Title of Course: Black History 201: The History of Haiti

Instructor: Mba Mbulu

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Class #12: The French Revolution / The Caribbean [ Audio Version]

Read the Essay below. Be able to answer and expound on the following questions.

(1) Of the major parties in the French Revolution, which one cared about the condition of Blacks and slaves?
(2) Was there a connection between owning slaves and becoming a legislator in San Domingo? Is this relationship between property and power typical of white power realities?
(3) What did Vincent Ogé bring with him to San Domingo, and what was he planning to do? Was he successful in whole or in part?
(4) What happened when the masses in San Domingo hit the streets? Was this the beginning of the Black revolution in Haiti?

Class #12 Essay

From the beginning the French Revolution deepened the divisions in Haiti. The white officials who represented the king opposed the Revolution, but the big whites and businessmen tended to support it as long as they thought they could benefit financially. Even though they did not want the mulattoes to be equal to them, the little whites also supported the revolution because it could better their social standing. The mulattoes supported the Revolution because it would make them the equals of the whites. Neither the representatives of the king, the big whites, the little whites or the mulattoes cared any at all about the condition of the Blacks and slaves.

In the beginning what happened in France restricted itself to the highest sectors of Caribbean society, but the French Revolution passed down to lower and lower levels. In the Caribbean, violence associated with the French Revolution started in Martinique, not in Haiti. It started off as a tug of war pitting the big white landholders against the white commercialists and representatives of the king. To augment their power against the king's representatives, the big whites armed the slaves and gave various mulattoes control of certain militias. As soon as the whites saw what the mulattoes would do with power, they began to distrust them. In June, 1790, white fear of the mulattoes came to a head and whites started randomly massacring mulattoes. Meanwhile, the slaves that had been armed started acting on their own, destroying property, pillaging and killing whites.

Based on what was happening in Martinique, Vincent Ogé and his friend Fleury decided to return to Haiti. Both of them were rich mulattoes who had travelled to France, and the big whites in Haiti did not want them to return. Elections were being held in Haiti and the whites did not want mulattoes to run for office. This would make them the equivalent of citizens.

In order to be a candidate to the Assembly one had to own at least 20 slaves. This kept the small whites from being elected. Keeping the mulattoes in their place would enable the big whites to effectively maintain command of the colony, and they were not receptive to anyone diminishing their authority.

For that reason, Ogé arrived in Cap-Francais with arms and munitions that would be used in an insurrection of mulattoes against whites. Ogé and his supporters, including his brother, Jean Baptiste Chavannes, expected that their insurrection in Cap Francais would be taken up by mulattoes in the other provinces of Haiti. Their effort failed, and they were hanged.

Although unsuccessful, Ogé's insurrection would have repercussions in other parts of Haiti. One of Ogé's supporters in the south was Andre Rigaud, a rich mulatto that was well regarded by others. When Rigaud was put in jail and some whites killed some members of the mulatto militia, it was believed the whites were going to attack the mulattoes. Port-au-Prince, Haiti's major city, was only a spark away from exploding.

Realizing that French authority was considerably weaker than it had been, the people hit the streets. The big and little whites and the governor fled. Rigaud was released and met with other mulattoes, who formed a federation dedicated to making sure mulattoes were allowed to run for office and join the Assembly, as called for by the French Revolution. They also formed a military base of operations in case it were necessary to wage an armed battle.

The decree the mulattoes passed referred to the rights of people of color, not Blacks, not slaves. The mulatto leaders had not given a single thought to the slaves. Yet, one week after the mulattoes met, the slave rebellion in Haiti started.

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