplinary, combining history and biography with textual criticism. It has been an amazing journey, which was made possible by the many excellent scholars this book relies on.
Part of the pleasure in writing this book came from the people and institutions that provided access to both the primary and the secondary material. All the libraries and archives I visited impressed me with the quality of their holdings and with the friendliness and dedication of their staff. My thanks go to the Michigan State University Library, the Archives of Michigan; in Paris and Vincennes, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the CARAN (Centre d’Accueil et de Recherche des Archives Nationales), the Service Historique de la Défense; the Royal Archives in The Hague, Regionaal Archief Leiden, the University of Leiden library, and the University of Amsterdam library. The fast pace with which eighteenth-century documents are being digitalized has also been a source of delight.
I am immensely grateful to Kettering University for a sabbatical leave that allowed me to make great progress on the manuscript, and to—now retired—head of the Department of Liberal Studies, Karen Wilkinson, for her continuous support of my travel and research. To my reading group friends—Joy Arbor, Dave Golz, Whitney Hardin, David Marshall, Ben Pauli, Laura Mebert, Laura Miller-Purrenhage, Greg Schneider-Bateman, Denise Stodola, Pavitra Sundar—I owe both the benefit of sharp criticism and the memory of warm, collegial evenings around Denise’s table.
Tremendous generosity from fellow scholars has helped transform the manuscript. While all of its weaknesses are my own, I warmly thank the following persons for giving of their precious time and expertise, in writing or in conversations, to help make it better: Daan Bronkhorst, Vincent Carretta, Jeroen Dewulf, Kirsten Fermaglich, Eugene Hynes, Elisabeth Leijnse, Barbara McCaskill, John Saillant, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, Michiel van Kempen. I am also deeply grateful to the two anonymous readers at the press, as well as to my editor, Angie Hogan.
For their friendship and support during the years I was writing this book—and talked about it every chance I got—I thank Brigitte Asselman, Cécile Blase, Ulric Chung, Yves Clemmen, Elisabeth Leijnse, Jean Mainil, Carine Mardorossian, Andrew Norris, and Hélène Varsamidou. Many thanks also to both my Levecq and my Manderfield families, for their love and encouragements.
Two persons have dramatically changed my writing—and my life. One is Hazel Rowley, who still daily inspires me. The other is Rich Manderfield, who constantly pushes me to think harder and look deeper, and who always makes it feel like an incredible adventure.
The book is dedicated to my dear friends Steve and Angie Elliston, whom I remember toasting on their sixtieth wedding anniversary as “the most inspiring couple I know.” They are deeply missed.
Parts of chapter 1 were originally published as “Jacobus Capitein, Dutch Calvinist and Black Cosmopolitan” in Research in African Literatures 44.4 (Winter 2013): 145–66. They are reprinted with permission from Indiana University Press.