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Struggle For Freedom > Toussaint L'Ouverture > Jean Jacques Dessalines > Independence 1804  > Empress Felicite > King Christophe >  
History of Haiti (Ayiti, Hayti)


The Struggle for Freedom


“The revolution (Haiti) is one of the noblest, grandest,

and most justifiable outbursts against cruel oppression

that is recorded on the pages of world history.”

Reverend James Holley,

A Vindication of the Capacity of the Negro Race for Self Government, 1857.


Power concedes nothing without a struggle

The real desire and struggle for freedom came from the Africans themselves. Africans caught up in the trafficking across the Middle Passage had no desire to be enslaved, and resisted at every turn the illegal imposition of European enslavement. Resistance to the slave trade and slavery covered a broad spectrum of activities.

Armed revolt was only one extreme of a continuum which stretched from satire, lying, feigning illness and working slow, tool-breaking, theft, running away and strikes, self-mutilation, suicide/dirt-eating, and infanticide, arson, and poisoning. Africans resisted at every stage of the process of enslavement: (1) at the point of capture and sale, (2) in transit to the coast, (3) in the factory forts and barracoons, (3) on board slave ships, and (4) on plantations in the Americas.


Sometimes rebellions deepened into Wars of Liberation. This happened when enslaved Africans realised that their freedom could never be guaranteed without taking over the whole territory. This situation obtained in Guyana in 1763, Grenada and St Lucia in 1795. Though these rebellions-cum-liberation wars eventually failed, this was not the case in Haiti (St Domingue) where the rebellion became a full-blooded revolution.

Haiti was a French colony ruled by France. It was the queen of the Antilles, the pearl; prided for being the richest colony in the world. All European colonialists wanted to own Haiti. In 1791, 38% of the wealth of France came from Haiti.



Haiti is the glory of the Blacks and the terror of the tyrants.

David Walker, The Appeal, 1829

You Become the Master When You Exercise Your Power


The Haitian revolution kicked off with a massive slave revolt on 21st August in northern Haiti (Le Cap) led by Boukman Dutty, a vodon priest, from Jamaica, and other key figures such as Jean-Francois, Biassou and Jeannot. Asserting their commitment to equality and the “rights of man”, these uprisings became a coordinated insurrection as tends of thousands seized their estates and murdered their masters. Toussaint L’Ouverture soon joined the rebels with an army of 55,000.

“The God who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light.  The God who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear.  You who are hidden in the clouds;  who watch us from where you are.

You see all that the white has made us suffer.

The white man’s God asks him to commit crimes.  But the God within us wants to do good. Our God, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory.

It’s He who will assist us.

We all should throw away the image of the white men’s  god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for

liberty that sings in all our hearts.”

Image above: The ceremony of Bwa Kayiman
Prayer from Zamba Boukman Dutty, from the ceremony at Bwa Kayiman,
on 14 August 1791

Image below: The Battle of Vertières

The increasing radicalisation of the French Revolution – the beheading of the King and the declaration of a republic proclaiming the rights and liberties of ‘men’ – encouraged Britain to invade the island using the pretext of a capitulation agreement signed by exiled Haitian planters purporting to represent the island. 

British forces had some initial successes as Royalist forces came over to their side. However, others from whom the British sought support stood aside in the absence of any specific mention of equal rights and privileges in the capitulation agreement. The inability to promise freedom at the end of service created an ideological divide which placed Britain on the side of preserving slavery, and led to the melting away of black and ‘mulatto’ support. Support was instead given to the Spanish forces that came across the border from the Dominican Republic with promises of freedom for every enslaved African who joined them.


In the summer of 1993, three new French Commissioners reached the colony. Recognising that the only way to outmanoeuvre the invading British and Spanish armies and save Haiti for France, the Republican Commissioner, Leger-Felicité Sonthonax, proclaiming slave emancipation in the territory on 1st August 1793. A year later the National Convention in Paris went one step further by promulgating a general emancipation decree for all French territories. Toussaint now rallied to the French cause and drove back the Spanish out of the island in 1794. Using the guerrilla tactics honed by Jean-Francois, Biassou and Jeannot as commanders of maroon bands, Toussaint proceeded to take on the British army and secure their capitulation in 1798 when General Maitland sued for safe passage out of the island having lost some 40,000 troops.


Next: Meet General Toussaint L'Overture [click here]