Haiti is known for many things, not all of them good–namely, as being the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. You may also know it as being the first black republic created by the first successful slave revolt. What you may not know is one, how stunningly epic this story actually is and two, how it changed the course of American history forever. So sit back, relax, and enjoy a crash-course in the revolution that arguably changed the world.
Two of the main leaders of the Haitian Revolution were two men named Toussaint L’Ouverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. L’Ouverture was born a slave, but treated pretty well and was taught to read and write, given unlimited access to his owner’s library and even given some power over other slaves on the plantation where he lived.
L’Ouverture was extraordinarily intelligent and his genius encompassed language(he spoke Creole, French and Latin)business, international politics and, as we’ll see later, military tactics. He was an intriguing character caught in the midst of an even more intriguing period of history. With 3 revolutions circling his lifetime, the American Revolution in 1765, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Haitian Revolution in 1791, he was navigating in and out of affairs with multiple countries at once. He was playing three sides of the chessboard throughout the revolution, fighting for the slaves, then joining the Spanish army, then defecting to the French army when France abolished slavery. He was a triple-agent, successfully rolling three countries around in the palm of his hand, while still managing businesses and building contacts in the United States on the side. And you thought you could multi-task.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines was also born a slave, but didn’t get as good of a deal. He was a lot more rough around the edges, was sold from one master to the next and treated harshly. Comfort was part of L’Ouverture’s life, while Dessaline’s was marked by violence. If L’Ouverture was Batman, with a relatively wealthy upbringing, Dessalines would be Deadpool, with a hard-knock-life set of cards, uncontainable behavior, and an insatiable thirst for bloodshed. This will explain their wildly different forms of leadership later on.
In order to understand the revolution, you need to know the background that it was set in.
French society was broken into classes and it wasn’t any different on its colony(It was actually called Saint-Domingue, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to it as Haiti.). These classes were the upper class Whites(the ones who mainly stayed in France and owned the plantations), the free Blacks who were born free, but were still legally considered second-class citizens, the petite blancs(little Whites) who were the working White class and were poorer than the free Blacks and, of course, the Black slaves.
Everyone in this society had something to complain about and the interclass griping matches would put Abigail Fischer to shame. The upperclass Whites were complaining about not having more control over their slaves, the free Blacks were complaining because they didn’t want to be treated like slaves, the lower-class Whites were complaining because they weren’t allowed to have slaves and the slaves, obviously, were complaining because there was no wifi.
As a result of the French Revolution, brimming with the wonderful ideas of “liberty, fraternity and equality”, heralding the novel notion that all human beings had rights, the free Blacks managed to tug on the heartstrings of France to grant them the right to become full citizens. This ticked off the White classes that sandwiched them and resulted in a civil war between these two classes and the free Blacks. Meanwhile, 90% of the population was still slaves so, realizing no one was inviting them to the conversation, in one giant “Screw this” move, the Slave Revolt began.
And this is how it went…
Have you ever seen a Jet Li movie where he’s in a room and a horde of ninjas floods in trying to take him down and he single-handedly destroys them without batting an eye? Imagine that, except instead of Jet Li, it’s a bunch of slaves and instead of ninjas it’s 3 European empires. Because over the next 12 years what went down was nothing short of Fearless, Unleashed and Tai Chi Master all in one. Louverture’s army successfully defeated the French Army, then the British came in, thinking they could do better, but in classic Mortal Combat style, L’Ouverture and his soldiers sent them rushing back to England then moved into Santo Domingo and took it from Spain and abolished slavery there. So in one epic, Caribbean-style ninja slash, the entire island of Hispaniola became slave-free.
But then, in 1802, after realizing how successfully naughty the slaves had become in freeing themselves, Napoleon sent his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc to bring things under control and Leclerc swiftly threw L’Ouverture in prison. Remarkably, however, this didn’t really bother the former slaves and they essentially moved on with their daily lives. This was because, like Batman, despite how insanely gifted L’Ouverture was, a lot of people didn’t like him. But then, when the slaves realized that Leclerc was trying to make them slaves again, Dessalines jumped in and sparked the fire of revolt again. Except this time, with the revolution under new management, things were much bloodier. Much, much bloodier. Enter Deadpool.
See, Dessalines played no games. Unless they involved kicking balls. And by kicking I mean smashing. And by balls I mean the brains of white Frenchmen. His less than friendly view of the Frenchmen was captured eloquently when he declared that he would write the slaves’ declaration of independence with the skin of a Frenchman as the parchment, his skull as the inkwell, his blood as the ink and a bayonet as the pen. His campaign was so brutal, involving the killing, raping and torture of every white person on the island, that even the slaves were reluctant to join and his own wife tried to hide Frenchmen from him. He was a madman and his goal was to strike so much fear in the heart of France that his ghost would haunt every future would-be colonizers from ever setting foot on Haiti again. The carnage was so devastating that the tsunami of French blood crossed the Atlantic Ocean and washed Napoleon’s plans of world domination away.
See, Napoleon had big plans to take over France’s North American colony that we now know as the United States of America. But in his mind, it was soon to be the United States of Napoleon. Big plans like this, of course, need big money and, fortunately for Napoleon, France’s most lucrative colony, Haiti, was the largest source of sugar for the world at the time. But, unfortunately for him, with Dessalines on his Deadpool-like rampage, he realized that this wasn’t going to happen any time soon and subsequently sold the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. and went back home, hoping to bother the world another day.
Therefore, in the end, if it hadn’t been for L’Ouvertoure and Dessalines, we would all be speaking French and eating crepes. Which might not be a bad deal, but there’d be no United States as we know it.
And that, my friends, is the story of the epic revolution that changed the world.