Les petits blancs (the small whites) were lower-class whites who generally comprised the merchant class of Saint-Domingue. The French Revolution coincided perfectly with their notions of 'equality, liberty and fraternity.' To display their solidarity with the ideas that led to that revolution, les petits blancs wore red cockades, which led to their being called pompons rouges ('the red pompoms'). They stiffly resented the grand blancs, who were determined to keep them from rising into the upper class. In turn, les petits blancs were hated by the gens de couleur, who were a social rung below them.
Les grands blancs (the big whites) were the powerful, slave-owning class of whites. Though sharply in the minority (outnumbered by blacks approximately 1000 to 1 at the height of the slave trade), they controlled both wealth and power, and so it was they who ruled. They became notably wealthy, some owning commercial ventures in France as well as their slave-driven plantations in Saint-Domingue. They railed against the ideas and supporters of the French Revolution, which in essence aimed to chop out the heart of the master-slave relationship that built and sustained their dominant influence. They advertised their unity in this matter by wearing a white cockade, and from that took the name pompons blancs ('the white pompoms').