Emancipation in Saint Domingue…What is that?

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Between 1791-1802 blacks and mulattos in Saint Domingue struggled to become emancipated.  Slavery was always a controversial topic in Saint Domingue because some people wanted slavery, while others wanted to abolish it.  What was considered emancipation during this time period?  There were many thoughts of what emancipation actually was. Emancipation meant that their was no more slavery, people of color would have the same rights as whites, and slaves would be able to own their own land. Slaves thought that owning land was the key to their freedom.  But because slaves were seen as society’s lowest. At the time free people of color and gens de couleur had some rights.  They had basic rights but  they still weren’t allowed to participate in Saint Domingue’s political process. The fight for emancipation began in 1789 when the Declaration of Rights came out. Free blacks and Gens de couleur wanted the same rights as whites. Some of the free blacks and gens de couleur went ahead and created their own societies such as the Society of Friends with Blacks and Society of American Colonists. Through these organizations they rallied and listed their demands. Many of these groups drafted their own decrees saying that they wanted to be promoted under the same conditions as whites, have representation in the Assembly, and let black and mulattos serve in the government. By 1790, revolts started to break in Saint Domingue. Those who demanded rights were often executed.  The violence continued and slaves started to take part. Slaves would participate by attacking plantations and their owners. They wanted appropriated land and subsistence farms they could live on.  Plantation owners were surprised by these revolts because many of them believed that slaves were not smart enough to plan the revolts.   There was also fear that  slavery revolts would jump to neighboring islands that the British and Spanish owned. In February of 1793 Britain and Spain entered the war in Saint Domingue. The British and Spanish used tactics to get the slaves on their side. In May of 1793 provisions of the Code Noir were upheld.  The French agreed to have planation owners used less violence as well as receive more days off. The French used this tactic to try and lure slaves on to their side.  Many slave and slave leaders refused to join because of the arrival of the new Governor General Galbaud who was seen as very radical. In 1793 the Proclamation of Emancipation was issued. The decree stated that the principal of the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen would be applied to Saint Domingue and slaves would be free.  Even though the slaves were considered free, they were still forced to follow labor agreements and stay on the plantations and do the same work they did when they were slaves. They also had to follow and elaborate set of restrictions; for example having permission to leave the plantation. They only thing that truly changed with the 1793 Proclamation of Emancipation was how slaves were physically treated. Plantation owners were no longer allowed to physically whip the slaves. Slaves  however did not see this as emancipation  and continued to revolt. They still believed that could get a better deal. Also around this time, different areas of Saint Domingue were experiencing war. In the west the mulattos were for equality as well. Mulattos in a way were looking for emancipation but it was a different type. The mulattos were looking for having the opportunity to take part in Saint Domingue’s political process. In the North, Jean-Francois who was once a slave and became a maroon was able to negotiate with the French for amnesty for all slaves, improving conditions of slaves, and freedom for 50 leaders. In 1794 the Convention officially abolishes slavery in France and the French territories. With the abolishment of slavery, their was concern that the economy would no longer prosper. Because of this concern, right after the Decree of 1794 was put into effect, a new work code was created which made plantations owners give former slaves a third of the plantation revenue and an additional free day. Former slaves were still resisted against this and began to appropriate land for themselves. Even though slavery was officially abolished, the struggle would still continue for Saint Domingue. There was struggle to enforce the emancipation of slaves. The Constitution of Year III ensured that colonies would have the same laws as France and all people would be considered citizens. But their was still fear the slavery would return. Toussaint used  the Haitian Revolution to rise up. Toussaint would go on an make surethat all people would be considered citizens and the emancipation decree would be enforced. He did this by taking out his rivals such as Sonthonax and Laveaux by forcing them to represent Saint Domingue in the Council of 500.

Courtesy of Augustine.com http://augustine.com/images/jorge/Haitian_Revolution.jpg



Work Cited:

“The First Emancipation Proclamaton.” A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Geggus, David Patrick. “Doc. 21 Free People of Color Organize.” The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Geggus, David Patrick. “Doc. 25 The May 1791 Debates.” The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Geggus, David Patrick. “Doc. 37 The Slave Insurgents Make Demands.” The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.


  1. I thought this was a good post. I liked that you made references about how the Spanish and British tried to get the slaves on their side and had done so through some of the provisions in the Code Noir. It’s interesting how the slaves really thought that the Spanish and the British, originally, held their interests to a higher standards then the French. In reality, this may not have been the case as they wanted to take over Saint Domingue and claim it as their own territory similar to Hispaniola. It was not for a decent amount of time that the slaves realized that they could not trust another country to do right by them and therefore demanded that the French as well as invaders get out of their country before declaring their independence in 1804. It was a very violent process but arguably necessary. Do you think the Haitian revolution would have panned out differently if the slaves opposed alliance with any outside force from the start?

  2. The emancipation idea was similar in France, the Atlantic, and America, but the results were mixed. The amount of time the overall result would take would be overwhelming to the people of these countries involved. How the harmed peoples would bounce back from their restrictions and horrific treatment during the emancipation process was incredible.

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