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Haiti 1791

History of the Disasters in Saint-Domingue

Source: Michel Etienne Decourtilz, Histoire des desastres de


Saint-Domingue. Chez garnery, Paris An III (1795);
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2004.

The French naturalist Michel Etienne Descourtilz lived


in Saint-Domingue during much of the revolt that led
to independence for the island. This is his account of
the beginning of the uprising in August 1791 in Le
Cap.

It was August 23, 1791 that the plot broke out that, in the
blink of an eye, covered in ruin and blood the most brilliant,
the richest county of the universe. The entire horizon
suddenly seemed covered by a thick smoke, and one could
distinctly see the flames occupy the environs of Limonade
and Morin in the north, La Petite Anse and Limb, and finally
the entire extent of the area known under the name of Plaine
du Cap that surrounds that city. A crowd of men, women and
children, escaped from the fire and iron of the assassins, ran
there from everywhere, seeking refuge. It was learned from
them that the slaves were in a state of insurrection, and that
almost everywhere they'd killed their masters and
representatives, and that they'd set fire to the buildings and
the sugarcane in order to promote their projects.

Soon the ravages reached the gates of Le Cap, from which


one could see the rebels the torch in one hand and iron in
the other set fire everywhere, and pursue the unfortunate
ones who fled the burning homes and sought to escape a sure
death. Panic fear was the first emotion one felt in that city.

There soon followed a disturbing agitation and furor: there


was a united cry against the mulattoes, and the multitude
viewed them as the authors of the disaster that surrounded
them. From this idea it was only one small step to the most
terrible vengeance. The petits blancs [1]threw themselves upon
the first men of color who offered themselves to their blows,
and treated them just as the rebels were treating at the same
time the whites of the burning plains. Some were massacred
and the rest would have met the same fate if more humane
men hadnt thrown themselves between them and their
assassins, and hadnt managed to calm this movement of a
blinded and furious multitude. The provincial assembly of the
North immediately established places of refuge for these
unfortunates, most of whom, at least the women and
children, had nothing to do with the crimes for which their
like were responsible...

Masters of the plains, where they met no resistance, the


blacks could have spread out and carried throughout the
colony the example of the rebellion, the germ of which must
secretly have existed everywhere there was slaves, and that
waited for nothing but their approach in order to develop. A
little bit of concerted action would easily have overcome the
feeble obstacles put in their way in the first moments. But
themselves astonished by their progress and drunk with joy,
they lost the most precious instants by celebrating their
victories, festivities that ended with the massacre of a great
number of unfortunate prisoners, who their rage had at first
spared. They had barely spared a few elderly most of whom
have since died of hunger and poverty and a few women
exposed to outrages a thousand times more cruel than death.
The impression they'd initially made gradually weakened;
one began to have contempt for an enemy who was only
terrible due to his number and the flames that marked his
steps. It was soon resolved to attack him in the midst of the
ruins with which he was surrounded. Of the 25 parishes that
make up the North only eight but the most important of
them had been totally ruined. The others had only partially
suffered. The fury and the attacks of the blacks had slowed
down. Not only could the places they hadnt attacked be
guaranteed, but they could even have been attacked in the
center of their conquests and in the places in which they
believed themselves to be the most tranquil owners if, left to
themselves and their own means, they hadnt been supported
and guided by an invisible and experienced hand. In all of the
blacks attempts, and in the most remarkable of their actions,
they appeared to march under the command of freemen of
color, along with chiefs they'd chosen from among their own
class. Everywhere one saw the mixed- bloods make common
cause with them, and their property spared in the midst of
the ruin of that of whites. Some among them made
themselves remarkable by acts of barbarism more atrocious
than those committed by the most ferocious blacks: the
mulatto Candy had the eyes of whites who'd fallen into his
hands torn out with corkscrews reddened by fire; the bloody
Coco Mondion had 34 hung in one day.