MAKING SENSE OF THE HAITIAN REVOLUTION
LAH 4471. Notes to guide your reading of The Black Jacobins.
The Haitian Revolution of
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
in a metropolitan assembly, and of full racial equality in a European
It occurred when the Atlantic slave trade was at its peak, and when
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
struggles for colonial independence, the Haitian Revolution involved
greatest degree of mass mobilization, and brought the greatest degree
social and economic change. In an age of tumultuous events and world
it seized international attention with images of apocalyptic
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
introduction to the subject.
3 broad social groups: whites, free coloreds ("mulattoes"), slaves
3 broad issues associated with each social group:
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 May 1791 equality granted to some free coloreds; then withdrawn Sept. 1791.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
and slave revolts),
west (British occupation, 1793-98),
south (free colored stronghold, 1791-99)
1) How are the Haitian and French Revolutions related?
2) Do you think internal factors
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
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
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
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|