this was the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world
On April 28, 1804 Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the creation of Haiti, a new nation born from the ashes of the French
colony Saint-Domingue. In thirteen years of nearly constant conflict, the former enslaved people of Saint-Domingue had fought two wars. First, led by Toussaint Louverture, they
had fought to abolish slavery. Then they had risen up against their colonial masters, declared independence, and taken control of the island. These conflicts—known collectively as
the Haitian Revolution—were fierce and brutal struggles among enslaved people, French colonists, and other groups in the colony.
“Never again will a European colonist
set foot on the territory of Haiti as a
master or proprietor.”
—Dessalines, April 28, 1804
Upon declaring independence, Haiti claimed a unique place in history. It became the first fully free society in the Atlantic world
by abolishing slavery. It also became the second independent nation (after the United States) and the first independent black nation in the Americas.
For the people of Haiti, life had changed irrevocably. Haiti’s revolution marked a complete political, social, and economic
transformation of pre-revolutionary society. In just over a decade, the enslaved population of Haiti overthrew colonial society and established themselves as free and independent
citizens of a new state. They also claimed land that had previously been theirs only to work for others.
Why is it important to understand the Haitian Revolution today?
The events in Haiti from 1791 to 1804 were closely tied to other events in world history. The struggles of the people of Saint-
Domingue were intertwined with the events of the French Revolution, Europe’s conquest of the Caribbean, the growth of the infant United States, and the struggles of oppressed groups
in nearby colonies.
In addition, the Revolution had far-reaching consequences across both time and place. Haiti became the only black state in a world dominated by European powers, slavery, and the slave trade. The success of the Revolution gave hope and inspiration to enslaved people throughout the region and the world. It fueled debates about slavery and abolition in the United States and across Europe. Haiti’s triumph would also help spark a movement against European colonialism across the
Americas, Asia, and Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Understanding the Revolution is also key to understanding the country of Haiti today. Haiti is the poorest country in the
Western Hemisphere. Since the Revolution ended over two hundred years ago, Haiti has struggled with external and internal challenges. The Revolution destroyed nearly all of the country’s infrastructure and production capabilities. In the 1800s, European and U.S. leaders ostracized the fledgling nation
politically and economically, contributing to Haiti’s decline from one of the world’s wealthiest colonies to one of its most impoverished countries. Many scholars relate Haiti’s current
poverty to legacies of French colonialism and the aftermath of the Revolution.
In the coming days, you will read about the history of the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti is located. You will learn about the
colony of Saint-Domingue and consider how local and international factors contributedto the successful revolt of Saint-Domingue’s enslaved people. You will also explore the events of the Revolution and the role that various groups on and off the island played in the conflict. You will then be asked to consider the future of Saint-Domingue in 1801, at a point when slavery had been abolished but Saint- Domingue was still a French colony. Finally, you will examine the results of the Revolution, both for Haiti and the world.