In 1791, a revolt broke out in the French Caribbean colony
of St. Domingue. The colony was located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola. The rest of the island was
controlled by Spain and known as Santo Domingo.
St. Domingue was one of the wealthiest colonies in the
Americas. It produced half of all the sugar and coffee exported to Europe and the United States. This wealth was the result of the work of enslaved Africans who were brutality treated.
The rebellion began when free Blacks and mulattos
(people of mixed race) were denied citizenship rights promised by the French Revolution. As the revolt spread, enslaved
Africans rose up against their French masters. During the
uprising there was cruelty from both sides. Sugar cane fields and plantation houses were burned and captives were raped
People of African ancestry outnumbered Europeans on the
island by about 10 to 1. In 1794,the National Assembly of
France abolished slavery in its colonies, and in January, 1800, Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leading general of the Black revolt, became the undisputed leader of the entire island.
When Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in 1799, he tried to rebuild the French colonial empire. In 1802, he sent 20,000 troops to St. Domingue to overthrow the government of Toussaint L’Ouverture and restore slavery on the island. Toussaint L’Ouverture was captured and exiled to France, where he died in prison. However, the rebels continued to fight and by the end of 1803 the French forces were defeated. On January 1, 1804, President Jean Jacques Dessalines declared the birth of the free republic of Haiti.
Many of the White colonists who fled from St. Domingue were opposed to the French Revolution. They escaped to the United States where news of the slave rebellion frightened American slaveholders and led to harsher restrictions on Blacks. In 1793, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote the Governor of South...