Le Cap

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Map of the environs of Cap Haïtien
Jean-Jacques Dessalines statue in Le Cap.
19th Century book illustration of Le Cap
Le Cap in Flames during Galbaud's attack.
Cap Haïtien - nicknamed Le Cap 1 (Kreyòl: Okap, Kap Ayisyen or Kapayisyen; Spanish: Cabo Haitiano; also Ville du Cap-Haitien) (19°45'N 72°12'W) is a favorably-situated port town on Haiti's agriculturally rich north coast on the Atlantic Ocean. The city is the second largest in Haiti, after the capital Port-au-Prince and has an international airport.

Le Cap - important city in French colonial empire

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. Le Cap was founded in 1711 by a royal decree.

François Mackandal is executed by the French

François Mackandal, the legendary maroon and rebel fighter against the slave holding colonialists, was chained to the stake on January 20, 1758 in this city, after his attempted insurrection and capture by the colonial troops.

The Haitian Revolution begins

Cap-Français in flames (1791).
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 Français.

Following the Bois Caïman rebellion in August 1791, 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.

Sontonax arrives in Le Cap

On September 17, 1792 the French Commissioners Léger Félicité Sonthonax, Jean-Antoine Ailhaud and Étienne Polverel arrive in Le Cap aboard the America. Sonthonax later would issue a decree abolishing slavery in the North of Saint-Domingue, the portion under his control.

In 1796 The French Governor General Laveaux was seized in Le Cap by mulattos under the command of of Jean Baptiste Villatte and thrown in jail for five days before Toussaint Louverture effected his release. (Parkinson, pp. 99-101)

Le Cap suffered many attacks, thatr 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.

Modern times

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 although many old houses still survive in the center of the city.

Cap-Haïtien is also the nearest sizable city to the historic Haitian town of Milot, which lies 12 miles to the south. Milot was northern Haiti's former capital under the self-proclaimed King Henri Christophe, who ascended to power in 1807, three years after Haiti had gained independence from France. As a result, Milot hosts the ruins of the Sans Souci palace, wrecked in an 1800's-era earthquake, as well as the massive Citadelle Laferrière, an immense stone fortress bristling with cannons. The Citadel is located five miles from Milot, atop a nearby mountain, it was built to repel attempts by European powers to re-conquer Haiti.

In September of 1892 José Martí, a leader of the Cuban independence movement and a national hero, visits Le Cap. Martí was on his way to join the war for Cuban independence and had also visited Gonaïves and Fort Liberté.


Located just to the northwest of Le Cap, is the cruise ship destination Labadie (English: Labadee or Labadee®; sometimes also spelled Labadi). This privately owned and fenced-in area is frequently referred to as being on Hispaniola,2 with tourists often unaware that the anchored cruise ship is off the coast of Haiti, close to many important historic sites.

Note 1: Under colonial rule the town was named Cap Français (or Cap François in some of the literature), under Henry Christophe: Cap Henry and in French it is named Cap Haïtien. In English, the city is often referred to as Cap Haitian or Cap Haitien (Cape Haytien or Cap-Hayti in the 19th century) and occasionaly as Cape City. The current name in Haitian Creole is Okap.

Note 2: For example the cruise ship line Royal Caribbean, the owner, used to make only little reference to the location being in Haiti, towards the bottom of a web-page that prominently referred to Hispaniola several times. Sometimes the fenced in resort is described as being on an island, while in reality it is on a peninsula.[1]

See also

  • Vincent Ogé - Landed near Le Cap on returning from his trip to Louisiana to procure weapons [October 23, 1790].
  • Sanite Bélair - Executed in Le Cap together with her husband Charles Bélair on October, 2 1802.
  • Cécile Fatiman - A mambo and leader of the vodou ceremonies at Bois Caïman on August 14, 1791. She died in Le Cap at the age of 112.
  • Mary Hassal - Wrote Secret History, or, The Horrors of St. Domingo: In a Series of Letters, Written by a Lady at Cape Français to Colonel Burr, Late Vice-President of the United States..


Book Excerpts and Articles



  • Cap-Haïtien. (2005, November 5). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:56, December 5, 2005 [2].
  • Cap-Haïtien. Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2005. [3] .
  • Cap Haitïen The Columbia Gazetteer of North America, edited by Saul B. Cohen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. [accessed January 27, 2006] [4].
  • James, C.L.R. (1989). The Black Jacobins. Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. (2nd Ed., Revised) New York: Vintage Press. ISBN 0-679-72467-2.
  • Labadee Hispaniola - Royal Caribbean's Private Beach Paradise. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. [5] [Accessed on May 5, 2006].
  • The Early History of Haiti. [6].
  • The Haitian Revolution. [7].
  • Parkinson, Wenda (1978). This Gilded African. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-2187-4

External links