You are on page 1of 14


The Haitian Revolution
The Haitian Revolutionrepresents the most thorough
case study of revolutionary change anywhere in the
history of the modern world.
TheHaitian Revolution(17911804) was a period of
brutal conflict in the Frenchcolonyof St Domingue,
leading to the elimination ofslaveryand the
establishment ofHaiti as the firstrepublicruled by
people of African ancestry. Although hundreds of
rebellions occurred in theNew Worldduring the
centuries of slavery, only theSt. Domingue Slave
Revolt, which began in 1791, was successful in
achieving permanent independence under a new
nation. The Haitian Revolution is regarded as a
defining moment in the history of Africans in the New
Causes of the Haitian
St. Domingue was characterized by discontent
among the main social groups as each faced
internal as well as external conflicts. The
whites(grand blancs and petit blancs), the
plantation owners wanted to rule themselves
and the rest of the government. The mulattoes
wanted to be equal to the whites and the slaves
wanted freedom.
In France, the majority of the Estates
General, an advisory body to the King,
constituted itself as 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. So many were the
twists and turns in the leadership in France,
and so complex were events in Saint-
Domingue, that various classes and parties
changed their alignments many times
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 St.
Domingues 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 minimal
accountability to their French peers
Social Groups in St. Domingue
in 1789
Grand blancs (wealthy planters,civil and
military offices
Merchants, professionals
35,000 Petits blancs (overseers, artisans, small
shopkeepers etc.)

25,000 Free coloureds and free blacks

450,000/5 Slaves
Organization of the Haitian
Bands of runaway slaves, known as maroons, entrenched
themselves in bastions in the colony's mountains and forests,
from which they harried white-owned plantations both to
secure provisions and weaponry and to avenge themselves
against the inhabitants. As their numbers grew, these bands,
sometimes consisting of thousands of people, began to carry
out hit-and-run attacks throughout the colony. This guerrilla
warfare, however, lacked centralized organization and
leadership. The most famous maroon leader was Franois
Macandal, whose six-year rebellion (1751-57) left an estimated
6,000 dead. Reportedly a voodoo sorcerer, Macandal drew
from African traditions and religions to motivate his followers.
The French burned him at the stake in Cap Franais in 1758.
Popular accounts of his execution that say the stake snapped
during his execution have enhanced his legendary stature.
A slave rebellion of 1791 finally toppled the colony.
Launched in August of that year, the revolt represented
the culmination of a protracted conspiracy among black
leaders. According to accounts of the rebellion that have
been told through the years, Franois-Dominique
Toussaint Louverture helped plot the uprising, although
this claim has never been substantiated. Among the
rebellion's leaders were Boukman, a maroon and
voodoo houngan (priest); Georges Biassou, who later
made Toussaint his aide; Jean-Franois, who
subsequently commanded forces, along with Biassou
and Toussaint, under the Spanish flag; and Jeannot, the
bloodthirstiest of them all. These leaders sealed their
compact with a voodoo ceremony conducted by
Boukman in the Bois Cayman (Alligator Woods) in early
August 1791. On August 22, a little more than a week
after the ceremony, the uprising of their black followers
Toussaint L'Ouverture was the leader of the
Haitian Revolution in the late eighteenth
century, in which slaves rebelled against their
masters and established the first free black
republic. This collection of his writings and
speeches demonstrates his profound
contribution to the struggle for equality.
Although Toussaint was now effectively the political
and military leader of the island, the French
government continued to appoint representatives
with whom he had varying relationships. Governor
Laveaux left Saint-Domingue in 1796. He was
succeeded by Leger-Felicite`Sonthonax, an
extremist French commissioner who had served on
the island before. He allowed Toussaint Louverture
to effectively rule and promoted him to General. In
May 1797 Sonthonax named Toussaint Louverture
commander-in-chief of the French republican army
in Saint-Domingue. Toussaint was repelled by this
radical's proposals to exterminate all Europeans.
He found Sonthonax's atheism, coarseness, and
immorality offensive. After some maneuvering,
Toussaint Louverture forced Sonthonax out in 1797.
Louverture soon rid himself of another nominal French
superior, Gabriel He`douvill, who arrived in 1798 as
representative of the Directoire government of France.
Aware that France had no chance of restoring
colonialism as long as the war with Great Britain
continued, Hdouville tried to pit Toussaint Louverture
against the leader of colour,Andre` Riguad. In 1795,
inspired by Toussaints military successes, Rigaud had
renewed his attacks from the stronghold of free
people of color in Port au Prince. Controlling a force of
officers of colored and black troops, he now ruled a
semi-independent state in the South, and wanted to
retain portions of the Western Department which he
had taken over.Toussaint Louverture, however, figured
out Hdouvilles purpose and forced him to flee.
Hdouville was succeeded by Philippe Roume, who
deferred to the black governor.
From 1795 onwards, Toussaint was widely renowned. He was
revered by the blacks and appreciated by most whites and
people of color for helping restore the economy of Saint-
Domingue. He invited many migr planters to return, as he
knew their management and technical expertise was needed
to restore the economy and generate revenues. He used
military discipline to force former slaves to work as laborers
to get the plantations running again. He believed that people
were naturally flawed and that discipline was needed to
prevent idleness. He no longer permitted the laborers to be
whipped. They were legally free and equal, and they shared
the profits of the restored plantations. Racial tensions eased
because Toussaint preached reconciliation and believed that
for the blacks, a majority of whom were native Africans, there
were lessons to be learned from whites and people of color,
among whom many men had been educated in France and
often trained in the military