Slavery in the Dominican Republic


Figure 1.--This drawing depicts slave labor in Hispaniola. It is an early depiction of slave labor in America. We are not surecjust when it was drawn abd by who. It shows the Spanish forcing the Taino to work the mines. By the time the book was punlidhed, the Tainonhad long disappeared from Santo Domingo, most killed by exposure to European diseases. Source: Girolamo Benzoni, 'Americae pars quinta nobilis & admiratione' (Frankfort: 1595). At the time the Dutch War of Independence from the Spanish was in progress. It is often difficult to separare propaganda from accurare depiction.

Slavery was not new to the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans. Slavery was an institution among Native Americans. After Columbus discovered Hispaniola (1492), the Spanish settlers attempted to enslave the indigenous Tainos, part of the Arawak cultural group. Spanish officials in Madrid debated the status of Native Americans and whether they could be enslaved. Very early in the Spanish colonial period, settlers began noticing that their Taino slaves were dying in large numbers. Before the debate in Madrid was finalized, the Tainos were decimated by European diseases. Population estimates vary, but the Taino population plummeted from some 400,000 people to less than 3,000 during the first vthreec decades of Spanish rule. Unable to use the Native Americans for forced agricultural labor, the settlers began to import captive Africans. The Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand I and Isabella, granted permission to the colonists of the Caribbean to import African slaves (1501). The Portuguese and Spanish were already dealing in slaves from their trading posts along the western coast of Africa. This was the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The first captive Africans were sold as slaves in Santo Domingo (1503). Santo Domingo did not develop as a major slave colony. Unlike other Caribbean islands, the Spanish settlers did not found an important sugar industry. Rather livestock became very important in Santo Domingo and this did not require a large slave work force. It was the French on the western third of the island that founded an extensive sugar industry. Large numbers of slaves were imported to work the plantations. Great fortunes were made, but the slaves were treated brutally.

Native Americans

Slavery was not new to the Americas with the arrival of the Europeans. Slavery was an institution among Native Americans. It was not an institution designed to provide the fundamental work force in Native American society, but it did exist.

Enslavement of the Tainos

After Columbus discovered Hispaniola (1492), the Spanish settlers attempted to enslave the indigenous Tainos, part of the Arawak cultural group. Spanish officials in Madrid debated the status of Native Americans and whether they could be enslaved. Very early in the Spanish colonial period, settlers began noticing that their Taino slaves were dying in large numbers. Before the debate in Madrid was finalized, the Tainos were decimated by European diseases. Population estimates vary, but the Taino population plummeted from some 400,000 people to less than 3,000 during the first vthreec decades of Spanish rule.

African Slaves: Santo Domingo (16th-18th centuries)

Unable to use the Native Americans for forced agricultural labor, the settlers began to import captive Africans. The Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand I and Isabella, granted permission to the colonists of the Caribbean to import African slaves (1501). The Portuguese and Spanish were already dealing in slaves from their trading posts along the western coast of Africa. This was the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The first captive Africans were sold as slaves in Santo Domingo (1503). Slavery was not a major institution in the early Spanish colony. This was because Santo Domino (at the time the entire island of Hispaniola) was not a very successful colony. After the gold deposits were exhausted, the focus of the Spanish moved west and south to the Mexico and South America. Only a small number of Spaniards remained, perhaps a few thousand. And many of those were the children of Spanish fathers and Taino mothers. The principal economic activity became livestock. Columbus had introduced cattle and pigs to the island. Many had escaped and ran wild where they multiplied. The Spanish settlers began raising livestock. There was a ready market. The Spanish ships sailing by the island island en route to Mexico and Panama where trade was possible with Peru stopped in Santo Domingo for supplies. Few slaves were needed to support this economy. And despite having large areas of suitable land, Spanish settlers in Santo Domingo never did not develop an important sugar industry. Given the value of sugar, it is not clear why the Spanish did not develop a sugar industry. Whatever the reason, the Dominicans did not import large numbers of African slaves.

French Saint Dominique (18th century)

It was in the west that slavery on Hispaiola changed. The French began settling Tortuga and the northwestern coast. The small Spanish population could not effectively resist and the minor importance of the island meant that Spain was not willing to fight a long costly war over it. The French named their new colony Saint Domingue and in colonial terms was a huge success in sharp contrast to the colony's development under Spanish control. The French expanded their control of all of the west and introduced plantation sugar culture, importing large numbers of slaves. Vast fortunes were made. Saint Dominique (modern Haiti) became the most valuable Caribbean colony. While France and the planters benefited, the plantation system was brutal and the slaves were terribly treated.

Haitian Slave Revolt (1791)

The French Revolution would end the profitable, but brutal sugar plantation economy (1789). Whites on the island were at first split concerning the Revolution. Thus changed as the National Assembly began to address the subject of slavery. The French National Assembly approved modest legislation concerning free people of color, mostly affecting mulattoes. They granted French citizenship to well-to-do free people of color (May 1791). The white settlers not only refused to comply with the Assembly's decision, but were outraged at the very idea and ran riot. The whites lynched mulattoes they could lay their hands on. They also burned the Tri-Color flag of the Republic. Seemingly unconsidered was the reaction of slaves which constituted the great bulk of the population. The mulattoes and freed slaves resisted. This was the first fighting on Haiti. [Blackburn, pp. 633-44.] And in the seething political situation, groups of slaves launched attacks. The attacks at first were scattered, occurring mostly at isolated plantations in the north. A Voodoo houngan named Boukman launched the initial slave rebellion (1791). The French were at first able to maintain control, but the division between the whites and the mulattoes significantly weakened the French position on the island. The uprising was eventually taken over by a French black and former slave, Toussaint L'ouverture. Spain had ceded the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo to France in the Treaty of Basilea (1795).

Haitian Era (1791-1844)

Following the Haitian Slave Revolt (1791), Dominican affairs were dominated by Haiti and French efforts to control Haiti. This included a brief period of independence. The Dominican or eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola had relatively few slaves. The law governing slavery changed depending who was in charge. During the period of Haitian control, slavery was prohibited. L'Ouverture managed to restore order in Haiti and because of the Treaty of Basilea (1795) he claimed the entire island of Hispaniola and seized control of it. Jean-Jacques Dessalines who followed L'Ouverture maintained the claim to the former Spanish western part of the island. The economy of Haiti had been devastated as the former slaves destroyed the plantations and only partially recovered under L'Ouverture and Dessalines. The Dominican eastern part had been less affected. Saint Dominique had been of great economic importance to France before the Revolution. And when Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of France, he wanted the colony back. The plantation owners who survived the Slave Revolt including absentee owners in France, lobbied for Napoleon to take the colony back, Napoleon mounted a large expedition reconquer Haiti and restore slavery. He placed his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, in charge of the expedition. The French landed in both the western and eastern parts of Hispaniola. It proved to be a disaster. Not only did the Haitian Army offer effective resistance, but the French were decimated by tropical diseases. The Haitian expedition was part of larger effort to reclaim lost colonies in North America. France had reclaimed the Louisiana Territory from Spain. The failure of the effort led to the Louisiana Purchase (1803), the sale by cash-strapped Napoleon of Louisiana to the United States. Haiti comprising the western part of the island declared its independence (1804). The French retained control of the eastern Dominican side of the island where the Haitians did not have a strong military presence. It was, however, the western part of the island with the sugar plantations that the French wanted. Thus Napoleon returned the eastern part to Spanish rule (1809). At the time his brother Joseph was on the Spanish throne. Spain in fact gave little attention to the return of its former colony. The major concern was the Peninsular War and driving the French out of Spain itself. The Spanish settlers attempted to restore slavery. They even organized raids into Haiti to capture and enslave blacks. As Spain showed little interest in Santo Domingo, the Spanish settlers led by José Núñez de Cáceres, proclaimed independence, what became known as the Ephemeral Independence. With Napoleons defeat, Spain was devastated and faced with the liberation movements in its former empire. Thus Santo Domingo was of little concern. The restored French monarchy, however, talked about taking back Haiti. Such a reconquest could be launched from Santo Domingo. The Haitians for their part decided to consolidate their control of the whole island and end slavery in Santo Domingo. Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer ordered the Army to invade Santo Domingo (1822). Boyer again abolished slavery and annexed Santo Domingo into the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians ruled Santo Domingo for the next two decades. Dominican historians call it 'The Haitian Occupation'. Haiti at the time was attempting to achieve international recognition. European countries and the United states did not want to recognize a black republic. As a result, the Haitians paid a 150 million franc indemnity to France, the former colonial power. This was an enormous sum for a very poor country. It was eventually reduced to 60 million francs. Haiti to help pay for the indemnity, imposed high taxes on the occupied eastern or Dominican side of the island. Without the financial ability to provision its occupation forces, the Haitian Army supported itself by seizing supplies from the population, often done at gunpoint. The Haitians implemented a land reform to redistribute land associated with the communal land tenure (terrenos comuneros) system that had developed with the ranching economy. And the Haitians natural allies, emancipated slaves, objected to being forced to grow cash crops under the Code Rural imposed by Boyer. The Haitian administration system, however, highly inefficient and often unable to enforce its laws, especially in rural areas. The Haitians were able to more effectively administer their laws in the capital city. And here the resentment toward them and opposition to Haitian rule was most acute. And it was here that the resistance movement originated. The Spanish ruling class deeply resented Haitian rule for both cultural and economic reasons. They organized a secret resistance group--La Trinitaria (late-1830s). La Trinitaria was led by Juan Pablo Duarte. They conducted guerrilla operations, attacking isolated Haitian outposts. These attacks along with internal discord among the Haitians caused the Haitians to withdraw.

Independence (1844)

With the withdrawal of the Haitians. the Dominicans reestablished control and declared independence as the República Dominicana (Dominican Republic) (1844). The Trinitaria leaders who achieved independence soon encountered domestic opposition. And after only 6 months they lost control of the new Republic.

Caudillo Rule

After the Trinitarians lost control in only 6 months, the Dominican Republic began a period in which the country was controlled by a series of caudillos (strong men). They ruled as if the entire country was one giant fiefdom. The result was several civil war leading to political instability and economic chaos. The abolition of slavery during Haitian rule remained the law of the land. There was no effort to reestablish slavery.

Annexation by Spain and the War of Restoration (1861-65)

Pedro Santana was the first of a series of the Dominican caudillos. After seizing power (1844), his policies drove the country into bankruptcy and financial collapse. Santana's answer was to seek annexation by the United states or France. When these initiatives failed, he approached Queen Isabella II of Spain and the Spanish Captain-General in Cuba. At the same tome France was attempting to establish a friendly monarchy in Mexico. The United states at the time was mired in the succession crisis and unable to give force to the Monroe Doctrine. Spanish Prime Minister Don Leopoldo O'Donnell was receptive. He was a proponent of colonial expansion. He conducted a campaign in northern Morocco that seized Tetuan. Santana officially restored the Dominican Republic as a This was the only one of the Spanish colonies that returned to Spain after obtaining independence. to Spain. Spanish troops were deployed on the island. Santana's decision was not popular. Rebels established a provisional government bin Santiago (1863). This was-the beginning of the Restoration War. Rumors swirled that Santana and the Spanish were planning to restore slavery.

Sugar Industry

Amazingly despite the fabulous wealth generated by the French colony of Saint Dominque, the Spanish settlers in Santo Domingo and then the Dominican Republic never developed a sugar industry. this did not change until the Ten Years' War in Cuba (1869-78). Displaced Cuban sugar planters fled to the nearby Dominican Republic. They were seeking new land that could be used to grow sugar cane and security. The slave insurrection in Cuba had meant the loss of both their property and slaves. Many settled in the Dominican southeastern coastal plain. There they, with aid from the Luperón government, built the Dominican Republic's first mechanized sugar mills. Others including Italians, Germans, Puerto Ricans and Americans joined them and a prosperous suhar industry developed. They married into the established Spanish families. This occurred at a time of global disruption, including the Cuban Ten Years' War, the American Civil War, and the Franco-Prussian War and the Dominicans quickly established themselves as a major sugar exporter. A major impediment was finding adequate labor, especially when prizes fell (1884), necesitating a wage freeze. The Dominicans turned to English-speaking black migrant workers from the Leeward Islands-—the Virgin Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla, and Antigua. The Doiminicans called them 'cocolos). They were often ill-treated by their employers and Dominican officals. victims of racism, but many remained in the country, finding work as stevedores and in railroad construction and sugar refineries.>

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Created: 7:25 PM 2/17/2012
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Last updated: 8:06 PM 3/1/2017