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The End of Saint-Domingue

How the Haitian Revolution Reshaped a Nation

Published onDec 06, 2022
The End of Saint-Domingue

One of the most successful slave revolts in the history of the world came with the former French colony of Saint-Domingue which would go on to become the independent state of Haiti. This Haitian Revolution led to the elimination of slavery in the French Caribbean as enslaved Africans joined forces with each other as well as abolitionists of the time to pursue freedom and political rights.These uprisings in Saint-Domingue and Martinique served as a stepping stone in the fight for black liberation with the eventual emancipation of French slaves in that area.

By the late 1780s, the stage was set for an intertwined set of struggles over the status of free people of color, the administration of the colonies, and the question of slavery itself. The Slave Revolution of 1791, an elaborate alliance of African and island-born plantation workers, forced France to declare the end of slavery throughout the empire in less than three years. Free people of color, many of whom were wealthy and content with the economic order, found the legal discrimination frustrating and hoped to challenge the racial order in the French Caribbean. On top of that, the vast majority of enslaved people lived under brutal regimes, and many were ready to rebel when they saw an opportunity.

The combined threats of racialization, colonialism, and genocide in the Caribbean at this time were surely enough to warrant a combined effort from individuals free and enslaved alike as these threats loomed over everyone, no matter their status at the time. 

The series of events in Saint-Domingue spanning from 1789 to around 1804 should not be seen as a coincidental amalgamation of individual conflicts and events, but instead part of a greater picture drawn out by freed and enslaved individuals alike with the desired outcome being equality for all in the Caribbean. From the first known accounts of a plan to perform a slave revolt to former slaves working with white abolitionists to free enslaved people in other territories, it is evident that much careful and organized planning took place in order to ensure that the Haitian Revolution was a success, not just guaranteeing political rights for a minority of individuals, but instead ensuring freedom and safety for people throughout the French Caribbean. 

Various meetings, planning, and organization preceded the slave uprisings in 1791 included the Caiman voodoo rituals, which served as the beginning of the slaves’ revolt. Here, slaves met under the guise of a religious ceremony, thus this event was not considered suspicious to their slave owners who allowed them to practice freely. Instead, the slaves met to conduct a secret meeting where they planned the revolt which sparked the eventual Haitian Revolution. This ceremony was a resistance to oppression which saw for the first time a combined effort to free multiple groups of people seeking societal change.

An early example of a white abolitionist and black former slaves working together to use their power and ability as free citizens to assist in obtaining freedom for someone else can be found in the written account of Genevieve Labothiere. Labothiere was a newly freed slave from Saint-Domingue who recalled how she was able to secure the freedom of her brother who was still enslaved in Martinique by using her newly acquired access to liberty and property to legally obtain her brother. This account is similar to many others of the time who would use their abilities to acquire slaves with the intention of freeing them immediately afterward. These ideas spread throughout the greater Caribbean, with well-intentioned strangers and families of enslaved people trying to spend their time, energy, and money, saving others from captivity by European powers. With the emergence of new rights and liberties granted to formerly oppressed people in the French Caribbean, events like these became more common as people sought to exploit the corrupt system of inequality among the greater Caribbean. This led to various groups coming together to ensure the freedom of others as the dream of emancipation became closer to a reality thanks to those who continued to fight for the freedom of others across the world.

Abolitionists at the time sought to help people of color in the French Caribbean in obtaining political rights based on the fact that they were either born free or their parents were born free, therefore, it is immoral to deny these individuals human rights on the basis that they had them to begin with, therefore they deserved the basic promise of freedom and respect granted to other citizens who were born with guaranteed rights. 

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