|Part of the Atlantic Revolutions, French Revolutionary Wars, and Napoleonic Wars.|
Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski, depicting a struggle between Polish troops in French service and the Haitian soldiers
Spain (from 1793)
Spain (until 1796)
|Commanders and leaders|
Dutty Boukman †
Vincent Ogé †
viscount de Blanchelande
Charles Leclerc †
Vicomte de Rochambeau
Villaret de Joyeuse
|Regular army: 55,000,
|Regular army: 60,000,
86 warships and frigates
|Casualties and losses|
|Haitians: 200,000 dead
British: 45,000 dead
|France: 75,000 dead|
|White colonists: 25,000|
Part of a series on the
|History of Haiti|
The Haitian Revolution (French: Révolution haïtienne [ʁevɔlysjɔ̃ ajisjɛ̃n]), was a successful anti-slavery and anti-colonial insurrection that took place in the former French colony of Saint Domingue that lasted from 1791 until 1804. It affected the institution of slavery throughout the Americas. Self-liberated slaves destroyed slavery at home, fought to preserve their freedom, and with the collaboration of mulattos, founded the sovereign state of Haiti. It led to the greatest slave uprising since Spartacus, who led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic nearly 1,900 years prior.
The Haitian Revolution was the only slave uprising that led to the founding of a state free from slavery and ruled by non-whites and former captives. With the increasing number of Haitian Revolutionary Studies in the last few decades, it has become clear that the event was a defining moment in the racial histories of the Atlantic World. The legacy of the Revolution was that it challenged long-held beliefs about black inferiority and of the enslaved person's capacity to achieve and maintain freedom. The rebels' organizational capacity and tenacity under pressure became the source of stories that shocked and frightened slave owners.
- 1 Historiographical debates
- 2 Impact
- 3 Background
- 4 Situation in 1789
- 5 Impact of the French Revolution
- 6 Relationship between the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution
- 7 Influence of Enlightenment thought
- 8 1791 slave rebellion
- 9 Leadership of Louverture
- 10 Resistance to slavery
- 11 Free republic
- 12 1804 massacre of the French
- 13 Impact
- 14 The Revolution and the media
- 15 In popular culture
- 16 Literature about the Haitian Revolution
- 17 See also
- 18 References
- 19 Bibliography
- 20 External links
While acknowledging the cross-influences, most contemporary historians distinguish the Haitian Revolution from the French Revolution. Some even separate it from the mulattos' earlier armed conflicts, which at first sought political rights for them, but not the abolition of slavery. These scholars show that if the agency of the enslaved blacks becomes the focus of studies, the Revolution's opening and closing dates are certain. From this premise, the narrative began with the enslaved blacks' bid for freedom through armed struggle and concluded with their victory over slaving powers and the creation of an independent state. In April 1791, a massive black insurgency turned violently against the plantation system, setting a precedent of resistance to racial slavery. In cooperation with their former mulatto rivals, blacks ended the Revolution in November 1803 when they decidedly defeated the French army at the Battle of Vertières.
Although it is known as a single event under the name of "Haitian Revolution", alternative views suggest that the entire affair was an assorted number of coincidental conflicts that ended with a fragile truce between mulattos and blacks. The chief concern flutters around the question if the victorious Haitians were "intrinsically [a] revolutionary force," or not. One thing is sure: Haiti became an independent country on January 1, 1804, when the council of generals chose Jean-Jacques Dessalines to assume the office of governor-general. One of the state's first significant documents was Dessaliness' "Liberty or Death" speech, which circulated broadly in the foreign press. In it, the new head of state made the case for the new nation's coherent objective: the permanent abolition of slavery in Haiti.
An independent government was created in Haiti, but the country's society remained deeply affected by patterns established under French colonial rule. Since many planters had provided for the mixed-race children they had by African women, by giving them education and (for males) training and entrée into the French military, the mulatto descendants who along with the wealthy freedmen had been orchestrators of the revolution became the elite of Haitian society after the war's end. Many of them had used their social capital to acquire wealth, and some already owned land. Some had identified more with the French colonists than the slaves.
Mulatto domination of politics and economics after the revolution created another two-caste society, as most Haitians were rural subsistence farmers. In addition, the nascent state's future was compromised in 1825 when France forced it to pay 150 million gold francs in reparations to French ex-slaveholders—as a condition of French recognition and to end the nation's political and economic isolation. Though the amount of the reparations was reduced in 1838, Haiti was unable to finish paying off its debt until 1947, and the payments left the country's government deeply impoverished, causing instability.
Much of the Caribbean economic development was contingent to Europeans' demand for sugar, which plantation owners traded for European and North American manufactured goods. Saint Domingue also had extensive coffee, cocoa, and indigo plantations, but these were smaller and less profitable than the wealthy sugar plantations. Starting in the 1730s, French engineers constructed complex irrigation systems to increase sugarcane production. By the 1740s Saint-Domingue, together with Jamaica, had become the main supplier of the world's sugar. Sugar production depended on extensive manual labor provided by enslaved Africans in the harsh Saint-Domingue colonial plantation economy. The white planters who derived their wealth from the sale of slave-produced sugar knew they were outnumbered by slaves by a factor of more than ten; they lived in fear of slave rebellion. White masters extensively used the threat of physical violence to maintain control and limit this possibility for slave rebellion. When slaves left the plantations or disobeyed their masters, they were subject to whipping, or to more extreme torture such as castration or burning, the punishment being both a personal lesson and a warning for other slaves. Louis XIV, the French King, passed the Code Noir in 1685 in an attempt to regulate such violence and the treatment of the enslaved person in general in the colony, but masters openly and consistently broke the code, and local legislation reversed parts of it throughout the 18th century.
In 1758, the white landowners began passing legislation restricting the rights of other groups of people until a rigid caste system was defined. Most historians have classified the people of the era into three groups. One was the white colonists, or blancs. This group is generally subdivided into the plantation owners and a lower class of whites who often served as overseers or day laborers.
A second was the free blacks (usually mixed-race, known as mulattos or gens de couleur libres, free people of color). These gens de couleur tended to be educated and literate and they often served in the army or as administrators on plantations. Many were children of white planters and enslaved mothers while others had purchased their freedom from their owners through the sale of their own produce or artistic works. They often received education or artisan training, and sometimes inherited freedom or property from their fathers. Some gens de couleur even operated their own plantations and were slave owners.
The third group, outnumbering the others by a ratio of ten to one, was made up of mostly African-born slaves. A high rate of mortality among them meant that planters continually had to import new slaves. This kept their culture more African and separate from other people on the island. Many plantations had large concentrations of slaves from a particular region of Africa, and it was therefore somewhat easier for these groups to maintain elements of their culture, religion, and language. This also separated new slaves from Africa from creoles (slaves born in the colony), who already had kin networks and often had more prestigious roles on plantations and more opportunities for emancipation. Most slaves spoke a patois of French and West African languages known as Creole, which was also used by native mulattos and whites for communication with the workers.
White colonists and black slaves frequently came into violent conflict. Many of these involved slaves who had escaped the plantations. Many runaway slaves—called Maroons—hid on the margins of large plantations, living off the land and what they could steal from their former masters. Others fled to towns, to blend in with urban slaves and freed slaves who often concentrated in those areas. If caught, these runaway slaves would be severely and violently punished. However, some masters tolerated petit marronages, or short-term absences from plantations.
Often, however, larger groups of runaway slaves lived in the woods away from control. They often conducted violent raids on the island's sugar and coffee plantations. Although the numbers in these bands grew large (sometimes into the thousands), they generally lacked the leadership and strategy to accomplish large-scale objectives. The first effective maroon leader to emerge was the charismatic François Mackandal, who succeeded in unifying the black resistance. A Haitian Vodou priest, Mackandal inspired his people by drawing on African traditions and religions. He united the maroon bands and also established a network of secret organizations among plantation slaves, leading a rebellion from 1751 through 1757. Although Mackandal was captured by the French and burned at the stake in 1758, large armed maroon bands persisted in raids and harassment after his death.
Situation in 1789
In 1789 Saint-Domingue produced 60% of the world's coffee and 40% of the world's sugar imported by France and Britain. The colony was the most profitable possession of the French Empire. Saint-Domingue was also the wealthiest and most prosperous colony, for the plantation owners at least, of all the colonies in the Caribbean.
In 1789, whites numbered 32,000; mulattos and free blacks, 28,000; and black slaves, an estimated 452,000. The lowest class of society was enslaved blacks, who outnumbered whites and free people of color by a margin of ten to one. The slave population on the island totaled almost half of the one million slaves in the Caribbean by 1789. Two thirds were African-born, and they tended to be less submissive than those born in the Americas. The death rate in the Caribbean exceeded the birth rate, so imports of enslaved Africans were necessary to maintain the numbers required to work the plantations. The slave population declined at an annual rate of two to five percent, due to overwork, inadequate food and shelter, insufficient clothing and medical care, and an imbalance between the sexes, with more men than women. Some slaves were of a creole elite class of urban slaves and domestics, who worked as cooks, personal servants and artisans around the plantation house. This relatively privileged class was chiefly born in the Americas, while the under-class born in Africa labored hard, and more often than not, under abusive and brutal conditions.
Among Saint-Domingue's 40,000 white colonials in 1789, European-born Frenchmen monopolized administrative posts. The sugar planters, the grands blancs, were chiefly minor aristocrats. Most returned to France as soon as possible, hoping to avoid the dreaded yellow fever, which regularly swept the colony. The lower-class whites, petits blancs, included artisans, shopkeepers, slave dealers, overseers, and day laborers.
Saint-Domingue's free people of color, the gens de couleur, numbered more than 28,000 by 1789. Around that time, colonial legislations, concerned with this growing and strengthening population, passed discriminatory laws that visibly differentiated these freedmen by dictating their clothing and where they could live. These laws also barred them from occupying many public offices. Many of these freedmen were also artisans and overseers, or domestic servants in the plantation houses. Le Cap Français, a northern port, had a large population of freed slaves, and these men would later become important leaders in the 1791 slave rebellion and later revolution.
The North was the center of shipping and trading, and therefore had the largest French elite population. The Plaine du Nord on the northern shore of Saint-Domingue was the most fertile area with the largest sugar plantations. It was the area of most economic importance, especially as most of the colony's trade went through these ports. The largest and busiest port was Le Cap Français (present-day Le Cap Haïtien), the capital of French Saint-Domingue until 1751, when Port-au-Prince was made the capital. In this northern region, enslaved Africans lived in large groups of workers in relative isolation, separated from the rest of the colony by the high mountain range known as the Massif du Nord. These slaves would join with urban slaves from Le Cap to lead the 1791 rebellion, which began in this region. This area was the seat of power of the grands blancs, the rich white colonists who wanted greater autonomy for the colony, especially economically.
The Western Province, however, grew significantly after the capital was relocated to Port-au-Prince in 1751, and the region became increasingly wealthy in the second half of the 18th century when irrigation projects allowed significant sugar plantation growth. The Southern Province lagged in population and wealth because it was geographically separated from the rest of the colony. However, this isolation allowed freed slaves to find profit in trade with British Jamaica, and they gained power and wealth here. In addition to these interregional tensions, there were conflicts between proponents of independence, those loyal to France, allies of Spain, and allies of Great Britain – who coveted control of the valuable colony.
Impact of the French Revolution
In France, the National Assembly made radical changes in French laws, and on 26 August 1789, published the Declaration of the Rights of Man, declaring all men free and equal. The French Revolution shaped the course of the conflict in Saint-Domingue and was at first widely welcomed in the island. Wealthy whites saw it as an opportunity to gain independence from France, which would allow elite plantation-owners to take control of the island and create trade regulations that would further their own wealth and power. There were so many twists and turns in the leadership in France, and there were so many complex events in Saint-Domingue, that various classes and parties changed their alignments many times. However, the Haitian Revolution quickly became a test of the ideology of the French Revolution, as it radicalized the slavery question and forced French leaders to recognize the full meaning of their revolution.
The African population on the island began to hear of the agitation for independence by the rich European planters, the grands blancs, who had resented France's limitations on the island's foreign trade. The Africans mostly allied with the royalists and the British, as they understood that if Saint-Domingue's independence were to be led by white slave masters, it would probably mean even harsher treatment and increased injustice for the African population. The plantation owners would be free to operate slavery as they pleased without the existing minimal accountability to their French peers.
Saint-Domingue's free people of color, most notably Julien Raimond, had been actively appealing to France for full civil equality with whites since the 1780s. Raimond used the French Revolution to make this the major colonial issue before the National Assembly of France. In October 1790, Vincent Ogé, another wealthy free man of color from the colony, returned home from Paris, where he had been working with Raimond. Convinced that a law passed by the French Constituent Assembly gave full civil rights to wealthy men of color, Ogé demanded the right to vote. When the colonial governor refused, Ogé led a brief insurgency in the area around Cap Français. He and an army of around three hundred free blacks fought to end racial discrimination in the area. He was captured in early 1791, and brutally executed by being "broken on the wheel" before being beheaded. Ogé was not fighting against slavery, but his treatment was cited by later slave rebels as one of the factors in their decision to rise up in August 1791 and resist treaties with the colonists. The conflict up to this point was between factions of whites, and between whites and free blacks. Enslaved blacks watched from the sidelines.
Leading 18th-century French writer Count Mirabeau had once said the Saint-Domingue whites "slept at the foot of Vesuvius", an indication of the grave threat they faced should the majority of slaves launch a sustained major uprising.
Relationship between the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution
Reason for revolution
The Haitian Revolution was a revolution ignited from below, by the underrepresented majority of the population. A huge majority of the supporters of the Haitian revolution were slaves and freed Africans that were treated unequally by society and the law.
Despite the idealist, rational and utopian thinking surrounding both uprisings, extreme brutality was a fundamental aspect of both uprisings. Besides initial cruelty that created the precarious conditions that bred the revolution, there was violence from both sides throughout the revolution. The period of violence during the French Revolution is known as the Reign of Terror. Those killed via guillotine, “breaking at the wheel”, or some other horrific death machines were perceived as adversaries to the revolution and death toll estimates range from 18,000 to 40,000. Total casualties for the French Revolution are estimated at 2 million. In the Caribbean, total casualties totaled approximately 162,000. Violence in Haiti was largely characterized by military excursions, riots, the killing of slave owners, and guerrilla warfare.
The Revolution in Haiti did not wait on the Revolution in France. The individuals in Haiti relied on no other resolution but their own. The call for modification of society was influenced by the revolution in France, but once the hope for change found a place in the hearts of the Haitian people, there was no stopping the radical reformation that was occurring. The Enlightenment ideals and the initiation of the French Revolution were enough to inspire the Haitian Revolution, which evolved into the most successful and comprehensive slave rebellion. Just as the French were successful in transforming their society, so were the Haitians. On April 4, 1792, The French National Assembly granted freedom to slaves in Haiti  and the revolution culminated in 1804; Haiti was an independent nation solely of freed peoples. The activities of the revolutions sparked change across the world. France’s transformation was most influential in Europe, and Haiti’s influence spanned across every location that continued to practice slavery. John E. Baur honors Haiti as home of the most influential Revolution in history.
Influence of Enlightenment thought
French writer Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in his history of European colonization. He warns, “the Africans only want a chief, sufficiently courageous, to lead them on to vengeance and slaughter.” Raynal’s Enlightenment philosophy went deeper than a prediction and reflected many French Enlightenment philosophies including those of Rousseau and Diderot, even though it was written thirteen years before the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” The declaration, in contrast, highlighted freedom and liberty but still allowed slaves to be characterized as property.
In addition to Raynal’s influence, Toussaint Louverture was a key Enlightened actor in the Haitian Revolution. Enlightened thought divided the world into "enlightened leaders" and "ignorant masses"; Louverture attempted to bridge this divide between the popular masses and the enlightened few. Louverture was familiar with Enlightenment ideas within the context of European imperialism. He attempted to strike a balance between Western Enlightened thought as a necessary means of winning liberation, and not propagating the notion that it was morally superior to the experiences and knowledge of people of color on Saint Domingue. As an extension of himself and his Enlightened education, Louverture wrote a Constitution for a new society in Saint-Domingue that abolished slavery. The existence of slavery in Enlightened society was an incongruity that had been left unaddressed by European scholars. Louverture took on this inconsistency directly in his constitution. In addition, Louverture exhibited a connection to Enlightenment scholars through the style, language and accent of this text.
Like Louverture, Jean-Baptiste Belley was also an active participant in the colony’s insurrection. The portrait of Belley by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson depicts a man who encompasses the French view of its colonies. The portrait creates a stark dichotomy between the refinement of French Enlightenment thought and the reality of the situation in Saint Domingue, through the bust of Raynald and the figure of Belley, respectively. While distinguished, the portrait still portrays a man trapped by the confines of race. Girodet’s portrayal of the former National Convention deputy is telling of the French opinion of colonial citizens by emphasizing the subject’s sexuality and including an earring. Both of these racially charged symbols reveal the desire to undermine the colony’s attempts at independent legitimacy, as citizens of the colonies were not able to access the elite class of French Revolutionaries because of their race.
1791 slave rebellion
|North American slave revolts
Enlightened writer Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in the 1780 edition of his history of European colonization. He also predicted a general slave revolt in the colonies, saying that there were signs of "the impending storm". One such sign was the action of the French revolutionary government to grant citizenship to wealthy free people of color in May 1791. Since white plantation owners refused to comply with this decision, within two months isolated fighting broke out between the former slaves and the whites. This added to the tense climate between slaves and grands blancs.
Raynal's prediction came true on the night of 21 August 1791, when the slaves of Saint Domingue rose in revolt[why?] and plunged the colony into civil war. The signal to begin the revolt was given by Dutty Boukman, a high priest of vodou and leader of the Maroon slaves, during a religious ceremony at Bois Caïman on the night of 14 August. Within the next ten days, slaves had taken control of the entire Northern Province in an unprecedented slave revolt. Whites kept control of only a few isolated, fortified camps. The slaves sought revenge on their masters through "pillage, rape, torture, mutilation, and death". Since the plantation owners had long feared such a revolt, they were well armed and prepared to defend themselves. Nonetheless, within weeks, the number of slaves who joined the revolt reached some 100,000. Within the next two months, as the violence escalated, the slaves killed 4,000 whites and burned or destroyed 180 sugar plantations and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations.
By 1792, slave rebels controlled a third of the island. The success of the slave rebellion caused the newly elected Legislative Assembly in France to realize it was facing an ominous situation. To protect France's economic interests, the Assembly granted civil and political rights to free men of color in the colonies in March 1792. Countries throughout Europe as well as the United States were shocked by the decision, but the Assembly was determined to stop the revolt. Apart from granting rights to the free people of color, the Assembly dispatched 6,000 French soldiers to the island.
Meanwhile, in 1793, France declared war on Great Britain. The white planters in Saint Domingue made agreements with Great Britain to declare British sovereignty over the islands. Spain, who controlled the rest of the island of Hispaniola, would also join the conflict and fight with Great Britain against France. The Spanish forces invaded Saint Domingue and were joined by the slave forces. For most of the conflict, the British and Spanish supplied the rebels with food, ammunition, arms, medicine, naval support, and military advisors. By August 1793, there were only 3,500 French soldiers on the island. To prevent military disaster, and secure the colony for republican France as opposed to Britain, Spain, and French royalists, separately or in combination, the French commissioners Léger-Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel freed the slaves in St. Domingue.
The decision was confirmed and extended by the National Convention, the first elected Assembly of the First Republic (1792–1804), on the 4th of February 1794, under the leadership of Maximilien Robespierre. It abolished slavery by law in France and all its colonies and granted civil and political rights to all black men in the colonies. The French constitutions of 1793 and 1795 both included the abolition of slavery. The constitution of 1793 was never applied, but that of 1795 was implemented and lasted until replaced by the consular and imperial constitutions under Napoleon Bonaparte. Despite racial tensions in Saint Domingue, the French revolutionary government at the time welcomed abolition with a show of idealism and optimism. The emancipation of slaves was viewed as an example of liberty for other countries, much as the American Revolution was meant to serve as the first of many liberation movements. Danton, one of the Frenchmen present at the meeting of the National Convention, expressed this sentiment:
"representatives of the French people, until now our decrees of liberty have been selfish, and only for ourselves. But today we proclaim it to the universe, and generations to come will glory in this decree; we are proclaiming universal liberty...We are working for future generations; let us launch liberty into the colonies; the English are dead, today."
In nationalistic terms, the abolition of slavery also served as a moral triumph of France over England as seen in the latter half of the above quote. Yet the abolition of slavery did not allow for independence and did not persuade[why?] Toussaint Louverture until some time later to stop working with the Spanish army.
It has recently been estimated that the slave rebellion resulted in the death of 350,000 Haitians and 50,000 European troops. According to the Encyclopedia of African American Politics, "Between 1791 and independence in 1804 nearly 200,000 blacks died, as did thousands of mulattos and as many as 100,000 French and British soldiers." Yellow fever did most of the killing. Geggus points out that at least 3 out of every 5 British troops sent there in 1791-97 died of disease. There has been considerable debate over whether the number of deaths caused by disease was exaggerated.
Leadership of Louverture
One of the most successful black commanders was Toussaint Louverture, a self-educated former domestic slave. Like Jean François and Biassou, he initially fought for the Spanish crown in this period. After the British had invaded Saint-Domingue, Louverture decided to fight for the French if they would agree to free all the slaves. Sonthonax had proclaimed an end to slavery on 29 August 1792. Louverture worked with a French general, Étienne Laveaux, to ensure that all slaves would be freed. Louverture abandoned the Spanish army in the east and brought his forces over to the French side on 6 May 1794 after the Spanish refused to take steps to end slavery.
Under the military leadership of Toussaint, the forces made up mostly of former slaves succeeded in winning concessions from the British and expelling the Spanish forces. In the end, Toussaint essentially restored control of Saint-Domingue to France. Louverture was very intelligent, organized and articulate. Having made himself master of the island, however, Toussaint did not wish to surrender too much power to France. He began to rule the country as an effectively autonomous entity. Louverture overcame a succession of local rivals (including the Commissioner Sonthonax, a French white man who gained support from many Haitians, angering Louverture; André Rigaud, a free man of color who fought to keep control of the South in the War of Knives; and Comte d'Hédouville). Hédouville forced a fatal wedge between Rigaud and Louverture before he escaped to France. Toussaint defeated a British expeditionary force in 1798. In addition, he led an invasion of neighboring Santo Domingo (December 1800), and freed the slaves there on January 3, 1801.
In 1801, Louverture issued a constitution for Saint-Domingue that decreed he would be governor-for-life and called for black autonomy and a sovereign black state. In response, Napoleon Bonaparte dispatched a large expeditionary force of French soldiers and warships to the island, led by Bonaparte's brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, to restore French rule. They were under secret instructions to restore slavery, at least in the formerly Spanish-held part of the island. The numerous French soldiers were accompanied by mulatto troops led by Alexandre Pétion and André Rigaud, mulatto leaders who had been defeated by Toussaint three years earlier. During the struggles, some of Toussaint's closest allies, including Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defected to Leclerc.
Louverture was promised his freedom if he agreed to integrate his remaining troops into the French army. Louverture agreed to this in May 1802. He was later deceived, seized by the French and shipped to France. He died months later in prison at Fort-de-Joux in the Jura region.
Resistance to slavery
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For a few months, the island was quiet under Napoleonic rule. But when it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish slavery (because they had nearly done so on Guadeloupe), black cultivators revolted in the summer of 1802. Dessalines and Pétion remained allied with France until they switched sides again, in October 1802, and fought against the French. In November, Leclerc died of yellow fever, like much of his army. His successor, the Vicomte de Rochambeau, fought an even more brutal campaign. His atrocities helped rally many former French loyalists to the rebel cause. Having sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in April 1803, Napoleon began to lose interest in his failing ventures in the Western Hemisphere. He was more concerned about France's European enemies such as Great Britain and Prussia. With that, he withdrew a majority of the French forces in Haiti to counter the possibility of an invasion from Prussia, Britain, and Spain on a weakened France.
With Napoleon's inability to send the requested massive reinforcements after the outbreak of war on 18 May 1803 with the British - the Royal Navy immediately despatched a squadron under Sir John Duckworth from Jamaica to cruise in the region, seeking to eliminate communication between the French outposts and to capture or destroy the French warships based in the colony.
The Royal Navy squadrons soon blockaded the French-held ports of Cap Français and Môle-Saint-Nicolas on the Northern coast of the French colony. In the summer of 1803, when war broke out between the United Kingdom and the French Consulate, Saint-Domingue had been almost completely overrun by Haitian forces under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. In the north of the country, the French forces were isolated in the two large ports of Cap Français and Môle-Saint-Nicolas and a few smaller settlements, all supplied by a French naval force based primarily at Cap Français.
On 28 June, the squadron encountered a French convoy from Les Cayes off Môle-Saint-Nicolas, capturing one ship although the other escaped. Two days later an independently sailing French frigate was chased down and captured in the same waters. On 24 July another British squadron intercepted the main French squadron from Cap Français, which was attempting to break past the blockade and reach France. The British, led by Commodore John Loring gave chase, but one French ship of the line and a frigate escaped. Another ship of the line was trapped against the coast and captured after coming under fire from Haitian shore batteries. The remainder of the squadron was forced to fight two more actions on their return to Europe, but did eventually reach the Spanish port of Corunna.
On 3 November, the frigate HMS Blanche captured a supply schooner near Cap Français, the last hope in supplying the French forces. The last battle on land of the Haitian Revolution, the Battle of Vertières, occurred on 18 November 1803, near Cap-Haïtien fought between Dessalines' army and the remaining French colonial army under the Vicomte de Rochambeau; the Haitian rebels won the battle.
Rochambeau seeing defeat inevitable procrastinated until the last possible moment, but eventually was forced to surrender to the British commander - by the end of the month the garrison was starving. Commodore Loring however refused the French permission to sail and agreed terms with Dessalines that permitted them to safely evacuate provided they had left the port by 1 December. One of Rochambeau's ships was almost wrecked while leaving the harbour, but was saved by a British lieutenant acting alone, who not only rescued the 900 people on board, but also refloated the ship. At Môle-Saint-Nicolas, General Louis de Noailles refused to surrender and instead sailed to Havana, Cuba in a fleet of small vessels on 3 December, but was intercepted and mortally wounded by a Royal Navy frigate. Soon after with the few remaining French-held towns in Saint-Domingue surrendered soon afterwards to the Royal Navy to prevent massacres by the Haitian army. Meanwhile, Dessalines led the rebellion until its completion, when the French forces were finally defeated by the end of 1803.
On 1 January 1804, from the city of Gonaïves, Dessalines officially declared the former colony's independence, renaming it "Haiti" after the indigenous Arawak name. Although he lasted from 1804 to 1806, several changes began taking place in Haiti. The independence of Haiti was a major blow to France and its colonial empire, but the French state would take several decades to recognize the loss of the colony.
On 1 January 1804, Dessalines, the new leader under the dictatorial 1801 constitution, declared Haiti a free republic in the name of the Haitian people, which was followed by the massacre of the remaining whites. Dessalines' secretary Boisrond-Tonnerre stated, "For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!" Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion. The country was crippled by years of war, its agriculture devastated, its formal commerce nonexistent. The country, therefore, had to be rebuilt.
To realise this goal Dessalines adopted the economic organisation of serfdom. He proclaimed that every citizen would belong to one of two categories, laborer or soldier. Furthermore, he proclaimed the mastery of the state over the individual and consequently ordered that all laborers would be bound to a plantation.
To avoid the appearance of slavery, however, Dessalines abolished the ultimate symbol of slavery, the whip. Likewise, the working day was shortened by a third. Dessalines' chief motivator nonetheless was production and to this aim he granted much freedom to the plantations' overseers. Barred from using the whip, many instead turned to lianes, which were thick vines abundant throughout the island, to persuade the laborers to keep working. Dessalines effectively sent the Haitian people back into slavery. Nevertheless, he succeeded in rebuilding much of the countryside and in raising production levels.
Fearing a return of French forces, Dessalines first expanded and maintained a significant military force. During his reign, nearly 10% of able-bodied men were in active service. Furthermore, Dessalines ordered the construction of massive fortifications throughout the island, like the Citadelle Laferrière. Many commentators believe that this overmilitarization contributed to many of Haiti's future problems. In fact, because young fit men were the most likely to be drafted into the army, the plantations were thus deprived of the workforce needed to function properly.
Under the presidency of Jean-Pierre Boyer, Haiti made reparations to French slaveholders in 1825 in the amount of 150 million francs, reduced in 1838 to 60 million francs, in exchange for French recognition of its independence. Boyer believed that the constant threat of a French invasion was stymieing the Haitian economy and thus felt the need to settle the matter once and for all. The negotiations for the indemnity were rather one sided however as French warships were anchored off the coast. The resulting indemnity bankrupted the Haitian treasury. Haiti was therefore forced to take out a loan from French banks, who provided the funds for the large first installment, severely affecting Haiti's ability to prosper. Haitian forces, led by Boyer, invaded neighboring Dominican Republic in February 1822—beginning a 22-year occupation.
The end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804 marked the end of colonialism on the island. However, the social conflict cultivated under slavery continued to affect the population for years to come. The revolution left in place the affranchi élite, who continued to rule Haiti while the formidable Haitian army kept them in power. France continued the slavery system in French Guiana, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.
1804 massacre of the French
The 1804 Haiti massacre was carried out against the remaining white population of French Creoles (or Franco-Haitians) in Haiti by the black population on the order of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. The massacre—which took place in the entire territory of Haiti—was carried out from early February 1804 until 22 April 1804. During February and March, Dessalines traveled among the cities of Haiti to assure himself that his orders were carried out. Despite his orders, the massacres were often not carried out until he personally visited the cities.
The course of the massacre showed an almost identical pattern in every city he visited. Before his arrival, there were only a few killings, despite his orders. When Dessalines arrived, he first spoke about the atrocities committed by former white authorities, such as Rochambeau and Leclerc, after which he demanded that his orders about mass killings of the area's white population be carried out. Reportedly, he also ordered the unwilling to take part in the killings, especially men of mixed race, so that blame would not rest solely on the black population. Mass killings then took place on the streets and on places outside the cities. In parallel to the killings, plundering and rape also occurred.
Women and children were generally killed last. French women were "often raped or pushed into forced marriages under threat of death".
By the end of April 1804, some 3,000 to 5,000 persons had been killed and the white Haitians of French descent were practically eradicated. On the other hand, aside from foreigners, and because of their help in the revolution, three categories of white people were selected not to be killed: the Polish soldiers who deserted from the French army; the little group of German colonists invited to the Nord-Ouest (North-West) department of Haiti before the revolution; and a group of medical doctors and professionals. Reportedly, also people with connections to officers in the Haitian army were spared, as well as the women who agreed to marry non-white men.
The 1804 massacre had a long-lasting effect on the view of the Haitian Revolution and helped to create a legacy of racial hostility in Haitian society towards the French.
Historians continue to debate the importance of the Haitian Revolution. David Geggus asks: "How much of a difference did it make?" A limited amount, he concludes, for slavery flourished in the western hemisphere for many more decades.
Other historians say the Haitian Revolution influenced slave rebellions in the United States and British colonies. The biggest slave revolt in U.S. history was the 1811 German Coast Uprising in Louisiana. This slave rebellion was put down and the punishment the slaves received was so severe that no contemporary news reports about it exist. The neighboring revolution brought the slavery question to the forefront of U.S. politics, and the resulting intensification of racial divides and sectional politics ended the idealism of the Revolutionary period.
Beginning during the slave insurrections of 1791, white refugees from Saint-Domingue fled to the United States, particularly to Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Charleston. The immigration intensified after the journée (crisis) of June 20, 1793, and soon American families began to raise money and open up their homes to help exiles in what became the United States' first refugee crisis. While some white refugees blamed the French Revolutionary government for sparking the violence in Haiti, many supported the Republican regime and openly expressed their support of the Jacobins There is also some historical evidence suggesting that displaying solidarity with the French Revolution was the easiest way for the refugees to earn the support and sympathy of the Americans, who had just recently lived through their own revolution. American slaveholders, in particular, commiserated with the French planters who had been forcibly removed from their plantations in Saint-Domingue. While the exiles found themselves in a peaceful situation in the United States — safe from the violence raging in both France and Haiti — their presence complicated the already precarious diplomatic relations among Britain, France and the U.S.
Many of the whites and free people of color who left Saint-Domingue for the United States settled in southern Louisiana, adding many new members to its French-speaking, mixed-race, and black populations. The exiles causing the greatest amount of alarm were the African slaves who came with their refugee owners. Some southern planters grew concerned that the presence of these slaves who had witnessed the revolution in Haiti would ignite similar revolts in the United States. However other planters were confident they had the situation under control.
In 1807 Haiti was divided into two parts, the Republic of Haiti in the south, and the Kingdom of Haiti in the north. Land could not be privately owned; it reverted to the State through Biens Nationaux (national bonds), and no French whites could own land. The remaining French settlers were forced to leave the island. Those who refused were slaughtered. The Haitian State owned up to 90% of the land and the other 10% was leased in 5-year intervals.
Since the resistance and the murderous disease environment made it impossible for Napoleon to regain control over Haiti, he gave up hope of rebuilding a French New World empire. He decided to sell Louisiana to the Americans. The Haitian Revolution brought about two unintended consequences: the creation of a continental America and the virtual end of Napoleonic rule in the Americas.
There never again was such a large-scale slave rebellion. Napoleon reversed the French abolition of slavery in law, constitution, and practice, which had occurred between 1793 and 1801, and reinstated slavery in the French colonies in 1801–1803—which lasted until 1848.
The Revolution and the media
The revolution of African slaves brought many fears to colonies surrounding Haiti and the Caribbean. Prominent wealthy American slave owners, reading about the revolution, also read speculation about what might come in their own states. However, newspapers like the Colombian Centinel took the extra steps to support the revolution, in the sense that it was based on the foundations of the American Revolution. The French media also played an important role in the Haitian Revolution, with contributions that made many French upstarts quite interested in the young, passionate Toussaint's writings of freedom.
However, all was not simple in the press. A top critic who significantly drove Toussaint into fear of backlash from France was Sonthonax, who was responsible for many outlooks of Haiti in the French newspapers. Yet Sonthonax was one of the few contenders who truly pushed for the independence of the African slaves and became a major factor in Toussaint's decision of declaring independence from France.
In popular culture
- Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier's second novel, The Kingdom of This World (1949), (translated into English 1957), explores the Haitian Revolution in depth. It is one of the novels that inaugurated the Latin American renaissance in fiction beginning in the mid-20th century.
- Madison Smartt Bell has written a trilogy called All Souls' Rising (1995) about the life of Toussaint Louverture and the slave uprising.
- C. Richard Gillespie, former Towson University professor, wrote a novelization of Louverture's life in the Revolution titled Papa Toussaint (1998).
- Though not referred to by name, Haiti is the backdrop for the 1990 Broadway musical Once on This Island by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The musical, based on the novel My Love, My Love by Rosa Guy, describes the social stratification of the island, and contains a song that briefly outlines the history of the Haitian Revolution.
- In 2004 an exhibition of paintings entitled Caribbean Passion: Haiti 1804 by artist Kimathi Donkor, was held in London to celebrate the bicentenary of Haiti's revolution.
- In 2010, author Isabel Allende wrote a historical novel entitled Island Beneath the Sea, which documents the Haitian Revolution through the eyes of a slave woman living on the island.
- William Dietrich set his 2012 novel, The Emerald Storm during the Haitian Revolution.
- The television mini-series The Feast of All Saints features the Haitian Revolution in its opening scene.
- The film Top Five refers to a fictional film within the film called "Uprize", ostensibly about this revolution.
- The role of Bois Caiman, Boukman, and Vodou generally, would become the subject of a controversial, discredited neo-evangelical theology in the 1990s that insisted that Haiti was pledged to the devil during the Revolution.
- Jacobin, an American socialist periodical, uses an image of Toussaint Louverture for its logo.
Literature about the Haitian Revolution
- An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President
- The Crime of Napoleon
- The Black Jacobins
- Cécile Fatiman
- Charles Rivière-Hérard
- Dédée Bazile
- Lamour Desrances
- Faustin Soulouque
- Jean-François Papillon
- Joseph Balthazar Inginac
- Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité
- Marie-Jeanne Lamartiniére
- Marie-Louise Coidavid
- Marie-Madeleine Lachenais
- Pauline Bonaparte
- Peace of Basel
- Philippe Guerrier
- Pompée Valentin Vastey
- Quasi War
- Suzanne Simone Baptiste Louverture
- Sanité Bélair
- War of the Knives
- *Please note that the URL in a footnote whose link is followed by an asterisk may occasionally require special attention.
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- Bongie, Chris (2008). Friends and Enemies: The Scribal Politics of Post/colonial Literature. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press. p. 45. ISBN 184631142X.
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- Censer and Hunt, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, 123. Dutty Boukman, Haitianite.com 
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- Scheina, Robert L. (2003). Latin America's Wars, Vol. 1: The Age of the Caudillo, 1791–1899. Washington, DC: Brassey's. p. 18.
- Robert C. Smith (2003). Encyclopedia of African American Politics. Infobase Publishing. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-4381-3019-4.
- David Geggus, "The British Army and the Slave Revolt," History Today (1982) 32#7 pp 35-39
- John S. Marr, and John T. Cathey. "The 1802 Saint-Domingue yellow fever epidemic and the Louisiana Purchase." Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 19#.1 (2013): 77-82. online
- Philippe R. Girard (2011). The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801-1804. University of Alabama Press. pp. 179–80.
- Bryan 1984, p. 23.
- Philippe R. Girard (2011). The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801–1804. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-1732-5.
- Haitian Declaration of Independence: Liberty or Death: Indigent Army, by the General in Chief Dessalines, in the name of the Haitian people. Held in the British National Archives: 
- Philippe Girard, “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Atlantic System: A Reappraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly (July 2012).
- Independent Haiti, Library of Congress Country Studies.
- "Independent Haiti". Retrieved 27 November 2006.
- James Leyburn, The Haitian People, Yale University Press, 1961, 34
- James Leyburn, The Haitian People, Yale University Press, 1961, 37
- James Leyburn, The Haitian People, Yale University Press, 1961, 70
- "Dominican Republic – Haiti and Santo Domingo". Country Studies. Library of Congress; Federal Research Division.
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- Dayan 1998, p. [page needed].
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- Girard 2011, p. 322.
- Girard 2011, p. 325.
- David Patrick Geggus and Norman Fiering, eds (2009). The World of the Haitian Revolution. Indiana University Press. p. 397.
- Rasmussen, Daniel (2011). American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt. HarperCollins. p. 288.
- Newman, Simon P. "American Political Culture and the French and Haitian Revolutions: Nathaniel Cutting and the Jeffersonian Republicans." The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Ed. David P. Geggus. (University of South Carolina Press 2001).
- Popkin, Jeremy D. 'You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Popkin, page 298.
- Davis, David Brion. "Impact of the French and Haitian Revolutions." The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Ed. David P. Geggus. (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press 2001).
- Ashli White, Encountering Revolution: Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic (2010) p 139
- James A. Henretta; et al. (2011). America's History, Volume 1: To 1877. Bedford/St. Martin's. p. 220.
- Matthewson, Tim, 1996 Jefferson and the Nonrecognition of Haiti, p. 30
- Jenson, The Sonthonax Drama: Toussaint as Political Dramaturge, p. 70
- Melbourne, Kamali (31 October 2005). "Caribbean Passion : Haiti 1804". BBC Nottingham. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
- McAlister, Elizabeth (2012-06-01). "From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History". Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses. 41 (2): 187–215. doi:10.1177/0008429812441310. ISSN 0008-4298.
- Web pages for FRD Country Studies are subject to changes of URL. If a page linked from a footnote that cites the Haiti study bears a title different from that cited next to the link, consult A Country Study: Haiti for the revised URL.
|Library resources about
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to
- Blackburn, Robin. "Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution", William and Mary Quarterly 63.4, 633–674 (2006)
- Bryan, Patrick E. (1984). The Haitian Revolution and Its Effects. Heinemann. ISBN 978-0-435-98301-7. Retrieved 15 May 2015.
- Jack Richard Censer; Lynn Avery Hunt (2001). Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Exploring the French Revolution. Penn State University Press. ISBN 978-0-271-02088-4.
- DUBOIS, Laurent (2005). AVENGERS OF THE NEW WORLD. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-01826-6.
- Laurent Dubois; John D. Garrigus (2006). Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789–1804 A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/st Martins. ISBN 978-0-312-41501-3.
- Fick, Carolyne "The Haitian revolution and the limit of freedom: deﬁning citizenship in the revolutionary era". Social History, Vol 32. No 4, November 2007
- John D. Garrigus (2006). Before Haiti Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-7140-1.
- David Patrick Geggus (2001). The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-57003-416-9.
- Girard, Philippe. “Black Talleyrand: Toussaint Louverture’s Secret Diplomacy with England and the United States,” William and Mary Quarterly 66:1 (Jan. 2009), 87–124.
- Girard, Philippe. “Napoléon Bonaparte and the Emancipation Issue in Saint-Domingue, 1799–1803,” French Historical Studies 32:4 (Fall 2009), 587–618.
- Philippe R. Girard (2011). The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, 1801–1804. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-1732-5.
- Girard, Philippe. “Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Atlantic System: A Reappraisal,” William and Mary Quarterly (July 2012).
- Cyril Lionel Robert James (1989). The Black Jacobins Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-679-72467-4.
- Joseph, Celucien L. Race, Religion, and The Haitian Revolution: Essays on Faith, Freedom, and Decolonization (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012)
- Joseph, Celucien L. From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
- Ott, Thomas O. The Haitian Revolution, 1789–1804. University of Tennessee Press, 1973.
- Joseph Elisée Peyre-Ferry (2006). Journal des opérations militaires de l'armée française à Saint-Domingue 1802–1803 sous les ordres des capitaines-généraux Leclerc et Rochambeau. Les Editions de Paris-Max Chaleil. ISBN 978-2-84621-052-2.
- Popkin, Jeremy D., You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
- Baur, John. "International Repercussions of the Haitian Revolution." The Americas 26, no. 4 (1970).
- Fick, Carolyn E. "Preface." In The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from below. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.
- The Louverture Project, a wiki about the history of Haiti
- Haiti: History of Shaken Country-- Video interview with historian Laurent Dubois
- Haiti Archives
- "Égalité for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution". Noland Walker. PBS documentary. 2009
- France Urged to Pay $40 Billion to Haiti in Reparations for "Independence Debt" – video report by Democracy Now!
- The Other Revolution: Haiti, 1789 – 1804 digital exhibition from Brown University
- 15 Minutes History, UT at Austin
- Two Revolutions in the Atlantic World: Connections between the American Revolution and the Haitian Revolution Gilder Lehrman Center, Laurent Dubois.
- "Upheavals in France and Saint-Domingue" Brown University