Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors

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Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors  (1907) 
by Jacques Nicolas Léger
Port-au-Prince 1907.jpg




Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of Haiti

in the United States


New York and Washington




Quisqueya or Haiti—Geographical position—The first inhabitants: their manners, religion and customs—Divisions of the territory. 19
Christopher Columbus—His arrival in Haiti—Behavior of the Spaniards toward the aborigines—Their cupidity—War—Caonabo—Anacaona—The Spanish domination—Cacique Henry. 22
The French freebooters and buccaneers—Their customs—Their settlement at La Tortue (Tortuga Island)—Little by little they invade Hispañola, now known as Saint-Domingue—Continual wars with the Spaniards—Treaty recognizing the French occupation. 31
The French part of Saint-Domingue—Its prosperity—Its different classes of inhabitants: their customs—The color prejudice—The colonists: their divisions; their jealousy of the Europeans—Their desire to be in command—Their contempt for the affranchis (freedmen)—their cruelty toward the slaves—The maroons. 35
Number of inhabitants of Saint-Domingue—Savannah—The French revolution—Efforts of the colonists to take advantage of it—The affranchis claim their rights—The first conflicts—Atrocities committed by the colonists—Vincent Ogé and Chavannes—Uprising of the slaves—The first Civil Commissioners—Decree of April 4, 1792. 41
Arrival of the new Civil Commissioners, Sonthonax, Polvérel and Ailaud—Application of the Decree of April 4, 1792—The Intermediary Committee—Resistance of the colonists—Fighting at Port-au-Prince and Cap-Français—The English land in Saint-Domingue—The Spaniards conquer a portion of the French territory—General freedom is granted to the slaves—The colored men are in power. 58
The English occupy Port-au-Prince—Polvérel and Sonthonax try to cause disunion among the colored men—They leave Saint-Domingue—Toussaint Louverture deserts the Spanish cause and joins the French—André Rigaud expels the English from Léogane—The treaty of Bâle—The English attack Léogane—Toussaint Louverture goes to the help of General Laveaux imprisoned at Cap-Français by Villate—Arrival of the new Civil Commission—Sonthonax—Toussaint Louverture, Commander-in-Chief of the Army—Hédouville—The English abandon Saint-Domingue—Hédouville causes enmity between Toussaint Louverture and Rigaud—Civil war between Toussaint and Rigaud—Rigaud is defeated and compelled to leave the island. 68
Administrative measures taken by Toussaint Louverture—Occupation of the Spanish portion of the island—Meeting of the Central Assembly—Constitution of Saint-Domingue—Toussaint Louverture elected Governor-General—The French expedition—The "Crête-à-Pierrot"—Deportation of Rigaud—Surrender of Toussaint Louverture—His arrest and deportation—His death at Fort de Joux. 102
Reactionary measures—The natives unite under the leadership of Dessalines—The war of independence—Death of Leclerc—Rochambeau—Atrocities committed by the French—Capois-la-Mort—Expulsion of the French. 126
Proclamation of independence—Saint-Domingue becomes Haiti—Dessalines, the first ruler of Haiti (January 1, 1804–October 17, 1806)—Intrigues of the English Military organization of Haiti—Discontent provoked by Dessalines's administration—His death. 152
Henri Christophe, Chief of the Provisional Government—Alexandre Pétion—Convocation of a Constituent Assembly—Constitution of 1806—Christophe marches against Port-au-Prince—He is elected President of Haiti (December 28, 1806)—Civil war—The Senate dismisses Christophe, who at Cap is elected President of the State of Haiti (February 17, 1807)—The Senate at Port-au-Prince elects Pétion President of Haiti for four years (March 9, 1807)—Christophe assumes the title of King of Haiti (March, 1811)—French intrigues against the independence of Haiti—Pétion and Simon Bolivar—Pétion reelected President March 9, 1811, and March 9, 1815—Elected President for life on October 9, 1816; died on the 29th of March, 1818. 160
Jean-Pierre Boyer, President of Haiti for life (March 30, 1818–March 13, 1843)—Pacification of "La Grand'Anse"—Death of Henri Christophe (October 8, 1820)—His kingdom made part of the Republic—The inhabitants of the Spanish portion of the island expel the Spaniards—They acknowledge the authority of the President of Haiti (January 19, 1822)—The Haitian flag floats over the whole island—Hostility of the Great Powers toward Haiti: the United States and Great Britain recognize the independence of Mexico, Colombia, etc., but refrain from recognizing the independence of Haiti—The Haitians abolish the preferential tariff hitherto granted to Great Britain—Haiti and France at odds over the question of the recognition of the Haitian independence—Preparations for war in Haiti—France strives to acquire a protectorate over Haiti—Promulgation of the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Penal Code, and of Code of Criminal Instruction—Charles X grants the Haitians their independence—His ordinance and its effects—Loan in France and paper money, consequences of the ordinance—Negotiations with France for the conclusion of a treaty destined to destroy the bad effects of the ordinance of Charles X—Negotiations with the Pope—Treaty of 1838 by which France recognizes Haitian independence—Treaties with Great Britain and France for the abolition of the slave-trade—The discontent provoked by the ordinance of Charles X affects President Boyer's popularity—Reforms indispensable after the conclusion of the treaty of 1838—The opposition takes advantage of Boyer's inaction—Charles Hérard, surnamed Rivière, takes up arms at Praslin (January 27, 1843)—Boyer resigns (March 13, 1843) and sails on the English sloop-of-war Scylla. 173
The revolutionists of 1843—Their reforms: the constitution of 1843—Charles Hérard ainé, surnamed Rivière (December 30, 1843–May 3, 1844)—Loss of the Spanish portion of the island—Claims of the peasants of the Southern Department—Jean-Jacques Acaau—The period of transition—Guerrier (May 3, 1844–April 15, 1845)—Pierrot (April 16, 1845–March 1, 1846)—Riché (March 1, 1846–February 27, 1847). 192
Faustin Soulouque (March 1, 1847–January 15, 1859)—Campaigns against the Dominicans—The Empire—Intervention of France, Great Britain and the United States on behalf of the Dominicans—Navassa—Gonaives in rebellion—Faustin Soulouque leaves Haiti 200.
Fabre Geffrard (December 23, 1858–March 13, 1867)—Concordat with the Vatican—Reforms made by Geffrard: diffusion of public instruction; law permitting marriage between foreigners and Haitians—Attempt to induce the colored people of the United States to go to Haiti—Geffrard tried to have the whole island neutralized—Annexation of the Dominican Republic by Spain—The Rubalcava incident—Salnave takes up arms at Cap-Haitien—The Bulldog incident—Bombardment of Cap-Haitien by British men-of-war—Mr. Seward, Secretary of State of the United States, at Port-au-Prince—Geffrard leaves Haiti. 206
Sylvain Salnave (June 14, 1867–December 19, 1869)—Constitution of 1867—Abolition of the Presidency for life—Salnave becomes a dictator—Resistance of the country—Overthrow of Salnave; his trial and execution. 212
Nissage Saget (March 19, 1870–May 14, 1874)—Redeeming the paper money—The Batsch incident—The Hornet incident—The Dominican incident—The Haitians send a gold medal to Senator Charles Sumner—At the expiration of his term of office Nissage Saget leaves Port-au-Prince for Saint-Marc. 217
Michel Domingue (June 11, 1874–April 15, 1876)—The loan of 1875—Discontent caused by the death of Generals Brice and Monplaisir Pierre—Riot at Port-au-Prince—Overthrow of Domingue. 223
Boisrond Canal (July 17, 1876–July 17, 1879)—Misunderstanding with France caused by the Domingue loan—The Autran incident; difficulties with Spain about Cuba—The Maunder claim—The Lazare and Pelletier claims—Attitude of the Legislative Power—The President's resignation. 227
Lysius Salomon (October 23, 1879–August 10, 1888)—Insurrection at Miragoane—Misunderstanding with the Catholic clergy—Various foreign claims: Lazare, Pelletier, Maunder (continued)—The Domingue loan—Bank of Haiti—Financial scandal—Universal Postal Union—Telegraph Agricultural exposition—Reelection of Salomon—Discontent at Cap-Haitien—Salomon leaves Haiti. 239
Seide Thélémaque—F. D. Légitime (December 16, 1888–August 22, 1889)—The incident of the steamship Haytian Republic—Légitime leaves Port-au-Prince. 243
Florville Hyppolite (October 9, 1889–March 24, 1896)—The United States try to gain possession of Môle Saint-Nicolas—The United States and Samana Bay—Incident with France concerning Haitians registered at the French Legation—The Chicago Exposition—Telegraph—Telephone—Public works—Death of Hyppolite. 245
T. Simon-Sam (March 31, 1896–May 12, 1902)—The Lüders incident—The Northern Railroad—Railroad from Port-au-Prince to L'Etang—Misunderstanding as to the duration of Sam's power—His resignation. 249
Legislative elections—Affray at Cap-Haitien—A. Firmin at Gonaives—The Markomania incident—The blowing up of the Crête-à-Pierrot by Killick—Nord Alexis elected President on the 21st of December, 1902—The "Consolidation" scandal. 252



Limits of Haiti—Area—Mountains and rivers—Adjacent islands—Population—Government—Divisions of the territory into Departments, arrondissements, communes, and rural sections—Financial organization; the national debt—Academic organization; public instruction—Judiciary organization—Religious organization. 257
Climate of Haiti—Sanitary condition—The absence of poisonous insects—Fauna—Flora: fruit-trees; vegetables—Fertility of the land. 272
Customs and manners of the people; their hospitality—Marriage and divorce—The Haitian woman—The Haitians are not lazy—They entertain no race prejudice—Advantages which foreigners enjoy; their safety—Naturalization—Right to hold real estate. 281
Commerce of Haiti—Her products of the present day compared with those at the time of the French domination—Haiti at the Saint Louis Exposition—The various industries—Timber and cabinet woods—Mines. 292
Origin of the calumnies against Haiti—Unsympathetic attitude of the foreign Powers toward her: Great Britain, Spain, France and the United States—Even Simon Bolivar forgot the help rendered him by Haiti—Germany—Conditions in Haiti at the time of her independence—Difference between these conditions and those of the United States at the time when they severed their relations with Great Britain—Civil wars in Haiti as compared with those of Germany, Great Britain and France—Some of the causes of civil strife in Haiti. 300
Corruption—Cannibalism—Voodooism—Papa-loi—Superstitions—False assertion that the Haitians are reverting to savagery. 342

Port-au-Prince Frontispiece
Union Club, Cap-Haitien 78
Slaughter-house, Port-au-Prince 96
Custom-house, Port-au-Prince 108
Cap-Haitien 112
Town of Milot, Where Christophe Built "Sans-Souci" 166
Ruins of the Palace of "Sans-Souci" built by Henri Christophe 176
National Bank of Haiti, Port-au-Prince 240
Central Market, Port-au-Prince 248
Northern Station, Port-au-Prince 252
Cathedral of Port-au-Prince 256
Departments of Exterior Relations, Public Instruction, etc., Port-au-Prince 262
Primary School of the Brothers of Christian Instruction, Port-au-Prince 264
Seminaire College St. Martial, Port-au-Prince 266
Bishop's House, Cap-Haitien 270


Although at a comparatively short distance from the United States, Haiti is nevertheless very little known in this country, where in most cases books written in English by unscrupulous travelers or authors are their only source of information. In this manner errors and prejudices became rooted in the minds of many Americans, who believe that my fellow-countrymen are addicted to all kinds of gross superstitions and are reverting to barbarism instead of progressing in civilization. This rather severe arraignment of my fellow-countrymen is founded upon slanders which everybody repeats without taking the trouble of examining facts in order to ascertain the truth.

One cannot pass judgment upon a nation at first sight. In order to form an impartial appreciation of a people one must be acquainted with its origin and customs; it is necessary to make a study of the causes which have hindered or facilitated its evolution; and to look carefully into the various phases of this evolution; one must even be acquainted with the telluric and climatological conditions, which exert a certain influence over the successive changes of a country. A foreigner who spends but a few days in a country cannot be in a position to speak with the accuracy of thorough knowledge of the inhabitants of this country; he is likely either to repeat all the gossip gathered from his new-made acquaintances or to give rein to his imagination. Those who hasten to judge a nation whose history and temperament they have not taken the trouble to study are either guilty of bad faith or ignorance.

My only aim in putting this book into English is to give to the Americans the means of forming an impartial opinion on Haiti for themselves. Consequently this work is divided in two parts. The first part is composed of the entire history of the island from before its discovery by Christopher Columbus up to the election of General Nord Alexis to the Presidency; the many horrors of which Haiti was the scene have been mentioned as well as the vicissitudes of the fierce struggle that occurred when its inhabitants sought to conquer their liberty and independence.

The second part deals with the natural conditions of the country, its general organization, the customs and manners of the people, and their continued efforts to better their condition. I have of course availed myself of the opportunity to refute the most current calumnies, of which Haiti has of late had a full share.

In speaking of slavery and of the Haitian war of independence I could not avoid recalling some of the acts of cruelty committed by the French. I hope that no one will think on that account that my intention is to revive any ill feeling against France. The Haitians have great affection for that country, to which as a rule they entrust the instruction of their children. In the books, pamphlets, and newspaper articles concerning Haiti, it has been the custom to speak of Dessalines and of the soldiers of the Haitian war of independence as monsters devoid of any human feeling, whilst the authors generally remain silent about the crimes of Rochambeau and of the French colonists. Any one of unbiased opinion who reads the history of Haiti will readily perceive that the reprisals of the Haitians had been occasioned by the inhuman treatment inflicted on them. The facts stated in this book will, I hope, show the injustice of the charges brought against my fellow-countrymen, who have labored earnestly and at the cost of much sacrifice of life to found a nation, whilst abolishing forever the iniquitous institution of slavery. The Haitians claim with pride the honor of having been the first ones to put an end to the barbarous system which, abasing human beings to the level of beasts, had made man the property of man. The wrath they have incurred and the ill-will they have met with have been occasioned in many instances solely by the grudge of the partisans of slavery and the spite of the French colonists or their descendants who had ceased to find in Saint-Domingue a source of wealth more or less honestly acquired.

By mentioning in this book some facts observed in the United States my intention is not to criticise or to make any comparisons. My only aim is, on one hand, to refute some unjust charges made against my country, and on the other to show that Haiti has not the monopoly of superstitions and superstitious practices which exist everywhere, in the United States as well as in Europe. However, if I have unwittingly given the least umbrage to the American people, I earnestly hope that a wrong motive will not be ascribed to my words; they may rest assured that, in remembrance of the kind hospitality they have shown me, I shall always do my utmost to avoid hurting their feelings in the slightest degree. They are truth-lovers, therefore I can afford to speak to them in a frank and open manner.

In saying what I think to be the truth I am of the opinion that I can benefit the United States as well as my country; for two nations need to know each other well in order to enjoy mutual respect and esteem. Through prejudice or lack of information the Americans neglect Haiti, where their capital and their energy might find profitable investment; and others take advantage of their abstention. When they become better informed they will be in a position to have their share of the profits which their competitors alone are now harvesting. Cordial relations, free from ulterior design and prejudice, cannot fail to give full confidence to both nations; and this reciprocal confidence will be beneficial to all concerned. I would feel more than rewarded if my book could contribute toward establishing such a confidence by giving to the American people a fair idea of the Haitians!

It gives me great pleasure to express my profound gratitude to Miss Louise Bourke for having undertaken the revising of the English text of this work; I also heartily thank Mr. P. Thoby, who helped me in my search for documents; and the employés of the State Department as well as those of the Library of Congress who so graciously placed at my disposal the books and manuscripts I desired to consult.

J. N. Léger.

Washington, December, 1906.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.