According to Countryaah, the island of Haiti – or Quisqueya as the original Arawak and Taíno people called it – is today divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. When Columbus “discovered” the island in 1492, it was populated by several Arawak people who disappeared completely within a few decades. The Spaniards carried out a colonization of the island, and as part of this, an evangelization was carried out, as was the order of the Dominican, and it was they who gave the island its new name, Santo Domingo. French and other European nationalities were also attracted to the island’s sugar production and European colonial powers began to contend for the island. In 1697, Spain surrendered the western part of the island to France with the so-called Ryswick Treaty.
When France gained control of the territory, it began to exploit it financially. On average, around 20,000 African slaves were imported into the country annually, and the mix between Africans and Europeans increased rapidly. In a short time, sugar became the most important export product from the area, and during the 18th century Haiti became France’s most important colony in America.
Wealth basically arose from the work of slaves. By 1789, the number of Negro slaves in the colony had reached 480,000, the number of mulattoes and “colored” was 60,000, while the whites who owned the land and wealth of the country amounted to just under 20,000. Haiti was also affected by the revolution in France. Former slave Toussaint L’Ouverture organized an independence movement, leading a revolutionary war against the colonial power (1791-1803) for 12 years, ending with the proclamation of the world’s first black republic.
The struggle for independence in Haiti went through several stages. In the first stage, both the great landlords, the slaves, the traders and the poor whites – called petits blancs – declared themselves solidarity with the revolutionary movement that had developed in France, set up a local national assembly and demanded the abolition of the country’s colonial status. In the second stage, the free mulattoes began to support the revolutionary development in France, believing that they would thus be equated with the local white population. But they were wrong. In 1790 the white plantation owners severely beat down on the freed slaves and mulattoes. The following year, therefore, they were forced to ally themselves with two groups of rebellious slaves – the so-called marroons or quilombos.
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It was L’Ouverture that gave the old marroon movement a strategic perspective as he formulated the phrase “general freedom for all” and brought together the divided groups into a unified disciplined army. He deftly exploited the contradictions of the French colonial system, and on February 4, 1794, caused the French National Assembly to ratify a decree abolishing slavery in Santo Domingo and appointing him general. Following Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état – the 18th Brumaire – France’s new dictator sent a colossal military expeditionary force to the island to recapture the colony and reinstate slavery. L’Ouverture responded by calling for general popular uprising, but was captured, deported and died in France in 1803.