French, Haitian Creole
Absolute monarchy (until 1792)
Head of state of the French Republic
First French settlement
January 1, 1804
21,550 km2 (8,320 sq mi)
Captaincy General of Santo Domingo
First Empire of Haiti
Today part of
Part of a series on the
History of Haiti
Siege of Santo Domingo
2004 coup d'état
Saint-Domingue (French pronunciation: [sɛ̃.dɔ.mɛ̃ɡ]) was
a French colony on the
Caribbean island of
Hispaniola from 1659 to
1804. The French had established themselves on the western portion of
the islands of
Hispaniola and Tortuga by 1659. In the Treaty of
Ryswick of 1697, Spain formally recognized French control of Tortuga
Island and the western third of the island of Hispaniola.
In 1791, the slaves and some free people of color of Saint-Domingue
began waging a rebellion against French authority. The rebels became
reconciled to French rule following the abolition of slavery in the
colony in 1793, although this alienated the island's dominant
slave-holding class. France controlled the entirety of
1795 to 1802, when a renewed rebellion began. The last French troops
withdrew from the western portion of the island in late 1803, and the
colony later declared its independence as Haiti, its indigenous name,
the following year.
3 Profitable colony
4 End of colonial rule
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Spain controlled the entire island of
Hispaniola from the 1490s until
the 17th century, when French pirates began establishing bases on the
western side of the island. The official name was La Española,
meaning "The Spanish (Island)". It was also called
Santo Domingo or
San Domingo, after Saint Dominic.
The western part of
Hispaniola was neglected by the Spanish
authorities, and French buccaneers began to settle first on the
Tortuga Island, then on the northwest of the island: they called it le
Grande Terre. Spain later ceded the entire western coast of the island
to France, retaining the rest of the island, including the Guava
Valley, today known as the Central Plateau.
The French called their portion of
Hispaniola Saint-Domingue, the
French equivalent of Santo Domingo. The Spanish colony on Hispaniola
remained separate, and eventually became the Dominican Republic, the
capital of which is still named Santo Domingo.
French map of
Saint-Domingue French colony in Hispanola island, by
Nicolas de Fer
Christopher Columbus took possession of the island in 1492, he
named it Insula Hispana, meaning "the Spanish island" in Latin As
Spain conquered new regions on the mainland of the Americas (Spanish
Main), its interest in
Hispaniola waned, and the colony's population
grew slowly. By the early 17th century, the island and its smaller
neighbors, notably Tortuga, became regular stopping points for
Caribbean pirates. In 1606, the king of Spain ordered all inhabitants
Hispaniola to move close to Santo Domingo, to avoid interaction
with pirates. Rather than secure the island, however, this resulted in
French, English and Dutch pirates establishing bases on the
now-abandoned north and west coasts of the island.
French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in
1625 before going to Grande Terre (mainland). At first they survived
by pirating Spanish ships, eating wild cattle and hogs, and selling
hides to traders of all nations. Although the Spanish destroyed the
buccaneers' settlements several times, on each occasion they returned
due to an abundance of natural resources: hardwood trees, wild hogs
and cattle, and fresh water. The settlement on Tortuga was officially
established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV.
In 1665, French colonization of the islands
Hispaniola and Tortuga
entailed slavery-based plantation agricultural activity such as
growing coffee and cattle farming. It was officially recognized by
King Louis XIV. Spain tacitly recognized the French presence in
the western third of the island in the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick; the
Spanish deliberately omitted direct reference to the island from the
treaty, but they were never able to reclaim this territory from the
The economy of
Saint-Domingue became focused on slave-based
agricultural plantations. Saint-Domingue's black population quickly
increased. They followed the example of neighboring
in coercive treatment of the slaves. More cattle, and slave
agricultural holdings, coffee plantations and spice plantations were
implemented, as well as fishing, cultivation of cocoa, coconuts and
Saint-Domingue quickly came to overshadow the previous colony
in both wealth and population. Nicknamed the "Pearl of the Antilles,"
Saint-Domingue became the richest and most prosperous French colony in
the West Indies, cementing its status as an important port in the
Americas for goods and products flowing to and from France and Europe.
Thus, the income and the taxes from slave-based sugar production
became a major source of the French budget.
Among the first buccaneers was Bertrand D'Ogeron, who played a big
part in the settlement of Saint-Domingue. He encouraged the planting
of tobacco, which turned a population of buccaneers and freebooters,
who had not acquiesced to royal authority until 1660, into a sedentary
population. D'Orgeron also attracted many colonists from Martinique
and Guadeloupe, including Jean Roy, Jean Hebert and his family, and
Guillaume Barre and his family, who were driven out by the land
pressure which was generated by the extension of the sugar plantations
in those colonies. But in 1670, shortly after Cap-Français (later
Cap-Haïtien) had been established, the crisis of tobacco intervened
and a great number of places were abandoned. The rows of freebooting
grew bigger; plundering raids, like those of Vera Cruz in 1683 or of
Campêche in 1686, became increasingly numerous, and Jean-Baptiste
Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay, elder son of Jean Baptist Colbert and
at the time Minister of the Navy, brought back some order by taking a
great number of measures, including the creation of plantations of
indigo and of cane sugar. The first sugar windmill was built in 1685.
On 22 July 1795, Spain ceded to France the remaining Spanish part of
the island of Hispaniola,
Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic),
in the second Treaty of Basel, ending the War of the Pyrenees. The
people of the eastern part of
Saint-Domingue (French Santo Domingo)
were opposed to the arrangements and hostile toward the French. The
islanders revolted against their new masters and a state of anarchy
ensued, leading to more French troops being brought in.
An early death among Europeans was very common due to diseases and
conflicts; the French soldiers that Napoleon sent in 1802 to quell the
Saint-Domingue were attacked by
Yellow fever during the
Haitian Revolution, and more than half of the French army died of
Prior to the
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the economy of
Saint-Domingue gradually expanded, with sugar and, later, coffee
becoming important export crops. After the war, which disrupted
maritime commerce, the colony underwent rapid expansion. In 1767, it
exported 72 million pounds of raw sugar and 51 million
pounds of refined sugar, one million pounds of indigo, and two million
pounds of cotton.
Saint-Domingue became known as the "Pearl of the
Antilles" — one of the richest colonies in the world in the
18th-century French empire. It was the greatest jewel in imperial
France’s mercantile crown. By the 1780s,
about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee
consumed in Europe. This single colony, roughly the size of
Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of the British West
Indies colonies combined, generating enormous revenue for the French
government and enhancing its power.
The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000
African slaves, accounting in 1783–1791 for a third of the entire
Atlantic slave trade. Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual
importation of slaves varied between 10,000 and 15,000; by 1786 it was
about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than
40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers
without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population in
1789 totalled to 500,000, ruled over by a white population that
numbered only 32,000. At all times, a majority of slaves in the
colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery and
tropical diseases such as yellow fever prevented the population from
experiencing growth through natural increase . African culture thus
remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule. The folk
religion of Vodou commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the
beliefs and practices of the Vodun religion of Guinea, Congo and
Dahomey. Slave traders scoured the Atlantic coast of Africa, and
the slaves who arrived came from hundreds of different tribes, their
languages often mutually incomprehensible.
To regularize slavery, in 1685
Louis XIV had enacted the code noir,
which accorded certain human rights to slaves and responsibilities to
the master, who was obliged to feed, clothe and provide for the
general well-being of his slaves. The code noir sanctioned corporal
punishment but had provisions intended to regulate the administration
of punishments. In the event, such protections were often ignored by
white colonists. A passage from Henri Christophe's personal secretary,
who lived more than half his life as a slave, describes the crimes
committed against the slaves of
Saint-Domingue by the French
"Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks,
crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars?
Have they not forced them to consume faeces? And, having flayed them
with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms,
or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured
by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of
cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded
with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have
they not consigned these miserable blacks to man eating-dogs until the
latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished
off with bayonet and poniard?"
Thousands of slaves found freedom by fleeing into the mountains,
forming communities of maroons and raiding isolated plantations. The
most famous was Mackandal, a one-armed slave, originally from Guinea
(region), who escaped in 1751. A Vodou
Houngan (priest), he united
many of the different maroon bands. For the next six years, he staged
successful raids while evading capture by the French. He and his
followers reputedly killed more than 6,000 people. He preached a
radical vision of destroying white colonization in Saint-Domingue. In
1758, after a failed plot to poison the drinking water of the
planters, he was captured and burned alive at the public square in
Saint-Domingue had the largest and wealthiest free population of color
in the Caribbean; they were known as the gens de couleur. The royal
census of 1789 counted roughly 25,000 such persons. While many free
population of color were former slaves, most members of this class
were mulattoes, of mixed French/European and African ancestry.
Typically, they were the descendants of the enslaved women and French
colonists. As in New Orleans, a system of plaçage developed, in which
white men had a kind of common-law marriage with slave or free
mistresses, and provided for them with a dowry, sometimes freedom, and
often education or apprenticeships for their mixed-race children. Some
such descendants of planters inherited considerable property. As their
numbers grew, they were made subject to discriminatory colonial
legislation. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain
professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying
swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where
whites were present.
The regulations did not restrict their purchase of land, and many
accumulated substantial holdings and became slaveowners. By 1789, they
owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the
slaves of Saint-Domingue. Central to the rise of the gens de
couleur planter class was the growing importance of coffee, which
thrived on the marginal hillside plots to which they were often
relegated. The largest concentration of gens de couleur was in the
southern peninsula. This was the last region of the colony to be
settled, owing to its distance from Atlantic shipping lanes and its
formidable terrain, with the highest mountain range in the Caribbean.
In the parish of Jérémie, the free population of color formed the
majority of the population. Many lived in
Port-au-Prince as well,
which became an economic center in the South of the island.
End of colonial rule
Main article: Haitian Revolution
In 1758 white homeowners on
Hispaniola began to restrict rights and
create laws to exclude mulattoes and blacks, establishing a rigid
class system. There were ten black people for every white one. In
France, the majority of the Estates General, an advisory body to the
King, constituted itself as the National Assembly, made radical
changes in French laws, and on 26 August 1789, published the
Declaration of the Rights of Man, declaring all men free and equal.
French Revolution shaped the course of the conflict in
Saint-Domingue and was at first widely welcomed on the island. At
first, wealthy whites saw it as an opportunity to gain independence
from France. The elite planters intended to take control of the island
and create trade regulations to further their own wealth and
Between 1791 and 1804, the leaders François Dominique
Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the revolution
against the slave system established on the island; slavery in
Saint-Domingue, along with other
Caribbean colonies from the French
colonial empire, were the third largest source of income to France.
They were inspired by the houngans, sorcerers or priests of Haitian
Dutty Boukman and François Mackandal.
Léger-Félicité Sonthonax from September 1792 to 1795 was the de
facto ruler of Saint-Domingue. He was a French Girondist and
abolitionist during the
French Revolution who controlled 7,000 French
Saint-Domingue during part of the Haitian Revolution.
His official title was Civil Commissioner. Within a year of his
appointment, his powers were considerably expanded by the Committee of
Public Safety. Sonthonax believed that Saint-Domingue's whites, most
of whom were of Spanish descent, were royalist or separatist
conservatives attached to independence or Spain as a way to preserve
the slave plantations. He attacked the military power of the white
settlers, and by doing so, he alienated the colonists from the French
government. Many gens de couleur, mixed-race residents of the colony,
asserted that they could form the military backbone of Saint-Domingue
if they were given rights, but Sonthonax rejected this view as
outdated in the wake of the August 1791 slave uprising. He believed
Saint-Domingue would need ex-slave soldiers among the ranks of
the colonial army if it was to survive. Although he did not originally
intend to free the slaves, by October 1793 he ended slavery in order
to maintain his own power.
In 1799, the black military leader
Toussaint L'Ouverture brought under
French rule a law which abolished slavery, and embarked on a program
of modernization. He had become master of the whole island.
In November 1799, during the continuing war in Saint-Domingue,
Napoleon Bonaparte gained power in France. He passed a new
constitution declaring that the colonies would be subject to special
laws. Although the colonies suspected this meant the
re-introduction of slavery, Napoleon began by confirming Toussaint's
position and promising to maintain the abolition. He forbade
Toussaint to control the formerly Spanish settlement on the east side
of Hispaniola, as that would have given the slave leader a more
powerful defensive position. In January 1801, Toussaint and
Hyacinthe Moïse invaded the Spanish settlements, taking possession
from the Governor, Don Garcia, with few difficulties.
Toussaint promulgated the Constitution of 1801 on 7 July, officially
establishing his authority as governor general "for life" over the
entire island of
Hispaniola and confirming most of his existing
policies. Article 3 of the constitution states: "There cannot exist
slaves [in Saint-Domingue], servitude is therein forever abolished.
All men are born, live and die free and French."
During this time, Bonaparte met with refugee planters; they urged the
restoration of slavery in Saint-Domingue, saying it was integral to
the colony's profits. He sent an expedition of more than 20,000 men to
Saint-Domingue in 1802 to restore French authority.
The French Civil Code of Napoleon affirmed the political and legal
equality of all adult men; it established a merit-based society in
which individuals advanced in education and employment because of
talent rather than birth or social standing. The Civil Code confirmed
many of the moderate revolutionary policies of the National Assembly
but retracted measures passed by the more radical Convention. The code
restored patriarchal authority in the family, for example, by making
women and children subservient to male heads of households or
excluding slaves. The situation of slaves and people of mixed race was
Haitian Revolution culminated in the elimination of slavery in
Saint-Domingue and the founding of the Haitian republic. France was
weakened by a British naval blockade, and by the unwillingness of
Napoleon to send massive reinforcements. Having sold the Louisiana
Territory to the United States in April 1803, Napoleon began to lose
interest in his failing ventures in the Western Hemisphere.
A minority of state officials and civil servants were exempt from
manual labor, including some freed colored Haitians. Many slaves had
to work hard to survive, and they became increasingly motivated by
their hunger. Consisting mostly of slaves, the population was
uneducated and largely unskilled. They had lived under authoritarian
control as rural laborers. White residents felt the sting most
sharply. While Toussaint, a former privileged slave of a tolerant
white master, had felt a certain magnanimity toward whites,
Dessalines, a former field slave, despised them. A firm hand was used
in resistance to slavery.
Napoleon's troops, under the command of his brother-in-law, General
Charles Emmanuel Leclerc, planned to seize control of the island by
diplomatic means. They proclaimed peaceful intentions, and kept secret
his orders to deport all black officers. Meanwhile, Toussaint was
preparing for defense and insuring discipline. This may have
contributed to a rebellion against forced labor led by his nephew and
top general, Moïse, in October 1801. It was violently repressed, with
the result that when the French ships arrived, not all of
Saint-Domingue was automatically on Toussaint's side.
For a few months, the island was quiet under Napoleonic rule. But when
it became apparent that the French intended to re-establish slavery,
because they had done so on Guadeloupe, Dessalines and Pétion
switched sides again, in October 1802, and fought against the French.
In late January 1802, while Leclerc sought permission to land at
Cap-Français and Christophe held him off, the Vicomte de Rochambeau
suddenly attacked Fort-Liberté, effectively quashing the diplomatic
option. In November Leclerc died of yellow fever, like much of his
His successor, the Vicomte de Rochambeau, fought a brutal campaign.
His atrocities helped rally many former French loyalists to the rebel
cause. Like other black slaves captured by the French army, Mackandal
was burned alive at the stake. The people of Saint-Domingue, mostly
black, were hostile toward abuse by the French. The slave population
had severe food shortages and brutal forced rural labor. The islanders
revolted against their new masters and a state of anarchy ensued,
bringing more French troops. The people began a series of attacks on
the owners of sugar and coffee plantations. French soldiers from
Napoleon were sent in 1802 to quell the revolt in Saint-Domingue. They
suffered from seasonal epidemics of
Yellow fever and more than half of
the French army died of disease. The British naval blockade to
Dessalines led the rebellion until its completion, when the French
forces were finally defeated in 1803. Whites were slaughtered and
massacred wholesale under the rule of Dessalines. The brutality toward
whites shocked foreign governments.
The last battle of the Haitian Revolution, the Battle of Vertières,
occurred on 18 November 1803, near Cap-Haïtien. When the French
withdrew, they had only 7,000 troops left to ship to France.
Haiti did not try to support, or aid other slave rebellions because
they feared that the great powers would take renewed action against
them, as happened a few years later with Spain.[original research?]
After the defeat of the French army, wealthy white owners saw the
opportunity to preserve their political power and plantations. They
attacked the town halls that had representatives of the defeated
French authority. Elite planters took control of the former Spanish
side of the island, asking Spain for a Spanish government and
protection by the Spanish army. Later these planters created trade
regulations that would further preserve their own wealth and
power. Most whites that were left in
were killed in a brutal genocide.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, American and British authors
often referred to
Saint-Domingue period as "Santo Domingo" or "San
Domingo.":2 This led to confusion with the earlier Spanish colony,
and later the contemporary Spanish colony established at Santo Domingo
during the colonial period; in particular, in political debates on
slavery previous to the American Civil War, "San Domingo" was used to
express fears of Southern whites of a slave rebellion breaking out in
their own region. Today, the former Spanish possession contemporary
with the early period of the French colony corresponds mostly with the
Dominican Republic, whose capital is Santo Domingo. The name of
Saint-Domingue was changed to Hayti (Haïti) when Jean-Jacques
Dessalines declared the independence from the French in 1804. Like
Saint-Domingue may be used to refer to all of
Hispaniola, or the western part in the French colonial period, while
the Spanish version
Santo Domingo is often used to refer
to the Spanish colonial period or the Dominican nation.
Kingdom of France
Kingdom of France portal
List of colonial governors of Saint-Domingue
History of Haiti
French colonization of the Americas
Colony of Santo Domingo
Hispaniola Article". Britannica.com. Retrieved 4 January
Republic 2014". Retrieved 24 April 2014.
^ a b c "Dominican
Republic – The first colony". Country Studies.
Library of Congress; Federal Research Division. Retrieved 19 June
^ "Quam protinus Hispanam dixi": EPISTOLA DE INSULIS NUPER REPERTIS
(Letter to Lord Raphael Sanchez, March 14, 1493).
^ Emilio Rodríguez Demorizi, "Acerca del Tratado de Ryswick," Clío:
Órgano de la Academia Dominicana de la Historia 22:100 (Jul–Sep
1954), pp. 127–132.
^ Von Grafenstein, Johanna (2005).
Latin America and the Atlantic
World (in English and Spanish). Cologne: Böhlau Verlag GmbH &
Cie. p. 352. ISBN 3-412-26705-8. Retrieved 22 August
^ a b Chartrand, René (1996). Napoleon’s Overseas Army (3rd ed.).
Hong Kong: Reed International Books Ltd. ISBN 085045-900-1.
Retrieved 22 August 2014.
^ White, Ashli (2010). Encountering Revolution:
Haiti and the Making
of the Early Republic. Baltimore, Maryland, U. S. A.: The
Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 63.
^ Bollet, A.J. (2004). Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History
on Epidemic Disease. Demos Medical Publishing. pp. 48–49.
^ a b James, C. L. R. (1963) .
The Black Jacobins
The Black Jacobins (2nd ed.). New
York: Vintage Books. pp. 45, 55. OCLC 362702.
^ Vodou is a Dahomean word meaning 'god' or 'spirit'.
^ Heinl, Robert Debs; Heinl, Michael; Heinl, Nancy Gordon (2005)
. Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492–1995
(2nd ed.). Lanham, Md; London: Univ. Press of America.
ISBN 0-7618-3177-0. OCLC 255618073.
^ a b "
Slavery and the Haitian Revolution". Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution. George Mason University
and American Social History Productions, Inc. 2001. Retrieved 14
February 2010. chapter= ignored (help)
^ Thomas E. Weil, Jan Knippers Black, Howard I. Blustein, Kathryn T.
Johnston, David S. McMorris, Frederick P. Munson, Haiti: A Country
Study. (Washington, D.C.: The American University Foreign Area
Handbook Series 1985).
^ Stein, Robert (1985). Leger Felicite Sonthonax: The Lost Sentinel of
the Republic. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press.
^ Rogozinski, Jan (1999). A Brief History of the
ed.). New York: Facts on File, Inc. pp. 167–168.
^ Bell, pp.189–191
^ Bell, p.180
^ Bell, p. 184
^ Bell, p.186
^ Ogé, Jean-Louis. Toussaint Louverture et l'Indépendence d'Haïti.
Brossard: L’Éditeur de Vos Rêves, 2002, p.140
^ Bell, pp.217–222, 223
^ James, pp.292–294, Bell, pp.223–224
^ Bell, pp.206–209, 226–229, 250
^ Bell, pp.232–234
^ a b "The Slave Rebellion of 1791". Retrieved 27 November 2006.
^ Bollet, AJ (2004). Plagues and Poxes: The Impact of Human History on
Epidemic Disease. Demos Medical Publishing. pp. 48–9.
^ A Brief History of Dessalines from 1825 Missionary Journal Archived
28 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine.
Butel, Paul (2002). Histoire des
Antilles françaises: XVIIe-XXe
siècle. Collection "Pour l'histoire" (in French). Paris: Perrin.
ISBN 2-262-01540-6. OCLC 301674023.
Nezat, Jack Claude (2007). The Nezat and Allied Families 1630–2007.
United States?: J.C. Nezat. ISBN 978-2-9528339-2-9.
Garrigus, John (2002). Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in
Saint-Domingue. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan. ISBN 0-230-10837-7.
Joseph, Celucien L. Race, Religion, and The Haitian Revolution: Essays
on Faith, Freedom, and Decolonization (CreateSpace Independent
Publishing Platform, 2012)
Joseph, Celucien L. From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and
Religion in Haitian Thought (CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Jacques Savary des Brûlons
Jacques Savary des Brûlons (1748). "Saint Domingue". Dictionnaire
universel de commerce (in French) (New ed.). Paris: Estienne et
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
The Louverture Project:
Saint-Domingue page on
Haitian history Wiki.
The Louverture Project:
Slavery in Saint-Domingue
Captaincy General of Santo Domingo
Colonial governors (Santo Domingo)
Atlantic slave trade
Treaty of Ryswick
Colonial governors (Saint-Domingue)
Unification of Hispaniola
2004 coup d'état
Water and sanitation
French overseas empire
Former French colonies in Africa and the Indian Ocean
French North Africa
French West Africa
French Equatorial Africa
French Somaliland (Djibouti)
Isle de France
Former French colonies in the Americas
Haïti, Dominican Republic
Saint Kitts & Nevis
French colonization of the Americas
French West India Company
Former French colonies in Asia and Oceania
French Mandate for Syria
and the Lebanon
State of Syria
Sanjak of Alexandretta
Port Louis-Philippe (Akaroa)
French East India Company
St. Pierre and Miquelon
Wallis and Futuna
Sui generis collectivity
Overseas territory (French
Southern and Antarctic Lands)
Scattered islands in
the Indian Ocean
Bassas da India3
Glorioso Islands2, 3
Juan de Nova Island3
1 Also known as overseas regions
2 Claimed by Comoros
3 Claimed by Madagascar