Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors/Part I: Chapter III

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


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.

The treaty signed in 1533 with the "cacique" Henri had at last put an end to the hostilities between the Indians and Spaniards. For a while there was no bloodshed. The relative tranquillity which ensued was not taken advantage of. Instead of thriving, the colony was on the wane. The incompetency or malversation of the various governors hastened the decline. The mines were emptied or deserted; no care was given to agriculture. In consequence, through idleness, debauchery and poverty the colonists were in a piteous condition. Everything was falling to ruin. The town of Santo Domingo alone, where was centred the luxury of the administrators, remained prosperous and assumed the appearance of great splendor. But its magnificence was the cause of serious calamities. In 1586 the English admiral, Sir Francis Drake, charged by Queen Elizabeth to curb the Spanish arrogance, bombarded the town, took possession of it, and partly destroyed it by fire. After an occupation of a month he agreed to evacuate it in consideration of a ransom of £7,000.

The arrival of other Europeans in the West Indies was to become a source of continual worry to the Spaniards. From the beginning of the sixteenth century, attracted by the allurements of gain, the French had begun making incursions into the New World. Impressed by the various tales concerning the riches of Santo Domingo city, they little by little commenced the habit of calling the whole island Saint-Domingue. At first they had no idea of conquest. They were satisfied with plundering. In concert with the English they lost no opportunity of injuring the Spanish trade. However, successive defeats made them feel the necessity of having a rallying-point, at least a place where they could refit their ships. In 1625 a party of Frenchmen under the command of Enembuc, and of Englishmen, under the leadership of Warner, took possession of St. Christopher Island. Private initiative began thus to deprive Spain of its possessions in the West Indies.

The presence of these dangerous neighbors alarmed the Court at Madrid. In 1630 Admiral Frederic de Tolède expelled both the English and French from St. Christopher. Looking for a safer shelter, they settled at Tortuga Island (La Tortue), situated in the northern part of Hispañola or Saint-Domingue. Their new possession, eight leagues long and two leagues wide, became rapidly the rendezvous of the freebooters who swept the Spanish Main. In 1640 the French drove the English from this small island, thus remaining the sole masters. That was the starting point of their settlement in Saint-Domingue.

At that time the Spanish colony was in full decline. Owing to the necessity of preserving themselves from the depredations of their terrible foes, the Spaniards had almost deserted the coasts and were concentrated in the interior of the island. The Frenchmen availed themselves of the opportunity to take possession of the greatest part of the northern seashore. They had Port Margot,[1] and soon founded Port-de-Paix.[2]

These new inhabitants of Saint-Domingue were rough men of very coarse manners. They devoted their time to hunting wild oxen, the flesh of which they dried and smoked over a wood-fire called "boucan";[3] hence their name of buccaneers. But hard pushed by the Spaniards they turned their attention to piracy. Under the name of freebooters they were the terror of the West Indies. They had neither wives nor families. They entered two by two into a kind of partnership, all of whose goods were in common and to be inherited by the survivor. In case of a disagreement, which seldom happened however, blood alone could bring the quarrel to a close. Even in their dress they were wild looking. At their belts could always be seen a sabre, besides several knives and daggers. Any one of them possessing a good gun and twenty -five hunting-dogs considered himself a happy man. Many abandoned their family names and assumed pseudonyms, which remained to their descendants. Continually exposed to the inclemencies of the weather, their lives in constant jeopardy, they had as little fear of death as regard for the laws. They were fierce and desperate in their bravery; they roamed the seas in their small crafts, and would board fearlessly the largest Spanish ships. Nothing could resist the impetuosity of their attacks. The independence of their nature tolerated no restraint; and the authority of their leaders lasted only so long as fighting was going on. Improvident and careless, they would squander in a few days the valuable booty they acquired, their lives being thus continually spent either in the greatest luxury or in the utmost poverty. Want therefore excited their ardor and aroused their courage.

D'Ogeron[4] undertook to discipline these unruly spirits and to interest them in the welfare of their new country. He thought that family ties alone could check their wild dispositions and bind them to their homes. So he requested that some women be sent from the mother country; at first but few arrived. Therefore, to prevent any quarrelling, they were awarded to the highest bidders; the less destitute among the freebooters were thus able to secure female companions. In this manner the first French families were instituted in Saint-Domingue.

The freebooters were not to be trifled with; they were terrible foes. The Spaniards made vain efforts to exterminate them. A new and relentless war began; the island once more became a battlefield. The English thought they had now a good opportunity to take possession of the country. A fleet sent by Cromwell threatened Santo Domingo in 1655. Fortunately for the French the expedition failed and the English proceeded to Jamaica, which they seized, thus depriving Spain forever of that colony. The struggle at Saint-Domingue continued therefore between the French and the Spaniards only; it was a stubborn and bloody contest. The French not only held their own, but even managed to gain a surer footing.

Emboldened by their success they now assumed the offensive; they desired the entire possession of the island. In their first campaign against Santiago they stormed the city, which they afterward abandoned upon receiving a ransom (1669).

At the first opportunity the Spaniards retaliated. They invaded Petit-Goave, which they completely destroyed. In 1691 they took possession of Cap-Français,[5] which they set on fire and whose inhabitants they massacred. On leaving the ruined city they took with them a great number of women, children, and slaves. The French for a while were in a desperate state. Besides the Spaniards, the English also were threatening their settlement. And the black slaves, whose hope of liberty was only slumbering, began to cause some anxiety. In 1678 Padrejean[6] had roused them to rebellion. In 1697, in the Quartier-Morin,[7] 300 Africans took up arms again.

Fortunately for the French the timely peace of Riswick put an end to the hostilities. By the treaty signed in 1697 Louis XIV acquired a clear title to the possession of the western part of the island, the limits of which were established from Cap-Rose in the north to La Beate in the south.

  1. Pronounce: Por Mar-go. Port Margot is situated in the department of the North, and in the arrondissement of Borgne.
  2. Pronounce: Por-doe-pè. Port-de-Paix is the chief town of the department of the Northwest.
  3. Pronounce: Bou-kan.
  4. D'Ogeron was appointed governor of the island by the East Indies Company.
  5. Now named Cap-Haitien.
  6. Padrejean was killed after inflicting heavy losses on the French.
  7. Situated in the Northern "département" and in the arrondissement of Cap-Haitien.