Haitian Revolution Battles

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

The Haitian Revolution is considered the most successful slave revolt in the history of the world. This lesson discusses the various events and battles associated with the Haitian Revolution.

Slavery on the Island of Saint Domingue

Although the American Civil War is probably the most popular example in history for warfare leading to the end of slavery within a nation, it is certainly not the only instance. In fact, Haiti, an island in the Caribbean formally known as Saint Domingue, witnessed the most successful slave revolt. This lesson will explore the years of the Haitian Revolution that bridged the 18th and 19th centuries.


In 1791, sugar plantations and slavery made up life on Saint Domingue, an island now known as Haiti. France controlled the colony and plantation owners controlled slaves. By August of 1791, Saint Domingue's slave population had had enough. There was, of course, a distinct reason for the start of the revolt. Although Saint Domingue had seen a good number of slave rebellions, it was the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man that served as the final straw that spurred the black population to action.

Their exclusion from citizenship as defined by the document inspired countless slaves to begin burning plantations across the colony in August of 1791, led by former slave Toussaint L'Ouverture. In just 10 days, over 1,000 plantations were destroyed and over 1,000 white colonists were killed. Within a month, the slaves were joined by free blacks and mulattoes (people of both European and African descent).

Slave rebellion 1791
Slave rebellion 1791

In an attempt to limit the rebellion, the French government issued a decree on September 28: all free blacks and mulattoes, whether or not they had joined in the revolution, were given amnesty, or an official pardon for their actions. While this limited the number of free blacks and mulattoes willing to support the rebellion, it did not stop more slaves from joining. By November 1791, nearly 80,000 slaves were a part of the revolt and they began to build makeshift military camps around Saint Domingue. One of the largest camps was located in a place called Platons.

1792 to 1795

In January of 1792, French troops were on a mission to put down the rebellion. On January 9, they attacked the rebel encampment at Platons. The rebels were low on supplies and they knew they didn't stand a chance against the well-trained and well-fed French troops. The combatants fled the site, leaving women, children, and the elderly behind. The slaves believed that the French troops would leave the remaining people alone, but they were sorely mistaken. The French murdered hundreds of women and children and placed their heads on stakes as a warning to the rebels. About 3,000 slaves were also captured at this time; some were forced to go back to their original plantations, while others met a similar fate as the women and children at Platons.

By mid-1792, the Haitian Revolution became even more complicated. Great Britain, a long-time enemy of France, saw an opportunity to take over Saint Domingue for itself. After all, before the revolution broke out, the island had been France's wealthiest colony. At the same time and for the same reasons, the Spanish also became involved in the conflict.

The British faced off against the rebels in the city of Le Cap. The troops terrorized the residents, burning and pillaging the city. On June 21, 1792, the French government made yet another attempt to try and quiet the rebellion. This time, they offered freedom to all slaves that helped the French military against the British and Spanish.

In 1793, Toussaint L'Ouverture (who had been leading the slave rebellion against the French) became a general for the Spanish when France went to war with Spain and Great Britain. In 1794, however, the French government abolished slavery in all of their colonies. L'Ouverture knew that the Spanish and British wanted to keep the institution of slavery, so he switched sides to fight for France. From 1794 to 1795, L'Ouverture helped France get rid of both the British and Spain from Saint Domingue. During that time, L'Ouverture was made lieutenant governor of Saint Domingue and his following as a leader continued to grow.

Toussaint L

1796 to 1801

By 1796, it was clear that Toussaint L'Ouverture was the most powerful leader in Saint Domingue. He controlled the army and was loved by black and mulatto citizens alike. Even though there were technically white French leaders that out-ranked him, none of them were able to command the island colony the way L'Ouverture could.

By 1801, L'Ouverture had not only invaded and conquered the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo that shared the island (now known as the Dominican Republic), he declared himself governor 'for life' of the entire island of Hispaniola. His 'rule,' as it were, however, did not last long.

Map of Hispaniola

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