VIII. Impact and Representation of the Revolution


Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the U. S.
50. St. George Tucker, A Dissertation on slavery (Philadelphia, 1796).

The news of the Haitian Revolution echoed throughout the slave societies of the Atlantic world.  The immediate effects of the Revolution were felt most strongly in the Caribbean, but its ideological impact was perhaps greatest in the United States, where thousands of French planters went to take refuge. In this 1796 treatise advocating the gradual abolition of slavery in America, a leading Virginian jurist and anti-federalist named St. George Tucker wrote that the Haitian experience was “enough to make one shudder” in fear of “similar calamities in this country.” He recommended colonization in unsettled western territory rather than full political equality and coexistence with whites.


Sympathetic account of the Haitian Revolution
51. “The mode of exterminating the Black army, as practiced by the French.” In: Marcus Rainsford, An historical account of the black empire of Hayti (London, 1805).

One of the few fully sympathetic accounts of the Haitian Revolution by outsiders was written by the British military officer Marcus Rainsford. Rainsford’s volume opened with several graphic engravings by J. Barlow illustrating the brutal methods used by French invading forces to repress the Haitian armies in 1802 and 1803, as well as the violent retribution exacted by Louverture’s and Dessalines’s men. This engraving dramatized the use of bloodhounds that General Rochambeau is said to have brought from Cuba to aid in the “extermination” of the black forces.


*52. “Desalines.” In: Jean-Louis Dubroca, Vida de J. J. Dessalines (Mexico, 1806).

Jean-Jacques Dessalines,who succeeded to leadership of the war of independence following Louverture’s deportation to France in the summer of 1802, quickly became a symbol to foreign observers of the violence and authoritarianism of the Haitian Revolution.  After vilifying Louverture at the behest of Bonaparte’s regime in 1802, Jean-Louis Dubroca published this equally caustic account of Dessalines’s life. The 1806 Spanish edition was the only one to include the engraving displayed here, which featured Dessalines holding the decapitated head of a white woman in one hand, his sword in the other. The book also appeared in a German translation.


Hereditary monarchy for Haiti?
53. Haiti. Le conseil d’etat, au peuple et à  l’armée de terre et de mer de Hayti (Cap-Haïtien, 1811).

A series of former generals in Toussaint Louverture’s army succeeded to the leadership of Haiti after independence in 1804. Within a few years of independence, Haiti was effectively split into two halves: a northern monarchy led by former black slaves, and a republic led by elite free people of color in the south. One of Louverture’s former officers, Henri Christophe, proclaimed himself president of (northern) Haiti in 1807.  In 1811, he convened his council of state to revise the 1807 Constitution with the goal of instituting a hereditary monarchy and nobility in Haiti. Denouncing the “horrible convulsions” and “factions” that had come before, Christophe’s government insisted that a single, hereditary ruler was necessary to bring stability to Haiti. The pamphlet notes that even though Haitians are, like the Americans, “a new people,” the institution of the American presidency was unsuited to the Old World origins of Haitian society.


Alexandre Pétion
[Alexandre Pétion ]  (Paris? Between 1807 and 1818?)

Alexandre Pétion (1770-1818) was the first president of the (southern) Republic of Haiti upon its establishment in 1807. He served in this office until 1816, when a new constitution made him President for life. Pétion had risen to prominence as an officer in the French army under the French emissary Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, fighting against British forces in Saint-Domingue. He sided with the mulatto uprising in the south against Toussaint Louverture and left the island for France in 1800 upon Louverture’s victory. He returned as a French army officer with the Leclerc expedition in 1802, then switched sides when it became clear that Dessalines and the black army would prevail.  Pétion was one of the signatories of the act of Haitian independence in January 1804.


Eyewitness to the Revolution
54. Manuscrit d’un voyage de France a Saint Domingue, à la Havanne, et aux Unis États [sic] d’Amérique (France? 1816). MS.

The anonymous author of this manuscript eyewitness account of the Haitian Revolution claims to have been present continuously in Saint-Domingue from the revolution’s beginnings in 1789 to its end in 1804, a feat that not many white residents of the colony can claim to have matched. His parents dispatched the author to Saint-Domingue after he refused to obey their wish that he become a Capuchin friar. In Part II of his manuscript, dated 1816, the author writes that the “troubles began in this unfortunate colony towards the end of September 1789” with the importation of the French revolutionary symbol, the “cursed” red-white-and-blue cockade.

  Exhibition prepared by: Malick W. Ghachem (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), guest curator, with assistance from Susan Danforth (Curator of Maps and Prints, John Carter Brown Library).