Slavery have been treated terribly and forced to

Slavery has unfortunately played a fundamental part of human history, the slaves themselves known to have been treated terribly and forced to do unthinkable labor to the benefit of their masters. But without the slaves, the European colonists would never have been able to gain money from the riches of the far corners of the world. However, the story of the rebelling slaves on the island known as Hispaniola – or present-day Haiti – is forever etched in history. To truly understand what happened during those years and how Haiti came to be, we must go back a few centuries, to the beginnings of a revolution, and to the days when Napoleon Bonaparte donned his Imperial Crown. Slavery in the CaribbeanHispaniolaLasting for ten years from 1784 to 1804, the Haitian Revolution became known as the most successful slave revolt in all of history. In the early stages of the Revolution, the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean sea held the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo and the French colony of Saint-Domingue. There, slavery was at its peak, the European countries controlling them thinking of nothing more than the money they could make from the island’s riches and fertile soils. The Tainos, who were the native people on the island, perished because they were overworked by the Europeans. Social Structure in Saint-Domingue During that time period, discrimination by color was normal; any people of color were considered to be inferior to white citizens. The darker a person’s skin, the lower they fell on the social scale. In France’s colony of Saint-Domingue, the top of the hierarchy consisted of the Grand Blancs, or “Big Whites”, who were white planters and plantation owners. Near the middle were the free people of color, known as the Affranchis. They were mostly mulatto, or a mix of white and black ancestry, and they often were the unlawful children of white planters and black slaves. Some Affranchis even owned their own plantations and slaves. Near the end of the social structure were the Petit Blancs, or the “Little Whites”, who were whites in the working class. They consisted of artisans, teachers, and some laborers. Finally, at the very bottom, were the slaves imported from Africa. They were made up of black people who forced to do labor and harvest crops to export such as sugar, tobacco, and coffee in harsh conditions, and they were beaten, whipped, and tortured if they refused. (CrashCourse) By 1789, there were around 32,000 white European settlers, 24,000 Affranchis, and roughly 500,000 slaves. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Haitian Revolution”) The Beginnings of RebellionFrance’s Influence In 1685, King Louis XIV of France passed a document called the “Code Noir”, or the Black Code. It took away almost all the rights of people of color and slaves, stating that slaves were to be baptised as Catholics; their masters had a say over everything they did, including how much food they could eat and whether or not a marriage would take place; they could not gather for ceremonies unrelated to Catholicism; and gave white masters the right to shoot any maroons, or fugitive slaves, they thought they saw. (Garrigus) Although the law was passed a hundred years before the beginning of the Haitian Revolution, the slaves of the rebellion turned to the Black Code when they sought for evidence as to how their European masters treated them unjustly. Another reason the slaves revolted was another document from the French Revolution, which occurred from 1789 to 1799. When the National Assembly – the first of four governments in the French Revolution – took charge in 1789, they wrote the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen, which gave French citizens many human rights that they had been denied when the selfish monarch King Louis XVI ruled, such as the right to liberty, private property, and resistance to oppression. (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.” ) The slaves in Saint-Domingue heard of this document, thinking that it applied to them as well. When their masters refused to grant them the rights the Document approved, along with the inspiration of the revolution France’s Third Estate accomplished, the slaves finally decided that it was time to rebel against the biased and unfair rules the French forced on them.Boukman Dutty On 22 August 1791, a maroon named Boukman Dutty held a Voodoo – a religion characterized by magic and sorcery practiced by slaves in the Caribbean – ceremony, and although there were many attempted revolts before him, he was the spark that ignited the Haitian Revolution. Many months of planning went into how the slaves would overthrow their masters. Finally, in September of the same year, rebel slaves all around Saint-Domingue burned the houses and plantations of their masters, destroying 1,800 plantations and killing 1,000 slaveholders. (“Dutty Boukman”) However, Boukman Dutty was later captured and publicly beheaded by the French, and although it did silence the revolts for a few weeks, the idea of rebellion was burned into the minds of every slave in the colony. The transition between 1791 and 1792 had France at war with almost all of Europe. Throughout the year of 1792, tension between France, Britain and Spain skyrocketed, the latter two afraid that revolution would spread to their countries. An inevitable war broke out between the Spanish and French, and soon rebel leaders in Saint-Domingue joined Spain in their eastern colony of Santo Domingo to fight against the French.Toussaint Louverture The son of an educated African slave and whose master was exceptionally kind, Toussaint Louverture was a prominent military leader in the Haitian Revolution. He was allowed to read, write and learn about African medicinal herbs, and after he was legally freed in 1776, he got married and fathered two sons. However, as opposed to most of the slaves in Saint-Domingue who followed Voodoo, he was an ardent Catholic. He dressed modestly and was even a vegetarian. (Fagg) When the 1791 slave rebellion broke out, Louverture was hesitant to join, only doing so once he was sure his master was safe elsewhere. Knowing how the other masters treated their slaves, he entered the revolt against the French as a medical officer. Soon, the blacks recognized his ability to lead and inspire troops, which allowed him to quickly rise through the ranks and become a military general. (“Toussaint L’Ouverture, Pierre François Dominique.”) He marched with them across the Saint-Domingue–Santo Domingo border, where Spain supplied them with weapons and food as the battle raged on against the French. He was known for his military and strategic genius, and his troops expanded to several thousand men under the Spanish. While Louverture and his army were focused on fighting Saint-Domingue along the border, British forces managed to take over the south and southwest parts of Saint-Domingue. This drove France into an extremely weakened state, forcing it to call for desperate measures; in 1794, the National Convention – the third of four governments in the French Revolution – abolished slavery and freed all people of color. This caused Louverture to reconsider his alliance with the Spanish – who still allowed slavery to take place – and soon affiliate himself with the French once again. His sudden change in sides was known as a volte-face, and it was one of the major turning points of the Haitian Revolution. (Geggus) The unanticipated military advantage for the French caused severe reverses for Britain, and Spain yielded their land to France because of their now-weakened army. The 1795 Spanish surrender was known as the Peace of Basel. The current governor of Saint-Domingue, Étienne Laveaux, proclaimed Louverture as his Lieutenant Governor. (Fagg) The Rise of LouvertureWar of the Knives Although the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo had been taken over by Saint-Domingue, the British still occupied a bit of the southern part of the French colony. With the help of the Affranchis leader André Rigaud, in 1797 his army of mulattoes and Louverture’s army of blacks pushed Britain out of Hispaniola, and the final remaining slaves were freed. However, their alliance was temporary; Rigaud refused to acknowledge Louverture’s superior authority, leading to the bitter civil “War of the Knives” in June 1799. (“The War of Knives”) Sometimes seen as a war between races, the two leaders were more focused on economic interests. The Affranchis always had more political and economic privilege, and the blacks feared that if they won, slavery and inequality would return to Saint-Domingue. Because Louverture commanded the north of the colony and Rigaud the south, Louverture had the upper hand; by signing treaties with both the U.S. and Britain, he managed to stop Rigaud’s forces from receiving any food and supplies for five months. The two countries hoped that Louverture’s power over Saint-Domingue would weaken France’s position in the Caribbean. The war ended in March of 1800 when Louverture sent his top general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (who would play a very important role in Haiti’s history later on) to invade and capture Rigaud’s territory. This forced Rigaud to flee the colony with his family to France, resulting in Louverture’s victory. (“War of the Knives”)The Constitution of 1801 Finally, with only a few more armies to be dispatched, Louverture gained full control of Hispaniola in 1801, and on July 8 of that year, he called an assembly together to draft a constitution. It stated that slavery was to be abolished, all citizens were to have equal rights, they were all to be proclaimed as French citizens, Catholicism was to be the only religion on the island, citizens were to continue working on the plantations but would receive daily allowances, the land would be integrated into large estates, and that Louverture would be Saint-Domingue’s Governor-General for Life. (“Haitian Constitution of 1801”) Despite its seemingly organized laws, the Constitution of 1801 – as it was called – received a lot of criticism. Although slavery was eliminated, the newly-freed slaves were to go back to their plantations and work in them once again, the only difference being that they now earned money for their labor. They believed the Constitution was only slavery reinstated in a different way. Furthermore, the outlaw of Voodoo prevented them from practicing their beliefs, and because the only land to be purchased was much larger in size, very few could afford to own private property. Lastly, the citizens of Saint-Domingue wanted independence from France, and being called French citizen did not support that wish. This caused many people under Louverture’s rule to run away from the plantations and work in their own hidden gardens. Napoleon Meanwhile, Napoleon Bonaparte had just overthrown France’s government in his coup d’etat in 1799 and crowned himself Emperor of the French, marking the end of the French Revolution. Saint-Domingue’s Colonel Vincent was given the task of presenting the Constitution of 1801 to Napoleon, and out of the Emperor’s anger and fear that it was a step closer to the colony’s independence, Vincent was exiled to the island of Elba off the west coast of Italy for a brief period of time. Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc, to lead an expedition of 20,000 men into Saint-Domingue and seize the land, hoping to remind Toussaint Louverture who was really in charge. He did not want a black – especially an ex-slave – to be in charge of the main colony whose exports provided him and his empire with a generous amount of money. The troops arrived in early 1802, and since the citizens of the island were not completely on Louverture’s side anymore and because they did not know the French meant to reimpose slavery, almost half of his officers joined the French side. Cornered, Louverture went to negotiate amnesty with General Leclerc in April of 1802, and in May he then retired with full honors as the Governor of Saint-Domingue to his home with his family in the countryside. Shortly after, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines allied with France and General Leclerc. However, in the same month of Louverture’s retirement, Leclerc betrayed their agreement and tricked him to attend a false meeting. He captured Louverture and sent him away to a hidden jail in the French Alps. Louverture died less than a year later. In July 1802, word had spread that Napoleon had reinstated slavery in other French colonies in the Caribbean, so many of the soldiers who joined the French army before Louverture’s capture left and joined the insurrection, or a violent uprising against the government. Later on, General Leclerc died in November of 1802, as a result of Yellow Fever. It was a growing viral infection that was transmitted by mosquitoes, taking thousands of lives all over the Caribbean. (“Toussaint Louverture”)Independence from FranceJean-Jacques Dessalines Louverture’s former top general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, also switched sides back to Saint-Domingue after learning that Napoleon meant for slavery to be restored. Dessalines decided to destroy the plantations and property of the French in a scorched-earth campaign, or the burning of crops that are of use to an enemy force. (Hrizi) Along with Yellow Fever and diminishing food supply, the French army was weak. Finally, Dessalines defeated Napoleon’s troops and drove them off the island, the scorched-earth campaign also taking away France’s resources and their exports. Haiti On 18 May 1803, it is said that Dessalines took the French Tricolor and ripping out its white center, then sewing the blue and red together, symbolizing the unity of blacks and mulattoes and the absence of whites. This would become the Haitian Flag. (“Flag of Haiti”) At the very start of the year 1804, Dessalines declared Saint-Domingue independent and renamed it “Haiti”, which were the Tainos’ – the natives’ – name for the island before Europeans colonized it. Although Haiti’s independence took a massive toll on the French Empire, Napoleon turned away from that loss to focus on his European conquests. Dessalines then ordered the massacre of all remaining whites on the island, killing almost 5,000 people. (“Haitian Revolution”) He pronounced himself Governor-General for Life until he was crowned Emperor Jacques I of Haiti on 8 October 1804. (Shen) In total, the Haitian Revolution took the lives of around 150,000 people, both of blacks and whites. (Sutherland)The Legacy of the Haitian RevolutionThe years that followed were not kind to the people of Haiti, filled with bloodbaths and ruthless dictators. But the Revolution became known as one of the most successful slave revolts in all of history. Haiti triumphed over Napoleon and thwarted his plans to build a great world empire, and as a result, they became the very first modern nation to be ruled by African descent. They stood up for humanity and the idea that no one should have to be a slave. When seen today, Haiti’s poverty stands out more than any of its other features, but long ago, they defended and stood up for the weak, when everyone else in the world failed to. (CrashCourse)     

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