The Complicated History of the Haitian Revolution - Freedom and Genocide


This is a slight branch off of what I normally write, but the Haitian Revolution has recently become a fascinating topic to me, although I still have a lot to learn. As such, this will be an overview of a few major aspects of the Revolution.

My interest in this topic was primarily sparked by images and memes some of my left-wing Facebook friends were sharing in support of Haiti and the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years. These posts often highlighted black leaders, in the United States and Abroad who had been great leaders for their people. Emperor Jacques I of Haiti (Jean-Jacques Dessalines) was often listed amongst these heroic figures.

At first it is easy to see why - Dessalines was the key leader of the only successful slave rebellion in the New World, which took place in Haiti between 1791 and 1804. This rebellion was absolutely justified, and something that many black people understandably take pride in. It's always cool to see a genuinely oppressed group rise up and overthrow the oppressors who abused them. However, there is a problem with Emperor Jacques' legacy. That problem is genocide.

Once the rebellion succeeded an event took place called the 1804 Haitian Massacre. I hate to use this term, since it has been so used in white supremacist and anti-Semitic circles, but this was a real "white genocide". During the massacre the newly liberated black populous of the island wiped out entire white communities. This is understandable in the case of the people who had directly abused them, but the freedmen mostly made no distinction between those whites who had wronged them and white people in general. These attacks were carried out on the orders of Emperor Jacques.

This genocide took place as genocides normally do - by identifying an ethic group as a sort of threat, taking away their rights, and suddenly targeting them for elimination. Dessalines and his generals openly discussed wiping out the white population of the island our of concern that they would be rebellious and encourage European powers to invade the island. Dessalines made the call to wipe out the white population, first banning whites from leaving the island. The genocide was to be carried out by his top generals, and the soldiers were supposed to use silent weapons like swords so as not to alert the other whites, who might try to escape into the countryside. Of course, the property left behind was to be taken by the generals and their men.

As is often the case with genocide, the men were to be killed, while the women were not necessarily supposed to be eliminated (one can guess what purpose the women would serve).

Dessalines had to visit cities himself to ensure that his orders were carried out, as his soldiers often were unenthusiastic to carry out the genocide. He also enjoyed pressuring mixed-race soldiers to kill whites, so as to make sure that nobody could say only blacks took part. After his arrivals the genocides were carried out as one might predict. Whites were gathered near major buildings in cities and killed enmasse, or rounded up and taken outside the city to be slaughtered. Upon preparing to leave the city Emperor Jacques would loudly proclaim amnesty to all the surviving whites who had successfully hidden. Once those whites came out of hiding they were slaughtered.

White women were eventually killed as well, although almost always after all the men had been killed. The only exceptions were made for those who agreed to marry black men.

Many of the white communities that were wiped out were not even French - although the French had been the ones to set up the colonial government on the island, the island was easily accessible by sea in an area with significant international travel, so many other ethnic communities settled in the colony as well.


Despite some misguided individuals celebrating Emperor Jacques the First of Haiti (Jean-Jacques Dessalines) there is no question that he was a genocidal racist. Even though his anger, and the anger of the former slaves he led, is understandable, this does not change the fact that he ordered a systemic genocide.

News of the genocide soon reached Europe and the United States, in fact many refugees who escaped the island settled in the Southern United States. Unsurprisingly, the news polarized many citizens of these countries against abolition of slavery. The genocide soon became a talking point among supporters of slavery in the Southern United States as both a reason to oppress slaves more harshly and as evidence that freeing slaves would lead to violence.

See brief overviews of these topics here:

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