St. Domingue

The Revolution on Ste Domingue

At the time when the French Revolution broke out (1789), SAINT-DOMINGUE, as Haiti was called then, was the world's leading sugar producer and France's most profitable colony, providing 40 % of France's foreign trade. This wealth was produced by SUGAR PLANTATIONS, which were worked mainly by SLAVES, which made out over 85 % of the colony's plantation, the rest being whites and (coloured) freedmen. Little of the profit generated remained on the island.
The plantation society was based on a law strictly segregating the three classes (whites, freedmen, slaves). Among the coloured were many who owned slaves and plantations themselves, and who have served in the militia.

On Saint-Domingue, the revolution began with factional fighting among the whites in 1788 (royalists versus jacobins); it intensified in 1789 and turned into an outright civil war in 1790. The ideas of the French Revolution - liberte, egalite, fraternite - were applied only to the white population of the island.
The coloureds began to organize, while in France an organization called LES AMIS DES NOIRS demanded the abolition of slavery on the island colony. In May 1791, the French National Assembly granted voting right to free coloureds born of two free parents, too much for the white Haitians, insignificant for the coloureds. Beginning on August 22nd 1791, slaves rose in arms, massacring plantation owners. In September 1792 a fleet arrived from France with the order to enforce the decisions of the assembly. The revolutionary commission was lead by LEGER SONTHONAX, a radical Jacobin closely associated with Les Amis des Noirs. He ruled heavy-handedly - the terror had reached Haiti.

In June 1793, another French fleet brought a more conservative successor to Sonthonax; who refused to comply. Instead, he offered freedom to all black slaves joining the cause of the Republic. Things were complicated by a SPANISH INVASION from Santo Domingo (1793). On August 29th, slavery on Saint-Domingue was abolished, an act approved by the National Assembly in 1794.

In 1793, the British navy entered the (already complex) scene. However, they were unable to conquer the French colony, as the just liberated slaves fought to preserve the accomplishments of the revolution. A native leader, TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE, defeated the Spanish invaders (1794), defeated the British (1795), which retreated to a few fortified ports, where they held on until 1798. Meanwhile, Toussaint L'Ouverture and other black leaders fought the matter of leadership out. Touissaint emerged victorious and by 1799 controlled much of the island, including Santo Domingo (which Spain had ceded to France in 1795). The latter, however,, was lost again to Spain in 1801.
Years of civil war had destroyed the island's economic basis, and it's white population had been subject to repeated massacres. The plantation economy was taken up again, now run by a black aristocracy. However, French import tariffs lead to a drop in profitability.
In February 1802, another French army under Gen. CHARLES LECLERC invaded the island, Toussaint was caught and shipped to France. He died after arrival in France. Slavery was reintroduced.
In 1803, Britain and France were at war again. Saint-Domingue was blocked by a British fleet; the French left, and on Jan. 1st 1804, the REPUBLIC OF HAITI, under JEAN-JACQUES DESSALINES (-1806) declared independence. In imitation of Napoleon, Dessalines took on the title Emperor in 1805.

The Haitian Revolution 1794-1804, from Africans in America
Links to the Haitian Revolution from J. Garrig
REFERENCE Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean (1992) London : Penguin 1994

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 6th 2004

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