1 January 1804, Haiti became the first black republic and second independent country in North America after the United States.
“With factions, suspicions, want of bread and sugar, it is verily what they call déchiré, torn asunder this poor country: France and all that is French. For, over seas too come bad news. In black Saint-Domingo, before that variegated Glitter in the Champs Elysées was lit for an Accepted Constitution, there had risen, and was burning contemporary with it, quite another variegated Glitter and nocturnal Fulgor, had we known it: of molasses and ardent-spirits; of sugar-boileries, plantations, furniture, cattle and men: sky high; the Plain of Cap Français one huge whirl of smoke and flame! What a change here, in these two years; since that first 'Box of Tricolor Cockades' got through the Custom-house, and atrabiliar Creoles too rejoiced that there was a levelling of Bastilles! Levelling is comfortable, as we often say: levelling, yet only down to oneself. Your pale-white Creoles, have their grievances: – and your yellow Quarteroons? And your dark-yellow Mulattoes? And your Slaves soot-black? Quarteroon Ogé, Friend of our Parisian Brissotin Friends of the Blacks, felt, for his share too, that Insurrection was the most sacred of duties. So the tricolor Cockades had fluttered and swashed only some three months on the Creole hat, when Ogé's signal-conflagrations went aloft; with the voice of rage and terror. Repressed, doomed to die, he took black powder or seedgrains in the hollow of his hand, this Ogé; sprinkled a film of white ones on the top, and said to his Judges, "Behold they are white;" – then shook his hand, and said "Where are the Whites, Ou sont les Blancs?" So now, in the Autumn of 1791, looking from the sky-windows of Cap Français, thick clouds of smoke girdle our horizon, smoke in the day, in the night fire; preceded by fugitive shrieking white women, by Terror and Rumour.” (Thomas Carlyle)
|Guillaume Guillon-Lethière's (1760 - 1832) allegoric imagination of |
two of independent Haiti's founding fathers, Alexandre Pétion (left) and
Jean-Jacques Dessalines (right) taking "The Oath of the Ancestors" (1822)
|Charles Thévenin (1764 - 1830), sketch of "The insurrection of the slaves of Santo Domingo extends Paris. The free coloured men entered the Convention and calling for the abolition of slavery in the colonial empire of the Ancien Regime" (1794)|
It began in the Forest of Crocodiles, the Bois Caïman. A houngan, a Vodou priest, and leader of a group of maroons, runaway slaves, named Dutty Boukman or “Book Man” to some, probably because he had attained a high level of self-education, called together other chiefs, houngans and mambos, priestesses, for a ceremony that marked the beginning of the Haitian Revolution. "The god who created the earth;“ Boukman prayed, “who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man's god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It's He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It's He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men's god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that sings in all our hearts." A week later, Haiti’s Plaine-du-Nord was in flames, hundreds of “grands blancs”, the plantation owners and “petits blancs“, the lower orders, were brutally killed, along with Boukman, who died fighting the well-armed colonials. But a new leader arose pretty soon, Toussaint Louverture, who led the slaves to conquer the whole of Saint-Domingue until 1799. Meanwhile, back home in revolutionary France, events came famously thick and fast. Basically, abolition of slavery in the colonies was on the agenda of many factions, few were serious and consequent about it though, and not only because of the economic consequences for raw material extraction and food production in the colonies. Nevertheless, slavery was abolished after 1794 and for a while Toussaint Louverture fought as a French Brigadier until he saw himself forced to turn against the colonial overlords again during a period of continuously changing allegiances with the Spanish and British regularly muscling in and tens of thousands died, of violence, disease and hunger. And then Napoleon and the Peace of Amiens came.
|"Burning of Cape Français. General revolt of the Blacks. Massacre of the Whites.", Frontispiece from the book Saint-Domingue, ou Histoire de Ses Révolutions. ca. 1815|
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