Haitian History: French Colony--Saint Domingo (1697-1791)


Figure 1.--This illustration was entitled "The Linen Market at St. Domingo". It shows free "colored" women and men with slaves in background. This was based on a painting by Agostino Brunias (Brunyas / Brunais). Many questions flow from the painting. We do know who the ladt buying the linnen is. Was she a freed slave or mulatto? Perhaps she was a household slave buting fabric for her mistress. Also interesting is the seller. She looks white, but notice she was barefoot which suggests market women were from the lower white class. Notice the children at the right. The boy is presumably the seller's son. Notice that he is well dressed. The child with him is probably a slave girl assigned to look after him. Notice that none of the foreground subjects wear hats, but hats can be seen in the background. This engraved print of Brunias's painting was published by John P. Thompson (London), October 6, 1804.

French adventurers landed on the island of La Tortue (Tortuga Island) off the northwestern arm of Hispaniola. The French subsequently began exploring and settling on the mainland and succeeded in largely displacing the Spanish from western Hispaniola. A series of military engagements followed. As a result by the late 17th century, the French had defacto control of western Hispaniola. This and one of Louis XIV's wars in Europe eventually persuaded the Spanish to cede western Hispaniola to the French under the Treaty of Ryswick (1697). The French named their new colony Saint Domingue. And they began transforming the colony into a vast sugar plantation. The French began importing large numbers of African slaves to work the plabtations under the most apauling conditions. The destruction of the Taino and importation of Africans changed the demographics of St Domingue. African slavery was an important economic institition by the 18th century, especially important for the Caribbean sugar islands which were a major element in Western European economies. Saint Domingue in the 18th century became the richest colony in the America. The capital, Cap Français, becomes known as the Paris of the New World. It becomes as slave colony sedicated to the production of sugar--a commodity of unprecedented value. The French operated Saint Domingue with unprecedented cruelty even in an age in which slavery played an important role. The 0.5 million slaves were ruled by terror into submission. Floggings were common place. Slaves were punished for minor offences with starvation or even being buried alive.

Santo Domingo

Santo Domingo comprising all of the island of Hispaniola was the first Spanish colony in the Americas after it was discovered by Columbus (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. This was the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade. The first captive Africans were sold as slaves in Santo Domingo (1520). 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. It was in the west that this changed. The French began settling Tortuga and the northwestern coast.

Tortuga

The small island of La Tortue (Tortuga Island) off the northwestern arm of Hispaniola, Cap Haitien gradually developed apart from the control of the European colonial powers (mid-16th century). It attracted smugglers, run-away indentured servants, and European sailers that had jumped ship. At first they operated within the law, capturing livestock on Hispaniola to sell for leather and mear. Graually they became more adventuresome and rather tghan trading with European ships, especially thge Soanish, they began seizing them. Tortuga thus became an infanous pirtate den. Quite a few of the men were French who were more willing to attack Spanish ships. The Spanish treasure ships offer rich booty. Many notorious pirates, such as Henry Morgan, operated from Tortuga or recruited crews thgere. including the famous British pirate Henry Morgan.

Western Hispaniola

The success of Spain in the New World attracted the notice of the other European powers. France not only colonized North America (Canada), but wanbted Caribbean colonies as well. The French dispatched colonists to settle Tortuga and the northwestern coast of Hispaniola. The Spanish with only a small population on Hispaniola, decided to abandon the troublesome west. The King issued a royal mandate (1603). Governor Osorio ordered Spanish subjects to move to a line south and east of what is now San Juan de Maguana). This left it to the French to 'domesticate' the pirates. Recalitrant pirates were hanged. Tobthose willingv to change their ways, the French offered enducements. Women in French jails, mostly accused of prositution or thief, were deported to the island. As a result the western third of Hispaniola became a defacto French colony. The French subsequently began exploring and settling on the mainland and succeeded in largely displacing the Spanish from western Hispaniola. The small Spanish population on the island was not in a position to effectively resist the French intrussion. A series of military engagements followed. As a result by the late 17th century, the French had defacto control of western Hispaniola. The minor importance of the island meant that Spain was not willing to fight a long costly war over it.

Treaty of Ryswick (1697)

Defacto French control and one of Louis XIV's wars in Europe eventually persuaded the Spanish to cede western Hispaniola to the French under the Treaty of Ryswick (1697).

Saint Dominique (1697-1791)

The French named their new colony Saint Domingue anbd in colonial terms was a huge success in sharp contrast to its development under Spanish control. Fabulous wealth was generated in the colony. The wealth was derived primarily from cane sugar. The French began transforming the colony into a vast sugar plantation. The French began importing large numbers of African slaves to work the plantations under the most apauling conditions. Some of the plabtations were huge, employing vthousands of slaves. The destruction of the Taino and importation of Africans changed the demographics of St Domingue. African slavery was an important economic institition by the 18th century, especially important for the Caribbean sugar islands which were a major element in Western European economies. Saint Domingue in the 18th century became the richest colony in the America. The capital, Cap Français, becomes known as the Paris of the New World. It becomes as slave colony dedicated to the production of sugar--a commodity of unprecedented value. Sugar is the reason why Saint-Domingue was the most intensely cultivated spot and the wealthiest colony in the world at the time. Its exports were more valuable to France than all of the 13 original American colonies were to Great Britain. The French at the time of the Revolution had 288 sugar plantations in Santo Dominique's (Haiti’s) Northern Province, 314 sugar plantations in the Western Province, and 191 in the Southern Province. [Léger] Saint-Domingue was the largest producer of sugar in the world. The French operated Saint Domingue with unprecedented cruelty even in an age in which slavery played an important role. The 0.5 million slaves were ruled by terror into submission. Floggings were common place. Slaves were punished for minor offences with starvation or even being buried alive.

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.

Sources

Léger, Jacques Nicolas. Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors.







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Created: 12:26 AM 3/24/2010
Last updated: 7:06 PM 2/21/2014