Haitian Revolution, 1791

The Haitian Revolution stands alone as the only successful slave revolt in world history. It was in the context of the French Revolution, and its guiding Enlightenment philosophy of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” that the slaves of the French colony of Saint-Domingue demanded their freedom and national independence. Free blacks and mulattoes had been appealing to the French government for an end to slavery and full civil equality for all French subjects for over a decade, and saw the French Revolution of 1789 and its Declaration of the Rights of Man as the opening they needed to secure the freedom of the nearly half million African slaves on the island, and an opportunity for their own social advancement within the French empire. The white planters, who numbered about 40,000, saw the revolution in France as an opportunity to establish their own nation in what was then the wealthiest colony in the world. For the African slaves, word of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” inspired hope of a nation of their own, free from white rule. On August 21, 1791, thousands of slaves in the northern province rose in rebellion, and within a year controlled over a third of the island. Over the next decade and a half, the island was embroiled in a bloody civil war in which shifting alliances and goals between white planters, free blacks and mulattoes, and African slaves ultimately culminated in the island’s independence. Even Great Britain became involved in the conflict in an effort to counter the effects of the revolution in France. Toussaint L’Ouverture, a self-educated former slave, agreed to lead the French fight against the revolt and British interference in exchange for a declaration of freedom for all slaves; when it became clear by 1801 that the French intended to reestablish slavery on the island, he declared Saint-Domingue a sovereign state and himself governor for life. He was ultimately deceived by the French and imprisoned, where he died in 1802. The battle of Vertières in November of 1803 would be the last of the revolution; by January 1804, rebel leader Jeans-Jaques Dessalines declared Haiti a free republic and the remaining whites on the island were massacred.


“The Battle for Palm Tree Hill,” painting by January Suchodolski

An Anonymous Letter Addressed to M. Mollérat, Saint-Pierre, 28 August 1789 Top
Source: Laurent DuBois and John D. Garrigus. 2006. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Dear Sirs:

General, Intendant, the Government, Advisers, and other individuals, we know that we are free and that you are aware that rebellious people are resisting the orders of the king. Well, remember that we ne`gres are numerous, and we want to die for this liberty; for we want it and plan to get it at whatever price, even with the use of mortars, cannons, and rifles. Why, for how how many hundreds of years, have our fathers been subjected to this fate that still falls on us? Did God create anyone as a slave? The sky and the earth belong to the lord God, along with everything they contain; you have corrupted our ancestors, not only them, but also their descendants. Isn’t this horrible, sirs? It must be believed in truth that you are very inhumane not to be touched with compassion for the suffering that we endure. Even the most barbarous of nations would melt into tears if it knew our misery. I will let you think for awhile about how quickly it would seek to abolish such an odious law. But in the ned, it is in vain that we seek to convince you by invoking sentiments and humanity, for you have none; but by using blows we will have it, for we see that this is the only way to get anywhere. It will start soon if this prejudice is not entirely annihilated…there will be torrents of blood flowing as powerful as the gutters that flow along our streets.


We have the honor of being

Signed by us, Ne`gres

Letter from the Slaves of Martinique, 29 August 1789 Top
Source: Laurent DuBois and John D. Garrigus. 2006. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Great General:

The entire Nation of the Black Slaves very humbly begs your august person to accept its respectful homage and to cast a humanitarian eye on the reflections it takes the liberty of presenting to you.

We are not unaware, Great General, of all the negative things that have been presented to you about us; we are painted in such a foul way that even the most solidly virtuous person would have reason to turn against us; but God, who sooner or later always stops the proud plans of men, this God who is so just knows what is deep inside us; he knows that we have never had any project but to patiently accept the oppression of our persecutors. This eternal God, who could no longer suffer so much persecution, must have given Louis XVI, the greatest of monarchs, the charge of delivering all the miserable Christians oppressed by their unjust fellow men….

We have just learned with extreme desperation that the mulattos, far from taking care of their enslaved mothers, brothers, and sisters, have dared claim that we do not deserve to enjoy, as they do, the benefits that come from peace and liberty and are incapable of continuing the hard work that supports the merchants of the white nation and cannot provide any service to the state. This is a great absurdity, and this vile action must demonstrate to you the baseness of spirit of this proud nation and make you see the hate, the jealousy, and all the horror of the disdain this nation has for us….It is not jealousy that forces us to complain about the mulattos, but the harshness they have shown in creating a plan for liberty for only themselves, when we are all of the same family. We do not know, Great General, if you have received the request of the mulattos, but you will receive it soon, and we are happy if we have the good fortune to have reached you before it….

We end our reflections by declaring to you that the entire Nation of Black Slaves united together has a single wish, a singly desire for independence, and all the slaves with a unanimous voice send out only one cry, one clamor to reclaim the liberty they have gained through centuries of suffering and ignominious servitude.

This is no longer a Nation that is blinded by ignorance and that trembles at the threat of the lightest punishments; its suffering has enlightened it and has determined it to spill to its last drop of blood rather than support the yoke of slavery, a horrible yoke attacked by the laws, by humanity, and by all of nature, by the Divinity and by our good King Louis XVI. We hope it will be condemned by the illustrious [Governor] Viome’nil. Your response, Great General, will decide our destiny and that of the colony. Please send it to the parish priests who will inform us about it at the announcements at the end of mass. We await it with the greatest impatience, but without leaving behind the respect that is due to your dignity, and the Nation asks you to believe it to be, [Great] Grand General, your most humble and obedient servant.


The Entire Nation

Saint-Pierre, August 29, 1789

Letter to Those Who Love Mankind (Pamphlet), 1790 Top
Source:  Laurent DuBois and John D. Garrigus. 2006. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

October 12, 1790, is a date forever sorrowful in the annals of history. Every year Liberty, Humanity, and Justice will mourn its passing, while our descendants will remember with shock or indignation that on this day one part of the nation was sacrificed to the prejudices and greed of another. This was no Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. But is it more humane to rob a man of his life and its sorrows in an instant, or to prolong his existence while stripping him of everything that might make it more bearable?

…We have decided (something unheard of in any nation!) that there will be no change in the status of the people in our islands, except at the colonists’ request. That is, the National Assembly will not stamp out injustice except at the request of those who feed on the situation and want to prolong it! In other words, the eternal rights of men are less important than pride and avarice! Put another way, these men will be the victims of oppression until their tyrants agree to lighten their fate.

The representatives of the French people voted this strange decree almost unanimously, at the very moment in which they were congratulating themselves for having struck down tyranny and reconquered liberty. Moreover, as if they were afraid of gaining some insight on an issue of such great importance, they had already voted to prohibit any discussion of this one…

The political world is certainly going to look different. The volcano of liberty that has been lit in France will soon bring about a general explosion and change the fate of the human species in the two hemispheres. The interests of the colony and of the metropole, their internal and external security, require that all forces work together, like the bundle of sticks that, according to the story, a dying father offered his family as an emblem. But our islands harbor the seeds of their own destruction, which are sending out roots. It is always a despicable policy to degrade one group of people instead of involving them in maintaining order. Did not the oppression of soldiers cause regimental uprisings [in France] that almost dissolved the army/ It would be a great mistake to imagine that the colonies could remain in this unnatural repressed state very long; to believe this, one would have to know very little about human affairs. And the following considerations reinforce this opinion.

Everywhere the people of mixed race see this cockade, which, according to the prediction, will be known around the world; they see the revolutionary flag paraded with honor. How can one believe that the cries of liberty ringing endlessly in their ears will not awaken in their hearts a longing for their rights? Add to this a consideration of their strength, whose steady growth is extraordinary. I will cite just one fact. In 1779, there were 7,055 people of color in Saint-Domingue; in 1787, 19,632 were counted. Therefore, in the period of eight years, the population more than doubled; while France’s population barely grew by one-ninth over a period of seventy-two years.

How can you limit that population when the unrestrained lechery of so many whites guarantees its future growth? The mulattos’ industriousness and its results will follow the same pattern. Will you disarm all the free colored militias and patrols in fear of an uprising? They would have to be replaced and restrained by multiple expeditions of French soldiers, who would have to carry out all duties in a burning climate that devours effeminate Europeans and overworked ne’gres.

Who can say whether this degraded caste, pushed to despair, will not use its strength to rescue justice, if the mulattos will not ally with the ne’gres against those whites who might have easily claimed them, thanks to filial love or the habit of respect? The easiest path for them would be to emigrate to the neighboring Spanish territory, where a diversity of skin colors has not produced legal distinctions. Already several have taken this step, and I can assure you, for I have proof, that if the injustices of the whites do not end soon, many people of mixed race plan to abandon a country where the sun shines only on their sorrows, and take their productivity and wealth elsewhere.

Moreover, do you not fear a coalition between the people of mixed race, those whites who aim at independence, and others who would greedily sieze an opportunity to free themselves from paying the enormous sums they owe to France Might not bitterness, ambition, and disloyalty stir up trouble and cause secession, with incalculable consequences?…

Oh, that I were a false prophet! But if events prove my fears correct, at least I will not have to reproach myself for saying nothing about these important matters. Is it not obvious that, if pride could be set aside, there would be more citizens and they would have less to fear from the salves? If people of mixed race and whites could be brought together by their common interests and advantages, the size of their combined forces would more efficiently ensure the colonies’ tranquility. There can be no doubt that sooner or later the repressed energy of the mulattos will rise up with an unstoppable violence. The oppressed can be forced into inactivity now only because they are temporarily weak. Such dangerous apathy! Evil’s frightening silence is usually broken only by a tumultuous dash for liberty.

Ogé to the Count de Peinier, 21 October 1790 Top
Source:  Laurent DuBois and John D. Garrigus. 2006. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

October 21, 1790

Monsieur Count,

We had the honor of writing you collectively from Paris last April 18, under the seal of M. Bisonar, treasurer, to provide you with an excerpt of the National Assembly’s decree of March 28 concerning the colonies, and copies of all our demands.

I was indeed surprised, Monsieur, to see when I arrived that you had not published the decree and that you undoubtedly intended to ignore it as your predecessors did the Edict of 1685.

No, no, Monsieur Count, we will not remain under the yoke as we have for two centuries. The iron rod that has beaten us down is broke. We call for the enacting of this decree; be prudent, therefore, and avoid a crisis that you would not be able to subdue.

I have sworn to see the execution of the decree that I worked to obtain, to rebut force with force, and, finally, to put an end to a prejudice that is as unjust as it is barbaric.

I am, with respect, etc.,

Signed Oge’ the Younger

Speech made to the National Assembly by the Deputies from the General Assembly of the French part of St. Domingo, 3 November 1791 Top
Source: France. Assemblée nationale législative, West India Planters and Merchants. 1791. Speech Made to the National Assembly, the 3rd of November, 1791. Translation of: Discours fait à l’Assemblée nationale, le 3 novembre 1791, first printed Paris, 1791. London : Printed for J. Sewell, no. 32, Cornhill.


The General Assembly of the French part of St. Domingo has appointed us a deputation to address you.

In that character, our first duty is to assure you of the inviolable attachment of this important part of the empire to the mother-country, before we describe to you the terrible events which are now working its destruction, and solicit the earliest and most effectual succor, to save, if it be yet possible, its wretched remains.

Long have we foreseen the evils which afflict us, and which, doubtless, will end in our annihilation, if the national justice and power interpose not speedily for our relief.

We come to lay before you some particulars which will give you but an imperfect idea of our disasters and of our situation.

[Describes at great length the details of slave revolts, violence against plantation owners, and plots to overthrow white rule on the island.]

It would answer no end, Sirs, to describe to you all the horrors to which our unfortunate fellow-citizens have been a prey. Posterity will be shocked at so many cruelties, committed in the names of philosophy and liberty.

Yet we have only, in this relation, sketched to you some scattered outlines of the dreadful pictures of those evils, which have visited, probably still visit, a country, but lately so peaceful, so flourishing, so valuable to the French empire! You will better judge by a summary of the losses which the colony had experienced at the period of our departure.

[List of names of plantations affected by violence and the types of property destruction experienced. The speaker estimates the property loss at six hundred million livres]…The assistance of the nation, the exertions of commerce, and our industry, may, perhaps, repair them: but what shall dry the tears that flow for more than one thousand of our fellow-citizens slaughtered, the victims of this cruel revolt! Can sensibility be mute, when we reflect, that fifteen thousand negroes will be destroyed before order and tranquility can be re-established, and that, should they succeed in their projects, St. Domingo will become the tomb of fifty thousand Frenchmen!

Hitherto we have only spoken of the misfortunes of the Northern parts. They are not all we have to lament. [Details of violence in other parts of the island]

Thus, Sirs, you behold on every side the colony threatened; and, if there be colonists who are yet to be saved from so many complicated dangers, still will they have to contend with treachery and famine, with epidemical diseases caused by so many unburied carcases in a burning climate, with disorders more acute, the effects of fatigue, terror, and vexation; in a word, with every evil that nature engenders for the destruction of mankind. What just reason have we not to dread the total ruin of the colony, a ruin which must accelerate that of the mother-country! The destruction of our plantations will cause the stagnation of your manufactories, successive bankruptcies will injure public credit, and, even in Paris, will be felt by the moneyed man and the tradesman; in the inmost of your provinces it will check the collection of taxes; the decrease of shipping in the sea-ports will reduce to beggary an innumerable body of labourers and of seamen: then will cries of rage and despair ascend from every quarter, calling upon you for justice against the authors of so many calamities; and can they fail to be detected, by the perfidious cunning, but the cruel perseverance, with which they have so long been contriving a catastrophe, now so terrible conspicuous!

We passed our lives in tranquility, Sirs, in the midst of our slaves. A paternal government had, for many years past, meliorated the condition of our negroes; and we dare affirm, that millions of Europeans, attacked by every want, subject to every misery, possess fewer enjoyments than those who have been represented to you, and to the world in general, as loaded with chains and perishing by a dilatory death. The situation of the negroes, in Africa, without property, without political or civil existence, continually a prey to the weak capricious fury of tyrants, who divide among them that vast uncivilized country, is changed in our colonies for a condition of comfort and enjoyment. They are deprived of nothing; for, liberty, it is true, they have not, is a plant that has never proved fertile in their native soil; and, whatever the spirit of party may assert, whatever imagination may invent, well-informed men are not to be persuaded that the negroes in Africa have the enjoyment of freedom. The traveller, who has most recently visited a part, hitherto almost unknown of that extensive country, has given us, in his long and interesting work, a history only of blood and desolation. The men inhabit Abyssinia, Nubia, the Galla, and the Funge, from the coasts of the Indian ocean to the very frontiers of Egypt, seem to rival, in ferocity and barbarity, the hyaenas and the tigers which nature has there created. Slavery is, with them, a title of honour; and life, in those horrible climates, is a possession unprotected by any laws, and held only at the will of a sanguinary despot…[Continue to describe the benefits of slavery for the black population in St. Domingo]…

Here we appeal, not to those who write romances to gain a name as men of sensibility, to acquire a momentary popularity, soon to be wrested from them by general indignation, but to those who have visited, who know, the colonies. Let them say if the recital we have made is faithful, or if we have coloured it to interest you in our cause.

We repeat it, Sirs, we passed our lives in this state of tranquility and happiness, and we returned to the mother-country, the protectress of our properties, the entire tribute of our produce, which was applied in adding to the wealth of the metropolis, to her internal strength, and to her superiority in foreign commerce.

Meantime, Sirs, a society springs up in the bosom of France, and prepares, at a distance, the destruction and convulsions to which we are now a prey. Unobtrusive and modest in their outlet, the professed only a desire to alleviate the lot of our slaves; but that alleviation, already so far advanced in the French islands, must result from means which were totally unknown to this society, although they were objects of our unceasing attention, until obliged to abandon them, by these incompetent meddlers having excited, among our slaves, a spirit of mutiny, and, among us, a spirit of distrust.

In order to meliorate gradually the lot of the slaves, and to increase the number of emancipated, there should certainly be a previous solicitude of attention to the perfect safety of their matters. But, an expedient so wise would have gained no applause in their temple of renown. Vanity commanded that measures of prudence should be relinquished for specious declamations, that we should be surrounded with terror and alarm, and that calamities should be contrived, the same which we have predicted since the earliest proceedings of the Amis des Noirs, and which have so lately been realised.

On a sudden this society demands an Abolition of the Slave Trade; that is to say, that the profits, which may result from it to the French commerce, should be transferred to foreigners; for, never will their romantic philosophy persuade all the European powers, that it is incumbent upon them to abandon the culture of their colonies, and to leave the natives of Africa a prey to the barbarity of their native tyrants, rather than employ them elsewhere, and under more humane masters, in cultivating a soil, which, without them, must remain uncultivated, and whole valuable productions are, to the nation which possesses them, a fertile source of industry and prosperity.

Combining itself next with the Revolution in France, this society confounds its extravagant and irrational system with the plan which the nation had conceived for its enfranchisement; and, profiting by the universal ardour of all Frenchmen in the cause of liberty, interests them, from the remembrance of their servitude, in its design to put an end to that of the negroes. Its blind enthusiasm, or its perversity, forgets, that those savage men are incapable of knowing in what true social liberty consists, or of enjoying it with moderation, and that the rash law, which should destroy their prejudices, would be, to them and to us, a sentence of death.

Thenceforwards, this society, or at least some of its members, have given an unbounded loose to their enterprise; all means have seemed to them good so they might but tend to its accomplishment. The open attack, the deep and studied innuendo, the basest and most despicable calumnies, have been practiced to forward their designs; ingeniously mixing cunning with audacity, the society, at one time, flatters us by an invitation to shake off the yoke of French merchants, assuring us of its support if we will unite with it for obtaining a free commerce; at another time, it arms the mercantile body against us, affirming that we have in view a disgraceful bankruptcy, a chimerical independence, and that, in our career of vanity, we would build up a separate power on a level with that of France. Thus, after having endeavoured to irritate the planters and the merchants against each other, after having offered us principles incompatible with the interests of the mother-country, when, in spite of its insidious counsels, we have declined to adopt them, still are we accused, by the society, of such intentions, and they lay hold of the declaration of the Rights of Man, an immortal work, and beneficial to highly educated men; but inaplicable, and therefore dangerous, to our colonial regulations: they send it with profusion into our colonies; the journals in their pay, or under their influence, publish this declaration in the midst of our gangs; the writings of the Amis des Noirs openly announce, that the freedom of the negroes is proclaimed by the declaration of rights.

The degree of the 8th of March seemed calculated to check these desperate plots. But can the Amis des Noirs reverence any law but those oaths by which they are bound together, and that vow which they have formed to carry fire and sword into our habitations? If a law be favourable to their theories, they adopt, the promulgate, they interpret, that law. If repugnant, they misconstrue, disavow, insult it without shame; they endeavour to degrade the authority on which it is founded.

The planters, merchants, and men enlightened enough not to be the dupes of their falsities, are indiscriminately the objects of their abuse. It is not enough that they have made themselves the arbiters of our property and our peace, they assume over us a supremacy of defamation; nor may we defend ourselves, and strive to parry their blows, without undergoing a torrent of their low scurrility. Thus, prejudicing against us the public opinion, shutting up from us the channels of defence, they undermine in security the rock on which our possessions are placed; they surround it with snares, and our ruin must follow!

When it was found that they had vainly flattered themselves with obtaining from the National Assembly the emancipation of our slaves, they attempted to introduce dissention among us, by persuading that Assembly to take on itself to discuss the question of the People of Colour. We had demanded that we should ourselves make the laws upon this subject, which require great delicacy and prudence in their application. We had pledged ourselves that those law should be just and humane.

But, that boon, which, then granted by the white planters, would have eternally cemented the ties of affection and benevolence existing between those low classes of men, is presented to them, by the Amis des Noirs, as an offering of vanity, and a means of avoiding equitable stipulations.

Other measures were tried to gain their point: they collected together at Paris some people of colour; they extolled their understandings; they invited them to unite their cause with that of the negroes. These men passed over to St. Domingo, in the sort of delirium occasioned by such doctrine; they communicated to the slaves those hopes with which they had been amused; they were loaded with libels and pamphlets, which encouraged the men of colour and the slaves to a general insurrection, and to a general massacre of the whites….

We know our duty, Sirs, and we love it; but we know too and boldly claim our rights. We dedicate, to the prosperity of the mother-country, the entire produce of our labours. She owes us protection against foreign force; she owes us the security of our properties and peace against the plots of the turbulent.

It is now proved that the influence of the Amis des Noirs is fatal to the colonies. Let them weave what sophisms they please, they cannot hide the evidence of our calamities. There is not an unprejudiced man existing who can doubt, that their labours, their declamations, their writings, their infamous emissaries, have been the active, persevering, cause, which, for two years past, has paved the way for our ruin, and which at length has succeeded.

France owes us protection; but her strength will be insufficient to give us confidence, while she suffers the contrivers of our revolts and massacres to lurk in her bosom.

She owes us protection, but in vain would she render it effective, if such attempts are to remain unpunished; that, which ought to disgrace our enemies, affords them matter of triumph and exultation.

She owes us protection; but to what end her fleets and her armies, if she permit that seditious writings should incessantly scatter in our houses the seeds of every trouble! if she permit us to be pressed down to the earth with humiliations! and if to encompass us with murder and with blood become, in the eyes of the country to whom we sacrifice ourselves, the road to glory and to fame!

Forgive, Sirs, the warmth of our language. So many calamities have given us a privilege to speak out. Grief, bitter grief, is at our hearts! A hundred times have we foretold the evils of which we are the victims – a hundred times have we imprecated the public vengeance on the hateful manoeuvres of those men, who convulse our country under the mask of humanity: – We have obtained no redress! Oh may the dreadful catastrophe, of which we have sketched to you the picture, serve as a lesson for futurity, and preserve, from like calamities, all those of our fellow-citizens to whose lot they have not yet fallen!

It is to your steadiness, in punishing the authors of our disasters, and in checking their new efforts, that the Western and Southern provinces have to look for their security.

As for the Northern province, its losses are irreparable. Immense capitals are sunk; the restoration of its industry requires such an advance of funds as the merchants and proprietors cannot wholly accomplish. We speak not to you of individuals, but you will examine, Sirs, what, on your part, is required by the interest of the colony and that of the nation.

Representatives of the people of France, you have heard a recital of the greatest calamity that has visited the human race in the course of the eighteenth century.

You have heard the complaint of the first colony in the world; of a colony necessary to the existence of that nation whose concerns are placed in your hands. That colony wishes to interest you only by its feelings and its sufferings!

It demands, from you, JUSTICE, SAFETY, SUCCOUR!

Signed, J.B. Millet.

Cougnacq Mion.


Cheneau de la Megriere.


Le Bucquet.

Reply of the President (of the National Assembly, to the speech of the Deputies of St. Domingo), 3 November 1791 Top
Source: France. Assemblée nationale législative, West India Planters and Merchants. 1791. Reply of the President to the Speech Made to the National Assembly, the 3rd of November, 1791. Translation of: Discours fait à l’Assemblée nationale, le 3 novembre 1791, first printed Paris, 1791. London : Printed for J. Sewell, no. 32, Cornhill.

To love our country is a fortune of heart-felt satisfaction! To serve it in time of distress is the fist of civic virtues, and it is yours! The calamities of the colony are dreadful! The National Assembly views them with horror, with indignation, with grief! You ask its JUSTICE; that is due from it to all citizens of the empire. Its PROTECTION; that is due to your courage, your patriotism, your misfortunes! Its Succour; that it is already occupied in providing. It will give your application its most serious attention, and invites you to the honours of the session.

Extracts from the Speech of Mr. Bertrand, Marine Minister of France, in the National Assembly, 19 Dec. 1791 Top
Source: Bertrand, M. 1792. Extracts from the Speech of Mr. Bertrand in the National Assembly, Dec. 19, 1791. Translation of: Discours fait à l’Assemblée nationale, le 3 novembre 1791, first printed Paris, 1791. London : Printed for J. Sewell, no. 32, Cornhill.

I have explained to you, Sirs, the measures taken by the king, for affording relief to the inhabitants of St. Domingo, so soon as their calamity and danger were made known to his majesty: inadequate, doubtless, of themselves, their success depends wholly on their promptitude, and on the assurance that they shall be followed by others more effective. But, previous to these being determined upon, it was fitting we should now the true causes of the troubles which have led to this terrible catastrophe. I have neglected no means of discovering them, because by such discovery alone can we be directed in the application of those measures which are to prevent its return.

Some accuse the Colonists of wishing to surrender themselves to the English, etc., etc..

Others, on the contrary, see no other cause of their misfortunes but in the incendiary writings, disseminated in the Colonies with a view to stir the negroes to revolt; in the correspondence maintained, for some time past, between the people of colour and a society called Philanthropists; founded, say they, upon a system, destructive of all colonial property, and whole origin and principles are thus stated.

It is easy to conceive, that a free people, always worthy of being so, must have felt an alloy to its enjoyment of colonial establishments from the circumstance of their being founded on slavery.

This sentiment of a generous and humane nation (certainly estimable, however just or well founded) was sure to gain ground, and a milder treatment of our negroes was its natural result.

But the philosophic spirit, so prevalent in France, aimed at farther conquests, and has been employed in strengthening, with all the force of argument, the theory of a sentiment, which, perhaps, might have been more prudently left to its own operations….

As to calculations of the sums these establishments have cost, supposing them not exaggerated, how are we to appreciate, in gold or in figures, the advantages which result to Europe from her Colonies? Is it possible we should be blind to the obvious increase of our population? the only true criterion of national prosperity, an infallible sign at once of the plenty of food and of the need of hands; for, men multiply where subsistence abounds and where labour invites. Can we fail to see, that an obligation sell their produce only to members of the mother-country, and to buy of them alone every article they want, forms a double source of riches, of which the measure is immense? In short, the Colonies take from us all they want at such prices as we please to impose; they return us a sufficiency of their valuable produce, not only to serve the consumption of twenty-five millions of inhabitants, but to form a very great surplus, which we sell with profit to the nations who have no Colonies of their own. And shall all these advantages be estimated by a series of figures, which, expressing only the relations of quantity, are applicable to none but to material and inanimate objects?

Observe, Sirs, that the effect of such erroneous calculations, respecting our Colonies, must necessarily impose a retrograde course upon the public fortune. It is not to moderate the speed, but to stop at once the motion, of this powerful wheel, that we are invited. In an instant, we are to condemn to inactivity those millions of arms, which are now employed to move it: in an instant, we are to cut all the threads, which conduct us to such an immensity of wealth! Estimate, I beseech you, Sirs, the dreadful effects of such a sudden separation!

Proclamation of his excellency brigadier general Whyte, commanding his Britannic majesty’s forces in St. Domingo, June 8, 1794 Top

Proclamation of his excellency brigadier general Whyte, commanding his Britannic majesty’s forces in St. Domingo.


The commissioner and their agents, in order to carry into execution those perfidious designs, which have proved so fatal to the lives, the laws, the liberty, and the happiness, of this once flourishing colony, have every where calumniated the British government.

General Whyte, who has the honour to represent his Britannic majesty. Assures the inhabitants of Port au Prince, and its vicinity, that the object of his majesty and of his government is to restore peace among every class of inhabitants.

Those parts of the colony, which have already placed themselves under his majesty’s protection, can bear a faithful testimony that there is nothing oppressive in the behaviour and laws of the English.

A considerable part of the people of St. Domingo has been seduced from its duty; these persons are hereby invited to return to their occupation, to lay down their arms, and to forget every cause of resentment.

The English government demand, and will obtain, by force if necessary, that peaceful obedience which is due to its mild and just laws.

The mulattoes will find in the general and the government every disposition to favour their interests; they are considered by the English, who are and will continue to be their friends.

The negroes, who have been so long the dupes of the vile artifices of the commissioners, will soon be convinced that the English disdain falsehood and deceit.

Let them, relying with confidence on the generosity of the British people, return to their matters, lay down, and enjoy the advantages of a life devoted to industry; their present sufferings will soon be relieved, and the laws will protect them against cruelty and oppression.

The forces, which are now in this colony to support the happiness of the inhabitants, and the glory of the English nation, are but a part, even a small part, of the army destined for its service; it being his majesty’s resolution to punish in a manner as certain as severe, those who will not accept the offers of this and of the preceding proclamations.

All persons who shall repair to Port au Prince, and to the English general, within the delay of eight days from the date of this proclamation. Except those who have been guilty of murder, or of taking a part in the insurrection, will be received and pardoned; but all those who are taken in arms after the above-mentioned period, will be put to death as traitors.

Done at Port au Prince, the 8th of June, 1794.


John Whyte, Brigadier-general commandant.

Toussaint Louverture’s Warning to Rebels, 1795 Top
Source: Victor Schoelcher. 1889. Vie de Toussaint Louverture. Paris: Paul Ollendorf.

In the name of the French people, Toussaint-Louverture, commanding General of the cordon of the West and the army of the French republic, to the French in a state of error camped on the Motet habitation.

Frenchmen, the tocsin is sounding. Arise, return from the too fatal errors in which you were plunged. The occasion is offered to you for the last time. The irons of the despot of England are not made for you; take up again your dignity as French citizens, take up again your national character. The heroic trumpet must have taught you of the great feats of your fatherland, which has covered itself with glory in the eyes of the universe. I have been sent by Laveaux, Governor General of this colony, to bring you words of peace. If, cured by time and experience, you will return to the humane laws of the Republic, just say the word and nothing will be forgotten in preserving you from the deplorable fate that awaits you if you persist in your horrible rebellion.

I exhort you to return to the fatherland, in the name of the Governor General. Like all republicans, I am animated by the ardent desire to find only brothers and friends wherever I march the troops confided to my command. Humanity is one of the sacred obligations that will make us surpass all the other peoples. Saving brothers from their straying and lending them a helping hand also enters into our principles.

Let your property not cause you to hesitate in becoming French again; they will be sheltered from any attack, and I vow that the law will executed against anyone who makes the least attempt on it.

In keeping with these words from the heart, I call upon you, in the name of the Republic, to rally to me within the hour. Once this time has expired, I shall deploy force against you, and I will be victorious. But I declare to you that in forcing me to this violent measure all prisoners, without any distinction, will then be run through with the sword.

Haitian Declaration of Independence, January 1804 Top
Source: Laurent DuBois and John D. Garrigus. 2006. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.


It is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.

Independence or death… let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion.

Citizens, my countrymen, on this solemn day I have brought together those courageous soldiers who, as liberty lay dying, spilled their blood to save it; these generals who have guided your efforts against tyranny have not yet done enough for your happiness; the French name still haunts our land.

Everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habits, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French. Indeed! There are still French in our island, and you believe yourself free and independent of that Republic which, it is true, has fought all the nations, but which has never defeated those who wanted to be free.

What! Victims of our [own] credulity and indulgence for 14 years; defeated not by French armies, but by the pathetic eloquence of their agents’ proclamations; when will we tire of breathing the air that they breathe? What do we have in common with this nation of executioners? The difference between its cruelty and our patient moderation, its color and ours the great seas that separate us, our avenging climate, all tell us plainly that they are not our brothers, that they never will be, and that if they find refuge among us, they will plot again to trouble and divide us.

Native citizens, men, women, girls, and children, let your gaze extend on all parts of this island: look there for your spouses, your husbands, your brothers, your sisters. Indeed! Look there for your children, your suckling infants, what have they become?… I shudder to say it … the prey of these vultures.

Instead of these dear victims, your alarmed gaze will see only their assassins, these tigers still dripping with their blood, whose terrible presence indicts your lack of feeling and your guilty slowness in avenging them. What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits? Remember that you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers, after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours.

And you, precious men, intrepid generals, who, without concern for your own pain, have revived liberty by shedding all your blood, know that you have done nothing if you do not give the nations a terrible, but just example of the vengeance that must be wrought by a people proud to have recovered its liberty and jealous to maintain it let us frighten all those who would dare try to take it from us again; let us begin with the French. Let them tremble when they approach our coast, if not from the memory of those cruelties they perpetrated here, then from the terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty.

We have dared to be free, let us be thus by ourselves and for ourselves. Let us imitate the grown child: his own weight breaks the boundary that has become an obstacle to him. What people fought for us? What people wanted to gather the fruits of our labor? And what dishonorable absurdity to conquer in order to be enslaved. Enslaved?… Let us leave this description for the French; they have conquered but are no longer free.

Let us walk down another path; let us imitate those people who, extending their concern into the future, and dreading to leave an example of cowardice for posterity, preferred to be exterminated rather than lose their place as one of the world’s free peoples.

Let us ensure, however, that a missionary spirit does not destroy our work; let us allow our neighbors to breathe in peace; may they live quietly under the laws that they have made for themselves, and let us not, as revolutionary firebrands, declare ourselves the lawgivers of the Caribbean, nor let our glory consist in troubling the peace of the neighboring islands. Unlike that which we inhabit, theirs has not been drenched in the innocent blood of its inhabitants; they have no vengeance to claim from the authority that protects them.

Fortunate to have never known the ideals that have destroyed us, they can only have good wishes for our prosperity.

Peace to our neighbors; but let this be our cry: “Anathama to the French name! Eternal hatred of France!”

Natives of Haiti! My happy fate was to be one day the sentinel who would watch over the idol to which you sacrifice; I have watched, sometimes fighting alone, and if I have been so fortunate as to return to your hands the sacred trust you confided to me, know that it is now your task to preserve it. In fighting for your liberty, I was working for my own happiness. Before consolidating it with laws that will guarantee your free individuality, your leaders, who I have assembled here, and I, owe you the final proof of our devotion.

Generals and you, leaders, collected here close to me for the good of our land, the day has come, the day which must make our glory, our independence, eternal.

If there could exist among us a lukewarm heart, let him distance himself and tremble to take the oath which must unite us. Let us vow to ourselves, to posterity, to the entire universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than live under its domination; to fight until our last breath for the independence of our country.

And you, a people so long without good fortune, witness to the oath we take, remember that I counted on your constancy and courage when I threw myself into the career of liberty to fight the despotism and tyranny you had struggled against for 14 years. Remember that I sacrificed everything to rally to your defense; family, children, fortune, and now I am rich only with your liberty; my name has become a horror to all those who want slavery. Despots and tyrants curse the day that I was born. If ever you refused or grumbled while receiving those laws that the spirit guarding your fate dictates to me for your own good, you would deserve the fate of an ungrateful people. But I reject that awful idea; you will sustain the liberty that you cherish and support the leader who commands you. Therefore vow before me to live free and independent, and to prefer death to anything that will try to place you back in chains. Swear, finally, to pursue forever the traitors and enemies of your independence.

Done at the headquarters of Gonaives, the first day of January 1804, the first year of independence.

The Deed of independence

Native Army

Today, January 1st 1804, the general in chief of the native army, accompanied by the generals of the army, assembled in order to take measures that will insure the good of the country;

After having told the assembled generals his true intentions, to assure forever a stable government for the natives of Haiti, the object of his greatest concern, which he has accomplished in a speech which declares to foreign powers the decision to make the country independent, and to enjoy a liberty consecrated by the blood of the people of this island; and after having gathered their responses has asked that each of the assembled generals take a vow to forever renounce France, to die rather than live under its domination, and to fight for independence until their last breath.

The generals, deeply moved by these sacred principles, after voting their unanimous attachment to the declared project of independence, have all sworn to posterity, to the universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than to live under its domination.


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