The Haitian Revolution, 1791 – 1804

26.03.2015 |

Episode #4 of the course “Revolutions that changed the world”

Haiti was originally a French colony called St. Domingue. It had large slave-based coffee and sugar industries, making it the most profitable colony in the Americas. However, the increased growth also meant that they were exploiting the slaves, who made up the majority of the population.

The French Revolution had an effect on Haiti, even from across the sea. The white minority in Haiti split into factions—the Royalist and the Revolutionary. Meanwhile, the mixed-race population argued for civil rights. The slaves, who likely saw the split as an opportunity, began to plan their rebellion, which was initiated on August 22, 1791. American, British, and Spanish people all intervened, making the revolution somewhat complicated. It was particularly confusing because a Frenchman convinced one of the leaders of the revolt that the French were committed to ending slavery.

The French talked one particular set of slaves into fighting on their behalf because of their promise of freedom once they won. The Americans were worried that if the slaves revolted here, they may do the same in America, so they offered limited support to the French. Refugees fled Haiti and landed on American shores, generally in Norfolk, Virginia, leading to the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

However, once other countries stopped trying to intrude, the revolution was somewhat straightforward, although violent, particularly because the slaves and mixed-race population so outnumbered the white slave owners. They even resisted the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte after he took control of France. Haiti then became the first black republic in the world and the second nation in the western hemisphere to gain its independence.


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