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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]
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
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 .
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" .
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 .
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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