The series of events that transformed the French colony of Saint-Domingue into the independent
nation of Haiti lasted from 1791 to 1804. In the context of the expectations raised by the French
Revolution, the enslaved Africans and free mulattoes of the colony not only abolished slavery but
liberated themselves from French rule. Gens de couleur, or mulattoes, were born of liaisons between
slaves and owners. Perhaps the most important event in the history of 18th-century Atlantic slavery,
the revolution served as an inspiration for countless other revolts in the Caribbean and North
In addition to the 500,000 slaves and 30,000 whites who lived in France's most prosperous sugar
colony in 1789, there was also a group of free blacks and mixed bloods almost equal in number to the
whites on whom the white leadership often depended for military service. The egalitarian ideology of
the French Revolution inspired many people in Saint-Domingue to rethink their positions. In 1791, the
French National Assembly passed a law that entitled all men born of free parents to be considered full
citizens in the colonies. The whites in Saint-Domingue refused to apply this legislation, and in July
and August, fighting between them and free blacks broke out in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At the same time, slaves began to revolt against their masters on the islands' plantations. Faced with
widespread disorder, the white government needed the free black militias and extended full
citizenship to all free men of color in April 1792. By early 1793, as Spain and Britain entered into war
with France, Spanish officials began to offer assistance to the ex-slave armies. As the French
revolutionary government worked to gain the allegiance of the population by abolishing slavery in
1794, white planters appealed to Britain for help.
Leadership of the revolution passed to Toussaint L'Ouverture after 1794. In addition to being a
brilliant general, L'Ouverture showed considerable skill in manipulating the French government and
managing the tensions between Haiti's different social groups. L'Ouverture was betrayed during the
French invasion of 1802 sent by the government of Napoleon Bonaparte. His arrest provoked intense
colonial war led by L'Ouverture's general Jean-Jacques Dessalines. The French were forced to
abandon the colony in 1803, and on January 1804, Dessalines proclaimed the independence of the
new country of Haiti.
Bellgarde-Smith, Patrick, Haiti: The Breached Citadel, 1990; Nicholls, David, From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour, and
National Independence in Haiti, 1979; Ott, Thomas O. The Haitian Revolution, 1789–1804. Knoxville: University of Tennessee
CITATION: MLA STYLE
"Haitian Revolution." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2010. Web. 9 Feb. 2010. <http://www.worldhistory.abc-clio.com>.