What The Future Will Bring

Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.

When the Second Commission sailed away from Saint Domingue in June 1794, the fate of the colony was truly up in the air on almost every front. On the one hand, the British had invaded and now occupied a series of ports in the west and south provinces. The main slave armies of the north, meanwhile, had resisted all French republican overtures and reaffirmed their allegiance to the Spanish. And then the coloreds, who had once upon a time been the Republic’s staunchest allies, were now defecting to the enemy in droves. None of this was good news. But on the other hand, the National Convention had accepted the Tricolor Commission as official delegates from the colony, ratified the emancipation decrees in a sweeping declaration of liberty and equality, and perhaps most importantly, the French Republic still stood. Contrary to all expectations, the French Republic had not collapsed in 1793. And then the last bit of good news for the Second Commissioners as they sailed away is that they were leaving the defense of Saint Domingue in pretty capable hands. André Rigaud in the south, now Governor General Lavaux in the north, and then Toussaint Louverture holding the mountains in between. So the good news and bad news was a pretty even ratio in the summer of 1794. And the future of the colony was a blank canvas to be painted by whoever emerged victorious in the struggles yet to come. 

Now, the lives of the inhabitants of Saint Domingue in the summer of 1794 offers a glimpse at what the possible future might be, depending on who emerged victorious from the struggles yet to come. The very worst outcome, I think it’s fair to say, would be if the British managed to complete the conquest of the colony. Depending on how you did the math, a good 60,000 to 80,000 people now lived in British occupied areas. And wherever the British went, they turned back the clock to 1788. The emancipation decrees of the Second Commission were obviously nullified, and black slaves will return to work as slaves. But that was not all. The British also ignored any promises made to the coloreds to maintain racial equality. Wherever the British were, whites were elevated to command positions, while coloreds were pushed aside, even colored leaders who had invited the British in in the first place. So that was one possible future for the colony: the British conquest, spelling the end of liberty and equality and the return of big white supremacy. 

A second option was found in the territories in the South Province, now controlled by André Rigaud. Rigaud is obviously an uncompromising defender of racial equality. Duh. But as a staunch ally of the Second Commission and the French Republic, Rigaud was ready to accept the reality of slave emancipation. But as we touched on at the end of last week’s episode, that emancipation would come with restrictions. Liberty did not just mean everybody doing whatever they wanted, the National Convention’s decree notwithstanding. Now, with all the upheavals that had gone on since 1791, the plantations of the South Province had been amongst the least disrupted in the colony. Most of them still stood and still functioned. And Rigaud made sure that the former slaves kept working those plantations, though they were now cultivators who enjoyed some rights and a small cut of the profits, and there were actually profits to be made down here. One huge thing Rigaud had going for him was that he had kept Les Cayes out of British hands and the port continued to be more or less functional. It was, in fact, the only major port still fully functional in the French Republican orbit. So Rigaud’s people were able to cart their stuff down to Les Cayes and successfully export it, usually through merchants from the United States. But while black cultivators now got a small cut of the profits, they found themselves forced to do the same work the day after emancipation that they had been doing the day before emancipation. So on a day to day level, not much has really changed for them. 

Now, the people who did enjoy a major change for the better under Rigaud’s regime were his colored brethren. In the same way that regret was implementing a very particular kind of slave emancipation, he was also implementing a very particular brand of racial equality. Rigaud, understandably, had no love for the whites. Now, he had some white allies, of course, but as a class, Rigaud had no interest in protecting white interests whatsoever. When the white exodus got going in earnest in 1793, Rigaud’s territory became littered with abandoned plantations. The buildings and equipment were all intact, but the white owners and managers had just fled. Now, Polverel’s policy towards these types of abandoned properties had been for the government to step in and run them directly. But Rigaud had a better idea. He started leasing them to private individuals to run in exchange for a cut of the profits. And who were the private individuals who had the capital and the access to take advantage of this deal? Well, all of Rigaud’s colored friends and allies, of course. The whites were all gone and the blacks had no money. So the colored wound up running everything. So that was the second possible future for Saint Domingue. The whites gone, the blacks either workers or mere common soldiers, and the coloreds holding all the political, economic and military authority. 

Now, the third major option was in the territory in the borderlands between the north and west provinces under Toussaint Louverture’s control. Unlike Rigaud’s system of colored supremacy, Toussaint envisioned a new Saint Domingue shared by whites, coloreds and blacks together. Now, at this moment, this is obviously the most Looney Tunes vision of them all. Whites, coloreds and blacks living together in peace, harmony and prosperity? I mean, good luck with that, Toussaint. But remember who Toussaint was on the eve of the revolution. He was a free black plantation manager who had spent his life intersecting with all three groups. And he was liked and respected by all of them. And he, in turn, often saw the best each group had to offer, rather than just the worst. And he really did think he could make tricolor harmony work. After he jumped over to the French, he started trying to make it work. But Toussaint was no starry eyed dreamer. His intellect was coldly rational. So coexistence between the three groups was premised as much on what you were not going to get as it was on what you were going to get. 

So towards the now free blacks, Toussaint embraced a vision of limited slave emancipation, just like Rigaud. And he enforced labor rules and demanded obedience to authority. You are not slaves and you will never be slaves again. You are forever free citizens. But you must work. And not just anywhere. You must work the plantations. Because while Toussaint could envision a Saint Domingue inhabited by all three races, he could not and never would be able to envision a Saint Domingue that survived without its lucrative sugar and coffee exports. 

Meanwhile, to the free coloreds, he guaranteed racial equality. I mean, white supremacy had gotten its head chopped off and posted on a spike as far as Toussaint Louverture was concerned. But he would promise the coloreds no more than equality. He was not going to elevate them over the whites. And he soon demonstrated this in no uncertain terms. 

As I said last week, there were whites now ready to reconcile themselves to the new regime. Some had been laying low in Saint Domingue, others were now returning to the colony after having taken flight. But when they came back, they found Toussaint surprisingly welcoming and quite generous. He honored old land and property titles, unlike André Rigaud, and, channeling Julius Caesar a bit, was magnanimous and forgiving towards men that Toussaint had literally been fighting just a few months before. If the whites respected that their workers were now workers and not slaves, and if the whites accepted that a black ex slave was the supreme authority in town, they could come back and not just come back, but enjoy the protection of his regime and maybe even thrive. Toussaint made a big deal about respecting their private property and he diligently punished thieves and vandals whenever they were caught. 

Now, one thing that Toussaint had to deal with that Rigaud did not was that the plantations of the Northern Plains had almost all been leveled by fire. But Toussaint had an answer to that too and he helped organize the rebuilding of the physical infrastructure. Both white and colored owners could expect nothing but help and encouragement from Toussaint and pretty soon, crazy option number three was making some headway. Whites, colored and blacks lived and worked side by side under the auspices of a benevolent black ex slave who just wanted them all to thrive. 

Now, the fourth option for the future was a total wild card that we only have to talk about briefly because by the end of today’s episode, it will be moot. That is what happens if the Spanish backed slave armies led by Jean-François and Biassou push their way down and seize control of Saint Domingue. Now, it’s hard to know exactly what they would have done or what kind of political arrangement they would have made with the Spanish, who, as I mentioned, would have granted freedom to the black soldiers but kept slavery intact. I can’t imagine, however, that a Jean-François and Biassou-led future has any place for the whites or the coloreds. 

But while I’m here though, I should answer a question that I’ve gotten a few times about the Spanish. Why were they just cool with not only letting this massive slave rebellion go on, but actively supporting it? Weren’t they worried about it spilling over to Santo Domingo? And the answer is probably a little, but mostly not really Spanish. Santo Domingo was neither populated as French Saint Domingue, nor did it have as many slaves, nor was the slave-to-free ratio so wildly out of whack. Santo Domingo was just not the same type of mass slave economy that their French neighbors were. So the Spanish weren’t super worried about the gospel of slave revolutions spreading because there were actually more free Spaniards in Santo Domingo than slaves. So keeping their slaves in line seemed pretty doable. 

And then there was also a geographic reason. The interior of Hispaniola was not very densely populated. Most of the Spanish lived on the southeast coast. So a marauding French slave army would have a lot of ground to cover before they made it. And then of course, there’s the very fact of their support for the slave armies. From day one, the Spanish bought the loyalty of Jean-François and Biassou to make sure exactly that sort of invasion never happened. 

Okay, so hopefully that answers that question. And the fourth possible future for Saint Domingue, the Spanish backed slave armies overrunning the colony is never going to happen. So we can move on. 

Now, finally, there was a fifth major option that existed everywhere and outside the jurisdiction of any of the little regimes that I’ve just mentioned. And that fifth option is black liberty. No restrictions. Liberty enjoyed after being purchased with sweat and blood. Break up the hated plantations, parcel out the land and live and work as truly free men and women throughout Saint Domingue. But most especially in the west and south, there were independent, unaligned, insurgent black communities, basically like the old maroon communities, but more numerous and better armed. These groups inhabited their own camps and bases in the mountains and they would be damned if they were going to get sent back to the plantations. And then even those blacks who continued to live on the plantations and who were allegedly subject to all these new labor rules (I mean, it’s not like they didn’t resist), the sheer scope and constant revisions of the cultivator labor codes are pretty clear proof that a lot of freed slaves had no interest in actually following all these crazy rules. They shirked their official duties to expand and cultivate their own plots of land. And these plots of land would not only give them an independent food supply, but the produce of that land could still be sold for a profit in the massively disrupted colonial economy. So as it turned out, it was super hard to keep freed slaves doing the same work they had done when they were slaves. And so they represented a fifth option. No more plantations, no more masters, no more rules. Just free men and women working and living for themselves. 

So those were the five major options on the table for Saint Domingue in the Summer of 1794. And just to recap, they are first, the British military returning the colony to the old big whites who would restore white supremacy and slavery. Second, Rigaud’s system of colored supremacy with emancipation and labor rules. Third, Toussaint’s system of whites, coloreds and blacks working together to rebuild a plantation economy that would benefit them all. Fourth, whatever Jean-François and Biassou’s ultimate plans were, which we don’t really know. And then fifth, a totally decentralized system of freedom and small scale land ownership. So let’s see what happens next. 

What happened first is that the new military alliance that had been forged between now Governor General Lavaux and Toussaint Louverture went on the offensive. In July 1794, Toussaint launched an attack on Jean-François’s positions in the eastern part of the North Province and drove the Grand Admiral’s forces back in disarray. Jean-François himself was forced to take a hasty flight much to Toussaint’s evident delight. Meanwhile, Governor Lavaux attacked bases that had been established by the Spanish and then garrison by actual Spanish soldiers rather than just their slave auxiliaries on the border between Saint Domingue and Santo Domingo. The surprise rejuvenation of the French Republicans in the north caught the Spanish line by surprise and brought ominous tidings of things to come. 

Now, in apparent retaliation for this sudden attack and possibly showing what a Jean-François-led Saint Domingue might have looked like Jean-François proceeded to commit one of the most infamous crimes in the course of the revolution. The fortress town of Fort Dauphin, located on the north coast of the colony near the Spanish border, had been captured by the slave armies and was now being garrisoned by a mixed force of Jean-François black soldiers, Spanish soldiers and then 700 white French auxiliaries, some of them now ex refugees from the Le Cap exodus. For reasons that are far from clear, just after the attack by Toussaint, Jean-François ordered his soldiers to surround and massacre the 700 French auxiliaries and the Spanish soldiers just looked on. Now, I’m not even sure what the point of it was, but he did it. And it sure did not help Spanish efforts to recruit more white Frenchmen to their side. 

While Lavaux and Toussaint launched these military attacks, they also sent out political feelers trying to undermine the Spanish and British by breaking their local alliances. Toussaint had enough legitimacy with these slave insurgents that he could appeal to the black soldiers and officers and say, “Look, the French have granted full emancipation and they are going to win the war. The Spanish are the past and when the chips are down, your generals will sell you out. So defect now and we’ll welcome you with open arms.” Now, for the moment, this argument did not carry a ton of weight because the French Republic still seemed precariously perched atop a towering inferno. So Toussaint and Lavaux then turned to the coloreds who had defected to the British. They smuggled in messages to the leaders in Saint-Marc, for example, and asked “How are those British promises of racial equality treating you? Well, look, we understand that you’ve made a mistake so come back over to the Republic and we’ll all join forces and kick the British out together. And, oh, by the way, if you don’t come over voluntarily, Toussaint’s army is going to attack Saint-Marc, sack it and probably execute a whole lot of you for treason.” 

But still, most of the colored leaders in Saint-Marc hesitated. And so Toussaint started marching south from his base in Gonaïves in August to make good on the threat. But lacking the forces necessary to just take the city in a direct assault, Toussaint employed a clever gambit. He sent down two of his most trusted officers to tell the British that Toussaint’s recent defection to the French was a ruse to solidify his position. And now that his position had been solidified, he was ready to really defect, this time to the British. Now, the British were receptive to this and it’s not like it wasn’t a believable story. Toussaint had been one of the leading anti French voices for the last three years. Discovering that his defection to the French was a ruse actually explained a somewhat inexplicable event. 

But the real ruse was the story about the ruse. When Toussaint’s officers got into Saint-Marc, they made contacts with disaffected coloreds and there were quite a few of them, and planned an internal uprising to go with the external attack from Toussaint’s approaching army. All of this went according to plan and in mid-August, Toussaint attacked and then a bunch of armed coloreds suddenly rose up in Saint-Marc at the same time. But there were not enough of them. Many of the coloreds and the leaders still clung to the British promise that slavery would be maintained and equality maybe eventually implemented. With the internal uprising sputtering, Toussaint’s external attack ultimately failed, repelled by superior British firepower working from a strong defensive position. 

Now, into the fall and winter of 1794, though open war between all sides in this very complicated little conflict proceeded. In the north, Governor Lavaux kept the British contained on their base in Môle-Saint-Nicolas, while Toussaint returned to fighting Jean-François and Biassou and he made further thrust into the interior. In October, he went on a quick campaign, capturing various towns and looting and killing wherever he went. But he did not have sufficient forces to keep what he had conquered. So we always wound up falling back to his main bases along the cordon of the west. But still, Toussaint was clearly showing in the campaigns of 1794 that while he had very little practical military experience, he was turning out to be one of the best generals of the war. And he showed a true professional’s obsession with logistics and supplies and training. And he constantly begged Lavaux for more guns and more bullets, more shoes and more medicine. And he forced captured British or Spanish officers to train his men in proper technique and discipline. In December, he launched a very well executed multicolumn offensive that captured and this time held an important river that lay south of Le Cap. The columns were led by the two men fast becoming Toussaint’s most trusted lieutenants, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint’s adopted nephew, Moyse. 

Down in the south, meanwhile, André Rigaud’s Legion of Equality was morphing into what has historically become known as the Legion of the South. And he battled to keep the British pinned down in the ports that they had captured and not let them move out. As Toussaint was rampaging up in the north in October, Rigaud managed to capture Léogâne and hold it, which prevented the British from creating a land link between their forces in Jérémie and Port-au-Prince. Not that the British in Port-au-Prince were going anywhere. They were currently besieged by one of those independent black armies that were not formally aligned with any of the principal leaders. They were just doing their own thing, but they had zero interest in the British winning and bringing back the big whites and slavery. So this army of 3000 or 4000 blacks surrounded and besieged Port-au-Prince, trapping the British in the capital where they slowly but surely succumbed one by one to tropical diseases. 

Now, the attrition rate for the British was indeed quite alarming and threatened their whole project. So much so, that like everyone else in Saint Domingue, they too were forced to turn to slave auxiliaries to fight for them. Though the British very clearly meant to reimpose slavery, they too started offering individuals freedom in exchange for military service. And in the south, they found a very effective ally in a black leader named Jean Kina and the army of about 1500 that he led. Kina and his men had originally been armed by whites in the south during that white-colored civil war that broke out in 1792. So they were among those who were not going to have their promises of freedom honored after the Law of April 4 spelled victory for the coloreds. Kina tried to join Rigaud’s Legion of Equality, but the colored officers, most of whom had just fought against Kina, wanted no part of him. So when the British came knocking, Kina and his men signed up and would fight for the British for the whole rest of the war. 

So as the French and Spanish and British battle for control of Saint Domingue, among and between themselves, just remember that the battles themselves were usually black on black affairs. 

Now, through the whole first half of 1795, a general stalemate endured that no one was able to decisively break through one way or the other. After a miserable winter cooped up in Port-au-Prince, the British managed to push their way up to Mirebalais, but then Toussaint swung down and pushed them back. But this action around Mirebalais cast first light on the future rivalry between Toussaint and Rigaud, especially in their competition for the loyalty and service of the blacks. Now, even though, as I just said, everyone had blacks fighting for them, that did not mean there weren’t serious tensions inside each army, and none more so than in Rigaud’s emerging Legion of the South. Black leaders were allowed to serve as junior officers, but all the senior commands went to coloreds. And then going all the way back to the betrayal of the Swiss, the blacks were always pretty suspicious of the ultimate intentions of the coloreds. And with so many coloreds having just hopped over to the British when emancipation hit, well, that was just further proof that it is entirely likely the coloreds are just going to use us and then put us all back in chains. 

Black mistrust of the coloreds was then heightened still further back in February 1794, back when the Second Commission was still around. Sonthonax and Polverel had been working to forge a more formal anti-British alliance with some of these various independent black forces out there. And there was no black leader more respected than Hyacinthe. You remember that guy, that young religious leader who had helped the cupboards defeat the small whites at Croix-des-Bouquets in 1792? Well, he’s still a hugely influential voice in the slave communities of the west. But at some point over the winter of 1793-1794, Hyacinthe had been suddenly arrested by colored allies of the Second Commission on suspicion that he was the one who was actually in league with the British. Sonthonax had personally then come down, overturned the charges and set Hyacinthe free. But then in February 1794, Hyacinthe was lured to an isolated spot by some colored agents and just straight up assassinated. This murder came two weeks after another prominent black leader had been assassinated by armed colleagues in the south. So there was major tension between the blacks and coloreds. And with the sudden rise of Toussaint Louverture, a black leader who had been one of the original (well, almost one of the original) leaders of the initial slave uprising, many of the black fighters looked to Toussaint as their natural leader. Now fighting near the border with Rigaud’s territory, Toussaint was happy to cultivate their allegiance and bring them over to his side. What’s Rigaud ever done for you anyway? And so began a tug of war between Toussaint and Rigaud for the rank and file black soldiers of Saint Domingue. 

So the stalemate that had set in by the summer of 1795 was, of course, broken by, you guessed it, events back in Europe. As has been the case since day one, the course of the French Revolution defined the course of the Haitian Revolution. So back to France we go, and where are we? Well, when last we were in Paris, it was February 1794 and the National Convention had just decreed mass emancipation and racial equality. But then the Committee of Public Safety had upheld the recall order of the Second Commission. And then, of course, we ended last week’s episode with Sonthonax and Polverel getting picked up and taken back to France in June 1794. While just as they were landing back in France, Paris was being convulsed by the end of the French Revolution, at least in my own idiosyncratic system of dating. On July 27, 1794, the enemies of Robespierre got together, chopped off his head and the Thermidorian reaction set in. And this is all happening just as Sonthonax and Polverel are returning to France. And it’s kind of crazy. They departed France just two weeks before the Insurrection of August 10 and then they returned just in time for Thermidor. It’s pretty lucky timing. 

Now, what Thermidor meant for the various players in the battles over Saint Domingue was anyone’s guess. When Sonthonax and Polverel got back to Paris, they discovered that most of those various players were sitting in a jail cell. For example, they learned that their arch rival, Galbaud, did not share their lucky timing. Galbaud had finally made it back to Paris in April and had been promptly arrested and thrown in prison. Meanwhile, the principal lobbyists for the colonial whites have themselves been arrested, almost certainly due to their suspicious connections to the Committee of General Security. Also still in prison was Julien Raimond, having survived the initial liquidation of the Girondins, he too just languished in a cell. But luckily for all these guys, those were busy days for the Revolutionary Tribunal, and colonial matters did not rate as a very high priority. So all of them were still just sitting around in jail when Thermidor arrived. Now, when Sonthonax and Polverel showed up, they themselves were not thrown into prison proper, but they were placed under an implied house arrest. Just don’t go anywhere. 

Once Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety had been overthrown, the various colonial interests, though not their lobbyists who were still in prison, poked their heads out, and were like, hey, so this is going to be the conservative reaction phase of the Revolution, right? Right! So let’s kick things off by repealing the most insanely revolutionary thing the Revolution ever did: the emancipation of the slaves. But the Thermidorian Convention, no less than the overthrown Committee of Public Safety, had way more important things to worry about than whatever was going on back in Saint Domingue. So for months after Thermidor, everyone with a genuine interest in the colony just had to sit around and wait. Raimond stayed in prison. The principal colonial lobbyist stayed in prison. Galbaud stayed in prison. Sonthonax and Polverel just waited around patiently to be put on trial. 

It wasn’t until November 1794 that the Thermidorian Convention finally got around to the question of Saint Domingue and the actions of the Second Commission. The white lobbyists, Raimond and Galbaud, were all released on parole, and a committee was set up to investigate and render a verdict on the conduct of the Second Commission. Now, fortunately for Sonthonax and Polverel, this was not the Revolutionary Tribunal with its swift and summary justice, but unfortunately, it was kind of the other thing. A long bureaucratic slog through all the evidence and witness testimony. But in a curious decision that I have not ever seen adequately explained, it’s just this fact that is hanging out there, Galbaud was never allowed to testify at the trial. He wanted to. They just wouldn’t let him. I have no idea why. So the trial dragged on for months and months, and the nonstop stress of, like, everything that had happened to him since arriving in Saint Domingue in September 1792 was finally too much for Etienne Polverel. He died in April 1795, at the age of 55. 

When the story of the Haitian revolution is told, pride of place is always given to Sonthonax, because he’s the one who issued the decree of August 29. But hopefully, I’ve shown that Polverel was right there in the middle of it with him. Both had started as totally obscure revolutionary backbenchers who went on to be the principal actors in the emancipation of all the French slaves. And sadly, he did not live long enough to see his work fully vindicated. 

As the trial dragged on, though, the ultimate verdict was becoming clear, much to the delight of Sonthonax and the dismay of the colonial lobby. Because in one of the more surprising decisions made by the Thermidorians, as they prepared the Constitution of Year III that established the Directory, they decided that racial equality and slave emancipation would be upheld in the Republic of France. Now, partly this was a recognition of what’s done is done, but it was also a part of a shift in attitude towards the colonies. 

Remember, in the early days of the Revolution, enlightened opinion was that this was all leading towards greater independence and home rule for the colonies. As the new concept of an indivisible French nation began to take hold, especially during the war, leading revolutionaries began to advocate a reverse conception: that wherever the tricolor flag flew was a part of the French nation – one and indivisible. So the  Constitution of Year III reflected this. It said there would no longer be a distinction between the Metropole and the colonies. All were equal to each other. Saint Domingue and Martinique and Guadeloupe and the rest were basically now just departments of greater France, and all French laws would be uniformly enforced everywhere. And since there were no slaves and no racial inequality in France, there could be none in the colonies. So, yes, as the conservative Directory settled into power, it explicitly upheld one of the most revolutionary things the radical revolutionaries had ever done. Then, just as the Convention was wrapping up loose ends in September 1795, the trial of the Second Commission wrapped up. Sonthonax and the late Polverel were cleared of all charges. They had done a good job and they had the thanks of the Republic. 

Now, as we will see next week, Sonthonax and also Julien Raimond are not done in Saint Domingue, since they’re about to be two of the key members of the Third Commission. So we’ll leave them aside for now. But I do want to wrap things up with the depressing conclusion to the life and career of Governor Galbaud. 

After being arrested in April 1794, Galbaud had spent eight months in prison. But when he was finally released, he discovered that his arrest record now precluded him from returning to the military, the only job he had ever known. In mid 1795, he managed to land a minor bureaucratic position in the Thermidorian government. He was then officially amnestied in the general political amnesty that was issued when the Directory took over. But his application to rejoin the army was still rejected, and it continued to be rejected for the duration of the Directory. And Galbeau was not allowed back into the army until after Bonaparte’s Coup of 18 Fructidor. But when he was finally let back in, he got what I think might have been the most rotten assignment in the history of the universe: he was posted to Egypt. That’s right. Two years after Bonaparte abandoned the expedition as a hopeless lost cause, and with the French forces in Egypt little more than a sad, forgotten, demoralized and plague ridden garrison that was about to surrender to the British, Galbaud received orders to take up a post in Cairo. So he and his wife packed their bags once again and headed off to the worst assignment imaginable. Long story short, he died of plague in 1801 at the age of 58. 

So everything I just told you about what happened back in France is going to have a major impact on events in Saint Domingue. The arrival of the Directory represented the rational and sober ratification of a slave emancipation decree that had initially been issued in an emergency and then confirmed in the emotional heat of one of the most pressure cooker phases of the French Revolution. But what really unclogged the military stalemate back in Saint Domingue and paved the way for the steady rise of Toussaint Louverture was the triumph of the French Republic on all fronts in the war against the Allies. Remember, mid 1795 is when the Dutch joined the French as the Batavian Republic, when the Prussians pull out of the war completely, but most importantly for our purposes, this is when the Spanish pull out of the war. Admitting defeat to the French Republic was a bitter pill for the Spanish to swallow, but they were really no match for the might of the fully mobilized French nation. And so they signed a peace treaty of their own in July 1795. This treaty not only stipulated an immediate end of hostilities on all fronts, including all colonial fronts, but get this, the handover of Santo Domingo to the French. The Spanish agreed to hand the entire island of Hispaniola over to the French. And it was that, more than anything else, that completely rearranged the military and political situation in Saint Domingue. 

So next week, we will return to Saint Domingue to watch this bombshell news get dropped on everyone’s head. The Spanish are out of the war. What did that mean for Jean-François and Biassou? For the last four years, since the original slave uprising in August 1791, they had been the two principal slave generals. They had full claim to the prestige of being leaders in the initial fight for freedom. I mean, what’s going to happen if, for example, they suddenly decamped the island now that their Spanish benefactors are saying “We’re done funding, arming and supplying your armies.” Who would that leave as the only black leader who truly had the respect of all the black soldiers? I’ll tell you: Toussaint Louverture.

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