Haitian Revolution Begins with Uprising by Slaves of Saint-Domingue

Guillaume Raynal attacked slavery in the 1780 edition of his history of European colonization.

He also predicted a general slave revolt in the colonies, saying that there were signs of “the impending storm”. One such sign was the action of the French Revolutionary government to grant citizenship to wealthy, free people of color in May of 1791. However, white plantation owners refused to comply with this decision and within two months isolated fighting broke out between former slaves and the whites. This contributed to the tense climate between slaves and grands blancs.

Raynal’s prediction came true on 22 August 1791, when the slaves of Saint Domingue rose in revolt and plunged the colony into civil war. The signal to begin the revolt was given by Dutty Boukman, a high priest of vodou and leader of the Maroon slaves, during a religious ceremony at Bois Caïman on the night of August 14. Within the next ten days, slaves had taken control of the entire Northern Province in an unprecedented slave revolt that left the whites in control of only a few isolated, fortified camps. The slaves sought revenge on their masters through “pillage, rape, torture, mutilation, and death”. Because the plantation owners long feared a revolt like this, they were well armed and prepared to defend themselves. They retaliated by massacring black prisoners as they were being escorted back to town by soldiers. Within weeks, the number of slaves that joined the revolt was approximately 100,000, and within the next two months, as the violence escalated, the slaves killed 2,000 whites and burned or destroyed 180 sugar plantations and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations.

On August 22, 1791, the Haitian war of independence began in flames under the leadership of a religious leader named Boukman; over one hundred thousand slaves rose up against the vastly outnumbered and infinitely hated French. Unlike the French Revolution and the American Revolution, the Haitian revolution was entirely driven by the passions of men and women who had been enslaved most if not all of their lives. They didn't simply desire liberty, they wanted vengeance. Over the next three weeks, the Haitian slaves burned every plantation throughout the fertile regions of Haiti and executed all Frenchmen they could find. The French fled to the seacoast towns and pleaded with France to help them out while the island burned.