Impact of the Haitian Revolution around the world (Part I)

Posted by on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Under: Haitian Revolution

The slave revolution that two hundred years ago created the state of Haiti alarmed and excited public opinion on both sides on the Atlantic. Its repercussions ranged from the world commodity markets to the imagination of poets; from council of the great powers to slave quarters in Virginia, Philadelphia, Cuba and Brazil and most points in between. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the Haitian revolution is that Its success did not deter the slave-holders from continuing with the vile institution. Indeed, the growth in the volume of the transatlantic slave trade was one of the long term repercussions of the Haitian Revolution.

As with everything related to forced labors, it was mostly the economics that those with heavy interest vested in the murderous labor of africans cared for. The eventual loss of Saint Domingue upon independence as the world’s prime colony, meant one thing and only one thing to the imperialists of the time. Finding a replacement as soon as possible, since the demand for the staples commodities that Saint Domingue were famous for producing, were still in very high demand. Commodities such as sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, precious woods etc...

 The French, British and American bourgeoisie had learned from the violence that resulted from the slave insurrection of Saint Domingue; they then implemented harsher measures to squash any potential revolt that could threaten their successful industries built on the lacerated back of Africans.

Haiti itself as a new country was viewed as an incendiary torch in the region, even though the early Haitian state, in Its official declaration of independence eschewed the possibility of taking freedom to the colonies and islands of the region by force.

Let us guard however so that the spirit of proselytism does not destroy our work; Let our neighbors breath in peace, may they live in peace under the empire of the laws that they have legislated themselves, and let us not go, like spark fire revolutionaries , erecting ourselves as legislators of the Caribbean, to make good of our glory by troubling the peace of neighboring islands… Fortunate to have never known the plagues which have destroyed us, they can only make good wishes for our prosperity. Peace to our neighbors!...

But, regardless of all the promises of Haitian officials to not incite revolts in neighboring islands, the Haitian revolution had already propelled a revolution in black consciousness.
The Haitian Revolution and Haiti itself became part of the cognitive world of the destituted slaves, who assumed it as a metaphor, possibility and goal.

Great measures were put in place by the local governments of the neighboring colonies so that that the news or even the stotry-telling of the Haitian Revolution did not reach their shores.

Impact of the Haitian revolution in Brazil

Brazil was one of the slaveholding societies in which the Haitian Revolution had a great impact. Partly due to its large enslaved population. After all, Saint Domingue with Its 600.000 slaves was second only to Brazil in slave population. The Brazilian government understood the immediate danger impeded over Brazilian plantations after the reports of violence that characterized the early days of the revolt. The Haitian revolution shocked the world, but as unthinkable as a revolt of the slaves was to the slaves holders, it was foreseen by not only some of the most influential and brilliant minds of the time, but the colonial government itself, as it was stated in an official report that "sooner or later" Saint Domingue overworked and underfed slaves would "rush headlong into the horror of terminal despair."

" In São Domingos the bloody voice of freedom has ben raised among the slaves, a voice that decided, amidst the most horrendous sufferings, the fates of almost all the white inhabitants who lived on that island." Portuguese Minister, Count de Galveas

Many policies were implemented by the Brazilian colonial government to make sure that the news of the revolution in Haiti did not reach Brazilian soil.

Haitians who visited Brazil and Brazilians who visited Haiti where ready to spread the "Abominable and destructive principles of liberty and Equality." according to the Governor of Pernambuco in June 1792.

Those who defied the travel ban were charged with "inciting" or "desiring to imitate the revolutionary island."

Black Brazilians, even some freed ones, after the Haitian revolution became untrustworthy in Brazil, they were spied on as authorities feared they would emulate the formers slaves in Haiti.

"Blacks can be seen gathering in the streets at night, just as they did before [the revolt] conversing about anything they please in their own languages with constant whistling and other signs they make so bold, that using our own language they criticize each other for having acted too soon, before the date planned for their insurrection. They speak and know of the fatal success on the island of S
ão Domingos, and other rebellious speeches are heard, saying that by Saint John's day there will be no whites or mulattoes left alive.
                                                           Petitions of Citizens of the city of Bahia April 1814

This petition not only shows how blacks in Brazil were spied on for fear of revolt, but most importantly, its written date of 1814 shows that even after 23 years of the Haitian Revolution's happening of 1791 and a decade since the Haitian Independence in 1804; Haiti as a Black Republic was still having reeling effects across the world. 

But did Brazilian colonial authorities had solid proof that the Haitian Revolution was still inciting people to rebel? Yes.

Many of the main heroes of the Haitian Revolution, especially Henry Christophe, were highly revered among not only the slaves in Brazil, but also the mulattoes. 

The chants of a Brazilian battalion in Bahia, made up of mulattoes, have made it into modern history, and will help us understand the view of Brazilian mulattoes towards the new republic founded by former slaves.

"Qual eu Imito a Cristovão
Esse Imortal Haitiano
Eia! Imitai ao seu povo
Oh meu povo soberano!" 

"Thus I imitate Christophe
That Immortal Haitian
Hey imitate his people
oh my sovereign people"

Cries such as " Liberty; long live the blacks and their king... death to whites and mulattoes"
"Long live the king of Haiti." were often heard at gathering of black leaders.
Interestingly, the slaves, chanting death to the mulattoes, were also invoking the name of Henry Christophe, a mulatto.

Another explanation for the fear of the Haitian Revolution's narratives even decades after it had happened, is that the governments that succeeded Emperor Jean Jacques Dessalines after his assassination, did not continue his policy of not meddling in Haiti's neighbors' affairs, as we will demonstrate in events that happened in the neighboring island of Cuba.

Impact of the Haitian Revolution in Cuba

As in Brazil, the Cuban colonial governments also implemented strict measures to suppress the news of the revolt among Cuba's slaves.

As early as 1791, the highest figures in government in Cuba were made aware of the events in Saint Domingue.
Than Cuban governor Luis de la Casas y Aragorri had received a very simple and short letter, leaving him with no doubt about what was happening.

"A hundred thousand Negroes have risen up from the northern part: more than two hundred sugar plantations have been burned: the owners have been torn to pieces:"

One of the most apparent step taken was when on January 15th 1796, Cuban Captain General Luis de las Casas issued a proclamation that "prohibited the entrance of slaves to ports of the island that were not bozales brought from the coast of Africa."

However all attempts to prevent the news from reaching Cuban shores failed.
Julius Scott gave the best explanation for why colonial officials in Cuba and around the world failed.

"In the oral culture of the Caribbean, local rulers were no more able to control the rapid spread of information than were able to control the movements of the ships or the paperless people with which this information travelled. The books, newspapers and letters which arrived with the ships were not only the avenue for the flow of information and news in Afro-America. While written documents always had a vital place, black cultural traditions that favored speech and white laws that restricted literacy gave a continuing primacy to other channels of communication... In cultures where people depended upon human contact for information."

Following the Haitian Revolution, Cuba, then a Spanish colony, saw an increase of slaves import as it sought to replace Saint Domingue as the world's number one sugar exporter.

Haiti at the height of the slaves' imports' increase into Cuba was shattered by internal political discords; the legacy of nearly four centuries of slavery, and of course the assassination of Haiti's father of Independence.

The country was literally split open by fresh colonial wounds. It was divided in two.
Henry Christophe as King of Northern Haiti and Alexandre Petion as President of the Republic of Haiti in the south, although bitterly divided, both had the common sense to realize that the increase of slaves import in Cuba only 639 km away, posed significant national security threats to the island; and both took independent measures to counteract these threats.

In 1809, Petion sent a ship to Cuba to bring back Haitians who wanted to return and requested permission to keep sending such ships, since potential passengers were not likely to have the resources to organize return trip on their own.

Early in 1811, news began arriving in Havana about new and daring acts by Christophe in the North, who was intercepting slave ships bound for Cuba, liberating the Africans on board, bringing them to Haitian soil as ostensibly free men and women and sending the crews and empty ships on their way.
Such was the fate of at least three ships. The nueva Gerona, an unnamed ship with 440 Africans from Rio to Havana and, the Santa Ana, whose shipment of 205 slaves was liberated and taken by force to the port of Gonaives.

In : Haitian Revolution 


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