I have already addressed part of the subject when we related on the different slave revolutions in the America Chronicle, 2 years ago, published in our AMHE Newsletter. For many of us Haitians, this period present so much confusion that I found a need to expand again on the topic especially when there is actually a public enthusiasm requesting in a patriotic way to consider the month of August as a specific month dedicated to the Haitian Revolution around the world. Haiti was still a French colony when the last portion of our revolt started in 1791 and lasted 12 years. Since then, too many have manipulated the facts. We will try once again to bring light to this important period of our history.
At that famous Bois-Caiman ceremony, which many want to think as a pivotal and decisive encounter, none of our ancestors responsible of the last phase of our independence were present. The principal actors of our independence did not even take part to such manifestation. Repeating that the revolt started one week after this ceremony, on the 22 of August 1791 appears to me as an insult to the one who gave their life to free the slaves some 20, 30 or even 100 years before. I want to name Padrejean in 1676 or Francois Mackandal in 1750 or Vincent Oge and Jean Baptiste Chavannes in 1789. The 1791 insurrection has certainly been referred to the first slave insurrection with a successful outcome, leading to the birth of a free first black Republic of Haiti and paving the way for the emancipation of the slaves in the French colony of Santo Domingo and around the world.
Such movement may have started in the mid-18th century but unfortunately, this is in 1791 that workers on plantations in the North of Haiti (Santo Domingo) overwhelmed their white owners to take control of the island. They achieved the emancipation on 1794 and successfully affronted the army of Napoleon Bonaparte years later to claim an independent nation. The old French colony became the nation of “Haiti”, land of the braves and the free slaves and the land of the free person of color.
The gains of the 1789 French Revolution after Danton and Robespierre swept the French monarchy from the throne and beheaded the aristocracy, were questioned and the demands for an over production of Sugar cane, Coffee, Cacao, Indigo to satisfy the American and European’s market demands were increasing. White colonists and black slaves were often involved in violent conflicts; Saint Domingue was a society seething with hatred. The “little colons” were jealous of the rich Colons and land owners. The mulattoes wanted to better their rights and conditions. The slaves could not stand anymore all the abuses in the colony. Meanwhile. runaway slaves, “Maroons” were living on the margins of the large plantations or far in the mountains so they can attack at will and steal from their old masters through violent raids.
Among the white’s population also, they have different classes: the rich whites were the Colonists owning lands while looking down at the little whites, less privileged, born in the colonies or working for them. Other classes did not like each other as well, like, the mulattoes, other creoles, and the slaves. All bring so much diversity into the colonies while the maroons are kept at large, away from the in house-slaves or the field-slaves which were also mistreated. Brief, a society with hatred, prone to violent conflicts: A “bomb” ready to explode.
Let us go back earlier in the mid 1750’s. The first effective maroon chief was a charismatic Voodoo priest, Francois Mackandal which was able to establish a network of maroons to plan meeting leading to a rebellion which lasted seven years, from 1751 to 1758. Why our historians are looking down at such historical figure? He fought the French during seven years and organized the marrons and the slaves effectively prior to his death in 1758. He was captured and burned on a in public place. At his death, many other maroons continued the fight.
The largest plantations were on the north part of island where the slaves were living to a ratio 10:1 with a higher rate of mortality. They kept their African heritage with the majority coming from Yoruba, Nigeria, Kongo which become the actual Benin and Congo and Angola of our modern days. They also married among them. Their kids born in the colony, were called “creoles” and the kids born from the union of a white colon and a slave were called “mulattoes”. The colons tried to separate those different entities but most slaves talked “patois or creole” language and kept bounding. The slaves also developed their own religion with a mixture between the imposed Catholicism and their west African Voodoo. One will have to agree that Francois Mackandal should have been as much an important figure as Dutty Boukman for his accomplishment forty years prior to 1791 events.
Not too many knew of the existence of a slave named Padre Jean (Padrejean) in 1676, almost 100 years prior who attempted to overthrow his slave masters in the goal of fermenting a revolt in the town of Port-de-Paix. After freeing the slaves, Padre Jean fled to Tortuga Island (Ile de la Tortue) where he lived until 1679. When the French discovered his retreat, they hired some maroons to hunt him down and kill him.
We cannot talk about slave revolt without mentioning Dutty Bookman. Bookman was born originally in “Senegambia”, presently Senegal and Gambia where he was captured and sold as a slave to a habitation in Jamaica. He soon became a maroon and took refuge in Haiti. Many believe that he was given the name holly man (Book Man = man of the book) because he thought others how to read the Quran as a Muslim cleric while he was a coach driver. Others believe that he became also a Voodoo priest (Hougan). Recent researches have shown him along with Cecile Fatiman (Voodoo Mambo). They both become leaders of the maroons allowing them to preside in a “Voodoo” ceremony at Bois Caiman on the 14th of August 1791, in the north of the country.
Such ceremony may have served as a catalyst to the slave revolt and… it is believed that during that ceremony, both prophesied that Jean Francois, Biassou and Jeannot (which were not present either) would become the leaders of the revolt. An animal apparently was sacrificed and an oath was taken while the priest and the priestess encouraged the listeners to take revenge against their French oppressors. Many Christian organizations saw in this ceremony a “pact with the devil”. It appears that the blood of an animal was offered to the attendees for consummation, sealing their fate.
A week later (21 August 1791), 1800 plantations were destroyed in the North of the country and 1000 slaveholders killed when the Saint Domingue revolt started. The slaves sought revenge on their masters and initiated pillage, rape, mutilation and death. The same carnage happened also in the South of the island where another rebel Romaine la Prophetesse at Trou Coffy, burned also plantations to freed slaves. They took over cities like Jacmel and Leogane during the month of September. Sugar plantations and Indigo plantations were destroyed. It is reported that the white militia-counter attacked and killed 15000 blacks. In the north, Bookman was quickly captured and beheaded by the French planters on the 7th of November 1791.
George Biassou also called later Jorge Biassou, a son of slaves, was 50 when he joined the rebels and assumed the leadership of the revolutionary movement with Jean Francois and Jeannot, commanding 40,000 ex-slaves to start burning plantations and killing white colonists. The historian Thomas Madiou in his writing’s states that Biassou tent was filled with dead men’ bones, kittens, snakes and other African “fetishes”. Biassou tried to write many proposals with the help of Jean Francois to end the revolt in exchange for freedom to all slaves in the colony but France refused to compromise.
When all negotiations failed, the Spanish Governor Garcia jumped on the opportunity to recruit Biassou and his men under the Spanish Crown and named his army, the “Black Auxiliaries army”. This is only then, Toussaint Breda made his entrance on the scene, by joining the forces of Biassou as a “doctor” to the troops. He bought support to the leadership of the rebels and mainly discussed strategy. Commanding the Black Auxiliaries army, Biassou became a French speaking general with loyalty to the Spanish Crown and never returned to the French army even after the National Convention abolished Slavery on the insistence of Sonthonax. Contrarily, Toussaint later, switched allegiance to France although it would eventually mean to fight against Biassou. Indeed, in 1795, when the Black Auxiliaries army was disbanded, General Biassou was sent to Florida which was then part of the Spanish territory of Cuba. There, he was placed in charge of the black militia and remained a Spanish General. Nobody remembers that he was the one in charge of the insurrection in 1791.
Francois Dominique Toussaint Louverture was around 15 when Mackandal died and 48 when Bookman lost his life. He did not participate in the ceremony at Bois Caiman nor did any important military men (generals) who fought for the independence of Haiti, were present. Born possibly in 1743, or maybe 1746 on the habitation Breda, near Cap Haiti, property which belong to Comte Noe. Toussaint ‘s father was the coachman of the Comte and became a freeman of color. Later, the property was sold to Bayon of Libertate. Toussaint kept using the official name of “Toussaint Breda” until he became more famous for his military tactics. Then they surnamed him “Toussaint L’Ouverture”. It is said that during his childhood, he heritages the name of “Fatras-Baton” suggesting that he may have been small and weak. He was also a Free slave during the time of the 1791 revolution and practiced the art of manipulating medicinal plants to treat horses and humans on the habitation Breda. He became also a coachman and earn money allowing him to accumulate wealth and properties at Ennery.
Toussaint was of small stature. He owed his education to his God-father Pierre Baptiste Simon, who also was a free-person of color. By the age of 20, Toussaint was fluent in French, Creole and was able to communicate in Latin. He enjoyed repeating the words of Epictetus, a Greek philosopher who has lived most of his life as a slave. He read Machiavelli and Abbe Raynal who through their writings on slavery have also influenced Toussaint Louverture speeches. He may have also benefited from the teachings of the Jesuit missionaries as well.
Toussaint Breda as a free-man, was a Jacobin who first fought with the Spanish against the French and then switched allegiance to the French when slavery was abolished. He fought the Spaniards and the English on behalf of Saint Domingue. He helped transform the slave insurgency of 1791 into a revolutionary movement. He became instrumental in taking control of the whole island to create a de-facto autonomous colony against the wishes of Napoleon Bonaparte. He restored the plantation system using a” paid labor system” and negotiated trade treaties between the United States and United Kingdom while he maintained a well-disciplined army. He promulgated an autonomist constitution in 1801 for the colony and self-proclaimed himself “Governor-for-life”. He established Catholicism as the only official religion of the land.
Little is known for sure about Toussaint Breda and his parents. Biographers claim that family traditions named his Grand-father as “Gaou Guinou”, a son of King Allada (Aradas) of the kingdom of Great Allada (Aradas), believed to be the actual Benin. Toussaint mother was the second wife of Gaou Guinou and Toussaint was the eldest of seven (7) children. We know also that he married Suzanne Simone Baptiste probably his cousin who gave him two sons Isaac and Saint-Jean. He adopted Placide, a son born from a previous union of Suzanne with a mulattoe, Seraphin Leclerc. He had two more children from extra-marital affairs. At the end of his life, he told General Caffarelli that he fathered 16 children with multiple women. Toussaint was considered a devout Roman Catholic and did not practice Voodoo. He may have been a freemason because of the symbol he used on his signature.
Through his military and political career, Toussaint has always used secretaries to prepare most of his correspondence. He may have been a well-known leader but he developed a lasting friendship with Jean Baptiste Bailey (1746-1805), born on the island of Goree, in Senegal and raised from the rank of slave in Saint Domingue to Captain of Infantry and finally member of the National Convention and the Council of the Five Hundred in France until 1797. A surname of “Mars” was given to him and survived Toussaint in Haiti’s fight for freedom. He returned to Haiti with the army of Charles Leclerc in 1802 until his arrest and deportation to the fortress of Belle Ile where he remained prisoner until his death in 1805.Their military and political knowledge saved the gains of the first black insurrection (Nov 1791). Toussaint used to say: “I was born a slave but nature gave me the soul of a free man”. When he joined the revolutionary troops of George Biassou as a “doctor” to the troops, he was given a small detachment under his command. He became involved in the negotiations between the rebels and the French Governor Blanchelande to provide better conditions for the slaves until the offers were rejected. He became instrumental in avoiding the massacre of many white prisoners by Biassou.
The year 1792 saw Toussaint Breda as a leader helping an alliance between the rebels and the Spanish forces to form the West Condon, at the Post of La Tannerie, separating the rebels from the colonial French troops. He started to play an important role throughout the revolution until finally, La Tannerie was taken by the French troops led by General Etienne Laveaux and through his military tactics, Toussaint was recognized as a significant military leader. He was given the name of “Toussaint Louverture”. Others believe that he received this name because of the space he exhibited between his upper front teeth. In any way, Toussaint has begun to use the language of Freedom and Equality associated with the French revolution and become committed to the idea of a complete abolition of slavery. He addressed the rebels saying:” I have undertaken vengeance and I want Liberty and Equality to reign over Saint Domingue”. On the same day Sonthonax proclaimed the emancipation for all slaves and on the 4th of February 1794, the French Revolutionary Government in France proclaimed the abolition of Slavery.
The French revolution may be regarded as the most important event in modern history. Even more radical than the English or American Revolution, it bears more impact on 19th century Europe. The ultimate fall of the “Bourbons” behind the liberalism and nationalism, resonated throughout Europe and later the major socialist revolutions of the twentieth century in Russia, China and even Cuba were inspired from the French example.
Santo Domingo represented the world’s larger sugar producer for many countries with around 1800 plantations. It is believed that when the revolution started in 1791, half of a million of slaves were living on the island. The Haitian revolution started when the White French Colonists wanted the independence after the fall of the monarchy in France. The slaves have other goals and started burning plantations allowing 100,000 slaves to join the rank of the rebels. Toussaint became one of the leaders of the rebellion but only took part in talks and supported more the Spaniards in bringing his input to the revolt as we already reported earlier. Soon, he moved to the eastside of Santo Domingo and took over the territory to free the slaves.
The slaves were responsible for the sugar productions and were working under harsh conditions under a Caribbean climate where diseases like Malaria, Yellow Fever caused a high mortality in the late 1780’s. It is reported that some 20,000 slaves from Africa were imported by the French to their colonies while almost 40,000 were imported by the British to their Caribbean colonies. Almost 50% of the slave population died within a year after their arrival in the colonies because of hard work, poor nutrition and shelter. Others died of infectious diseases like Yellow Fever. The death rate was so high that many women were married to several men at the same time developing a common form of marriage between slaves. Rape was also common by the white planters.
The slaves outnumbered the planters and their families. We have already seen how the larger plantations were located in the North of Saint Domingue. The French slave masters were cruel in their treatment of slaves. They used physical violence to suppress rebellion and disobedience to their masters like whipping, even castration and burning. A Code Noir in 1685 attempted to regulate such violence and the abuses on slaves in the colonies but was rarely respected by the masters. This code was reversed during the 18th century until a rigid caste system was created defining the White Colonist (Blancs) which represent the plantation owners and the lower class of whites. A second group with the Free people of Color (Free men, Mulattoes- Others that purchased their freedom more educated etc). Finally, a third group outnumbering the others by a ration of 10:1 mostly made of African born slaves and their descendants (creoles) born in the colonies.
White colonists and black slaves were frequently involved in violent conflicts. Poor white could not stand the rich whites while a middle class showed jealousy toward more aristocratic whites. Whites born in France, looked down whites born in the colonies, mulattoes envied the whites while the whites hated the blacks, seen as savage. Even the free blacks brutalize the slaves. Finally, the runaway slaves (Maroons) did not like their old masters and were always ready to attack them and steal their properties.
A society where everybody showed adversity in spite of the richness of the colony of Haiti. It was “Hell” living in it. The largest population of Grand Blancs were in the North of the country because the “Plaine du Nord” was the most fertile land and more slaves were residing. Cap was the busiest port while being the former capital of Santo Domingo. The Western provinces grew when the capital moved to Port au Prince in 1751
Toussaint Louverture was familiar with the ideas of Enlightenment with Liberty and Equality which was at the base of winning liberation. He wrote a constitution for a new society in Santo Domingo where Slavery was abolished. Indeed, Slavery was already abolished by Sonthonax first and then by the French Revolution and the National Convention in February 1794. Jean Baptiste Belly tried to help as well in the clarification of this enlightenment so the colonist will not attempt to undermine the right of the slaves.
In August 26, 1789, the” Declaration of the Right of Man and of the Citizen” was published declaring all men free and equal. It was interpreted by some, that the equality to women, slaves or citizen may not be the same. White planters saw an opportunity to gain their independence from France, so they would be able to control the island and be free in threading with anybody they wish including the British’s and the Americans. This is when the Haitian revolution become a test for the new French Republic of Saint Domingue. As I have already described, Toussaint Louverture become General in chief and the White colons were afraid that he had too much power. With the help of Jean Baptiste Nelly, he corrected later these inconsistencies, once he proclaimed a new constitution for Santo Doming
Prior to that, the African population of the island began hearing of the agitation of the Whites planters and did not want a return of Slavery. They started to form alliances with the British and the Royalists. This is when Vincent Oge in 1790 with Jean Baptiste Chavannes came as well with their revendications and requested the right to vote. When the colonial governor refused, they started an insurgency in Cap with 300 men to end the racial discrimination. He was captured and brutally executed on the wheel (Supplice of the wheel) to have his bone broken before being beheaded. Slave rebels cited his death as one of the determinant factors for the rise up of August 1791. Enslaved blacks watched the Supplice of Vincent Oge on the sidelines.
We discussed already what happened in August 1791 when the slaves in the North of Santo Domingo rose in a revolt and begun to kill their masters and burn the properties. Later, in September 1791, slaves did the same in the south of the country especially Jacmel and Leogane. They sought revenge on their masters in pillage, rapes, torture and death after years of abuse to match their atrocities. The planters have long feared such revolt and prepared were with some defensive tactics but the slaves out numbered the planters by thousands.
More than 4000 whites were killed and more than 180 sugar cane plantations burned and 900 coffee plantations destroyed. The whites fought back and it is said that some 15.000 black were killed. By 1792 the slave rebels controlled at least a third of Santo Domingo. The National Assembly realized that the situation was grave and granted civil and political rights to the free man of color by march 1792. Country like United States were shocked by the decision. This when Leger Felicite Sonthonax was named new Governor and abolished Slavery in the Northern part of the country. The planters were hostile to his decision. The same happened in the south with Commissioner Edmond St Leger while Andre Rigaud declined to ally with them.
In 1793, France declared war to Great Britain. The Grand Planters in Santo Domingo were not too happy with Sonthonax and arrange with Britain to claim sovereignty on the island, thinking also the they will be in favor of maintaining Slavery. Britain was afraid that the success of the slave revolution does not extend to the British colonies. The Spanish who were controlling half of the island, joined the British to fight the French in providing food and ammunition, naval support and military advisors. The Spanish forces invaded Santo Domingo. Hopefully the British campaign in Santo Domingo ended in a debacle. We know well the way, the French famers (Royalists) welcomed the arrival of the British at Jeremie (les Anglais), under the cry of “Vive les Anglais” when 600 British soldiers from Jamaica landed. Also, the main French naval base at Mole St Nicholas surrendered on the 22nd September 1793. 3500 French soldiers were on the island. In front of such situation, Sonthonax and Polverel freed all the slave in Santo Domingo on the 29 August 1783. The National Convention agreed with the delegation sent by Sonthonax (Louis Duffay, Jean-Baptiste Belley, Jean Baptiste Mills) and abolished Slavery by law in France and in all its colonies. Since two French constitutions in 1793 and 1795 abolished Slavery.
The abolition of Slavery served as a moral triumph of France over Britain. Toussaint Louverture remained suspicious of the French and continue fighting as a General for with the Spanish army. He was also mad “knight” in the order St Isabella. The British forces were too small to conquer the colony and remain on few costal areas. Their main forces went to conquer Martinique, Ste Lucia and Guadeloupe with General Charles Grey, but he also tried twice to give an ultimatum to Sonthonax asking him to abandon Port-au-Prince. The French refused to abandon while they have a larger military effective. John Whyte finally marched toward Port-au-Prince and took the town but allowed Sonthonax and his men to leave in exchange for not burning 45 sugar-loaded ships. Toussaint severed the French troops by 1794 commanded by Sonthonax in the North and Andre Rigaud in the South.
By May 1794, suddenly Toussaint joined the French side and turned against the Spanish ambushing them while they were coming from church in San Raphael on the 6th May 1794. Soon the Spanish were expelled from Santo Domingo insisting that he was fighting to assert the right of the slaves. He was also forgiving for the whites, including the former masters. He asked them to stay and work with him to rebuilt Santo Domingo. Rigaud had since taken back Leogane driving back the British to Port-au-Prince. Most of the British forces were killed by Yellow Fever (black vomit) and it is reported by one of their historians that 12,000 Englishmen were buried in the West Indies.
The British decided to launch the “great push” offensive to conquer Santo Domingo, Sir Adam Williamson, lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, attempted to take back Port-au-Prince and he was received by General Alexandre Petion who destroyed his army with his artillery, sinking also 3 ships. More troops arrived and more soldiers died from Yellow Fever. By February 1797 General John Graves Simcoe came with orders to pull back the British forces from Port-au-Prince. By June 1797 Toussaint and Rigaud had control of the British. In July 1797, Simcoe and Maitland sailed to London to advise a total withdraw of the troops. On May 10, 1798, Maitland met with Toussaint to agree to an armistice and to leave Port au Prince on the 18th of May 1798.
Toussaint turned his attention toward Rigaud after the withdraw of the British troops. Rigaud who initiated the “War of Knives” in the South, attacking Petit-Goave and Grand Goave killing, whites and blacks to the sword. The United States agreed to support Toussaint in his effort to fight Rigaud and sent the frigate USS General Greene as Toussaint took Jacmel. (The ties of Rigaud with France apparently represented a threat for the United States). while Rigaud fled on the French schooner La Diana. Toussaint remained loyal to France as he ruled the island of Santo Domingo as a dictator. It is believed that during the 1791-1804 slave rebellion, 350,000 slaves or black freemen or mulattoes, 100,000 European soldiers (French or British) died during the revolutionary war of Santo Domingo.
We know that earlier in the revolt, Toussaint joined the forces of Jorge Biassou and Jean Francois to fight for the Spanish crown. But when the British invaded Santo Domingo, He turned back his loyalty to the French with the condition that they freed the slaves and while Sonthonax proclaimed the end of Slavery in the North, he discussed with the French General Etienne Laveaux, the abolition of Slavery for all. He then abandoned the Spanish Army and joined the French in May 1784.
Under the leadership pf Toussaint, the British and Spanish armies were defeated. He restored control in Santo Domingo and become the master of the island. He began by ruling the country as an autonomous entity and got rid of all his rivals including Commissioner Sonthonax, General Andre Rigaud, Comte d’ Hedouville. As already seen, he defeated the British expeditionary force in 1798. lead an invasion of the East part of the island in December 1800. freed the slaves in 1801, issuing a constitution for Santo Domingo where he named himself Governor-for life for an autonomic, black Santo Domingo.
Napoleon was not too happy and in response, Napoleon dispatches a large expeditionary force of soldiers and warships to the island led by. Charles Leclerc, his brother-in-law.to restore French rule. He had also secret instructions to restore Slavery. Toussaint was summoned to Le Cap and arrested. Leclerc was told that if he failed to show up, to wage a “war to death and to kill all Toussaint followers and then to restore Slavery. Generals Alexandre Petion and Andre Rigaud were present in the army of Leclerc.
The French arrived at Le Cap on the 2nd of February 1802 General Henry Christophe refused to surrender the town to General Leclerc and ordered to set the town in fire. Generals Toussaint and Christophe become outlawed by a proclamation of General Leclerc treating the as rebels against the French Republic. Toussaint outlined his plans to defeat the French in a letter to General Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Many epic battles in Leogane against General Pamphile de Lacroix, in Gonaives and Ravine a Couleuvres against General Rochambeau, where Toussaint himself participated but after losing 800 men, ordered a retreat.
At Crete-a-Pierrot where a fierce battle in which Dessalines was in command and fought General Boudet who was wounded in the ditch, General Charles Dugua who was killed, General Leclerc who was wounded and General Rochambeau came with the final column and still the indigenous army was holding grounds. After 20 days of siege, ammunition running out, and no food, Dessalines ordered a retreat on the 24th March 1802 and while retreating, they were singing songs of the French Revolution, celebrating the right of every man to be free. The French have won but they lost 2000 men. Many French soldiers were asking why they were fighting to enslave soldiers assuming their rights to be free. By the end of March 5,000 French soldiers had died and another 5000 were hospitalized with Yellow Fever.
On April 25, 1802 Christophe defected to the French along with his army. Toussaint Louverture agreed to re-integrate his men to the French army on the 6th of May 1802. We may never know what motivated Toussaint to surrender. He was told by Leclerc that Slavery would not be restored in Santo Domingo and the black officers will be re-integrated in the French Army. He was also given a plantation in Ennery. Later, he was deceived, seized and shipped to France where he was placed in prison at Fort de Joux, in the Jura Mountains. Dessalines did the same and surrendered. He was named Governor of St Marc.
The surrender of Toussaint, Christophe and Dessalines did not mean the end of the resistance. A guerilla warfare was still ongoing while the French were staging mass executions via fire squads, killing hundreds by sulfur, hanging and drowning.
The Napoleonic rule was restored but it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish Slavery. They have done so in Guadeloupe. The French decided to send a Polish legion to supplement the military effective. 5,200 soldiers were sent to Saint-Domingue. Polish soldiers were volunteers because they were told that if they fight for France, the French army will help them gain back their independence from the Russian forces (Prussia), war which started in 1772. They were told. that they were needed to fight a revolt of prisoners in Santo Domingo. Once on the island, the Poles discovered the truth about the rebellion of slaves. Many of them admired their opponents and defected joining the rank of the slaves.
Dessalines and Petion understood well the situation and switched side in October 1802 to fight the French. Dessalines joined the rebels when he heard Leclerc ordering the killing of blacks by drowning. Leclerc himself, soon died of Yellow Fever leaving a well-known successor for his cruelty, the Vicomte of Rochambeau. He imported 15,000 well-trained attack dogs from Jamaica and also Cuba while Napoleon sent 20,000 reinforcement soldiers.
Dessalines matched Rochambeau’s cruelty after he heard about the hanging of 500 blacks in Cap. He killed as many whites, sticking their head on spike although many white French colonists rally to the cause of the rebels once they were exposed to the atrocities of Rochambeau. The rebels managed to defeat the French troops in a decisive and last battle at Vertieres (near Cap Francais) on the 18th November 1803 and they become the first-ever group of slaves to create an independent country. Dessalines won decisive battles against Leclerc, Rochambeau and the French army of Napoleon and became the most successful military commander who ever fought France. He marched into Port-au-Prince and was greeted by many whites who welcomed him as a hero. He then thanked them but hanged them all. After selling the Louisiana territory to the United States, Napoleon turned his army toward Great Britain, Prussia and Spain. To pursue this war, he needed to pull most of his military force from the island of Haiti.
A blockade of Santo Domingo by the Royal Navy cut the French forces out of reinforcements and the British kept supplying arms to the Haitian rebels. The army of Rochambeau fell into pieces and the troops were trapped. The men were sick, dying with Yellow Fever, leaving Rochambeau himself enjoying his colossal fortune but hosting banquets and military balls. All French ports were blocked (Cap Francais, Mole St Nicholas etc) and the British warships intercepted the remaining French frigates and ships.
Rochambeau was forced to surrender to the British Commander who refused to grant him permission to sail, agreed the terms with Dessalines permitting the French troops to sojourn until the 1st of December 1803. 8000 French soldiers and 100 of white citizen boarded the British ships. At Mole ST Nicholas, General Louis de Noailles refused to surrender and instead sailed to Santo Domingo. Dessalines led the rebellion until its completion.
Dessalines officially proclaimed the former colony of Santo Domingo, independent and re-named it “Haiti” (indigenous Arawak name), land of the braves and land of the freemen, on 1 January 1804. This was a major blow to Napoleonic France and its colonial empire. Our ancestors paid a high price for the freedom after losing between 1791 and 1803, more than 200,000 on the battle fields or due to violence.
The free republic of Haiti benefited from a new constitution written by Dessalines in 1805. The country’s agriculture was devastated and needed to be rebuilt. Dessalines ordered that all laborers be bonded to a plantation. The working day was shortened by a third. He repeated mainly what Toussaint Louverture has done in the past with the workers in given them a quart (¼) of the wealth produced. He succeeded in rebuilding the country and pay to free the slaves kept on different ships. He ordered the construction of fortifications around the country, like the Citadelle Laferriere, in the North, in the eventuality of a French army return. Meanwhile, frustration was growing between worker, elites and Dessalines. A conspiracy led by the mulattoes ultimately led to his assassination.
Such chapter in our history, should be known by all Haitian and the epic courage of our ancestors should be known around the world for generations to come. May our young compatriots, dispersed around the world, understand well that there is nothing better than a place we can call “Home”.
Maxime Coles MD.
1- Girard Phillipe R (2011) The Slaves who defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence 1801-1804; The University of Alabama Press.
2- 2- James C L R; Toussaint Louverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in history, A Play in Three Acts. 1934
3- 3- Joseph Celucien L “From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought” (2013).
4- Thomas Madiou (1848): Histoire d’Haiti. Volume 1.2.3
5- Franklyn W Knight (February 2000). “The Haitian Revolution”. The American Historical Review: 105 (1): 103-115.
6- Taber Robert D (2015). “Navigating Haiti’s History:” Saint Domingue and the Haitian Revolution”. History Compass 13 (5): 235-250.
7- “Antislavery Agitation Abbe Raynal”: Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the East and West Indies (1770).
8- Paul B Miller. “Enlightened Hesitations: Black Masses and Tragic Heroes CLR James’ the Black Jacobins. MLN 116: 1069-90.
9- Blackburn, Robin, “The Force of example” The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Ed David P Geggus (Columbia SC University).
10- Laurent Dubois; John D Garrigus (2006): Slave Revolution in The Caribbean: 178901804: A brief History
11- David Geggus. “The British Army and the Slave Revolt” : History Today (1982) 32 #7 pp 35-39.
12- 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).