History of Haiti


I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man… – Toussaint Louverture

History of Haiti

Colonial Haiti

Haiti forms part of the island of Hispaniola. Before the Europeans arrived, a people called the Arawaks lived there. However, on December 6, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed at Mole Saint-Nicholas on the northwest portion of Hispaniola and called the island Espanola, which was later changed to the name Hispaniola.

Columbus built a fort on the island, and he left 39 men to man it. However, when he returned in 1493, he found the Arawaks had killed them. Christopher Columbus’s brother, Bartholomew, continued to explore the island and Spanish settlers came thereafter. One hundred years after Columbus discovered Hispaniola, European diseases and war had almost exterminated the Arawaks.

Meanwhile, the Spanish claimed ownership of the whole island, but they settled mainly in the east. The west was largely empty and, in the 17th century, the French settled there. In 1664, they founded Port-de-Paix. Finally, in 1697, the Spanish and French signed the Treaty of Ryswick. France was given the western third of the island of Hispaniola. They called their colony Saint-Domingue.

In the 18th century Saint-Domingue (Haiti) became rich. The colony exported sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo, and cocoa. However, this prosperity depended on slavery. Huge numbers of black slaves were brought to work on planations. By the end of the 18th century, there were about 30,000 French people, about 27,000 people of mixed race, and nearly half a million black slaves.

However, after 1789, the ideas of the French Revolution, such as liberty and equality, reached the French colony of Saint-Domingue. On August 14, 1791, there was a slave rebellion and war ensued, which devastated the colony. However, the war ended when France ended slavery in 1793.

One of the black rebels was a remarkable man called Toussaint L’Overture. When the war ended, he joined the French army. The French were at war with Spain, and they were fighting against the Spanish two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. In 1797, Toussaint was made a commander of the French army in Hispaniola. By 1801, he was in control of the island. He declared all slaves free and made himself head of the new government. He also published a new constitution. Fearing they were losing their colony, the French sent an army under General Charles Leclerc. Using a trick, Leclerc captured Toussaint. However, his army was decimated by fever. Furthermore, a former slave called Jean-Jacques Dessalines continued to struggle against the French and, on January 1, 1804, the island became independent. It was renamed Haiti.

Independent Haiti

However, the island was left devastated by war and Dessalines was assassinated in 1809, the Spanish captured the eastern part of the island (it is now the Domincan Republic, while the western part of the island eventually became Haiti). In 1822, President Boyer of Haiti captured what is now the Dominican Republic, but the two separated permanently in 1844.

Meanwhile, other countries were slow to recognize Haiti. France recognized Haiti in 1825. However, in return, the French demanded compensation for the land their plantation owners had lost in Haiti. The Haitians were forced to pay a large sum of money, which was not completed until 1887.

Britain recognized Haiti in 1833, but the USA did not follow until 1862.

Meanwhile, President Boyer was overthrown in 1843 and 1911, there were 16 rulers. Of them, 11 were overthrown by revolutions.

Modern Haiti

In the early 20th century, political instability in Haiti grew worse. Finally, in 1915, the US sent marines to occupy the country to protect American business interests there. Not surprisingly, the occupation was resented by the Haitians, and the US Marines were finally withdrawn in 1934.

However, there was not end to political instability in Haiti. In 1946, the present was removed by a military coup. He was replaced by Dumarsais Estime who was, in turn, overthrown by the military in 1950. He was replaced by Paul Malgorie, who was forced to resign in 1956. A series of provisional presidents followed, until the people elected Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) in 1957. Duvalier became dictator and ruler of Haiti with the help of his infamous secret police, the Tontons Macoutes. Under his rule, trade meetings were banned, and the press was strictly controlled. In 1961, following a fraudulent election, Duvalier was reelected. In 1964, he made himself president for life. In 1971, he changed the constitution and gave himself the power to name his successor. He died the same year, and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc), became president of Haiti.

Baby Doc proved to be as repressive as his father. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, many Haitians fled to Florida by boat to escape his rule and by 1984, economic conditions were so bad, shear desperation forced people to demonstrate. Duvalier lost support and in 1986, he went into exile.

However, there was no return to democratic government in Haiti. After Duvalier went, the army seized power in Haiti. Nevertheless, protest at home and pressure from the USA forced them to hold elections in December 1990. Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected present. However, he did not rule for long. In September 1991, he was overthrown by a coup and forced to flee abroad.

Once again, a military dictatorship ruled Haiti and many people tried to flee from the country. Pressure from other countries forced the army to allow President Aristiede to return.

When Aristide’s term ended in 1966, Rene Preval was elected president. Unfortunately, it was not the end of the political instability. There was a struggle between the two men, Aristide and Preval. In 2000, Aristide was elected president, but the opposition refused to accept the result and would not recognize Areistide as president. Following protests in November 2003, Aristide promised new elections. However, in February 2004, rebellion broke out and Aristide was forced to leave Haiti. An interim government then took over until new elections could be held. In 2006, Preval was elected president and some economic strides were made. Following Preval’s presidency, Michel Martelly was elected president. President Martelly was a former musician who had taken great interest in Haiti, particularly after the earthquake, and promised to help rebuild its nation’s resources, infrastructure, education, and economic status. Meanwhile, in 2003, voodoo was recognized as an official religion in Haiti (although it has been practiced there for 300 years). Traditionally, over 90% of Haitian population has been Catholic. In the early 21st century, Haiti was still a very poor country (the poorest in the western hemisphere), and many of her people were subsidence farmers. Programs of deforestation had led to diminished agriculture potential and, with rainy seasons, many had died or suffered in mud slides. Miscalculation leading to the importation of rice has caused one of the few agricultural products for export to all but be eliminated in Haiti. Unfortunately, in January 2010, as mentioned above, Haiti suffered a terrible earthquake, which left vast numbers of people died in an event that lasted 30 seconds with multiple aftershocks. Many more were left homeless, and over a million lived, and many still continue to live in tent cities throughout the epicenter of the earthquake and around Port-au-Prince. Already a very poor country, Haiti was left with the monumental task of recovering from the earthquake. Today, the population of Haiti is 9.8 million people. Currently in Haiti, there is a 60% unemployment rate, 45% illiteracy rate, and over 60% of the population is under 25 years old. Haiti’s pride and resiliency is reflected in its being the first island nation to break the bonds of colonial rule. Its pride, agricultural success, and passionate culture live on. There is great hope that with the assistance of many non-government organizations, as well as contributions from other countries such as France and the US, that Haiti will again return to a move prosperous state in the years to come.

Creole- secret language so the French wouldn’t understand the slaves

Basic Background information–

Pride and resiliency well documented throughout history

First island nation to break bonds of colonial rule

Second nation to gain independence from European rule

Early agricultural/industrial stability

Leading agricultural exporter

Subsequent history: masses robbed of economic viability by series of dictatorships
and regimes.

Occupations and coups

Recent economic gains

Population of 10 million

Poorest nation in western hemisphere ave per capita income $480/yr

60% unemployment

60% population <25 yrs old

Average lifespan is 51 yrs old

90% catholic,most practice Voodoo which has been unjustifiably maligned and stigmitized.

Literacy rate ~45%

More than 10% of haition children die before age 5

  • geography – 7000’ mountains, flatlands, and abundant natural resources