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(en) France, UCL AL #318 - July 1792-August 1793, Dossier Haitian Revolution: Allying with the imperialists to defeat them (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 21 Sep 2021 10:05:49 +0300

As Spanish and English forces invade Santo Domingo, the leaders of the black insurgency play into rivalries between slave powers to advance their own cause. In August 1793, forced to implore their help, the French authorities abolished slavery. ---- During most of the year 1792, the civil war continued quietly in the northern province of Santo Domingo, the epicenter of the slave revolt. Barricaded in the coastal towns, the whites eagerly await military reinforcements from the metropolis, while the black insurgents, who hold the countryside and the mountains, apprehend this possibility.
The situation deteriorated in the second half of 1792, with the first bad news for the insurgent slaves: on July 14, after months of procrastination and the signing of three "concordats" without a future, banquets were organized to celebrate the peace between the rebels. white and mulatto militias. It was not without difficulty. The great whites, in a hurry to save their plantations from the dark peril, were quite ready to grant civic equality to their mulatto counterparts. But the little whites, fearing to lose their privilege of color, did everything - including anti-emulatto pogroms - to prevent it.

The agreement was finally sealed when, from Paris, the decree of April 4, 1792 was reached granting citizenship to "free of color", mulattoes and blacks. This reconciliation will in fact remain precarious, because the white settlers will subsequently have a hard time supporting the rapid rise of the "citizens of April 4" to positions of power - military, legal, administrative - from which they had hitherto been excluded.

Léger-Félicité Sonthonax (1763-1813)
Civil Commissioner sent by the National Assembly to Santo Domingo, he was commissioned to keep the colony in France. For this, he will go so far as to abolish slavery.
In September 1792, second bad news for the insurgents: the long-awaited military reinforcements land in Saint-Domingue: 6,000 French soldiers come to restore order in the colony. In the territories they control, the slaves fear the attack... yet it does not come. In fact, barely landed, the expeditionary force was paralyzed by violent internal quarrels, following the dismissal, in Paris, of Louis XVI. In Cap-Français, royalist and republican officers intrigue against each other, and their conflict overlaps with that between Whites and Mulattoes, which then resurfaced.

At the end of three months, it is a Republican-Mulatto alliance which wins, with at its head men such as the civil commissioner Sonthonax and the general-governor Étienne Laveaux, from France, and the mulatto commanders André Rigaud and Jean-Louis Villatte, natives of the colony.

The masters' camp is therefore clarified: the recalcitrant royalist officers and great whites are sent to France at the bottom of the hold, the exclusively white provincial assemblies are dissolved and the decree of April 4 on the citizenship of free blacks and mulattoes is rigorously applied. A "Legion of Liberty", made up of a few hundred free men of all colors, was set up in the North to enforce the new republican order... and to subdue the slaves.

In January 1793, the offensive began. Under-equipped, divided, the black insurgents are losing their footing; strongholds fall; it is the withdrawal into the mountain. Fortunately, a new providential event comes, at the end of a few weeks, to divert the expeditionary force from its mission: the kings of England and Spain have declared war on the French Republic.

In the spring of 1793, in the North, the black insurgents formed supplementary militias of the Spanish army. They gain food, weapons and equipment.
Alexandre Lacauchie / Gironde Archives
The Special Alliance with the Spaniards
For black insurgents, this is the unexpected opportunity to play one slave power against another. The leaders of the North make this bet, and enter into an alliance with the governor of Santo Domingo, the Spanish part of the island. As soon as the supplies, arms and ammunition pour in, and the balance of power is reversed. The black militias, now auxiliary to the Spanish army, regained the lost ground. They even gain in technicality thanks to the reinforcement of white officers who, through royalism, desert the French army!

Black leaders, however, do not all have the same relationship to Spanish allegiance. Rather mercenaries, Jean-François and Biassou are satisfied to have gained their freedom there and that of their men, a stronghold, a title of general and comfortable incomes. But Biassou's lieutenant, Toussaint Bréda, who now commands 3,000 combatants, has a much more political vision. For him, we must raise the stakes, and not lose sight of the objective of "general freedom".

Thus, from the first half of 1793, he negotiated secretly with the French command: abolish slavery, and I change alliance. Refusal. Furious, Toussaint submits to the Spanish governor a war plan to beat the French by brandishing "general liberty". Refusal also, unsurprisingly [1].

During this period, however, the French troops were at their worst, threatened on the outside by the British navy and the Spanish army, betrayed inside by the great whites who were plotting for a Hispano-English victory. After having put down, in April, a royalist sedition in Port-au-Prince, they are overwhelmed, in June 1793, by a revolt in Cap-Français.

Driven from the city by the factions, cornered, the French command then resolves to extend a hand to its enemies of the day before: the black insurgents. On June 21, he proclaimed that "all the negro warriors" who will fight for the republic against its enemies "either from the inside or from the outside" will be freed. Several insurgent leaders, including the well-respected Makaya, accepted the proposal. From the mountains, they swooped down on Cape Town with 10,000 fighters. Panicked, the factions crowd onto the ships and flee the city in the throes of flames. About 6,000 took refuge in the United States, where they formed a large counter-revolutionary community in exile. Historian CLR James will see " the end of white domination in Santo Domingo" [2].

The French therefore regained control of Cape Town and appointed Villatte commander of the "pearl of the Antilles". It is now cleansed of all traces of reactionary opposition ... but is 80% in ruins.

With the help of the black insurgents, the republican authorities recaptured Cap-Français from the royalists on June 21, 1793, but the city was 80% destroyed.
Engraving by Jean-Baptiste Chapuy after Pierre-Jean Boquet (1794)
The French ready for all concessions
On the strength of this success, during the month of July 1793, from North to South of the colony, the French proclaim the liberation of all the insurgent slaves who will join the ranks of the republican army ... and will undertake to return to irons their fugitive comrades. This policy is obviously flawed. The French are convinced of this when Makaya and his fighters brutally break their alliance and pass to the Spaniards who, in addition to the postage, pay better [3].

The French command therefore resolves to the long-awaited gesture, supposed to give it a real comparative advantage: on August 29, 1793, Sonthonax proclaims the abolition of slavery. Having been unable to consult the Convention in Paris, he does so on his own initiative, out of realism, because there is no other choice. "The French Republic wants freedom and equality between all men, without distinction of color , affirms their proclamation. Kings only like themselves among slaves. They are the ones who, on the coasts of Africa, sold you to the Whites; it is the tyrants of Europe who would like to perpetuate this infamous traffic." A message clearly built for rallying the black soldiers in uniform Spanish.

Alas, insufficient to convince. Isn't this Sonthonax a feverish and sneaky talker? Are these French people trustworthy? And above all, do they have a future? Nothing is less sure. A month after the proclamation of abolition, they face, in fact, an additional peril: a British military landing. There is therefore no hurry. Pragmatic, the black insurgents will continue to observe the evolution of the balance of power.

Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)

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