Indigenous Haiti is inhabited by the Taíno, who live in "well-organized communal society divided among five caciquats or “kingdoms.” [...] the Taíno population (Taíno meaning “good” or “noble”) was primarily concentrated on the island’s coastal plains and interior valleys. Each caciquat was governed by a cacique (chief)." (Schimmer)
The Taíno were an Arawak people who were the indigenous people of the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Puerto Rico. (BHM)
Estimates of the Taíno population range from several hundred thousand to over a million. However, within twenty-five years of Columbus’ arrival in Haiti, most of the Taíno die from enslavement, massacre, or disease. By 1514, only 32,000 Taíno were remaining in Hispaniola. (Schimmer)
Sources: Russell Schimmer, GSP, Yale University, Black History Month
Image: a statue of the female cacique Anacaona in modern-day Léogâne
Christopher Columbus lands on the island of Ayti, a name that Taíno inhabitants have chosen meaning "mountainous land." Columbus renames the island Española (now written as Hispaniola), meaning "Little Spain," which is now the island shared by modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Columbus builds a small fort named La Navidad and leaves 39 of his men behind to search for gold in the Americas.
The men brutalize the indigenous Taíno, pillaging their villages, seizing their women and committing acts of violence. The Taínos retaliate by killing the men and burning down the fort. When Columbus returns a year later with 17 ships and 1,200 men to enlarge the settlement, he finds only the ruins of La Navidad.
Image: Columbus landing on Hispaniola, Dec. 6, 1492; greeted by Arawak Natives. 1594. Link.
Columbus brings sugarcane with him on his second voyage to Hispaniola. Sugarcane was extremely valuable at the time: "The West Indies were colonized in a world where sugar was seen as a scarce, luxurious, and profoundly health-giving substance. Eighteenth-century doctors prescribed sugar pills for nearly everything: heart problems, headache, consumption, labor pains, insanity, old age, and blindness."
Saint-Domingue would become the world's main source of sugar after the Spanish built the infrastructure—and imported the slaves—necessary for large-scale cultivation. Processing sugar is a labor-intensive process that requires harvesting sugarcane at exactly the right time, extracting juice from the cut sugarcane, and boiling the juice for varying lengths of time depending on whether one is producing molasses, brown sugar, or white sugar. "The Spanish brought artisans from the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, to build the elaborate on-site technology needed for sugar product—presses, boilers, mills—and then brought the most essential ingredient of all: African slaves."
Spanish priorities also lay the groundwork for the global conflict centuries later: "After introducing the plants, the technology, and the slaves into Santo Domingo, the Spanish dropped the sugar business in favor of hunting for gold and silver. They moved on to Mexico and South America in search of the previous metals, leaving the island to languish for nearly two centuries, until the French began to harness its true potential."
Source: Reiss, Tom. The Black Count. Random House; 2012. Pp. 26-28.
The last major Taíno cacique is deposed during the War of Higüey. Over the next ten years, living conditions for the Taíno decline steadily. The Spaniards exploit the island’s gold resources and reduce the Taíno to slavery. (Schimmer)
Fray Bartholomew de las Casas goes to the colony to “stop the suffering of the [Taíno] Indians under Spanish exploitation.” Bartholomew, shocked by the treatment of “this most lovable and tractable people,” begins importing enslaved Africans as an alternate labor force, marking the beginning of Hispaniola's participation in the massive transatlantic slave trade.
The first recorded smallpox outbreak in Hispaniola occurred in December 1518 or January 1519. The Taíno became nearly extinct as a culture following settlement by Spanish colonists, primarily due to infectious diseases to which they had no immunity. The 1518 smallpox epidemic killed 90% of the natives who had not already perished. Warfare and harsh enslavement by the colonists had also caused many deaths. (BHM)
Enslaved Africans revolt against Spanish rule for the first time, 269 years before the Haitian Revolution begins. The rebellion is quickly and harshly suppressed. The revolt is the first of many as slaves fight Spanish and French colonial rule using various forms of resistance.
By 1548, the native Taíno population has declined to fewer than 500 people. (BHM)
Prior to 1492, the Taino called their land Ayti, meaning "mountainous land." The island was also called Quisqueya or Bohio. In 1492, Christopher Columbus, the Spanish explorer and invader, renamed the island Española, meaning "Little Spain." Española is now written as Hispaniola.
In 1697, Spain recognized France’s presence on Hispaniola and ceded the western third of the island. The French call their new territory Saint-Domingue (used interchangeably with "Saint Domingue" and "St. Domingue") and the Spanish call their territory Santo Domingo. Today, the island is shared by modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian Revolution Timeline uses common French spellings of locations to make it easier to cross-reference events to learn more. However, it is worth noting that Haitian Kreyòl spelling will differ, although places may sound the same when spoken aloud. For example, the city of Léogâne (French spelling) may also be written as Leogane, Leyogann (Kreyòl spelling), or Leyogàn (alternate Kreyòl spelling). Key figures in the Haitian Revolution may have different spellings for their names as well. Henri Christophe, for example, was an anglophile who went by Henry Christophe.
Finally, keep in mind that slavery only became associated with race when "Europeans began looking to Africa for slaves when Portugal created a new sugar empire on African coastal islands" in the 1490's. "Thousands of blacks were bought and sold to harvest sugar, and age-old negative stereotypes about them began to coalesce into a virulent new strain of racism." (Reiss, p. 27)
Names, terms, and framing of history matter. As you read the Timeline and encounter synonymous terms like "enslaved Africans" vs. "slaves" vs. "rebels," ask yourself, "what else does this term tell me about who documented this history, not just what happened?"
The first French colonialists begin to occupy western Hispaniola. The first settlers are of a “dubious nature,” composed of former pirates and buccaneers.
Image: 1723 map of Hispaniola. Link.
British and French settlers increasingly occupy the western third of Hispaniola, threatening Spain's claim on the island and its colonial empire. The three nations would battle each other up until the end of the Haitian Revolution for control of Saint-Domingue.
France sends an official representative to Hispaniola to establish its claim on the island.
French settlers begin tobacco production, thus initiating the transition to a plantation-oriented economy. The shift to plantations necessitates a much larger labor force, and the colonists begin importing more enslaved Africans to labor on the plantations.
From 1679 to 1704 there are four armed conspiracies organized by enslaved Africans. All are “aimed at the massacre and annihilation of their white masters.” The rebellions, quickly suppressed, demonstrate the slaves’ continual unrest and resistance.
"The Code Noir initially took shape in Louis XIV’s edict of 1685. Although subsequent decrees modified a few of the code’s provisions, this first document established the main lines for the policing of slavery right up to 1789. The very first article expels all Jews from the colonies; Jews played a significant but hardly dominant role in the Dutch colonies of the Caribbean region but were not allowed to own property or slaves in the French colonies. The edict also insisted that all slaves be instructed as Catholics and not as Protestants. For the most part, the code concentrated on defining the condition of slavery (passing the condition through the mother not the father) and establishing harsh controls over the conduct of those enslaved. Slaves had virtually no rights, though the code did enjoin masters to take care of the sick and old."
Source: The Code Noir, https://revolution.chnm.org/d/335/, a collaboration of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University) and American Social History Project (City University of New York).
The Code created detailed instructions about the abuse and punishment of slaves. Interesting, it also created legal precedents that could be challenged in court, even if the chance for justice or redress remained mainly theoretical. The Code "elaborated, point by point, the many ways in which black Africans could be exploited by their white masters. The Code sanctioned the harshest punishments ... But the very existence of a written legal code—a novelty of the French colonial empire—opened the way for unexpected developments. If there were laws governing slavery, then slave owners, at least in some instances, could be found in violation of them." (Reiss, pp. 29-30).
One such loophole applied to the children of slave owners and slaves. Article 9 of the Code states that free men who have children with slaves will be fined two thousands pounds of sugar and that the slaves (including the children) will be confiscated, "without the possibility of being freed." However, it continues: "The present article does not apply, however, if the owner ... undertakes to marry his slave under the laws of the Church; in this case, the slave shall thereby be freed, and the slave's children rendered free and legitimate." (Reiss, 39). Freeing a slave, even through marriage, still required paying large manumission taxes (Reiss, 40).
Article 9 was create partly due to concerns over a libertine atmosphere on the island. "But the effects of this legitimization—and of the resulting class of free men and women of color it produced—were immense and unpredictable. It was not the creation of a free mixed-race class that made the situation unique, for such a class did exist in the Thirteen Colonies, though it was much smaller. It was the social mobility and rapidly increasing wealth of this group ... these people of color gained a remarkable set of rights: to receive fair treatment under the law, to petition the government, to inherit property and pass it down. The gains were especially stunning among the free women of color: they owned shops, businesses, and plantations; they went to the opera, dressed in Creole versions of the latest Paris fashions. [...] In the 1730s, there were many free women of color with significant savings and land; a generation later, free women of color on the island were, on average, more financially independent than white women." (Reiss, 38-39).
Indigo plantations are introduced to Saint-Domingue. Colonists quickly find that indigo is extremely lucrative, and begin large-scale production. The need for plantation labor is once more accelerated and enslaved Africans are imported in increasing numbers.
Spain recognizes France’s presence on Hispaniola in the Treaty of Ryswick and cedes the western third of the island. The French call their new territory Saint-Domingue and the Spanish call their territory Santo Domingo. Saint-Domingue, known as the “Pearl of the Antilles,” becomes France’s most lucrative colony, holding world production records for sugar and coffee by the end of the 18th century.
Large-scale, labor-intensive sugar production begins, creating a pressing need for a larger labor force. Saint-Domingue begins importing 2,000 enslaved Africans a year to meet the colonists’ needs.
Image: “African Slave Trafic,” 19th century. [William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade (Columbus, Ohio, 1857), p. 112]. Link.
In France, the case of a slave named Jean Boucaux who petitions for his freedom "would be a linchpin for defining blacks' rights in France" as French abolutionists push to "prove, once and for all, that slavery was illegal, immoral, and worst of all, anti-French" following the Enlightenment era in which the previous king, Louis XIV, declared slaves who escaped Martinique to France to be free. Apparently, slavery was allowed in French colonies but not on the mainland, with the slaves' "liberty being acquired ... as soon as they touch the Soil." (Reiss, p. 62, p. 64).
In contrast, King Louis XV seeks to make a point of Boucaux. In response to Boucaux's petition, King Louis' new edict is intended to "address the problem of 'the greater part of the negroes [contracting] a spirit of independent [in France] which may have troublesome results.'" [...] Owners [who] failed to register their slaves or kept them in France longer than allowed or for an unauthorized purpose, the result would [be] ... he or she would be 'confiscated for the profit of the King' and returned to the sugar colonies. The new law even prohibited owners from voluntarily freeing slaves on French soil (except in their last will and testament." (Reiss, p. 65; emphasis in original)
Moving forward, "The French rule that 'whoever sets foot in this kingdom is free' was true for 'any slave other than a negro slave.' [...] To apply the freedom principle to blacks he [the attorney prosecuting the Boucaux case] argued, would bring on a mass slave revolt in France's colonies." The "freedom suits" brought by slaves seeking emancipation dried up. (Reiss, p. 65)
Copyright © 2022 The Haitian Revolution Timeline - All Rights Reserved.