The History of Haiti

The True Haitian Sensation


The Battle of Vertieres, photo from the Haitian Studies Association

Hannah Garrett, Writer

In 1791, a revolution broke out in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, later known as Haiti. Haiti was first colonized by the French in the earlier part of the 17th century and they surely made their presence known. Haiti became a fruitful French outpost built off some of the most violent slave plantations. Before the revolution, there were an estimated 465,000 enslaved Africans. The enslaved were forced to endure severe hardship while cultivating their oppressors’ wealth. The frustrations of the affranchis (free people of mixed or African descent) contributed to the immense hatred of the colonizers. The affranchis were not treated equally and their aspirations of freedom and equality were not recognized. Overall, inspired by the recent French and American revolutions, the enslaved Africans and the affranchis of Haiti decided to challenge their oppressors — by starting a revolution that could not be stopped. 

The Haitian revolution began on August 14th, 1791, as 200 members of the black and affranchis populations gathered together in the northern town of Morne-Rouge to plan their revolt. Together, they voted and nominated Georges Biassou to lead their revolution. Georges Biassou was born a slave and was an early leader of the revolution from 1791–1795. The revolution started with the burning of plantations. The enslaved of one plantation would join those of the neighboring plantations and would arm themselves with any weapons they could find. Soon enough, the uprising resulted in around 100,000 enslaved Africans, more than 1,000 European deaths, and 1,000 plantations burned to the ground. These events continued for the next 13 years.

Among the leaders of the revolt was Toussaint Louverture, also known as the “Father of Haiti. Louverture helped shape the enslaved Africans into a strong, disciplined army that could defeat the French. After the Spanish joined the Revolution against the French, Louverture became a Spanish officer and was denied his rights as a French citizen just so the enslaved could be free. The British, who at the time were also at war with France, joined the Haitian Revolution as well. The French did not want the enslaved Africans to be free and did not give them freedom. The rebels (the slaves who fought back) freed themselves by forcing colonial commissioners to abolish slavery. In fact, the Battle of Vertières, one of the most important battles, was the final step to freedom and was led by Jean Jacques Dessalines. When Louverture finally got what he wanted (the end of slavery), he switched back to the French side of the war and helped end the French conflict with the Spanish and British, successfully kicking both out of Saint-Domingue. The Haitian Revolution consequently ended with Haitian independence being declared on January 1st, 1804. Victory!

The result of the enslaved Africans and the affranchise’s revolt led to the establishment of a free state with the freedom to choose who governs. The Haitian Revolution was the first successful revolution that was started by the enslaved people. The revolution established an anti-slavery rhetoric3 all throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. If it were not for the enslaved revolts, slavery in Haiti may still exist to this day.


Outpost –A small military camp or position at some distance from the main force is used, especially as a guard against surprise attacks.

Rhetoric –language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

Fruitful – producing good or helpful results; productive