Essays on haitian revolution

Much of Caribbean economic development in the 18th century was contingent on Europeans' demand for sugar. Plantation owners produced sugar as a commodity crop from cultivation of sugar cane, which required extensive labor. Saint Domingue also had extensive coffee, cocoa, and indigo plantations, but these were smaller and less profitable than the sugar plantations. Starting in the s, French engineers constructed complex irrigation systems to increase sugarcane production.

By the s Saint-Domingue, together with the British colony of 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.

Saint-Domingue was the most profitable French colony in the world, indeed one of the most profitable of all the European colonies in the 18th century. An average of ships engaged every year in shipping products from Saint-Domingue to Bordeaux , and the value of Saint-Domingue's crops and goods was almost equal in value to all of the products shipped from the Thirteen Colonies to Great Britain.

Slavery sustained sugar production under harsh conditions, including the unhealthy climate of the Caribbean, where diseases such as malaria brought from Africa and yellow fever caused high mortality.


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In alone, the French imported about 20, slaves from Africa into Saint-Domingue, while the British imported about 38, slaves total to all of their Caribbean colonies. They calculated that it was better to get the most work out of their slaves with the lowest possible expense possible, since they were probably going to die of yellow fever anyway. The white planters and their families, together with the petite bourgeoisie of merchants and shopkeepers, were outnumbered by slaves by a factor of more than ten on Saint Domingue.

The largest sugar plantations and concentrations of slaves were in the North of the islands, and whites lived in fear of 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 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.

During the 18th century, local legislation reversed parts of it. In , the white landowners began passing legislation restricting the rights of other groups of people until a rigid caste system was defined. Most historians classify the people of the era into three groups:. The first group were white colonists, or les blancs. This group is generally subdivided into the plantation owners and a lower class of whites who often served as overseers or day laborers, artisans and shopkeepers. The second group were free persons of color gens de couleur libres , usually mixed-race, and sometimes referred to as mulattoes, of African and French descent.

These gens de couleur tended to be educated and literate, and the men often served in the army or as administrators on plantations. Many were children of white planters and enslaved mothers, or free women of color. 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 owned and operated their own plantations and became 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.

French and haitian revolutions essays

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. The majority of the slaves were Yoruba from what is now modern Nigeria, Fon from what is now Benin, and Kongo from the Kingdom of Kongo in what is now modern northern Angola and the western Congo.

Haitian Slave Revolt - 3 Minute History

This belief system implicitly rejected the Africans' status as slaves. White colonists and black slaves frequently came into violent conflict. Saint-Domingue was a society seething with hatred. The French historian Paul Fregosi wrote: "Whites, mulattos and blacks loathed each other. The poor whites couldn't stand the rich whites, the rich whites despised the poor whites, the middle-class whites were jealous of the aristocratic whites, the whites born in France looked down upon the locally born whites, mulattoes envied the whites, despised the blacks and were despised by the whites; free Negroes brutalized those who were still slaves, Haitian born blacks regarded those from Africa as savages.

Everyone-quite rightly-lived in terror of everyone else Haiti was hell, but Haiti was rich". 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 migrated to those areas for work. If caught, these runaway slaves would be severely and violently punished. However, some masters tolerated petit marronages , or short-term absences from plantations, knowing these allowed release of tensions.

The larger groups of runaway slaves who lived in the hillside woods away from white control 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.

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 through Although Mackandal was captured by the French and burned at the stake in , large armed maroon bands persisted in raids and harassment after his death. French writer Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in his history of European colonization. He warned, "the Africans only want a chief, sufficiently courageous, to lead them on to vengeance and slaughter.

It was written thirteen years before the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen , which highlighted freedom and liberty but did not abolish slavery. In addition to Raynal's influence, Toussaint Louverture , a free black, would become a key "enlightened actor" in the Haitian Revolution. Enlightened thought divided the world into "enlightened leaders" and "ignorant masses"; [26] Louverture attempted to bridge this divide between the popular masses and the enlightened few.

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. The existence of slavery in Enlightened society was an incongruity that had been left unaddressed by European scholars prior to the French Revolution.

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 an active participant in the colony's insurrection.

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The history of the Haitian revolution

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.

The colony was the most profitable possession of the French Empire. Saint-Domingue was the wealthiest and most prosperous colony of all the colonies in the Caribbean. In , whites numbered 40,; mulattoes and free blacks, 28,; and black slaves, an estimated , Two thirds of the slaves were African-born, and they tended to be less submissive than those born in the Americas and raised in slave societies.

Undoing the Silencing of the Haitian Revolution

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. 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.


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Among Saint-Domingue's 40, white colonials in , 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. Saint-Domingue's free people of color, the gens de couleur libres , numbered more than 28, by Around that time, colonial legislations, concerned with this growing and strengthening population, passed discriminatory laws that required these freedmen to wear distinctive clothing and limited where they could live.

These laws also barred them from occupying many public offices. These men would become important leaders in the slave rebellion and later revolution. In addition to class and racial tension among whites, free people of color, and enslaved blacks, the country was polarized by regional rivalries between Nord North , Sud South , and Ouest West regions.

The North was the center of shipping and trading, and had the largest French elite population, the grands blancs.

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The rich white colonists wanted greater autonomy for the colony, especially economically. It was the area of greatest economic importance, especially as most of the colony's trade went through these ports. These slaves would join with urban slaves from Le Cap to lead the rebellion, which began in this region. The Western Province, however, grew significantly after the capital was moved to Port-au-Prince in , and the region became increasingly wealthy in the second half of the 18th century. Irrigation projects supported expansion of sugar plantations in this region.

However, this isolation allowed freed slaves to find profit in trade with British Jamaica, and they gained power and wealth here. In France, the National Assembly made radical changes in French laws, and on 26 August , published the Declaration of the Rights of Man , declaring all men free and equal. The Declaration was ambiguous as to whether this equality applied to women, slaves, or citizens of the colonies, and thus influenced the want for freedom and equality in Saint-Domingue. 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.

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 s. Raimond used the French Revolution to make this the major colonial issue before the National Assembly of France.

He and an army of around free blacks fought to end racial discrimination in the area. 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 ", [41] suggesting the grave threat they faced should the majority of slaves launch a sustained major uprising.

Enlightened writer Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in the 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". 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 , when the slaves of Saint Domingue rose in revolt; thousands of slaves attended a secret vodou voodoo ceremony as a tropical storm came in — the lighting and the thunder was taken as auspicious omens — and later that night, the slaves began to kill their masters and plunged the colony into civil war.

Whites kept control of only a few isolated, fortified camps. The slaves sought revenge on their masters through "pillage, rape, torture, mutilation, and death". The masters and mistresses were dragged from their beds to be killed, and the heads of French children were placed on spikes that were carried at the front of the rebel columns.

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