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Posted on on January 20th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (

The end of Slavery in Brazil and Haiti: Cultural similarities that led to the Zumbi semi-mythical events of 1695 in the Northeast of Brazil, and to the playing out of the local and global forces in Haiti of the post-French Revolution of 1789. Condomble and Voodoo, black natural generals and  politicians. Reasons we think that Brazil involvement in Haiti could be most understanding.

Brazil abolished slavery in 1888.

Unipalmares – a University in Sao Paolo is named after rebel slave Zumbi dos Palmares.

Zumbi also known as Zumbi dos Palmares (1655 – November 20, 1695, pronounced: ‘zoombee’) was the last of the leaders of the Quilombo dos Palmares, in the present-day state of Alagoas, Brazil.

Quilombos were fugitive slave settlements or slave refugee settlements. Quilombos represented slave resistance which occurred in three forms: slave settlements, attempts at seizing power, and armed insurrection. Members of quilombos often returned to plantations or towns to encourage their former fellow slaves to flee and join the quilombos. If necessary, they brought slaves by force and sabotaged plantations. Slaves who came to quilombos on their own were considered free, but those who were captured and brought by force were considered slaves and continued to be slaves in the settlement. They could be considered free if they were to bring another captive to the settlement.

Quilombo dos Palmares was a self-sustaining republic of Maroons escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil, “a region perhaps the size of Portugal in the hinterland of Bahia”. At its height, Palmares had a population of over 30,000. Forced to defend against repeated attacks by Portuguese colonial power, the warriors of Palmares were expert in capoeira, a martial arts form that was brought to or created in Brazil by African slaves circa the 16th century.

An African known only as Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655, but was captured by the Portuguese and given to a missionary, Father António Melo, when he was approximately 6 years old. Baptized Francisco, Zumbi was taught the sacraments, learned Portuguese and Latin, and helped with daily mass. Despite attempts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped in 1670 and, at the age of 15, returned to his birthplace. Zumbi became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties.

By 1678, the governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco, Pedro Almeida, weary of the longstanding conflict with Palmares, approached its leader Ganga Zumba with an olive branch. Almeida offered freedom for all runaway slaves if Palmares would submit to Portuguese authority, a proposal which Ganga Zumba favored. But Zumbi was distrustful of the Portuguese. Further, he refused to accept freedom for the people of Palmares while other Africans remained enslaved. He rejected Almeida’s overture and challenged Ganga Zumba’s leadership. Vowing to continue the resistance to Portuguese oppression, Zumbi became the new leader of Palmares.

Fifteen years after Zumbi assumed leadership of Palmares, Portuguese military commanders Domingos Jorge Velho and Bernardo Vieira de Melo mounted an artillery assault on the quilombo. February 6, 1694, after 67 years of ceaseless conflict with the cafuzos, or Maroons, of Palmares, the Portuguese succeeded in destroying Cerca do Macaco, the republic’s central settlement. Before the king Ganga Zumba was dead, Zumbi had taken it upon himself to fight for Palmares’ independence. In doing so he became known as the commander-in-chief in 1675. Due to his heroic efforts it increased his prestige. Palmares’ warriors were no match for the Portuguese artillery; the republic fell, and Zumbi was wounded in one leg.

Though he survived and managed to elude the Portuguese and continue the rebellion for almost two years, he was betrayed by a mulato who belonged to the quilombo and had been captured by the Paulistas, and, in return for his life, led them to Zumbi’s hideout. Zumbi was captured and beheaded on the spot November 20, 1695. The Portuguese transported Zumbi’s head to Recife, where it was displayed in the central praça as proof that, contrary to popular legend among African slaves, Zumbi was not immortal. This was also done as a warning of what would happen to others if they tried to be as brave as him. Remnants of quilombo dwellers continued to reside in the region for another hundred years.


A Black Spartacus in the Northeast of Brazil – some reality – some myth – but from that myth reality in Brazil was born.

Excerpts from –  ZUMBI DOS PALMARES

(Slave Freedom Fighter: 1655-1695)

by Fernando Correia da Silva

c. 1600: Blacks who have escaped slave labour on the sugar plantations in Pernambuco found the maroon community, or quilombo, of Palmares in the Serra da Barriga hills.  The population grows incessantly, later reaching 30 thousand.  For the slaves, Palmares is the Promised Land. – 1630: The Dutch invade the Northeast of Brazil. – 1644: Just as the Portuguese failed, the Dutch also fail in their attempt to destroy Palmares. – 1654: The Portuguese drive the Dutch out of the Northeast of Brazil. – 1655: Zumbi is born in one of the many settlements of Palmares. – 1662(?): Still a child, Zumbi is taken prisoner by soldiers and given to Father António Melo.  He is baptised Francisco and later learns to help at mass and studies Portuguese and Latin. – 1670: Zumbi runs away and returns to Palmares. – 1675: In the battle against Portuguese soldiers commanded by Sergeant-Major Manuel Lopes, Zumbi shows himself to be a great warrior and military organiser. – 1678: Pedro Almeida, governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco, is more interested in the submission of Palmares than its destruction and approaches chief Ganga Zumba with a proposal of peace and freedom for all runaway slaves. Ganga Zumba accepts, but Zumbi is opposed to the idea; he cannot accept that some blacks should be free while others remain in slavery. – 1680: Zumbi becomes the leader of Palmares and commands the resistance movement against the Portuguese soldiers. – 1694: With the help of heavy artillery, Domingos Jorge Velho and Vieira de Mello lead the final attack against Cerca do Macaco, the main settlement of Palmares.  Although wounded, Zumbi manages to escape. – November 20, 1695: Turned in by an old companion, Zumbi is hunted down, taken prisoner and beheaded.


I become good friends with Ricardo, a fair-skinned mulatto, considerably older than myself.  He is an economist with a good job at Banco do Brasil.  But he has never been promoted.  His white peers, who started at the same time as he did, are already on double the salary.  He tells me sarcastically, “My friend, I’m not white enough to be the boss but too white to mop the floors.”

Richard points out a Banco do Brasil office clerk, Zé Pelintra, ebony black, a weak figure, lacklustre, timid, modest.  But when he is possessed by his orixá, Ogum, in Candomblé rites, he becomes dominating and belligerent.  I interrupt:

“Ogum is Saint George, isn’t he?

Ricardo becomes irritated.

“At this altar, Ogum is Ogum, not Saint George; Iansã is Iansã, not Saint Barbara; Xangô is Xangô, not Saint Jerome, Oxalá is Oxalá, not Jesus Christ.  There is no confusion; it’s all authentic, not a carnival for the tourists.  It is not a sect – it’s the religion of the oppressed.  Understand, my friend?”

I understand, but I want to see it with my own eyes.  He hesitates.  Only blacks go to this temple.  And people would be suspicious of or even opposed to the presence of a white.  I don’t let the opportunity slip:

“Wait a minute, Ricardo.  What’s the story?  Is this racism in reverse?

He decides to take me.  It’s the night of November 19, this I remember.  They really do eye me with mistrust.  Some even snort and snarl in hostility.  There is a rhythmic beating of drums.  Babalorixás and Ialorixás, priests and priestesses chant canticles, alaluê, alaluá, and goodness knows what else in an African language or dialect.  Zé Pelintra slips into a trance, foams at the mouth, shudders and falls to the ground, writhing.  He gets up quickly and really has changed personality; his eyes even spark.  Saravá! Ogum has arrived.  Always commanding, counselling and protecting his followers, some of whom also go into a trance when touched by his hands.  Suddenly, he looks at me and points.

“You don’t believe, do you?”

I nod my head, but he insists.

“Seeing is believing, like St. Thomas, right?  You want a beer?”

“Wine if there is any.  I prefer red.”

“That’s the drink of Xangô, your orixá, by the looks.  Let’s call him…”

He comes closer to me, places his hands on my forehead.

I black out.

When I recover my senses it’s already the 20th.  There is a beating of drums and people singing: “Zumbi, Zumbi, oia Zumbi!  Oia Zumbi the saviour.  Oia Zumbi!


Early morning at the Candomblé temple, the ground is scattered with wilted flowers.  Ogum has gone.  There is just Zé Pelintra, that weak figure, his timidity resurfaced.  Ricardo tells me that in spite of the fact that I’m white, Axé, the life force of God, revealed himself through me.  Xangô, the orixá of justice, possessed me.  Then Princess Aqualtune spoke through me, followed by her sons, Ganga Zumba and Gana Zona, and finally her grandson, Zumbi dos Palmares.  Today is the 20th of November, the date on which Zumbi was executed.  Perhaps that is why…

If an orixá used me to reveal itself in this world, I, on the other hand, used it to see the other.  Ricardo tells me that this cannot happen, it is not possible, ever!  I shake my head.  Never?  But I see everything, everything, and how I see it!

I see the swaying sugar cane fields along the entire north-eastern coast of Brazil.  I see the slave ships weighing anchor in Recife, having set sail from the West Coast of Africa.  Is white always the colour of oppressors?  What about the African chieftains and rulers that sold other blacks – their prisoners – to the white slave traders?

Transported like cattle in the hold, I see Yorubas, Angolas, Benguelas, Kongos, Cabindans, Monjolos, Kilwans, Minas and so many others; men, women, even children being offloaded in Pernambuco.

I see Princess Aqualtune being sold at a slave auction.  I see her being taken to a plantation owner’s manor house.  She is given a bath and new clothes and will be trained to wait on the table.

I see her brothers and sisters and her people crammed into the slaves’ quarters.  I see that they are woken with whips before sunrise, and driven to the cane fields where they begin cutting.  Some blacks are promoted to foremen and they also use whips.  Is white always the colour of oppressors?  I see the captives gathering and bundling up cane.  I see them carrying the bundles on their backs to the sugar mill.  I see the rollers, boiling house, furnaces, coppers, sheds and deposits, blacks toiling endlessly.  Much work, little food, they’ll live another six or seven years at the most.

“Let them die!” says one slave-owner.  “In Africa there is no shortage of them.  The important thing is to produce!”

I see the demand for this sugar in the European markets.  I see an exhausted captive slacken the pace of his work.  A foreman (black, black…)  whips him across the back.  Another whacks him across the buttocks.  They rub salt into his wounds, live flesh.  This is the punishment for laziness; the pain will be forever branded in his memory.

o freedom…

“Palmares must be destroyed, and those runaway slaves brought back, sold or killed!” say the plantation owners and the Portuguese soldiers.  And they try, I see them trying to destroy the quilombo again and again, but they are always fought off.  The settlement of Cerca do Macaco alone is protected by three stockades, each of which is guarded by 200 men.  The defence of liberty is, without a doubt, the great organising force of the people of Palmares.

First the Portuguese are fought off, followed by the Dutch in 1644.  I see that the Dutch finally give up their siege on the quilombo.  They have other more pressing wars…

In 1654 the Portuguese drive the Dutch out of the Northeast of Brazil.  After 24 years of guerrilla warfare, life in the captaincy returns to normal, and so does sugar production.

“Now we must bring down Palmares!” I hear the plantation owners protesting and I see the Governor agreeing with their demand.

But I also see that the following year one of Princess Aqualtune’s daughters gives birth to a baby boy who is given the name Zumbi, meaning The Spirit!  How I know this, I’m not exactly sure…


Zumbi returns to Palmares.

I see that the young Zumbi is free to roam through the cultivated land of his home settlement, Cerca do Macaco.  I see that at the age of seven Portuguese soldiers catch him off guard and haul him off with other blacks to Porto Calvo.  I see the boy being offered to Father Antönio Melo.  The priest christens him Francisco and teaches him Portuguese and Latin.  He learns quickly and begins to help at mass.  He is considered a bright boy and a trustworthy captive, his watch slackens and he plots his escape.  I see that at the age of fifteen he finally flees the parish and returns to Palmares, to his own.

I see that in this same year, 1670, Ganga Zumba, son of Princess Aqualtune, Zumbi’s uncle, becomes leader of the quilombo.  After a bloody battle in 1675 the troop commanded by Sergeant-Major Manuel Lopes occupies a settlement with more than a thousand huts.  The blacks retreat.  I see that five months later the blacks counter-attack, there is fierce fighting and Manuel Lopes is obliged to retreat to Recife.

The leader of the guerrillas is Zumbi, already revered at only 20 years of age.  I push aside the souls in my path, find him, and say:

“Is that you, black Spartacus?

He eyes me suspiciously.  He has a seriousness that reminds me of Agostinho Neto.

“Who’s that?

“He was a rebel slave leader in ancient Rome.”

“What happened to him?”

“He fought to the end, was taken prisoner and executed.  He died on the cross.

“Better that than the one that Father Melo wanted to force on me…”

I protest:

“Why do you say that?  Especially you, who learned Latin and helped at mass…”

He grins and I recognise the smile of Amilcar Cabral.  It is all I need to get caught up in another time warp and I find myself suddenly in the mother church of Olinda.  The famous preacher Ricardo was referring to was, after all, Father António Vieira himself.  Preaching docility, he addresses the blacks gathered before him:

“If only the blacke people taken from the thickets of their Æthiopia and brought to Brazil knew how indebted they were to God and the Holy Mother for what might appear to be exile, captivity and misfortune, yet is nothing less than a miracle, a great miracle!”

Antonio Vieira then speaks of Korah, referring to Calvary.

“David reveals the identity of the workers of these laborious workshops in the title of the last psalm; they are the sons of Korah:  Pro torcularibus filiis Core.  There is no work, nor life in this world that better resembles the cross and the passion of Christ than yours on these plantations.”

And he concludes:

“Blessed are those of you who recognise the grace of your state, a great miracle of providence and divine mercy.”

I see and hear everything, the time warp smoothes out and I return to Palmares.  I want to continue talking but Zumbi, smiling like Amilcar, waves goodbye and take his leave.  He has more pressing things to see to, his guerrillas await him.


I see that in 1686 there is a new Governor of Pernambuco, Souto Maior, and the war against Zumbi and Palmares is as bloody as ever.

I see that Souto Maior sends for Domingos Jorge Velho from the state of São Paulo who, with his troop of fierce soldiers, was capturing and killing the Piauí Indians.  I see that he is invited to take part in the war against Palmares in return for a fifth of the value of the blacks recaptured, plus land and pardon for any crimes committed by his men.  The government will provide weapons, ammunition and supplies.  I see that they sign an agreement in 1691.  I see a thousand men attacking Palmares and Zumbi and the Young Guard resist them at Cerca do Macaco. Domingos Jorge Velho retreats to Porto Calvo.

But I also see that the Governor sends Captain-Major Vieira de Mello to help Domingos Jorge Velho.  The soldiers try to break through the stockade twice between the 23rd and 29th of January of 1694, and are driven back twice.  Even women throw boiling water on the Portuguese soldiers from above.  But on February 6 bombard cannons arrive from Recife and, under heavy fire, manage to break through the settlement’s triple stockade.  The soldiers invade the citadel through this opening; there is face to face fighting, massacre, puddles of blood.  I see that Zumbi is shot twice but manages to escape.  The blacks pray:

“Zumbi won’t die, oia Zumbi! He can’t die, oia Zumbi! He is protected against evil, oia Zumbi!”

I see that in 1695, on the road from Penedo to Recife, an old quilombo dweller is captured.  He is promised his life if he tells them where Zumbi’s hideout is.  He agrees.  André Furtado de Mendonça leads the siege, succeeds, takes Zumbi prisoner and beheads him.  It is the 20th of November, 1695.  His head is taken to Recife, the bells toll, and the day is declared a public holiday, a day of thanksgiving.

“Zumbi, Zumbi, oia Zumbi!  Oia Zumbi the saviour. Oia Zumbi!”

I see that the imprisoned blacks are all sold to faraway captaincies, nipping in the bud any hope of regenerating the quilombo.  The lands of Palmares are divided into lots and given to the victorious captains.

From 1600 to 1695…  For almost one hundred years, a thorn in the side of the slave owners of Pernambuco…  Those of the manor houses and slave quarters; that Luso-tropical myth…

Today – Zumbi dos Palmares International Airport is an international airport serving Maceió in Brazil. The airport has connections to several major airports in Brazil and international connections to Milan in Italy and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

To this day the Quilombo dos Palmares, its history, still lives on for it is recognized by some as the birthplace of Capoeira. Zumbi, as ruler of the quilombo, is largely responsible for that. Being the warrior he was Zumbi earned the respect and loyalty of the people fighting and dying for their freedom. He led the slaves of the Palmares in their struggle and resistance against the Portuguese and, eventually, to their emancipation. He may have lived over 300 years ago, but Zumbi exists today as a symbol of the African slaves fight for freedom and social equality. (a few notes from a School of Capoeira in New Orleans, Louisiana. Further, an activity as recent as November 12, 2009 mentions this….


From the above – forward to Haiti:  The shortest account which one typically hears of the Haitian Revolution is that the slaves rose up In 1791 and by 1803 had driven the whites out of Saint-Domingue, (the colonial name of Haiti) declaring the independent Republic of Haiti. It’s certainly true that this happened. But, the Revolution was much more complex. Actually there were several revolutions going on simultaneously, all deeply influenced by the French Revolution which commenced In Paris in 1789.

– The planters’ move toward independence.
– The people of color’s revolution for full citizenship.
– The slave uprising of 1791…

From an essay by Bob Corbett I gleaned this convoluted history of how Haiti became independent of France – in wars that involved the British and Spain, as well as influence from the newly independent United States. Further, the internal structure of the this richest French colony was such that it provided for many different alliances. Reading this, one sees the roots of Haiti’s problems, but one still remains perplexed why the economy of this western one third of the Hispaniola Island has deteriorated to its present situation.

The colony of Saint-Domingue, geographically roughly the same land mass that is today Haiti, was the richest colony in the West Indies and probably the richest colony in the history of the world. Driven by slave labor and enabled by fertile soil and ideal climate, Saint-Domingue produced sugar, coffee, cocoa, indigo, tobacco, cotton, sisal as well as some fruits and vegetables for the motherland, France. Where has all this potential gone?

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, there were four distinct sets of interest groups in Saint-Domingue, with distinct sets of interests and even some important distinctions within these many categories:

– The whites
– The free people of color
– The black slaves
– The maroons

The Whites

There were approximately 20,000 whites, mainly French, in Saint-Domingue. They were divided into two main groups:

The Planters

These were wealthy whites who owned plantations and many slaves. Since their wealth and position rested entirely on the slave economy they were united in support of slavery. They were, by 1770, extremely disenchanted with France. Their complaint was almost identical with the complaints that led the North American British to rebel against King George in 1776 and declare their independence. That is, the metropole (France), imposed strict laws on the colony prohibiting any trading with any partner except France. Further, the colonists had no formal representation with the French government.

Virtually all the planters violated the laws of France and carried on an illegal trade especially with the fledgling nation, the United States of America. Most of the planters leaned strongly toward independence for Saint-Domingue along the same lines as the U.S., that is, a slave nation governed by white males.

It is important to note at the outset that this group was revolutionary, independence-minded and defiant of the laws of France.

Petit Blancs

The second group of whites were less powerful than the planters. They were artisans, shop keepers, merchants, teachers and various middle and underclass whites. They often had a few slaves, but were not wealthy like the planters.

They tended to be less independence-minded and more loyal to France.

However, they were committed to slavery and were especially anti-black, seeing free persons of color as serious economic and social competitors.

The Free Persons of Color

There were approximately 30,000 free persons of color in 1789. About half of them were mulattoes, children of white Frenchmen and slave women. These mulattoes were often freed by their father-masters in some sort of paternal guilt or concern. These mulatto children were usually feared by the slaves since the masters often displayed unpredictable behavior toward them, at times recognizing them as their children and demanding special treatment, at other times wishing to deny their existence. Thus the slaves wanted nothing to do with the mulattoes if possible.

The other half of the free persons of color were black slaves who had purchased their own freedom or been given freedom by their masters for various reasons.

The free people of color were often quite wealthy, certainly usually more wealthy than the petit blancs (thus accounting for the distinct hatred of the free persons of color on the part of the petit blancs), and often even more wealthy than the planters.

The free persons of color could own plantations and owned a large portion of the slaves. They often treated their slaves poorly and almost always wanted to draw distinct lines between themselves and the slaves. Free people of color were usually strongly pro-slavery.

There were special laws which limited the behavior of the free people of color and they did not have rights as citizens of France. Like the planters, they tended to lean toward independence and to wish for a free Saint-Domingue which would be a slave nation in which they could be free and independent citizens. As a class they certainly regarded the slaves as much more their enemies than they did the whites.

Culturally the free people of color strove to be more white than the whites. They denied everything about their African and black roots. They dressed as French and European as the law would allow, they were well educated in the French manner, spoke French and denigrated the Creole language of the slaves. They were scrupulous Catholics and denounced the Voodoo religion of Africa. While the whites treated them badly and scorned their color, they nonetheless strove to imitate every thing white, seeing this a way of separating themselves from the status of the slaves whom they despised.

The Black Slaves

There were some 500,000 slaves on the eve of the French Revolution. This means the slaves outnumbered the free people by about 10-1. In general the slave system in Saint-Domingue was especially cruel. In the pecking order of slavery one of the most frightening threats to recalcitrant slaves in the rest of the Americas was to threaten to sell them to Saint- Domingue. Nonetheless, there was an important division among the slaves which will account for some divided behavior of the slaves in the early years of the revolution.

Domestic Slaves

About 100,000 of the slaves were domestics who worked as cooks, personal servants and various artisans around the plantation manor, or in the towns. These slaves were generally better treated than the common field hands and tended to identify more fully with their white and mulatto masters. As a class they were longer in coming into the anti-slave revolution, and often, in the early years, remained loyal to their owners.

Field Hands

The 400,000 field hands were the slaves who had the harshest and most hopeless lives. They worked from sun up to sun down in the difficult climate of Saint-Domingue. They were inadequately fed, with virtually no medical care, not allowed to learn to read or write and in general were treated much worse than the work animals on the plantation. Despite French philosophical positions which admitted the human status of slaves (something which the Spanish, United States and British systems did NOT do at this time), the French slave owners found it much easier to replace slaves by purchasing new ones than in worrying much to preserve the lives of existing slaves.

The Maroons

There was a large group of run-away slaves who retreated deep into the mountains of Saint-Domingue. They lived in small villages where they did subsistence farming and kept alive African ways, developing African architecture, social relations, religion and customs. They were bitterly anti-slavery, but alone, were not willing to fight the fight for freedom. They did supplement their subsistence farming with occasional raids on local plantations, and maintained defense systems to resist planter forays to capture and re-enslave them.

It is hard to estimate their numbers, but most scholars believe there were tens of thousands of them prior to the Revolution of 1791. Actually two of the leading generals of the early slave revolution were maroons.

Pre-Revolutionary Moments and Complex Alliances

The French Revolution of 1789 In France was the spark which lit The Haitian Revolution of 1791. But, prior to that spark there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Metropolitan France and that dissatisfaction created some very strange alliances and movements.

All the whites of Saint-Domingue began to sport the red cockade of the revolution, and the French bureaucrats were painted with the white cockade of French monarchy. However, this was an uneasy alliance. The white planters were not revolutionaries in the French sense at all. Nor did they want full rights for the petit blancs. It was a doomed alliance and didn’t last long.

On the other hard, the natural allies of the white planter’s were the free people of color. Both were from the wealthy class, both supported independence and slavery and neither wanted to change the traditional control of society by wealthy propertied people. The change would have been to allow the wealthy free persons of color their share in power, wealth and social prestige in this union. This was extremely difficult for the white planters to do until it was too late.

Rich Saint-Domingue mulatto, Vincent Oge had been in Paris during the debates of March, 1790. He had tried to be seated as a delegate from Saint- Domingue and was rebuffed. He and other Saint-Dominguan men of color had tried to get the General Assembly to specify that the provision for citizenship included the free persons of color. Having failed in all of that, Oge resolved to return to Saint-Domingue and one way or the other, by power of persuasion or power of arms, to force the issue of citizenship for free persons of color.

Oge visited the famous anti-slavery advocate Thomas Clarkson in England, then went to the United States to meet with leading abolitionists and to purchase arms and munitions. He returned to Saint-Domingue and began to pursue his cause. Upon seeing that there was no hope to persuade the whites to allow their citizenship, Oge formed a military band with Jean-Baptist Chavannes. They set up headquarters in Grand Riviere, just east of Cape Francois and prepared to march on the stronghold of the colonists. It is important to note that Oge consciously rejected the help of black slaves. He wanted no part of any alliance with the slaves, and regarded them in the same way the whites did — a property.

The Deaths of Oge and Chavannes

In early November Oge and Chavannes’ forces were badly beaten, many of their tiny band of 300 captured while Oge and Chavannes escaped into Santo Domingo, the Spanish part of the island. The Spanish happily arrested the two and turned them over to the whites in Cape Francois. On March 9, 1791 the captured soldiers were hanged and Oge and Chavannes tortured to death in the public square, being put on the rack and their bodies split apart. The whites intended to send a strong message to any people of color who would dare to fight back.

Thus ended the first mini-war in the Haitian Revolution. It had nothing to do with freeing the slaves and didn’t involve the slaves in any way at all. Yet the divisions among slave owners, the divisions among the whites, the divisions among colonial French and metropolitan French, the divisions among whites and free persons of color, all set the stage to make possible a more successful slave rebellion than had previously been possible.

The Slave Rebellion of August 21, 1791

Typically historians date the beginnings of the Haitian Revolution with the uprising of the slaves on the night of August 21st. While I’ve given reasons above to suspect that the revolution was already under way, the entry of the slaves into the struggle is certainly an historic event. And the event is so colorful that not even Hollywood would have to improve upon history.

Boukman and the Voodoo Service

For several years the slaves had been deserting their plantations with increasing frequency. The numbers of maroons had swollen dramatically and all that was needed was some spark to ignite the pent up frustration, hatred and impulse toward independence.

This event was a Petwo Voodoo service. On the evening of August 14th Dutty Boukman, a houngan and practitioner of the Petwo Voodoo cult, held a service at Bois Caiman. A woman at the service was possessed by Ogoun, the Voodoo warrior spirit. She sacrificed a black pig, and speaking the voice of the spirit, named those who were to lead the slaves and maroons to revolt and seek a stark justice from their white oppressors. (Ironically, it was the whites and not the people of color who were the targets of the revolution, even though the people of color were often very harsh slave owners.)

The woman named Boukman, Jean-Francois, Biassou and Jeannot as the leaders of the uprising. It was some time later before Toussaint, Henry Christophe, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Andre Rigaud took their places as the leading generals who brought The Haitian Revolution to its final triumph.

Word spread rapidly of this historic and prophetic religious service and the maroons and slaves readied themselves for a major assault on the whites. This uprising which would not ever be turned back, began on the evening of August 21st. The whole northern plain surrounding Cape Francois was in flames. Plantation owners were murdered, their women raped and killed, children slaughtered and their bodies mounted on poles to lead the slaves. It was an incredibly savage outburst, yet it still fell short of the treatment the slaves had received, and would still continue to receive, from the white planters.

The once rich colony was in smoldering ruins. More than a thousand whites had been killed. Slaves and maroons across the land were hurrying to the banner of the revolution. The masses of northern slaves laid siege to Cape Francois itself.

In the south and west the rebellion took on a different flavor. In Mirebalais there was a union of people of color and slaves, and they were menacing the whole region. A contingent of white soldiers marched out of Port-au-Prince, but were soundly defeated. Then the revolutionaries marched on Port-au-Prince. However, the free people of color did not want to defeat the whites, they wanted to join them. And, more importantly, they didn’t want to see the slaves succeed and push for emancipation. Consequently, they offered a deal to the whites and joined forces with them, turning treacherously on their black comrades in arms.

This was a signal to the whites in Cape Francois of how to handle their difficult and deteriorating situation. On September 20, 1791 the Colonial Assembly recognized the Paris decree of May, and they even took it a step further. They recognized the citizenship of all free people of color, regardless of their property and birth status. Thus the battle lines were drawn with all the free people, regardless of color, on the one side, and the black slaves and maroons on the other.

Meanwhile, in France word of the uprising caused the General Assembly to re-think its position. The Assembly thought it had gone too far with the May Decree and had endangered the colonial status of Saint-Domingue. Consequently on September 23rd the May Decree was revoked. Then the Assembly named three commissioners to go to Saint-Domingue with 18,000 soldiers and restore order, slavery and French control.

When the commissioners arrived In December, 1791, their position was considerably weaker than the General Assembly had suggested. Instead of 18,000 troops they had 6,000. In the meantime the whites in the south and west had attempted to revoke the rights of free people of color, and broken the alliance. Not only did the free people of color break with the whites and set up their own struggle centered in Croix-des-Bouquets, but many whites, particularly the planters, joined them. Thus thus south and west were divided into three factions, and the whites in Port-au-Prince were in a most weakened position.

In Cape Francois the Colonial Assembly did not move against the free people of color, but the slaves intensified their struggle and the whites were virtual prisoners in the town of Cape Francois. Most of the northern plain was in ruins.

Back in France it became apparent that the First Civil Commission with its 6,000 troops could not bring peace back to Saint-Domingue. When the authorities in France debated the issue it was clear to them that the problem was to bring unity between the free people of color and the whites against the rebelling slaves. Thus once again Paris reversed itself and with the historic and landmark Decree of April, 4, 1792, the free people of color were finally given full citizenship with the whites.

The Assembly in Paris prepared a Second Civil Commission to go to Saint- Domingue and enforce the April 4th decree. This commission contained Felicite Leger Sonthonax, a man who was to figure importantly in the future of The Haitian Revolution.

The French National Assembly was deeply worried by the independence movement among the white planters and free men of color. There are even those historians who believe the French government itself engineered the initial slave uprising of 1791 in order to drive the land owners back into the arms of France’s protection. If so, the Assembly unleashed a Pandora’s box of ills for France!

By early 1792 the slaves controlled most of the rich northern plain, and Cap Francois (modern Cap Haitien) was under constant siege. Hundreds of whites had been killed, the plantations were in ruins and the slaves were learning their military skills. Yet it was not the slaves whom the Assembly feared. It was the struggle between free persons of color and the white planters. Many of the planters openly favored independence. They were carrying on an illegal and profitable trade with the newly formed United States. Not only were they profiting economically, but the U.S.’s recent revolution against Britain was a model which the planters studied well.

On the other hand, the free persons of color looked to France as their sole hope. Britain, France, Spain and the United States did not allow citizenship to blacks. The French had at least declared the universal Rights of Man, and this ambiguous principle seemed to offer free men of color the right of citizenship. This position was further clarified and emphasized with the king’s signing of the decree of April 4, 1792 providing citizenship for property owning free men of color.

It was the belief of the Assembly that if the struggle between the white and black property owners (and slave owners) could end, and their loyalty be won back to France, then the “slave question” would be a simple issue. The rebellion would be quickly broken and the slaves returned to their plantations. There had been rebellions in the past, there would be rebellions in the future. But, reasoned the Assembly, slaves could be managed in the long run.

But a decree announcing this citizenship was one thing; to enforce it another. On June 2, 1792 the French National Assembly appointed a three man Civil Commission to go to Saint-Domingue and insure the enforcement of the April 4th decree.

Toussaint Louverture and the Slave Rebellion:

The primary black generals in the earliest days of the slave rebellion were Jean-Francois, Biassou and Jeannot. Jeannot was soon put to death by Jean-Francois and Biassou for excessive cruelty. Shortly after the 1791 uprising, Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who was over forty years old, joined the camp of the rebels as a medical officer. Toussaint practiced herbal and African healing, but unlike most such healers, he was not a Voodoo houngan. However, Toussaint did not remain a medical officer for long. His ability to organize, train and lead men became immediately apparent. Toussaint rose from his position of aide-de-camp to become a general, first fighting under Biassou, and then a general of his own troops.

Sonthonax and the other commissioners realized the British would probably attack Saint-Domingue, as would the Spanish and their Saint-Domingue slave army. They began to prepare their defenses as best they could. However, they were immediately betrayed from within. General Galbaud, a Frenchman, had been left in charge of Cap Francois while Sonthonax joined the other commissioners to prepare the defenses of Port-au-Prince. Galbaud, himself a land owner, conspired with the planters to deport the commissioners and to work with the British to return the ancient regime, negating the citizenship of free men of color. Sonthonax learned of this and returned to Le Cap with a large force of free men of color. They surprised Galbaud and he seemingly agreed to return to France. However, he convinced 3000 sailors and French troops to fight with him and the battle was joined on June 20, 1793.

It looked as though Galbaud’s forces would triumph. Sonthonax took the ultimate plunge — he offered freedom and the rights of French citizenship to 15,000 slaves, part of the slave army encamped just outside Le Cap, if they would fight for France and the commissioners. They accepted and Galbaud was quickly defeated.

Sonthonax, now faced with 15,000 new citizens, had a problem. Most of these men had wives and children who were still slaves. Thus, in short order he also freed the entire families of the new French soldiers.

AUGUST 23, 1793: Sonthonnax’ Emancipation

The engines of emancipation had been set in motion. Sonthonax had long protested that he came to Saint-Domingue to defend the free persons of color. He had explicitly stated that he DID NOT intend to free the slaves. However, the Galbaud affair had forced him to free 30,000 to 40,000 people to protect his position.

Now he was in a major bind. The white planters and petit blancs were totally outraged. Even his allies, the free persons of color, were appalled. They were mainly slave holding property owners. They did not want any more slaves freed. Yet Sonthonax knew his time was running short. The British were preparing to invade, the Spanish were training, arming and supplying a large slave army in Santo Domingo.

Sonthonax’ position was difficult. There was no hope of reinforcements or even supplies from France. The European war precluded that. How could he possibly save the colony for France? The slaves seemed his only hope. There were 500,000 of them. Toussaint, Jean-Francois and Biassou had a well-armed, well-trained army in Santo Domingo. Other slaves were not armed or trained, but their sheer numbers might provide some defense. Would they fight to defend France? Certainly not. Would they fight to defend their freedom? It was a gamble Sonthonax felt he had to take.

On August 29, 1793 Sonthonax unilaterally decreed the emancipation of slavery in Saint-Domingue. Robert Stein, Sonthonax’ biographer, calls this “…the most radical step of the Haitian Revolution and perhaps even of the French Revolution.” But, would the slaves respond? Would the gamble pay off? Sonthonax could only wait and see.

The British Campaign Begins

Sonthonax was right to expect the British to invade. Saint-Domingue had been the richest colony in the Caribbean. Since the British navy controlled access to the Caribbean, Saint-Domingue seemed easy pickings. British General Cuyler assured British officials in London that he had “no apprehension of our successes in the West Indies.” On September 19, 1793 the British landed at Jeremie. They were welcomed by the white property owners, who had already signed a secret accommodation with Britain. In exchange for their support, Saint-Domingue would become a British colony. Slavery would be reinstated, people of color would be stripped of citizenship, and the conditions of Britain’s economic policies would favor the colonists more than did France’s exclusif.

By June 4, 1794 the British had captured Port-au-Prince and held most of the port towns from St. Nicholas in the north to Jeremie at the southern tip. It looked as though the French forces, with little support from Saint- Domingue land owners, could not hold out against the Spanish supported British onslaught.

The Volte-Face of Toussaint Louverture

Like Stein, one may well regard Sonthonax’ freeing of the slaves as the most significant event of this period, nonetheless, the volte-face, the changing sides, of Toussaint Louverture, had the most immediate practical effect. Republican France’s position in Saint-Domingue was pushed to the wall. The British held many port towns and the white planters were mainly in the British camp. The bulk of the slaves under arms were with the Spanish. However, France’s enemies were not without their own problems. France was prohibited from supplying Sonthonax and the commissioners by the British fleet and the press of the war in Europe. But, that same war left the British without supplies and reinforcements too. The British army, suffering desperately from yellow fever, and seemingly ignored by London, was quickly being depleted and suffered from extremely poor morale. The Spanish were in grave difficulty in the European war, and were declining as a force to be reckoned with. Finally, the free persons of color, despising Sonthonax’ freeing of the slaves, were nonetheless becoming convinced that neither the British nor Spanish were any real hope for them. More and more of the people of color were returning to the French banner.

The war in Saint-Domingue was going badly for the French, but, despite the British gains in the south, the situation was improving, though it was grave and dangerous.

Clearly the turning point in this war and in all Haitian history was the return to the French side of Toussaint Louverture and eventually all his black and mulatto forces. But when and why did Toussaint return? This is a very difficult question and scholars are not in agreement. I find myself persuaded by the arguments of David Geggus who fixes the date of the volte-face at around May 6, 1794. The reasons for the turn are not quite certain, but Geggus argues it was a collage of several factors:

Toussaint was sincerely fighting for general emancipation of slavery, and Sonthonax’ emancipation weighed on him. By May 6th it is unlikely that Toussaint knew that the French National Assembly had already ratified Sonthonax’ move on Feb. 4th. However, Toussaint had a close relationship with the French General Laveaux, and seems to have already been negotiating with him to come over to the French side. Laveaux may well have convinced him that France was sincere in the emancipation.
Toussaint was having serious problems with the Spanish. They did not trust him, perhaps knowing of his discussions with Laveaux.
Toussaint knew that the Spanish position in Europe was not strong and perhaps sensed that he was fighting for a loosing side.
Toussaint was having serious problems with both Jean-Francois and Biassou and wanted not only to break with them, but to become superior to them.
Whatever the full complement of reasons, Toussaint made his change and that made all the difference. His army fought a guerrilla war and he was known for his lightening attacks, covering territory at seemingly impossible speeds. He attacked both Jean-Francois and Biassou, his former associates and defeated them. He harassed the British, though he could not dislodge them from the coastal towns they held. One chronicler says: “He disappears–he has flown–as if by magic. Now he reappears again where he is least expected. He seems to be ubiquitous. One never knows where his army is, what it subsists on, how he manages his supplies and his treasury. He, on the other hand, seems perfectly informed concerning everything that goes on in the enemy camp.”

The Spanish soon ended their war. The French in defeated them Europe and signed a peace treaty on July 22, 1795. A significant part of the treaty was that Spain ceded Santo Domingo to the French, though it was some time before Toussaint’s army actually took over the eastern part of the island. The Spanish black armies were disbanded, though many came over to Toussaint. Jean-Francois retired to Spain and Biassou went to Florida. By this time Toussaint had become an important part of the French forces and was promoted to brigadier general.

Toussaint turns out to be the primary force for four years, May, 1794 to October, 1798. In that time he had driven the British out of Saint- Domingue, overseen the retreat of the Spanish, ousted all genuine French authority and become commander in chief and governor general of the Saint- Domingue. As he saw it there were only three challenges left to his supreme authority.

– the belief of the National Assembly that he was not loyal to France.
– Andre Rigaud and the mulatto forces.
– the existence of Spanish Santo Domingo next door. Toussaint took up the challenge of these three threats.

The French, fearing Toussaint’s growing power and suspecting that he had sentiments toward independence, sent special agent Thomas Hedouville to save the colony for France. Hedouville managed to hammer home the fatal wedge between Toussaint and mulatto general, Andre Rigaud.

Toussaint and Independence

Thomas Hedouville fled Haiti on Oct. 22, 1798. Toussaint was the leading figure in the colony and playing both ends of his spectrum — apparent loyalty to France; apparent sympathy to the United States’ pushing Saint- Domingue toward independence. Not only was the U.S., herself a newly free nation, a model that Toussaint might follow, but Secretary of State Timothy Pickering was presenting a very friendly and supportive position. Finally, Toussaint felt much more comfortable with the small, fledgling United States than with either Britain or France.

The primary interest which Toussaint felt toward the United States was the better deal Saint- Domingue could get in trade. France imposed the “exclusif” on Saint- Domingue. Under this law of colony to metropole, Saint-Domingue could only trade with France, who then had the power to set the prices. Further, manufacturing of finished goods from the raw farm products was forbidden by France. All manufacturing of Saint-Domingan goods was reserved for France. The United States, on the other hand, paid a more competitive price for Saint-Domingan goods and placed no restrictions on their form. Even the landowners supported trade with the United States. At first it would seem that this was not in their economic interests. Sonthonax had freed the slaves and Toussaint would certainly uphold this emancipation. This meant that the former slaves became paid field hands, and the landowners would lose approximately 50% of their income to the government and to farm labor. Nonetheless, the 50% that they could earn on the free market was more than 100% of what France was willing to pay under the exclusif.

Nonetheless, Toussaint kept up the appearance of loyalty to France and appointed Philippe Roume, French agent in Santo Domingo, to replace Hedouville as France’s representative in Saint-Domingue. Toussaint’s loyalty to France was not all posturing. There was a very strong call of culture from France. This was especially true among the affranchais, the blacks and mulattos freed before the general emancipation. They wanted to separate themselves from the slaves. They had adopted French culture and customs as their identity, scorning anything African. They spoke French, dressed in European fashion, practiced the Catholic religion and, in general, idealized France and French culture. Even Toussaint was pulled in this direction and had a strong bond to France.

The War of Knives

On June 16, 1799 Rigaud attacked Petit Goave, putting many people to death with the sword. It was from Rigaud’s violence with the sword that this civil war got it’s name — The War of Knives.

The first five months of war were characterized by gruesome excesses on both sides. Finally, by mid-November, the war centered on Rigaud’s stronghold at Jacmel, defended by Alexander Petion. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the besieging general for Toussaint. Dessalines was to become the first president, then emperor of free Haiti in 1804, and Petion was to become the president of The Republic of Haiti in 1807. On March 11, 1800 Jacmel fell, virtually ending Rigaud’s resistance. Nonetheless, he hung on until July, finally fleeing to France until he returned as part of Napoleon’s invasion force in 1802.

Toussaint had a reputation for clemency and avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. But, he appointed the blood thirsty and violent Dessalines as pacifier of the south. Dessalines butchered many mulattos (the estimates range from 200 to 10,000!). When Toussaint finally halted the massacre he reportedly said: “I did not want this! I told him to prune the tree, not to uproot it.”

The Conquest of Santo Domingo

By August, 1800 Toussaint was ruler of all Saint-Domingue and no foreign power was on Saint-Domingue soil. He was governor general of the whole colony. However, Santo Domingo, present day Dominican Republic, was an intolerable situation to him. The Spanish had ceded Santo Domingo to the French in the Treaty of Bale on July 22, 1795. Nonetheless, the Spanish never turned the colony over to the French, and the French, unsure of Toussaint’s loyalties, never pressed the issue. Spain’s presence in Santo Domingo was in France’s interest. They could keep an eye on Toussaint. But he now set out to claim France’s (and his own) authority over the entire island of Hispaniola.

After initial resistance on the part of Roume, who, recall, had been the French agent in Santo Domingo before Toussaint appointed him to the Saint-Domingue post, Roume was pressured into approving the unification movement. However, Spanish Captain-General Don Joaquin Garcia y Moreno was unwilling to turn over command to black Haitians. He prepared to resist, and his resistance gave Roume the courage to rescind his order. This gave Toussaint a pretext to charge Roume with disloyalty to France — after all, France owned Santo Domingo by treaty — and Roume was held prisoner for nearly a year. Meanwhile Toussaint massed his troops for the invasion of Santo Domingo. He encountered only tentative resistance and entered the capital, Santo Domingo City on Jan. 26, 1801. He quickly consolidated his power and emerged as the governor-general of Hispaniola.

Toussaint’s Constitution:   The Document that Tweaked Napolean

On July 26, 1801 Toussaint published and promulgated a new constitution for Saint-Domingue which abolished slavery, but did allow the importation of free blacks to work the plantations. The constitution recognized the centrality of sugar plantations to the Saint-Domingue economy, and accepted Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Perhaps two of the most significant items were that Toussaint was governor-general for life and that all men from 14 to 55 years of age were in the state militia. Nonetheless, the constitution professed loyalty and subservience to France. The most galling thing for Napoleon was that Toussaint published and proclaimed the constitution without prior approval from France and the First Consul.

Thus by July of 1801 Toussaint had emerged as the leading figure in Saint-Domingue, and seemed headed toward declaring an independent republic. He had defeated the Spanish and British, maneuvered the French Commissioners out of the colony, defeated Andre Rigaud in a Civil War, taken possession of the eastern portion of the island, eradicated slavery on the entire island and promulgated a constitution in which he was declared governor general for life.

Both Britain and the United States treated with Toussaint as though he were the head of an independent state, though Toussaint’s constitution and public demeanor claimed that he was a loyal French citizen who had saved the colony for France.

Virtually no one believed Toussaint’s claims of loyalty to France. Britain and the United States wanted to deal with Toussaint to ensure an end of French privateering from Saint-Dominguan waters. Both nations hoped to contain the slave rebellion to Saint-Domingue alone. Both nations strove to out do one another in establishing trade relations with Toussaint’s government, in defiance of France’s regulations for the colony. Thus Napoleon might well be excused if he took with a healthy dose of salt Toussaint’s claims of being a loyal son and protector of French rights in Saint-Domingue.

For Napoleon, the die was cast. “This gilded African,” as he called Toussaint, would have to go. Bonaparte chafed at the power of the black first consul, but there was little he could do while France was at war with Britain. However, on Oct. 1, 1801 France and Britain signed a peace treaty and Napoleon’s hands were free to deal with Toussaint.

It is important to note that Bonaparte’s personal detestation of Toussaint was only one factor in his decision to retake Saint-Domingue to more trustworthy French rule. The French Directory, before Napoleon’s coup d’etat of Nov. 9, 1799, had already set a West Indian policy in which Saint-Domingue was the center piece. Napoleon inherited this foreign policy and inherited the constant political pressure of the French planters who had been disenfranchised by the liberation of the slaves. Bonaparte needed the wealth of Saint-Domingue and there seemed a grave danger that Toussaint would lead the colony toward independence. All of these issues, and others, weighed in Bonaparte’s decision to launch an invasion against his own governor-general of Saint-Domingue.

The Leclerc Invasion:

Once committed, Napoleon sent a well-outfitted troop of 12,000 soldiers under the leadership of his brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc. In Leclerc’s invasion force Toussaint was going to have to deal with many old enemies including Alexander Petion and Andre Rigaud.

Napoleon gave Leclerc a set of secret instructions which demanded Leclerc give his word of honor about many things and then violate it. The general plan was to first promise the black leadership places of authority in a French-dominated government. Then, once having established control, to move to the second stage of arresting and deporting any black leaders who seemed troublesome, especially Toussaint Louverture. The third and final stage was not only to disarm all the blacks, but to return the colony to slavery and the pre-Revolutionary colonial state. Virtually no one in Saint-Domingue was fooled by Leclerc’s protestations of benevolent purpose.

On Feb. 2, 1802 Leclerc arrived in the bay of Cap Francois, the city governed and defended by Henri Christophe, one of Toussaint’s most important generals, and later on Haiti’s second president and first and only king. Christophe would not allow the French to disembark, and prepared to burn the city to the ground if they tried. Leclerc pressed the issue and, true to his word, Christophe torched this Paris of the Americas. The black armies retreated to the interior to fight a guerilla war and Leclerc took over a huge pile of ashes. The final stage of the Haitian Revolution had begun.

The Leclerc Campaign

Phase 1:   Crete-a-Pierrot

Leclerc’s forces quickly took most of the coastal towns, though Haitians burned many of them before they retreated. Eventually a decisive moment came as Dessalines and his second in command, Lamartiniere, were asked to hold the small former British fort, Crete-a-Pierrot, an arsenal of the Haitians.

Both sides claimed victory. It sort of depends on what measure one uses. The French ended up with the fort, but they lost twice as many men as the Haitians, and were shocked to discover how well the blacks could fight in a pitched battle. The Haitians took great solace in their ability to hold off the French for so long. For the rest of the war they used Crete-a-Pierrot as a rallying cry. After abandoning the fort, the Haitians retreated into the Cahos mountains and fought a guerrilla war from then on.

Phase 2:   Surrender

By April 26 Christophe and his troops surrendered to Leclerc. Toussaint followed on May 1st. Even though things had not gone as Napoleon planned, within two months Leclerc had achieved Napoleon’s first goal–pacification of the leaders. Now Leclerc was free to implement phase 2 — the arrest and deportation of “trouble makers.”

The Arrest and Deportation of Toussaint Louverture

After Toussaint’s surrendered, he ostensibly retired to his plantation at Enery to live out his days. However, there is a good deal of historical controversy about this. Some argue that Toussaint immediately began to plot anew against the French. I really don’t know which way the factual evidence leans, but the logic of the situation leads me to suspect that these charges against Toussaint were true. First of all it is not like Toussaint to simply walk away and abandon the struggle of the past 10 years. Further, he had to have suspected that the French would reinstate slavery and the old colonial system. Again, it’s not like Toussaint to quietly acquiesce in such a turnabout. Finally, he must have known how weakened the French were becoming from the ravages of yellow fever. How long and how seriously could the French fight with only a fraction of their men?

But all of this is mere logical speculation, not factual knowledge. What we do know are the details of Leclerc’s dishonorable subterfuge to arrest and deport Toussaint. On June 7 Toussaint received a message from French General Brunet to meet with him at a plantation near Gonaives. Brunet assured Toussaint that he’d be perfectly safe with the French, who were, after all, gentlemen!

Shortly after arriving at the plantation he was arrested and shipped off to prison in France. Toussaint was taken to Fort de Joux, a cold, damp prison near the Swiss border. Toussaint soon withered away and died on April, 7, 1803. So much for French honor!

The Final Up-Rising and French Defeat

The dishonorable treatment of the aging Toussaint was not only a moral outrage, but a practical error of irreversible scope. The Haitians were so incensed, and recognized that if Toussaint could be so treated, so could anyone else. The masses realized the French must be defeated once and for all.

Leclerc made a second tactical blunder upon the heels of Toussaint’s arrest. He immediately began a disarmament campaign, planning to disarm all the blacks. The net effect was to open the eyes of many and drive thousands back under the banner of the revolution. From June to October, 1802 Leclerc’s soldiers carried on this mainly unsuccessful campaign.

During this period both Dessalines and Christophe were working with the French. Dessalines was a particularly vicious warrior against the rebels. However, there is a strong case to be made that he was more interested in his own position of power than anything else.

Working with the French he could have it both ways. On the one hand, if the French prevailed he was becoming increasingly indispensable to whatever order prevailed, thus assuring his position there. On the other hand, he was capturing and killing rebel leaders. Thus if the revolution were to once again catch fire, he was in a position to bolt the French and take up leadership of the rebels, which is exactly what he did. Haitian independence and black rule seem to have been honestly desired by Dessalines. But, first and foremost he wanted Jean-Jacques Dessalines to be an important power in whatever government prevailed in Saint-Domingue.

As the situation deteriorated for the French, Dessalines, Christophe, Petion and Clairveaux all conspired with rebel leaders. On Oct. 13, 1802, Petion and Clairveaux deserted to the rebels. Christophe and Dessalines followed and within days only Cap Francois, Port-au-Prince and Le Cayes were fully in French hands. The final battle had begun.

The Arcahaye Conference and the Death of Leclerc

Nov. 2, 1802 the rebel leaders met at Arcahaye, a small village south of St. Marc. The leaders elected Dessalines as rebel commander-in-chief and chose the red and blue flag as their banner. The story is that Dessalines took the tricolor French flag — a band each of red, blue and white, and tore out the white, announcing to the cheering assembled mass that Haiti, too, would drive out the whites. Certainly such a dramatic symbol, if it actually occurred, would have been an inspiring and motivating gesture.

On the same day as the Arcahaye conference, Leclerc died of yellow fever. General Rochambeau took command. He was an able and fearless commander, and reinforced by another 10,000 troops in mid-November, carried on the French defense for another year.

By the time of the Arcahaye conference most of the maroons had also come to see that the French were the true enemy. Prior to this the maroons had been separated and vacillating, not really joining the revolution, but fighting an independent war of self-interest wherever and whenever it served their purposes. But now they joined in unified fashion with the rest of the Haitians to drive the French from the island for once and for all, and to preserve the nation as a free, non-slave entity.

Dessalines and Rochambeau

Each side was under the leadership of a capable and ruthless leader. Each side traded atrocity with atrocity, the particular description of which are sickening and defy credulity of even those used to human inhumanity to humans. Torture, rape, brutal murders, mass murders of non-combatants, mutilation, forcing families to watch the torture, rape and death of loved ones and on and on. The last year of the Haitian Revolution was as savage as any conflict one can read of in human history. Thomas Ott says this had become a war of racial extermination on both sides.

Despite the ravages of yellow fever and the increasing numbers of Haitians joining the revolution, Rochambeau’s forces made considerable gains in early 1803. Napoleon, heartened by the return of slavery to Guadeloupe, sent a further reinforcement of 15,000 troops. Rochambeau seized the moment to launch a vigorous attack on the rebels.

A New European War Helps Shift the Balance

On May 18, 1803 Europe was again plunged into war, and Britain declared war on France. Dessalines was now a welcomed ally of Britain who provided arms and naval support. At the same time this European war announced the end of reinforcements and supplies for the French. The conditions were set for a reversal of the fortunes of the revolutionaries.

By the end of October the French were reduced to holding only Le Cap and were besieged and in danger of starvation. Finally on November 19, 1803 Rochambeau begged for a 10 day truce to allow the evacuation of Le Cap, thus giving Haiti to the Haitians.

Independence Day, January 1, 1804

After 13 years of revolutionary activity France was formally removed from the island and Haitian independence declared, only the second republic in the Americas. The country was in ruins, the masses mainly uneducated and struggling for survival. The western world’s large and interested nations, the United States, Britain, Spain and, of course, France, were all skeptical and nervous about an all-black republic. After all, the large nations were all slave-owning states.
Independence until the 1915 when THE US MOVES IN and hangs on to power till 1934.

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One Response to “The end of Slavery in Brazil and Haiti: Cultural similarities that led to the Zumbi semi-mythical events of 1695 in the Northeast of Brazil, and to the playing out of the local and global forces in Haiti of the post-French Revolution of 1789. Condomble and Voodoo, black natural generals and politicians. Reasons we think that Brazil involvement in Haiti could be most understanding.”

  1. jacqueline Celestin Says:

    Freedom is a work of Art

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