The Effects of the French Revolution in the Caribbean
The French Revolution had a major impact on the French colonies of the Caribbean. Eric Martone the author of the article “Gens de Couleur in Saint Domingue and France during the French Revolution” explained that prior to the French Revolution the Caribbean colonies that were owned by France were the top producers of the “Western society’s sugar and coffee.” The majority of this sugar and coffee was produced in San Domingue.
As a result of the French Revolution, San Domingue, the most profitable French Caribbean colony became the first independent island that was free from colonial rule following a successful slave revolt and thereafter France lost the remaining other French colonies to the British.
San Domingue was on the island of Hispaniola and the French owned the Northern portion of the island. As a direct result of the French Revolution the island of San Domingue went through the Haitian Revolution and became what is known today as Haiti.
The French Revolution began in “1789” and was explained as “radical and complex” by Merry E. Weisner-Hanks the author of the text book A History of World Societies (563). According to David Andress the author of the article “The French Revolution: A Complete History?” the French Revolution occurred primarily because the “French State was lurching towards bankruptcy.” Amidst the revolution, the French National Assembly developed the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen August 27, 1789” (Weisner-Hanks 563).
This declaration stirred up rumors of freedom and traveled with the news of a revolution. The speculations began to quickly spread to different countries about the French Revolution and the possibility of freedom. The news eventually made its way to the French Caribbean colonies where the rumors sparked events that would forever change the future of the Caribbean colonies.
Laurent Dubois the author of the text A Colony of Citizens??: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean explained that in response to the rumors and the newly adopted Declaration that “slaves continued to assert that the king had made them free” (106). The news of the new declaration and the revolution in France rapidly triggered diverse responses amongst the colonists, plantation owners, slaves, and free people of color. The white colonists and plantation owners decided that they wanted their own representation in the National Assembly.
They organized a group of people and were determined to get representation. Adversely, there were some supporters of the crown in San Domingue and they did not want to oppose the French crown. Eric Martone the author of the article “Gens de Couleur in Saint Domingue and France during the French Revolution” explained that people of San Domingue “with assistance from Amis des Noirs, petitioned for their own representation.” The opposition in perspectives among the social classes of the colony resulted in an overall feeling of animosity amongst the people of the colony.
Martone also clarified that the “slaves were willing to believe such talk” of freedom and they “would risk their lives” to be free. However, the Assembly refused to give rights to the slave and free people of color in the colonies that they owned. A free man of color named Vincent Og went back to San Dominque from Paris, France in July of 1790 and he was determined to win the rights of the slave (Weisner-Hanks 573). Og developed an army and demanded that the French National Assembly give full rights to the slaves.
Dubois in the introduction of his book explained that during this time that colonial administrators would argue that the people of the colony “did not have the cultural and intellectual capacities to responsibly exercise political rights” (4). The rights were not given and turned to violent uprisings. He was eventually captured and executed. Some leaders in Paris felt that had a good cause and believed that the free people of color should be given rights. Thus, the National Assembly gave political rights to free people of color. Their rights were determined by the amount of property that both of their parents had to own. Adversely, the governor of the colony refused to give them their political rights, resulting in a conflict between the whites and the free people of color.
France never anticipated that the colonies would adopt the laws because they would not work with the colonies current laws (Martin). In return, the slaves of San Dominque began to hold night time meetings and began working together to destroy plantations all over the island. The extent of revolts and damage were very concerning to the French National Assembly. San Domingue was one of their most profitable colonies. As a result, the National Assembly issued a decree extending full citizenship rights to free men of African descent in hopes to end the revolts. In 1793 Toussaint L’Ouverture joined the revolt as a Spanish officer. Not long after that, L’Ouverture switched sides and became the French lieutenant governor of the colony (Weisner-Hanks 574-575).
By October 1973 slavery throughout the colony had been abolished and by 1794 it was ratified throughout all French colonies (Martin). As L’Ouverture developed control of San Domingue he began to develop his own government system. Ren?© Chartrand the author of the article “Toussaint L’Ouverture’s Haitian Infantry, 1798-1799” identified that “L’Ouverture organized his infantry” from “1794-1795.” His gain of power and authority began to enrage the free people of color. Therefore, a civil war for control San Domingue began in 1799 but by 1800 L’Ouverture had regained complete control of the entire island.
He was later caught by a general from Napoleon’s army and was deported to France where he died. L’Ouverture’s predecessor took over the fight for San Domingue and the island of Hispaniola. His predecessor was Lieutenant Jean Jacques Dessalines and he defeated Napoleon’s attempt to capture the island. Afterwards, Dessalines declared Haiti an independent and sovereign nation (Weisner-Hanks 575). Eventually, France lost ownership of all of their remaining Caribbean colonies to the British.
Overall, the French Revolution effected the colonies of the Caribbean that were owned by France and triggered revolutionary changes to the social order of San Domingue (Dubois 28). Through the spread of rumors slaves heard of the revolution in France, “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen,” and freedom. These rumors eventually led to slave revolts and essentially the beginning of the Haitian Revolution.
briefly attempted to aid in gaining freedom for slaves and that led to his execution. Then L’Ouverture began to fight for the freedom and was later captured. Dessalines then took over where L’Ouverture left off and gained control of the island. The effects of the French Revolution fundamentally led to San Domingue becoming the first country to have a successful slave revolt that ended in freedom for colonial slaves, San Domingue becoming the first Latin American independent country, and France losing all of their Caribbean colonies.