CAP HAITIEN - nicknamed Le Cap is a favorably-situated port town on Haiti's agriculturally rich north coast. Spain had claimed the entire island of Hispaniola in its earliest years of European occupation, but paid little attention to its mountainous western third, including Le Cap.
French usurpers, primarily pirates based on nearby Ile de la Tortue, gradually started populating that western third. Spanish troops made half-hearted attempts to shoo them away, but with the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick Spain gave up the job, ceding the land to the French with no undue reluctance. The French named the territory Saint-Domingue, and soon began exploiting its natural resources and fortunate geographical location.
The city today gives little clue to its fabulous past. During Saint-Domingue's extended reign as France's wealthiest colony, Le Cap was glorious. It became the thriving capital of the colony, such a glittering, culturally rich city that it was called 'the Paris of the West.' In one of its multiple renamings, at that time its formal name was Cap_François.
Following the Bois Caïman rebellion in August 1781, a mass of slaves, who were desperately striking back against long years of cruel treatment, spread through the beautiful city and its surrounding plantations, setting fire to buildings, and killing planters and overseers and their families. Ultimately, the slaves were defeated by a better-armed and better-trained white militia, but not before the area was seriously damaged. An estimated 1,000 plantations were burned, and an estimated 2,000 whites and 10,000 blacks died.
Subsequent attacks on Le Cap (and throughout Saint Domingue) further damaged the city, as troops under Toussaint Louverture battled from one end of the colony to the other for their freedom. Even more destruction took place during the final push for independence, in the November 1803 Battle of Vertières near Le Cap.
But even hard-won freedom and independence could not grant immunity to the grand old city. Natural disasters have no regard for human accomplishment. The Caribbean islands being centered over an earthquake zone, Saint-Domingue has been hit by its shares of quakes over the centuries. A severe earthquake in 1842 destroyed much of what had been left of once-elegant Le Cap, and today much of the city remains ruined.
Under colonial rule the town was named Cap Français and the current name in Haitian Creole is Okap.
The Haitian Revolution. http://countrystudies.us/haiti/9.htm
The Early History of Haiti. http://pasture.ecn.purdue.edu/~agenhtml/agenmc/haiti/history.html
Cap-Haïtien. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/C/CapH1aiti.asp