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(en) France, UCL AL #318 - January 1802-November 1803, Dossier Haitian Revolution: The tortuous paths of the war of independence (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Fri, 24 Sep 2021 09:23:53 +0300

Coming to regain control of the island, the French expedition multiplies crimes and massacres. Yellow fever and the popular uprising will rout it. But fierce rivalries will also tear the independence resistance apart. ---- ince 1793, blocked by the British fleet, the French government followed from afar, powerless, the transformations of its most lucrative colony. At the end of 1801, the signing of peace with England changed everything. The First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, decided to take back the island, and even let himself be convinced by the colonists' lobby that it was possible (!) To reestablish slavery there.
A huge expedition, commanded by his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, is set up. It will last two years and cost the lives of nine tenths of the 63,000 soldiers and sailors who will take part, including twenty generals[1]. It will also kill 100,000 local people. With Spain and Russia, it will be the most calamitous of the Napoleonic campaigns.

Charles Leclerc (1772-1802)
Brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte, he led the 1802 expedition, which turned into disaster. Having become paranoid, he initiates the policy of extermination of black soldiers.
Toussaint Louverture, who expected such a coup, had planned a simple strategy: refuse the frontal combat, practice scorched earth, arm the farmers, fall back into the mountains and, above all, wait for the rainy season and the devastation of yellow fever on Europeans. There would then only be to pluck the victory.

Unfortunately, this plan will fail for lack of support among the population and even in the army. The wounds of the war in the South and the bloody repression of October 1801 are not for nothing.

While in February 1802, the French landed at four points on the island, the East and the South surrendered without a fight, as did Port-Républicain. In the North and West, the Louverture strategy was applied in places, and the Cape, in particular, was set on fire. Dessalines adds its personal touch by massacring all the white civilians in its path. For his part, the odious General Rochambeau had the entire black garrison of Fort-Liberté executed.

Then begins a war of movement, the stake of which is to hold out until the rainy season, in May.

February-April 1802: the "three-month war"
On the strength of his numerical superiority, the invader won three battles: at the ravine at Couleuvres, at Plaisance, at Crête-à-Pierrot - where 1,200 defenders stood up for three weeks against 15,000 attackers. Toussaint is reduced to 6,000 soldiers, farmers and armed farmers[2]. His relays: black officers (Bélair, Dessalines, Christophe, Vernet), mulattos (Lamartinière, Larose, Gabart) and even a white (Barada) and a rallied brown chief (Makaya).

At the Battle of the Ravine at Couleuvres, Toussaint had to retreat in front of Rochambeau.
Engraving by Girardet and Outhwaite (1837)
General Leclerc's strategy is more profitable. He claims that he has by no means come to reestablish slavery, but only republican law, and free Santo Domingo from its "governor for life". The officers of color who submit are maintained in their rank ... and keep their property. Another asset: he brought back with him General Rigaud and all the "Mulatto party" (Villatte, Pétion, Geffrard, Boyer ...) who had been driven from the island in 1800. No fools of the role played to them play[3], the latter will be disgusted by the deportation, in March 1802, of their leader, considered too ambitious by Leclerc. But for now, they are used as a call.

At the Fort de la Crête-à-Pierrot, 1,200 defenders stood up for three weeks against 15,000 attackers.
Engraving by Hébert / Archives de la Gironde.
This work of seduction, combined with Leclerc's military superiority, produced the expected results. The local commanders rally one after the other: ex-partisans of Rigaud, Maroon leaders like Lamour Dérance, discouraged officers like Maurepas... Then, thunderclap, April 26, 1802, it is a heavyweight, General Henry Christophe , who submits, with 1,200 men!

On May 6, Toussaint Louverture, perhaps sensing other defections, negotiated his surrender. Leclerc, whose troops are very tried, accepts with relief. The former "governor for life" will be confined to his domain, with a modest guard. Its generals are reinstated in the army, with their rank.

Bonaparte demanded that the "epaulettes negroes" be sent to France, but Leclerc could not bring himself to do so. He needs them for the second phase of the plan: the disarmament of the cultivators and the liquidation of the last pockets of resistance. For the rest, he wrote to Bonaparte on May 7, the situation is "beautiful and brilliant" ... notwithstanding the first cases of yellow fever. Alas, by the time his letter reaches Paris in July, the epidemic will have exploded, saturating hospitals with yellowish-skinned soldiers, vomiting black blood ... and dying by the dozen every day.

May 1802: beginning of popular resistance

Jean-Baptiste Sans-Souci (? -1802)
Colonel in Toussaint Louverture's army, he raised the flag of resistance to the French between May and October 1802, after the surrender of his leaders. He will be assassinated by his former superior, Henry Christophe.
Toussaint Louverture will no longer be there to see him: on June 7, Leclerc had him deported to France, following a betrayal by Dessalines. The latter, undoubtedly in a hurry to make the French forget his killings of whites, accused old Toussaint of encouraging the rebel maquis[4].

The rallied black and mulatto generals are then like willing hostages, constantly obliged to prove their loyalty. But they also know that the French cannot do without them to put down the maroons and the revolted farmers. They do not skimp on repressive violence and hope, in all cases, to succeed.

During this period, it is without them and against them that the resistance stands, led by the Maroon leaders Makaya, Goman and Lamour Dérance (shocked by the deportation of Rigaud), as well as by Colonel Sans-Souci, Sylla and Petit -Noël Prieur, officers of General Christophe who had denounced his submission.

From August 1802, this resistance took on the appearance of a real people's war when a terrible news spread: slavery was re-established in Guadeloupe ! Leclerc therefore lied about his intentions ! The learner, the cultivators rise in droves.

Will the colored generals join them? Not at all. Only Charles and Sanite Bélair do it. Too early. Captured by Dessalines, he and she are delivered to the French, who will shoot them[5].

Nonetheless, the connections between the insurgency and certain officers of color are increasingly evident. The French, who have already lost more than half of their workforce, are panicking. "Here is my opinion on this country," Leclerc wrote to Bonaparte on October 7. It is necessary to destroy all the negroes of the mountains, men and women, to keep only the children under 12 years,[...]and not to leave[...]a single colored man who wore the epaulet, without that the colony will never be peaceful."

Seeing themselves in danger, the black and mulatto generals finally make their decision. In mid-October, with their troops, they went into rebellion en bloc... and immediately claimed leadership. Ulcerated by what they consider opportunism, Lamour Dérance and Sans-Souci refuse with disgust.

November 1802: the Rochambeau deliquescence

Donatien de Rochambeau (1750-1813)
A reactionary and sadistic officer, he led the French forces in Santo Domingo after the death of General Leclerc. He will remain as the executioner of the Antilles.
With the defection of the colored troops, the French went from panic to paranoia. All Black is now seen as a potential traitor. While Leclerc ordered a general withdrawal into the coastal towns, several black regiments that had not deserted were disarmed by surprise, then exterminated: with bayonets, or by drowning, a cannonball at their feet. Nearly 4,000 men perished in this way.

But the worst is yet to come. In November 1802, General Leclerc died of yellow fever, as the epidemic was drawing to a close. He will be replaced by one of the worst specimens of aristocratic bestiality: General Rochambeau. This sadist, inhabited by the same exterminating fantasies as his predecessor, will multiply crimes and exactions, drowning prisoners by the hundreds, or gassing them at the bottom of the hold, sacrificing the reinforcements received from the mainland in murderous expeditions without a clear military objective. He went so far as to import Cuban mastiffs known to be "negro hunters" [6]. They will prove to be of mediocre military value, but he will give them prisoners to devour, sometimes in public.

In the fall of 1802, stricken with paranoia, the French army drowned its own black soldiers by the hundreds.
Engraving from Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (1805).

French prisoners hanged by the rebel army, in retaliation for the drownings of black soldiers.
Engraving from Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti (1805).
The situation worsened further in May 1803, with the return of the fever season and the resumption of hostilities between France and England. Again, the Atlantic is locked. Deprived of reinforcements, supplies and money, the army was starved and had to "live in the country". She then devotes herself to looting, including homes she is supposed to protect, to the chagrin of the settlers! Sensing their end near, the officers traffic in order to enrich themselves and make the most of it. The expedition sinks into corruption, amazement and blood[7]. Bonaparte, annoyed by this catastrophe, is henceforth disinterested in the question.

May 1803: Dessalines imposes his command

Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806)
This former slave is the most intrepid, but also the most brutal of the leaders of the revolution. Winner of the French, he proclaimed himself Emperor of Haiti. Tired of his dictatorship, Pétion and Christophe will conspire against him and bring him down.
During this time, the insurgent forces are gaining in cohesion. Besides the fight against the French, one of the objectives of the colored generals is to eliminate the dissident leaders. In the North, Colonel Sans-Souci was the main leader of the resistance from May to October 1802. In January 1803, his former superior, Christophe, had him assassinated. Then it will be the turn of Petit-Noël Prieur. In the South, Goman prefers to submit. In the West, Lamour Dérance will be eliminated in July.

From May 14 to 18, 1803, when the unification of the insurgent forces was almost completed, a conference of military commanders was held in Arcahaie. Three important orientations are confirmed there. First, the war waged no longer aims at the autonomy of the colony, but at its independence. Second, the blue and red flag - without the white, synonymous with oppression - is adopted. Third, the black general Dessalines is confirmed as supreme leader, the mulatto general Pétion being his second. This duo, which had clashed hard during the Southern War in 1799-1800, will symbolize the "union of the two colors", reconciled to found a new nation.

The following six months will only be a French rout against a background of yellow fever, the "Indigenous Army" methodically resuming control of the territory. Port-Républicain was freed in October 1803. Finally, on November 19, at the end of an epic battle, Dessalines seized Fort de Vertières, the last lock before Cap-Français. Cornered, Rochambeau capitulates and evacuates Saint-Domingue with less than 4,000 soldiers, women and civilians.

The victory of the insurgent forces gives birth to a new country. It is populated by ex-slaves who have won their freedom with arms in hand. And this cannot be to the taste of the surrounding imperialist powers.

Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)

General Capois, known as "Capois-la-Mort" (on the right) was the hero of the battle of Vertières, on November 18, 1803, which completed the liberation of Haiti.
Painting by Ulrick Jean-Pierre (1989).

It is Dessalines who would have created the flag of Haiti, by tearing the white strip of a French flag.
Painting by Ulrick Jean-Pierre (1995)

Nearly 5,000 Poles, who thought they were fighting alongside the French to liberate their country from the Tsar, were sent to Saint-Domingue in 1801 by Bonaparte. Several hundred passed to the rebels, and obtained Haitian citizenship.
Painting by Janvier Suchodolski (1854).

In the Haitian national novel, the alliance between the old enemies, the Mulatto Pétion and the Black Dessalines, symbolizes the union of the two colors founding independence.
Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, The Oath of the Ancestors (1822).

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