BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
Haiti was the French colony of St. Domingue (Santo Domingo), the most productive colonial economy in the world. Dominated by plantation agriculture, primarily to supply sugar and coffee to the world market, Haiti had a slave population of nearly 90 percent. African slaves were brought to the island in the Atlantic slave trade. The balance of the population consisted of peoples of European ancestry and of mixed heritage, defined in the law of the colony as “white” or gens de couleur (people of color), respectively. Both of these groups owned slaves. French administrators governed the island. By 1788, the native Indian population had died out completely as a result of the Spanish conquest, harsh labor policies, and introduction of infectious diseases from Afroeurasia.
In no way were any of these racial groups united, except perhaps in opposition to each other. There were even divisions within the slave population, primarily between a larger group of agricultural laborers and a smaller group involved in domestic service and, in some cases, the management of the plantation system. The white population consisted of a planter elite known as grands blancs and a larger class of petits blancs, men and women who participated in the economy primarily as artisans or merchants in the cities. Gens de couleur, like whites, were divided by class, though the disparity of wealth was not as great as that between grands and petits blancs.
The root of the Haitian revolution was the fundamental imbalance in Haitian society. Slaves made up the vast majority of the population and were oppressed on a daily basis in the most naked ways and thoroughly deprived economically in a system that produced great wealth. For this slave population, the most pressing issue was the termination of slavery and the social inequality it entailed. As the colony was 90 percent slave, this issue was inevitably the focus of the revolution....