LAH 4471. Notes to guide your reading of The Black Jacobins.

The Haitian Revolution of 1789-1803 transformed French Saint Domingue, one of the most productive European colonies of its day, into an independent state run by former slaves and the descendants of slaves.  It produced the world's first examples of wholesale emancipation in a major slaveowning society, of colonial representation in a metropolitan assembly, and of full racial equality in a European colony. It occurred when the Atlantic slave trade was at its peak, and when slavery was an accepted institution from Canada to Chile. The slave revolt that between 1791 and 1793 laid waste the immensely wealthy colony was probably the largest and sole fully successful one there has ever been. Of all American struggles for colonial independence, the Haitian Revolution involved the greatest degree of mass mobilization, and brought the greatest degree of social and economic change. In an age of tumultuous events and world war, it seized international attention with images of apocalyptic destruction and of a new world in the making. The Black Jacobins by Trinidadian intellectual C.L.R. James remains, although written in the 1930s, the best introduction to the subject.

When reading: Don’t get bogged down in all the details. Treat the book as a good, fast read, but take notes. Look out for the major turning-points in the revolution and the main causal factors at work. One helpful way to get to a hold on the narrative and the key analytical issues is to think of the Haitian Revolution as a contest between three groups with three conflicting agendas, in other words, as three revolutions in one. The only individuals you need be able to identify are those listed below.

3 broad social groups: whites, free coloreds ("mulattoes"), slaves

3 broad issues associated with each social group:

Autonomy: planters achieve (and France concedes) self-government 1790-92, till ended by Sonthonax (dismissed colonial assembly). Toussaint Louverture effectively achieves self-government mid-90s till 1802 (outmaneuvers French officials). Colonial independence won by blacks/free coloreds 1804.

Racial Equality: Vincent Ogé revolt fails Oct. 1790. May 1791 equality granted to some free coloreds; then withdrawn Sept. 1791. Free coloreds of west/south rebel Aug. 1791. Full equality conceded April 1792.

Emancipation: revolt in north Aug. 1791; gradually spreads. Leaders' committment to full emancipation ambiguous/wavering. Rebel leaders join Spanish 1793. Aug. 1793 Sonthonax abolishes slavery unilaterally. Feb. 1794 France ends slavery in all its colonies. Toussaint Louverture rallies to French. 1794-97 France seeks spread slave rebellion in enemy colonies. 1802 Napoleon tries to restore slavery.

3 provinces: north (Ogé and slave revolts),

                    west (British occupation, 1793-98),

                    south (free colored stronghold, 1791-99)

Key Events: Key Individuals: Vincent Ogé, Jean François, Toussaint Louverture,
Sonthonax, André Rigaud, Moise, Alexandre Pétion, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

French Revolution: increasingly radical, 1789-94; increasingly conservative, 1794-1804.
Absolute monarchy (to 1789); constitutional monarchy (1789-92); republic (1792-1804).
National and Legislative Assemblies (1789-92); Convention (1792-95); Directory (1795-99); Napoleon (1799+).
In power: moderate liberals (89-91); Girondins (92-93); Jacobins (93-94); moderate liberals (1794-99); Napoleon (1799+).

Questions to consider:

1) How are the Haitian and French Revolutions related?

2) Do you think internal factors (class conflict, population growth, etc.) or external influences
    (French politics, international war) best explain the development of the Haitian Revolution?

3) How does James strike a balance between leadership and impersonal forces
    (class conflict, libertarian ideology, racial antagonism)?

4) Why was this the first Caribbean colony to (i) abolish slavery (ii) achieve independence?

5) What did each of the "key individuals" listed above contribute to these two developments?

6) In what ways do you think C.L.R. James’s political beliefs shaped his interpretation of the revolution?


Jan.-Mar. Wealthy colonial activists illegally elect deputies to the States-General in France
Aug.  White and free colored colonists form separate political clubs in Paris to press their interests
Oct.  Inspired by the Bastille’s fall, democratic protesters force the Intendant to flee Saint Domingue 

Free coloreds calling for political rights meet with persecution

Slaves voicing protests on some plantations brutally suppressed

Mar. National Assembly allows colonies internal self-government under metropolitan supervision. Is
deliberately evasive about the rights of free people of color.
July Governor Peinier closes the autonomist Colonial Assembly at Saint Marc
Oct. Vincent Ogé leads brief free colored rebellion in the north


Feb.  Grisly execution of Ogé
Mar. White radicals drive governor out of Port-au-Prince
May National Assembly decrees political rights for freeborn men of color
July  White colonists discuss secession and organize to resist the May 15 decree
Aug.  Insurrection of slaves in the north and free coloreds in the west
Sept. National Assembly annuls the May 15 decree.
Nov.  Port-au-Prince burned in fighting between white radicals and free coloreds.

Jan.-Mar.  Slave rebellion spasmodically spreads in west and south
Apr.  Legislative Assembly ends racial discrimination in the colonies
Sept.  Arrival of second Civil Commission with 6,000 soldiers. France becomes a republic
Oct.-Dec. Commissioners form alliance with free coloreds and deport white conservatives and radicals

Feb.-Mar.  War begins with Britain and Spain
May Spanish conclude alliance with Jean-François and Biassou
June Civil commissioners’ struggle with Governor Galbaud causes

burning of Cap Français and emancipation of slave recruits
Aug. Sonthonax abolishes slavery in the north. Abolition extended to

the west in September and south in October
Sept. British forces begin five year occupation in parts of south and west
Jan. Fall of Fort Dauphin completes Spanish conquest of most of north
Feb. Jacobin government ends slavery in all French colonies
Apr.-July Toussaint Louverture turns on his Spanish allies and joins the French

July  Spain makes peace and transfers Santo Domingo to France
Dec.  Jean-François and Biassou leave for exile

Mar.  Toussaint foils free colored coup against Governor Laveaux and becomes deputy-governor
May  Sonthonax returns with new civil commission
Oct.-Dec. Toussaint and Sonthonax consolidate their control of the north. British switch to a defensive strategy

May Sonthonax names Toussaint Commander in Chief
Aug.  Toussaint forces out Sonthonax

Mar.-Oct. General Hédouville’s mission creates friction with emergent power of ex-slaves under Toussaint
May-Sept. British withdrawal. Toussaint signs trade and non-aggression treaty
Nov.  Toussaint orders army to impose forced labor on the plantations

June  War of the South begins
Dec. Napoleon becomes head of state. Colonies lose right of metropolitan representation

Aug. Completing his defeat of Rigaud, Toussaint controls all Saint Domingue

Jan.  Toussaint flouts French orders to occupy Santo Domingo
Feb.  Toussaint announces project for a constitution. Napoleon names him 

Captain-General of Saint Domingue but not commander in chief, 

then retracts his decision.
July  Toussaint’s constitution makes him governor for life
Oct.  Franco-British peace preliminaries permit the Leclerc expedition
Nov. Rebellion of Moïse

Feb.-May  Leclerc conquers Saint Domingue
June Toussaint deported to France
Aug. News of reestablishment of slavery in Guadeloupe

rekindles resistance in Saint Domingue
Oct.  Dessalines and Pétion unite in rebellion

May  Franco-British war resumes
Dec. Last French troops evacuated

Jan.  Dessalines declares independence at Gonaïves

Massacre of remaining colonists begins


Sources of Illustrations: (C.L.R. James); (Toussaint Louverture); (Slave revolt and Battle scene); (L.F. Sonthonax and General Leclerc).

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