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 dieing in large numbers. Before the debate in Madrid was finalized, the Tainos were decimated by European diseases. Population estimates vary, but the Taino population plumeted 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 thrir 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 settlkers did not found an important sugar industry. Rather livestock bcame very important in Santi Domingo and this did not require a large slave work force. It was theFrench on the western third of the island that founded an extensive sugar industry. Large numbers of slaves were imported to work the plantations. Great fortuners were mase, 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.

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 dieing in large numbers. Before the debate in Madrid was finalized, the Tainos were decimated by European diseases. Population estimates vary, but the Taino population plumeted 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 thrir 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 Spaiards remained, perhaps a few thousand. And many of those were the children of Spanish fathers anbd Taino mothers. The principal economic activity became livestock. Columbus had introduced cattle and pigs to the island. Many had escaped and ran whild 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 vlue 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 profitble, but brutal sugar plasntation economy (1789). Whites on the island were at first split concerning the Revolution. Thus changed as the National Assembly began to address the subjet of slavery. The French National Assemby approved modest legislation concerning free people of color, mostly affecting mulasttos. They granted French citizenship to well-to-do free prople of color (May 1791). The white settlers not only refused to comply with the Assembly's decesion, but were outraged at the very idea and ran riot. The whites lynched mullatoes 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, occuring mostly at isolated plantations in the north. A Voodoo houngan named Boukman launched the ininital slave rebellion (1791). The French were at first able to maintain control, but the devision between the whites and the mulatoes significantly weakened the French position on the island. The uprising was eventually taken over by a French black and forner 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. Durin 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 thge entire island of Hispaniola and seized contol 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 devestated 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 Diminique 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, loibied for Napoleon to take the colony back, Napoleon mounted a large expedition reconquer Haiti and reinstitute 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 tge Haitian Army offer effective resistance, but the French were decimated by tropical diseases. The Haitian expedition was part of aarger effort to reclaim lost colonies in North America. France had reclaimed the Louisana Territory from Spain. The failure of the effort led to the Loousian Purchase (1803), the sale by cash-strapped Napoleon of Louisana to the United States. Haiti comprising the western part of the island declared its indepoendence (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, howver, 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 thec return of its former colony. The major concern was the Peninsdular War and driving the French out of Spain itself. The Spanish settlers attempted to restablish 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 devestated and faced with the liberation movements in its former empire. Thus Santo Domingo was of little concern. The restored French monrchy, however, talked about taking back Haiti. Such aeconquest 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 prdered 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 vthge ctime ws attempting bto achieve international recognition. European countries and tge United states did not want to recognize a black republic. as aesulted, the Haitians paid a 150 million franc enbdemity to France, the foirmer 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 thge indemnity, imposed high taxes on the occupied eastern or Dominican side of the island. Without thecfinancial ability to provision its occupation foirces, the Haitian Army supported itself by seizing supplies from the population, often done at gunpoint. The Hatians implemented a land reform to redistribute land asociated with the communal land tenure (terrenos comuneros) system that had develoed 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 adminidster their laws in the capital city. And here the resentment toward them and opposituin to Hsitain rule was most acute. And it was here that the resistance movemen 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 guerilla operations, attacking isolated Haitian outposrs. These attacks along with internal discord among the Haitians caused the Haitians to withdraw.

Independence (1844)

With the withdrawl of the Haitians. the Dominicans restablished control and declared indeopendence as the República Dominicana (Dominican Republic) (1844). The Trinitaria leaders who achieved indepoendence soon encountered domestic oppodition. 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 aeriod 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 cabolition od slavery during Haitian rule remained the law of the land. There was no effort to restablish 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 bankruptsy and financial collapse. Santana's answer was to seek annexation by the United states or France. When these initatives failed, he approched Queen Isabella II of Spain and the Spanish Captain-General in Cuba. At the same tome France was attempting to establish a friendly monsrchy in Mexico. The United states at the time was mired in the seccessuon crisis and unable to givec force to the Monroe Dictrine. Spanish Prime Minister Don Leopoldo O'Donnell was receptive. He was aroponent 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. Sanyana's decesion was not popular. Rebels established arovisional government bin Santiago (1863). This wasthe beginning of the Restoration War. Runors swirled that Santan and the Spanish were planning to reistiture slavery.

Sugar Industry

Amazingly despite the fabulous wealth generated by thecFrench colony of Saint Dominque, the Spanish settkers in Santo Domingo and then the cDominican Republic never developed a sugar industyry. this did not change until the Ten Years' War in Cuba (1869-78). Displaced Cuban sugar planters fled to the nearby Dominican Republic. Thgey 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 arosperous suhar industry developed. They married into the established Spanish families. This occured 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 establisged 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.

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Created: 7:25 PM 2/17/2012
Last updated: 7:25 PM 2/17/2012