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Division of New France



Capital Cap Français¹
Language(s) French
Government Monarchy
King See List of French monarchs
 - Human settlement 1625
 - Official settlement 1659
 - Recognized 1697
 - Independence January 1, 1804
Area 27,750 km2 (10,714 sq mi)
Currency Saint-Domingue livre
¹ In 1770 moved to Port-au-Prince where it remains until today.
History of Haiti
Coat of Arms of Haiti
This article is part of a series
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Saint-Domingue was a French colony on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola from 1659 to 1804, when it became the independent nation of Haiti.[1]

Saint-Domingue is the French version of the Spanish name Santo Domingo. The Arawak, Carib and Tainos people occupied the island before the arrival of the Spaniards. When Christopher Columbus took possession of the island on December 5, 1492, he named it La Española, meaning "The Spanish (Island)". The Latin translation Hispaniola was soon in common use.

Spain controlled the entire island of Hispaniola (also called Santo Domingo or San Domingo) from the 1490s until the 17th century, when French pirates began to establish bases on the western portions of the island. In the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Spain formally recognized French control of the western third of the island.

Spain called the island Santo Domingo. The western part of Hispaniola being neglected by the Spanish colonists, French buccaneers settled there, first on the Ile de la Tortue (Tortuga, Tortoise), then on Grande Terre (mainland West Hispaniola). French called the western part Saint-Domingue. In 1804, Saint-Domingue became the independent nation of Haïti.[2]



French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in 1625 before going to Grande Terre (mainland). They survived by pirating Spanish ships, eating wild cattle and hogs, and selling hides to traders of all nations. Although the Spanish destroyed the buccaneers' settlements several times, on each occasion they returned due to an abundance of natural resources: hardwood trees, wild hogs and cattle, and fresh water. The settlement on Tortuga was officially established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV.

Among the buccaneers was Bertrand d'Ogeron, who played a big part in the settlement of Saint-Domingue. He encouraged the planting of tobacco, which turned a population of buccaneers and freebooters, who had not acquiesced to royal authority until 1660, into a sedentary population. D'Orgeron also attracted many colonists from Martinique and Guadeloupe, including Jean Roy, Jean Hebert and his family, and Guillaume Barre and his family, who were driven out by the land pressure which was generated by the extension of the sugar plantations in those colonies. But in 1670, shortly after Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien) had been established, the crisis of tobacco intervened and a great number of places were abandoned. The rows of freebooting grew bigger; plundering raids, like those of Vera Cruz in 1683 or of Campêche in 1686, became increasingly numerous, and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Seignelay, elder son of Jean Baptist Colbert and at the time Minister of the Navy, brought back some order by taking a great number of measures, including the creation of plantations of indigo and of cane sugar. The first sugar windmill was built in 1685.

Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France.

Thriving colony

Prior to the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the economy of Saint-Domingue gradually expanded, with sugar and, later, coffee becoming important export crops. After the war, which disrupted maritime commerce, the colony underwent rapid expansion. In 1767, it exported 72 million pounds of raw sugar and 51 million pounds of refined sugar, one million pounds of indigo, and two million pounds of cotton.[3] Saint-Domingue became known as the "Jewel of the Antilles" — one of the richest colonies in the 18th-century French empire. By the 1780s, Saint-Domingue produced about 40 percent of all the sugar and 60 percent of all the coffee consumed in Europe. This single colony, roughly the size of Maryland or Belgium, produced more sugar and coffee than all of the British West Indies colonies combined.

The labor for these plantations was provided by an estimated 790,000 African slaves (accounting in 1783-1791 for a third of the entire Atlantic slave trade). Between 1764 and 1771, the average annual importation of slaves varied between 10,000-15,000; by 1786 it was about 28,000, and from 1787 onward, the colony received more than 40,000 slaves a year. However, the inability to maintain slave numbers without constant resupply from Africa meant the slave population in 1789 totaled 500,000, ruled over by a white population that numbered only 32,000.[4] At all times, a majority of slaves in the colony were African-born, as the brutal conditions of slavery and tropical diseases such as yellow fever prevented the population from experiencing growth through natural increase [1]. African culture thus remained strong among slaves to the end of French rule, in particular the folk-religion of Vodou, which commingled Catholic liturgy and ritual with the beliefs and practices of the Vodun religion of Guinea, Congo and Dahomey.[5] Slave traders scoured the Atlantic coast of Africa, and the slaves who arrived came from hundreds of different tribes, their languages often mutually incomprehensible. The majority came from the Gold Coast and the Slave Coast, followed by Bantus from Congo and Angola.

To regularise slavery, in 1685 Louis XIV had enacted the code noir, which accorded certain human rights to slaves and responsibilities to the master, who was obliged to feed, clothe and provide for the general well-being of his slaves. The code noir also sanctioned corporal punishment, allowing masters to employ brutal methods to instill in their slaves the necessary docility, while ignoring provisions intended to regulate the administration of punishments. A passage from Henri Christophe's personal secretary, who lived more than half his life as a slave, describes the crimes perpetrated against the slaves of Saint-Domingue by their French masters:

"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 eat shit? 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?"[6]

Thousands of slaves found freedom by fleeing into the mountains, forming communities of maroons and raiding isolated plantations. The most famous was Mackandal, a one-armed slave, originally from Guinea (region), who escaped in 1751. A Vodou Houngan (priest), he united many of the different maroon bands, and spent the next six years staging successful raids and evading capture by the French, reputedly killing over 6,000 people, while preaching a fanatic vision of the destruction of white civilization in Saint-Domingue. In 1758, after a failed plot to poison the drinking water of the plantation owners, he was captured and burned alive at the public square in Cap-Français.

Saint-Domingue also had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, a group also known as the gens de couleur. The royal census of 1789 counted roughly 25,000 such persons. While many free people of color were former slaves, most members of this class appear not to have been free Africans, but rather people of mixed European and African ancestry, or mulattoes. Typically, they were the descendants of the enslaved women that French colonists took as mistresses; through plaçage, a type of common-law marriage planters enjoyed with their slave mistresses, many were able to inherit considerable property. As their numbers grew, they became subject to discriminatory legislation. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. However, these regulations did not restrict their purchase of land, and many accumulated substantial holdings and became slave-owners. By 1789, they owned one-third of the plantation property and one-quarter of the slaves of Saint-Domingue.[7] Central to the rise of the gens de couleur planter class was the growing importance of coffee, which thrived on the marginal hillside plots to which they were often relegated. The largest concentration of gens de couleur was in the southern peninsula, the last region of the colony to be settled, owing to its distance from Atlantic shipping lanes and its formidable terrain, with the highest mountain range in the Caribbean. In the parish of Jérémie, they formed the majority of the population.

End of colonial rule

On the evening of August 22, 1791, a widespread slave rebellion began the Haitian Revolution, which culminated with the establishment of the independent Empire of Haiti in 1804.

Note: In the 19th and early 20th centuries, American and British authors often referred to Saint-Domingue as "Santo Domingo" or "San Domingo", which can lead to confusion with its neighboring former Spanish colony, which was called Santo Domingo during the colonial period. Today, the former Spanish possession is the Dominican Republic and its capital is Santo Domingo. The name of Saint-Domingue was changed to Haiti when Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence from the French in 1804.[1] Like the name Haiti itself, Saint-Domingue may sometimes be used to refer to all of Hispaniola, but more frequently to the western part now occupied by the Republic of Haiti, while the Spanish version Santo Domingo is often used to refer to the Dominican nation as a whole.

See also


  1. ^ a b A Brief History of Dessalines from 1825 Missionary Journal
  2. ^ Haiti, 1789 to 1806
  3. ^ C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins (Vintage Books: New York, 1963) Pg. 45
  4. ^ C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins Pg. 55
  5. ^ Vodou is a Dahomean word meaning 'god' or 'spirit'.
  6. ^ Robert Heinl, Written in Blood: The History of the Haitian People (University Press of America: Lantham, Md., 1996)
  7. ^ Chapter 8 Page 1


  • Paul Butel, Histoire des Antilles Françaises XVIIe - XXe siècle, Perrin 2002 ISBN 2-262-01540-6
  • Jack Claude Nezat The Nezat And Allied Families 1630-2007 Lulu 2007 ISBN 978-2-9528339-2-9, ISBN 978-0-6151-5001-7

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