The Haitian Revolution

In October of 1492, Christopher Columbus and a fleet of ships chartered from Spain landed on a small island in the Caribbean Sea. Columbus claimed the island for Spain, eventually eliminating the existing inhabitants of the island and colonizing the island repopulating it with plantation owners and slaves brought from Africa. One third of the island was ceded to France by Spain who continued to operate plantations for indigo, sugar, coffee, tobacco and cotton. The French rename the colony Saint-Domingue and continue to import slaves to do the work on the island.[1]

            Trouble was brewing in the colony for many years, four armed conspiracies against European inhabitants happened between 1679 and 1704.[2] The conspiracies were organized by slaves and focused on the plantation owners. In the 1760’s Europeans see the free mulatto population known as the Affranchis starting to gain wealth and land, European colonist become concerned with this rise in power and seek to gain control over it. This power struggle would be an early trigger point for the Haitian Revolution.

            Legislation was developed to block mulattoes from gaining power in the colony. The whites would forbid the Affranchis from holding any public office, gaining any position of station such as lawyers or doctors, Affranchis were no longer allowed to dress like whites, and they were not allowed to gather in groups after 9pm. These offenses are ruled punishable with fines, imprisonment, chain gang duty, loss of freedom, and amputation.[3] The Europeans were doing all that the could to maintain control of the colony. King Louis XV would make it worse in 1771 by stripping away many of the rights of the free mulattoes and blacks.

            “From its founding as an illegal settlement in the 1600s until the abolition of slavery in 1793, hundreds of thousands of slaves were led off slave-trading vessels onto the shores of French Saint-Domingue. According to the most exhaustive inventory of slave-trading journeys, 685,000 slaves were brought into Saint-Domingue during the eighteenth century alone. Over 100,000 slaves were reported to have died during the middle passage, and many more deaths probably went unrecorded.”[4] Considering the amount of slaves being brought to Saint-Domingue, the French landowners might have considered a less brutal relationship with the slaves, free blacks and free mulattoes that were far outnumbering the white population.

            In the fall of 1788, a petition for the “political rights of free persons of color” was submitted to the Provincial Assembly of Saint-Domingue. 1789 brought continuing instability to the colony, increasing after word of slave uprisings in the French colony of Martinique. Conditions in Saint-Domingue would become worse as a drought caused a loss crop on the island and an increase in slave runaways.[5] Revolutionary actions in France continue to have direct effects on Saint-Domingue, the French National Assembly’s “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens” states that rights are “granted to all men by natural justice.”[6] Later in October of 1789, the National Assembly accepts a petition form Saint-Domingue that extends those rights to “Free Citizens of Color.”

In early 1790, a decree from France gives the Provincial Assembly in Saint-Domingue full legislative powers over the colony. The Provincial Assembly begins to issue decrees against mulattoes and blacks in the colony. The Provincial Assembly calls mulattoes a “Bastard and Degenerate Race,”[7] further stating that it would never grant them political power. A new Colonial Assembly is established without voting or political power for mulattoes or free blacks. The Colonial Assembly would then separate itself from the National Assembly, though still allying itself with France, the Colonial assembly also suspended its delegates to the National Assembly.[8] In October of 1790, the National Assembly order the Colonial Governor to dissolve the Colonial Assembly. The colony was become divided between patriots loyal to the National Assembly and royalists who remained loyal to the king.

In late October 1790, a leader amongst the mulattoes arose, Jacques Vincent Oge’ was representing the colony in France, attempts to prevent Oge’ from leaving France failed. Oge’ sailed to England where he gained support from the British abolitionists and then sailed to the United States where he buys weapons. Oge’ arrived in Saint-Domingue on October 21 and went to the countryside to find friends and family. Oge’ amasses an army of 300 men made up of mulattoes and free blacks, colonists manage to disarm and capture most of those involved in the uprising. Oge’ escapes capture initially but he and supporters are captured later and put to death.[9]

By the middle of 1791, Saint-Domingue had dissolved into Chaos. Planters are preoccupied with the squabbles in the colonial government and ignoring the slaves who are organizing against them. Organized slave groups began attacking plantations throughout the colony. Plantation owners plead with Governor Blanchelande to build an army and fight the slaves to regain control of the island. The Governor in his ignorance plans his attacks publicly while building an army, the slave groups know the governors plans of attack and defeat the governor’s forces at many points. Blanchelande leaves Saint-Domingue after multiple defeats, telling the planters that they should have negotiated with the slaves in the first place.[10]

The National Assembly in France revokes rules that gave rights to free blacks and mulattoes and sends three commissioners to restore order in Saint-Domingue. Rebels seize the capital, Port-au-Prince as well as Le Cap, which they burn. The rebels begin to trade with the Spanish for weaponry. In January 1792, Blanchelande returns to the colony leading troops and marches against the rebels at Platons, the rebels are overwhelmed and escape into the mountains leaving women and children behind. French troops slaughter 3,000 women and children that were left behind. In June of 1792, slave groups begin to ally with the British. French Colonists begin to understand that hey need the slaves to maintain control of Saint- Domingue and begin to negotiate, Civil Commissioners issue a proclamation guaranteeing full rights and French citizenship to all slaves that join the French side.[11]

While France, Spain and Great Britain continue to try to gain the support of the rebels, new rebel leaders arise to lead the rebel movement eventually dropping alliances with Britain and Spain and returning to the French side. The French were the only group that would agree to the abolition of slavery in the colony. In July of 1795, the French and Spanish sign a peace treaty, giving Saint-Domingue back to France. French forces led by Loverture and Rigaud effectively end the British claims to Saint-Domingue.[12]

Loverture would remain loyal to France and work to eliminate slavery in the Spanish Territory of Santo Domingo as well. Loverture attempted to negotiate with the governor of Santo Domingo, talks broke down and Loverture returned to Saint- Domingue, however while Loverture was in the Spanish Territory, support arose among slaves in the Spanish territory. In January 1801, the Spanish give control of the entire island to Loverture.[13] In July of 1801, Loverature appoints himself Governor-General for Life and introduces a new constitution which usurps French power and established mandatory work regulations for citizens. In late 1801, rebellions break out against Loverture.

From 1802 to 1804, fighting and revolts continue as France tries to regain control of the colony. Loverture is continues to fight against an overwhelming French Army led by General LeClerc. LeClerc makes an offer to Loverture that he may retire with his staff and army to the place of his choosing. After Loverture’s surrender LeClerc withdraws the deal and imprisons Loverture. Upon hearing that the French leadership plan to return to slavery in the colony, black and mulatto soldiers defect to the rebel armies and begin to fight the French occupation.  1n May of 1803, French soldiers launch their final effort to end the rebellion, the French troops have not received supplies including food and many are suffering from Yellow Fever. The final French push fails. Dessalines will arise as the new leader of Haiti, he removes the white section of the French tri-color and declares the red and blue the flag of Haiti, the color representing the blacks and mulattoes coming together to defeat the whites. [14] Desalines declares that Saint-Domingue is gone, and establishes the new republic under the Taino name Haiti.


“The History of Haiti: 1492-1805.” The Haitian Revolution, October 27, 2015.

Laurent DUBOIS. 2004. Avengers of the New World. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

[1] “Spanish Rule 1492 – 1697,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[2] “Spanish Rule 1492 – 1697,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[3] “Spanish Rule 1492 – 1697,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[4] Laurent Dubois. 2004. Avengers of the New World. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Page 39

[5] “The French Revolution Begins,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[6] “The French Revolution Begins,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[7] “The French Revolution Begins,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[8] “The French Revolution Begins,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[9] “Slave Resistance Gains Momentum,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[10] “Slave Resistance Gains Momentum,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[11] “The Revolution Builds,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[12] “Toissant Loverture in Power,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[13] “Toissant Loverture in Power,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

[14] “The Final Years of the Revolution,” The History of Haiti 1492-1805 (Brown University).

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