Haitian Revolution Summary & Timeline

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  • 0:04 The Haitian…
  • 0:46 Conditions & Motivations
  • 2:11 The Impact of the…
  • 3:08 Revolution in Saint-Domingue
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Benjamin Olson
This lesson will detail the motivations for the Haitian Revolution and the most important events of that conflict. We will discuss the basic timeline of events and the significant figures involved.

The Haitian Revolution: Background

The Haitian Revolution was the largest and most successful slave revolt in recorded history. Starting in 1791, slaves throughout the French colony of Saint-Domingue rose up en masse and destroyed the island's highly profitable plantation slavery system, creating the nation of Haiti.

Colonialists, slave traders, and white racists throughout the world were shocked and horrified. Untrained and poorly-armed African slaves had been able to take control of the most lucrative colony in the New World away from one of the most powerful empires on Earth. African slaves and abolitionists throughout the Americas perceived a glimmer of hope and possibility during the darkest days of the Atlantic slave trade.

Conditions and Motivations

Plantation slavery throughout the Americas and the Caribbean was brutal and dehumanizing in general, but slavery in Saint Domingue was particularly merciless. Sugar was the primary crop grown on plantations there. As a result of the difficulty involved in harvesting sugar, the diseases endemic to the island, and the violence used by slave masters, slaves could be expected to live about three years.

Because new slaves were constantly needed to replace those who had died, the majority of slaves on Saint-Domingue were born in Africa. They belonged to a variety of ethnic groups from different parts of Africa, spoke many different languages, and practiced a variety of indigenous African religions. Unlike slaves elsewhere in the Americas, most slaves on Saint-Domingue were not born into slavery. Thus, they were unwilling to accept their horrific condition.

Haiti is a very mountainous island. Rugged ranges dominated much of the island's interior, providing plenty of dense wilderness for runaway slaves to take refuge in. Slaves who attempted to escape their servitude by either fleeing into the mountains or attempting to blend into a nearby town were known as maroons. If caught, maroons were subject to extremely violent punishment. In spite of the risk, many slaves escaped into the mountains and formed communities of maroons, sometimes raiding nearby plantations. These outlaw bands would prove pivotal to the success of the Haitian Revolution.

The Impact of the French Revolution

The French Revolution was an important precursor to the Haitian Revolution and a major inspiration for its participants. Enraged by the exploitation of the French aristocracy, the French people overthrew the country's monarchy and killed much of the aristocracy. The Bastille, a notorious French fortress, was raided; feudalism was abolished; and The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was published, acknowledging French citizens' formal human rights for the first time.

The French Revolution was observed from Saint-Domingue with both anxiety and hope. White plantation owners feared the abolition of slavery. Mixed-race residents of Saint-Domingue hoped to be granted full citizenship. These residents were known as mulattos and occupied a gray area in the island's class system. African slaves suffering the abominable conditions of plantation slavery listened to tales of beheaded French aristocrats and violent revolution with interest and anticipation.

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