1804 Haiti massacre
The 1804 Haiti massacre was carried out against the remaining white population of native French people and French Creoles (or Franco-Haitians) in Haiti by Haitian soldiers under orders from Jean-Jacques Dessalines. He had decreed that all suspected of conspiring in the acts of the expelled army should be put to death.
|Date||January 1804 – 22 April 1804|
|Target||White population, i.e. the French and French Creoles|
The massacre, which took place throughout Haiti, occurred from early January 1804 until 22 April 1804, and resulted in the death of 3,000 to 5,000 men, women, and children. Squads of soldiers moved from house to house, torturing and killing entire families. Even whites who had been friendly and sympathetic to the black population were imprisoned and later killed. A second wave of massacres targeted white women and children.
Throughout the early-to-mid nineteenth century, these events were well known in the United States, where they were called "the horrors of Santo Domingo". In addition, many refugees had come to the U.S. from Saint-Domingue, settling in New Orleans, Charleston, New York, Baltimore and other coastal cities. These events polarized Southern U.S. public opinion on the question of the abolition of slavery.
Henri Christophe's personal secretary, who was a slave for much of his life, said about the treatment of slaves in Saint-Domingue:
Have they not hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to consume faeces? And, having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup? Have they not put men and women inside barrels studded with spikes and rolled them down mountainsides into the abyss? Have they not consigned these miserable blacks to man eating-dogs until the latter, sated by human flesh, left the mangled victims to be finished off with bayonet and poniard?
The Haitian RevolutionEdit
In 1791, a man of Jamaican origin named Boukman became the leader of the enslaved Africans held on a large plantation in Cap-Français. In the wake of the revolution in France, he planned to massacre all the whites living in Cap-Français. On 22 August 1791, the blacks descended to Le Cap, where they destroyed the plantations and executed all the whites who lived in the region. King Louis XVI was accused of indifference to the massacre, while the slaves seemed to think the king was on their side. In July 1793, the whites in Les Cayes were massacred.
Despite the French proclamation of emancipation, the blacks sided with the Spanish who came to occupy the region. In July 1794, Spanish forces stood by while the black troops of Jean-François massacred the French whites in Fort-Dauphin.
Philippe Girard, author of Caribbean genocide: racial war in Haiti, 1802–4, wrote that the population of Haiti was more interested in committing massacres as they had experienced war for a period of time. In addition, the French white population of Haiti had killed many blacks in the course of the war, but they could not completely remove the blacks since the French soldiers left.
After the defeat of France and the evacuation of the French army from the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, Dessalines came to power. In November 1803, three days after the French forces under Rochambeau surrendered, he caused the execution by drowning of 800 French soldiers who had been left behind due to illness when the French army evacuated the island. He did guarantee the safety of the remaining white civilian population. However, his statements, such as: "There are still French on the island, and still you considered yourselves free," spoke of a hostile attitude toward the remaining white minority.
Rumors about the white population suggested that they would try to leave the country to convince foreign powers to invade and reintroduce slavery. Discussions between Dessalines and his advisers openly suggested that the white population should be put to death for the sake of national security. Whites trying to leave Haiti were prevented from doing so.
On 1 January 1804, Dessalines proclaimed Haiti an independent nation. Dessalines later gave the order to all cities on Haiti that all white men should be put to death. The weapons used should be silent weapons such as knives and bayonets rather than gunfire, so that the killing could be done more quietly, and avoid warning intended victims by the sound of gunfire and thereby giving them the opportunity to escape.
Girard wrote that since black generals took the property belonging to the white ex-slaveholders, "economic interest" prompted the massacres.
During February and March, Dessalines traveled among the cities of Haiti to assure himself that his orders were carried out. Despite his orders, the massacres were often not carried out until he visited the cities in person.
The course of the massacre showed an almost identical pattern in every city he visited. Before his arrival, there were only a few killings, despite his orders. When Dessalines arrived, he first spoke about the atrocities committed by former white authorities, such as Rochambeau and Leclerc, after which he demanded that his orders about mass killings of the area's white population should be put into effect. Reportedly, he ordered the unwilling to take part in the killings, especially men of mixed race, so that the blame should not be placed solely on the black population. Mass killings took place on the streets and on places outside the cities.
In parallel to the killings, plundering and rape also occurred. Women and children were generally killed last. White women were "often raped or pushed into forced marriages under threat of death."
Dessalines did not specifically mention that the white women should be killed, and the soldiers were reportedly somewhat hesitant to do so. In the end, however, the women were also put to death, though normally at a later stage of the massacre than the adult males. The argument for killing the women was that whites would not truly be eradicated if the white women were spared to give birth to new Frenchmen.
Before his departure from a city, Dessalines would proclaim an amnesty for all the whites who had survived in hiding during the massacre. When these people left their hiding place, however, they were killed as well. Many[quantify] whites were, however, hidden and smuggled out to sea by foreigners.
In Port-au-Prince, only a few killings had occurred in the city despite the orders. After Dessalines arrived on 18 March, the number of killings escalated. According to a British captain, about 800 people were killed in the city, while about 50 survived. On 18 April 1804, Dessalines arrived at Cap-Haïtien. Only a handful of killings had taken place there before his arrival, but the killings escalated to a massacre on the streets and outside the city after his arrival.
As elsewhere, the majority of the women were initially not killed. Dessalines's advisers, however, pointed out that the white Haitians would not disappear if the women were left to give birth to white men, and after this, Dessalines ordered that the women should be killed as well, with the exception of those who agreed to marry non-white men. Contemporary sources claim that 3,000 people were killed in Cap-Haïtien, but this is considered unrealistic, as only 1,700 white people remained in the city after the French evacuated.[original research?]
One of the most notorious of the massacre participants was Jean Zombi, a mulatto resident of Port-au-Prince who was known for his brutality. One account describes how Zombi stopped a white man on the street, stripped him naked, and took him to the stair of the Presidential Palace, where he killed him with a dagger. Dessalines was reportedly among the spectators; he was said to be "horrified" by the episode. In Haitian Vodou tradition, the figure of Jean Zombi has become a prototype for the zombie.
By the end of April 1804, some 3,000 to 5,000 people had been killed and the white Haitians were practically eradicated. Only three categories of white people, except foreigners, were selected as exceptions and spared: the Polish soldiers who deserted from the French army; the small group of German colonists invited to the north-west region before the revolution; and a group of medical doctors and professionals. Reportedly, also people with connections to officers in the Haitian army were spared, as well as the women who agreed to marry non-white men.
Dessalines did not try to hide the massacre from the world. In an official proclamation of 8 April 1804, he stated, "We have given these true cannibals war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage. Yes, I have saved my country, I have avenged America." He referred to the massacre as an act of national authority. Dessalines regarded the elimination of the white Haitians an act of political necessity, as they were regarded as a threat to the peace between the black and the free people of color. It was also regarded as a necessary act of vengeance. Dessalines' secretary Boisrond-Tonnerre stated, "For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!"
Dessalines was eager to assure that Haiti was not a threat to other nations. He directed efforts to establish friendly relations also to nations where slavery was still allowed.
In the 1805 constitution, all citizens were defined as "black". The constitution also banned white men from owning land, except for people already born or born in the future to white women who were naturalized as Haitian citizens and the Germans and Poles who got Haitian citizenship. The massacre had a long-lasting effect on the view of the Haitian Revolution. It helped to create a legacy of racial hostility in Haitian society.
Girard wrote in the book Paradise Lost that "Despite all of Dessalines' efforts at rationalization, the massacres were as inexcusable as they were foolish."
Effect on United States societyEdit
At the time of the U.S. Civil War, a major pretext for southern whites, most of whom did not own slaves, to support slave-owners (and ultimately fight for the Confederacy) was fear of a genocide similar to the Haitian Massacre of 1804. This was explicitly referred to in Confederate discourse and propaganda as a reason for secession. The torture and massacre of whites in Haiti, normally known at the time as "the horrors of St. Domingo," was a constant and prominent theme in the discourse of southern political leaders and had influenced U.S. public opinion since the events took place.
Kevin C. Julius writes:
As abolitionists loudly proclaimed that "All men are created equal", echoes of armed slave insurrections and racial genocide sounded in Southern ears. Much of their resentment towards the abolitionists can be seen as a reaction to the events in Haiti.
In the run-up to the U.S. presidential election of 1860, Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote "I remember the horrors of St. Domingo" and said that the election "will determine whether anything like this is to be visited upon our own southern countrymen."
Abolitionists recognized the strength of this argument on public opinion in both the north and south. In correspondence to the New York Times in September 1861 (during the war), an abolitionist named J.B. Lyon addressed this as a prominent argument of his opponents:
We don't know any better than to imagine that emancipation would result in the utter extinction of civilization in the South, because the slave-holders, and those in their interest, have persistently told us ... and they always instance the "horrors of St. Domingo."
Lyon argued, however, that the experience of emancipation in British colonies in the 1830s showed that an end to slavery could be achieved peacefully.
Philippe Girard, author of Caribbean genocide: racial war in Haiti, 1802–4, described it as a genocide and stated "when the genocide was over, Haiti's white population was virtually non-existent." Nicholas A. Robins and Adam Jones, authors of Genocides by the Oppressed: Subaltern Genocide in Theory and Practice, cited Girard and described it as a "genocide of the subaltern" in which a previously disadvantaged group used a genocide to destroy their previous oppressors.
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- The 1805 Constitution of Haiti.
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- "Haiti: A Slave Revolution - Haiti's Impact on the United States". Iacenter.org. Retrieved 2015-08-11.
- Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South; Stephanie McCurry; pages 12-13
- "What shall be done with the slaves?", New York Times, 6 September 1861
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- Robins, Nicholas A. and Adam Jones. "Introduction: Subaltern Genocide in Theory and Practice." In: Robins, Nicholas A. and Adam Jones (editors). Genocides by the Oppressed: Subaltern Genocide in Theory and Practice. Indiana University Press, 2009. ISBN 0253220777, 9780253220776. p. 3: "The Great Rebellion and the Haitian slave uprising are two examples of what we refer to as "subaltern genocide": cases in which subaltern actors—those objectively oppressed and disempowered—adopt genocidal strategies to vanquish their[...]" -- Also stated in Jones, Adam. Chapter 11: "Subaltern genocide: Genocides by the oppressed." In: The Scourge of Genocide: Essays and Reflections. Routledge, June 26, 2013. ISBN 1135047154, 9781135047153. p. 169.
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- Girard, Philippe (2005). "Caribbean genocide: racial war in Haiti, 1802–4". Patterns of Prejudice. 39 (2: Colonial Genocide): 138-161. doi:10.1080/00313220500106196. - Published online on August 4, 2006
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- "The 1805 Constitution of Haiti". Webster University website. 10 December 2011. Archived from the original on 28 December 2005. Retrieved 1 February 2012- This document is an English translation published in the New York Evening Post on July 15, 1805. This version does not include Articles 40-44. On April 4, 1999 the document was transcribed by Bob Corbett, who has an original copy of the newspaper. Corbett stated that "perhaps" Henri Christophe, due to his affinity for English and his involvement with the publication of the translation, was the translator.
- Popkin, Jeremy D. (2008). "A Survivor of Dessalines's Massacres in 1804". Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection. - Print ISBN 9780226675824 - In March 2013 added to Chicago Scholarship Online. Article DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226675855.003.0019. Work DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226675855.001.0001.
- A Brief History of Dessalines, from American Missionary Register, October 1825