San Domingo's Bloody Revolt
on San Domingo
Map of the West Indies
West Indies Campaigns
island of San Domingo (now Haiti) was one of the richest imperial
possessions in the world and the struggle between France and the
local blacks for control of its wealth resulted in savage warfare
that bordered on genocide.
Domingo was initially shared between France and Spain, with the
Spanish occupying the eastern portion, but in 1795 that territory
- together with Louisiana - was ceded to France as part of the Treaty
troops were stationed on San Domingo but were ravaged by yellow
fever and so to boost its defensive capablities, France recruited
and trained black soldiers. Initially a satisfactory outcome - black
troops helped throw out a British force in 1798 - the French later
found they had created an independent-thinking monster.
its seemingly unified front against foreign powers, San Domingo
had been racked by a brutal civil war since 1791 that saw regular
bloodlettings between the blacks, coloureds and whites.
out of the turmoil rose General
Pierre Toussaint-L'Ouverture, a black leader who was urbane,
skilful and a fine military tactician, who used his political and
martial skills to end the bloodshed and by 1800 had restored a semblance
of peace to the island.
the Spanish finally pulled out of their eastern province, Toussaint
decided to occupy it before troops sent from France could do so.
It took him less than a month to be in complete control of the island.
professing loyalty to France, Toussaint made a series of decisions
- including declaring himself life-long governor of San Domingo
- that were tantamount to announcing independence from France.
infuriated Napoleon Bonaparte sent an expeditionary force of some
35,000 men, the first of some 60,000, to restore the island to French
control and placed his brother-in-law General
Charles Leclerc in command.
arrival of the French in 1802 saw the rebels burn down several major
towns and massacre all white inhabitants. The brutality set the
tone for what would become a bloody war as each side carried out
reprisals with extreme savagery.
French would get to a sacked town, find hundreds of countrymen killed
and mutilated, and would then set about exacting revenge upon local
black inhabitants. The deaths of hundreds of people at a time was
the French advance progressed well but soon the tide turned as Toussaint's
men, fighting successfully as guerrillas, pushed the French out
of key areas.
decided to break the will of resistance by promising that slavery
would not be reintroduced to the island if the fighting ended and
that all who laid down their arms would be allowed to join the French
army. They were both lies, agreed to by Bonaparte, but they worked.