On December 6th, 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus arrived by ship on an island in the Caribbean, which he named Hispaniola (Anglicized name). He formed the first European settlement in northern Hispaniola. Columbus returned to the island in 1493, bringing along 1,200 of his men along with him, and created the colony of Santo Domingo. He found out that the southern and northern part of the island were rich in gold. Together, he and his men enslaved the local population, and forced them into mining for gold. The local population who were called the Taino, perished as they had no immunity to the smallpox that the Europeans brought with them to Hispaniola. Additionally, they were forced to work in brutal and gruesome conditions, which were also causes of their extinction. Soon, the gold mines became exhausted, and the Spanish grew sugar and began to raise cattle.
In 1502, the very first slaves form Africa were brought by ship to Hispaniola. Since the island was very rich with plantations, Europeans became very interested in the island. In the 1670s, the French had established permanent settlements in Hispaniola.In 1685, King Louis XIV, created the Code Noir (Black Code). The Code Noir was a set of codes that summarized France’s stance on slavery.
1. Slaves were the personal property of their masters.2. Slaves could not have marriages or dances.3.
Runaway slaves who were caught could be executed or have their ears cut off.4. White planters had the right to shoot anyone they assumed were fugitives.5.
Slaves who escaped from the plantations were called maroons. In the year 1697, the French took control over the left side of Hispaniola, and it became the colony of Saint-Domingue. It was the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean. Saint-Domingue’s population and economy had a substantial growth throughout the 18th century. They had exports such as sugar, coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. According to Britannica School, Saint-Domingue’s population in 1789 was 556,000, and 500,000 were slaves from Africa. The social structure was heavily classified by skin color, class, and gender.
made up of four parts. First came the Grands Blancs, who were plantation owners, elite merchants, and sometimes, they consisted of royal lineage. Then came the Affranchis, who were free colored people. Majority of them were mulattoe; people who were of mixed African and European descent. They were sometimes slave and plantation owners as well. After that came the Petits Blancs (Poor Whites) who were the working class and consisted of teachers, artisans, craftsmen, overseers, and laborers. Last came the slaves, who worked in plantations. Some worked as house servants, boiler men, and slave drivers, as stated by Britannica School.
In 1789, France had established The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, but the rights did not give the colonies rights unlike the citizens in France. However, several slaves believed that the rights were given to colonies, and they were free. But, their masters refused to free them. In May 1971, the French government provided the richer affranchis citizenship, but the Europeans in Haiti did not agree to this law. In less than two months, fights between and whites and the affranchis began and in August, numerous slaves began to revolt.
This was the start of the Haitian Revolution in the northern part of the island. The rebellions lead organizer was Boukman Dutty. In September, the rebel army had burned down 1,000 plantations and killed several whites.
Several affranchis proceeded to join the rebels. The French assembly gave citizenship to all affranchis in April 1792. The British and Spanish colonists tried to continue being neutral because they did not want to begin a war with France. The Spanish colonists were afraid that the revolution would come to their side of the island (eastern), Santo Domingo, and the British in Jamaica. In September 1972, King Louis XVI was executed and the National Convention declared France to be a republic.
This meant that Spain and Britain could not stay neutral anymore. Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, a commissioner from France was sent to the island to maintain order, as stated by Britannica Online, and gave freedom to slaves who became a member of his army. Soon, he abolished slavery which was confirmed by the French government the following year.
In the beginning of 1793, the leaders of the rebellion in Saint-Domingue, joined Spain to fight against the French. This included a man named Toussaint Louverture. Louverture was a former slave in Saint-Domingue, but his white master freed him, and taught him how to read and write. He was incredibly intelligent in his strategies, and was also known for his military brilliance. In the meanwhile, Spain was more focused on their fight against France closer to the Santo Domingo border, the British gained control over the south and southwest parts of Saint-Domingue. The Grands Blancs became allies with the British as they believed this was the only way to keep slavery in Saint-Domingue. The National Convention officially abolished slavery in 1794.
Louverture switched sides and left the Spanish troops to join the French. Spain quickly figured out that they could not win the battle against the French, so they gave up Santo Domingo to France, and removed all their troops from the island. They signed the Treaty of Basel in 1795 to confirm this. According to history.
com, Louverture’s volte-face was the most critical moment of the revolution, because his support enabled France to maintain their control over the colony, and during that time, his power and influence kept growing. His declared himself Lieutenant Governor of Saint-Domingue in March 1796. In 1797, Louverture and Andre Rigaud removed Britain from southern Saint-Domingue, where they were still practicing slavery and keeping plantations functioning. The union between Louverture and Rigaud didn’t last long. Soon enough, civil war erupted between them, to decide who should rule the colony. Louverture lead the blacks, while Rigaud lead the Mulattoes.
The Affranchis wanted to keep their political and economic advantages, and the blacks were in fear that if the Affranchis won, the slavery, inequality, and discrimination would make a return. Louverture had control over the north and western part of Saint-Domingue, and Rigaud had control over the south. Louverture sealed Rigaud’s forces for five consecutive months, so that no food or supplies could reach them. On June 18, 1799, Rigaud sent over 4,000 troops from his army to seize towns in the south, where one of Louverture’s general Laplume had his forces.
Also, Rigaud got smaller revolts underway in the north. Louverture’s forces responded quickly, and he sent his leading general Jean-Jacques Dessalines to defeat the Affranchis. In August, Louverture wrote a letter to the president of the United States of America, John Adams, to persuade the navy of the USA to block ports that Rigaud controlled. Louverture had much more power in his army, consisting of 45,000 troops compared to Rigaud’s 15,000. In March 1800, Rigaud’s army made a failed attempt to defeat the blacks at Jacmel, a town in the south of Saint-Domingue, and Louverture took over them.
In June, the newly-crowned first consul Napoleon Bonaparte (who recently overthrew the Directory) declared Louverture’s position as general-in-chief. Rigaud had already escaped to France with his family. The success of Louverture was also due to treaties the US and Britain signed with him who provided him with money for food and equipment for his army, and they hoped that Louverture would take over Saint-Domingue and make France’s position extremely weak in the Caribbean.In 1799 when France was still under The Directory, they made Louverture the governor of Saint-Domingue as they had extremely little power over the colony. About five months after the war, Louverture commanded an invasion of Santo Domingo. Although Spain had ceded it to the French in the Treaty of Basel, it was still controlled by a Spanish administrator. It is still unclear why he commanded the invasion, however, Edward Stevens, the American consul, declared that he did it because there were rumors that France had sent about 15,000 troops to Santo Domingo to endorse Andre Rigaud. After his defeat of Rigaud in the War of Knives and his successful invasion of Santo Domingo, Louverture had gained control of the entire Hispaniola island by 1801.
Economics in Saint-Domingue: Because of the several years of battles and wars, the economy of Saint-Domingue was in pieces. In 1800, plantations were producing only 1/5 of the crops they were producing in 1789. Almost a third of the slaves had died during the years of war. Several white planters fled the island, and majority of them took money and business expertise with them. Since Louverture had gained control of the entire Hispaniola, he decided to first completely abolish slavery on the island. He created an assembly for the island and declared the making of a constitution. At the same time, back in France, Napoleon was angry that Louverture had control of Hispaniola, and he saw it as a massive threat to his power over France. Louverture had officially created The Constitution of 1801.
In the constitution, some of the laws were:- Slavery is abolished and all citizens have equal rights.- Witchcraft is illegal in favor of Catholicism.- All the people of Saint-Domingue are French citizens.- To receive a salary, citizens have to work a mandatory number of hours on the plantations to receive a daily wage so the economy is in operation.- All land is to be split into large estates; they have to be fifty carreaux or 3.3 acres.Louverture officially declared himself to be Governor-General for life. However, his constitution was receiving a lot of criticism from the citizens of Saint-Domingue.
The splitting of land into large estates meant most people couldn’t own land. Even though the citizens received daily wages for their work every day, several of them believed that this was not that different from when they were slaves. Dessalines and other officers encouraged soldiers to use violence against uncooperative workers.
Dessalines was very infamous during this period of time because he practiced revenge and massacres against people who supported Rigaud. Louverture called for exiled white planters to come back to the island and he adopted absolute power as the governor-general. People who used to be enslaves saw this as a method of bringing back slavery, just by another name. Therefore, Louverture was confronted by defiance from his own people. Several citizens escaped the plantations and went to work in their own gardens. In October 1801, farmers who were angry with the laws fought against the authorities; they wanted people distributing land among themselves. They charged Louverture with exploitation of masses for benefits for France. Former slaves desired complete independence from France.
Napoleon thought that the Constitution of 1801 was a move for independence for Saint-Domingue, and he sent his French army of 20,000 troops to regain Saint-Domingue in October 1801. Napoleon ordered General Leclerc to bring back order and stability; Napoleon wanted to bring back the old regime and European rule. In February 1802, Napoleon’s troops arrived in Saint-Domingue and captured it in less than three weeks. Following that, almost a half of Louverture’s army had decided to join Napoleon’s army because they were not happy with Louverture’s laws.
They did not know that Napoleon wanted slavery to return to the island. Louverture and his army struggled to fight against Leclerc and his army for many months, and in April 1802, Louverture negotiated an armistice with Leclerc. However, just a month later, he retired from the war and went to join his family in the countryside.
Dessalines (who was Louverture’s top general) joined France’s army. However, in May 1802, Leclerc betrayed his agreement with Louverture and tricked him into having a fake meeting. He then captures Louverture, and sent him on a boat to France; Louverture died in a prison in the French Alps on April 7, 1803. Napoleon brought back slavery in other French colonies in the Caribbean in July 1802.
This led to several soldiers leaving the French army to join the insurrection. Napoleon responded by having vicious war campaigns against blacks and mulattoes. This included massive executions, drownings, burnings, hangings, and even sending man-eating dogs to eat the population. In October 1802, Dessalines and another general Henry Christophe led a black and mulatto army against the French army.
Dessalines became the commander in chief and used the Scorched-Earth Campaign, where he burnt and destroyed numerous plantations. Dessalines’ killed thousands of Napoleon’s troops. Napoleon’s army became extremely weak due to Yellow Fever and the lack of food. Leclerc died of Yellow Fever in November 1802.In May 1803, it is assumed that Dessalines created the Haitian Flag by ripping out the white fabric from the French flag which had three colors. He kept the red and the blue colors to show the unity of blacks and mulattoes against the whites. Napoleon didn’t pay much attention to his failed operation in Saint-Domingue and returned to focus on his European conquests.
More than 30,000 troops died from Napoleon’s army. Dessalines officially confirmed Independence by publishing a Declaration of Independence. He eliminated Saint-Domingue for good. He renamed the country its original Taino name “Haiti”. Dessalines commanded the execution of the remaining French residents (4,000). In October 1804, Dessalines took the title of Emperor Jacques I of Haiti. In May 1804, a change to the Constitution was made. From then on, all citizens of Haiti were classified as black and white foreigners were not permitted to own land in Haiti.
Haiti’s economy and infrastructure was in shatters as this was part of the plan to defeat the French army. France didn’t even recognize Haiti’s independence until 1825. Their leader King Charles X forced the Haitian’s into an agreement to pay off a loan for all the damages they caused during the revolution. The payment war equal to about 22 billion US dollars today. This loan and the Scorched-Earth campaign are two reasons why Haiti is one the poorest countries in the world today. Haiti finally paid off the debt by 1947. Today, the average annual income per person is 350 US dollars per year.