Jean François Papillon

From TLP
Revision as of 09:43, 10 December 2011 by Antognetti (talk | contribs)

Jump to: navigation, search

Jean-François Papillon was an Africa-born slave that had worked in the Papillon plantation, in the North Province of Saint-Domingue. He escaped the said plantation some years before the revolutionary outbreak in Saint-Domingue, living as a maroon until 1791. So when the Haitian revolution started, he had already enjoyed a previous experience of liberty and he was one of the "slave leaders" that led that historical process.

The beginning of the Haitian revolution

Though the mythic vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman, in the night of 21 August 1791, has been usually regarded as the origin of the slave insurrection, some preeminent scholars, significantly David Geggus, have argued that there is no almost no historical evidence for it. For that reason, Geggus states that the slave leaders planned the black revolution one week before, on 14 August 1791, when they gathered in the plantation of Lenormand de Mézy and agreed to rise up in rebellion to conquer freedom exclusively for themselves. As they knew that they needed the support of the slave masses, crucial for the triumph of the insurrection, they pretended to fight for universal emancipation. Nevertheless, none of the leaders of the insurrection believed in that principle; in fact Jean-François himself declared to the North American agents, present in Le Cap François at the time, 'that he had not created himself General of the negroes, that those who had that power had confered [sic] upon him that title; that in taking up arms, he never pretended to fight for General Liberty, which he knew to be an illusion'.

The first black commander-in-chief was Boukman Dutty, who had supposedly acted as papaloi or vodou priest in the ceremony at Bois Caïman. But Boukman was killed in a confrontation with the French troops in November 1791. The situation of the rebel army was critical, because they needed to choose another general as soon as possible to lead the rebels to victory. It was then that Jean-François Papillon was made new commander-in-chief of the rebels, assisted by the black officers Jeannot Bullet, Georges Biassou and Toussaint Bréda, later known as Toussaint Louverture.

Though the main reason for the Haitian revolution was the former slaves' discontent with their condition, they were assisted by two external elements: many French planters that had fled Saint-Domingue from September 1789, when news of the French revolution were first heard in the colony. The latter were terrified by the chance that the revolutionary ideas that were triumphing in France reached the colony, encouraging the coloured-people to revolt against the whites and seize power, so they crossed the Dominican border and took refuge in Santo Domingo. From that Spanish territory, they took advantage of the royalist mentality of Saint-Domingue's slaves and spread the false rumour that the French King has granted them a three-day holiday per week and had also prohibitied physical abuse on the part of the planters. They also told the slaves that the colonial Assembly of Le Cap had prevented that decree from being published in Saint-Domingue, because it harmed the interests of the white elite. The French monarchists exiled in Santo Domingo acted that way because they wished to provoke a slave uprising to defend the Ancien Régime in that colony and to defend the rights of the French King. That was why the slaves that rose up in rebellion in the night of 21 August 1791 waved the French white royalist flag and claimed that they had revolted to defend Louis 16th.

Yet the cited monarchists did not have enough resources to finance the slave uprising, since they were political refugees. For that reason, they had to count on foreignt support, which they received from the Spanish Crown and the Dominican government. Both sold the slave rebels of Saint-Domingue food and weapons to carry out their insurrection. The Spanish government did so for two reasons: first, because it also wanted to stop the spread of the French subversive ideas in Saint-Domingue, as there were many chances that the latter reached Santo Domingo and other Spanish possessions, too; second, because the Spanish Crown knew that there were many chances that the slave insurgents went out of control of the monarchist faction that was trying to use them for their own benefit. When that happened, the Spaniards would send troops to the Dominican border to erase the risk of a black invasion of Santo Domingo, and they would wait until the whites and the blacks of Saint-Domingue killed each other. Then Spain would be justified to send troops to restore order in that French colony, but its actual goal would be to re-conquer that territory that had been a Spanish possession until the late 17th Century.

Hence, Spain stayed in touch with Saint-Domingue's rebels from the early days of the Haitian revolution, through the Dominican government. The latter never mentioned its contacts with the former slaves in its documents, in order to preserve Spain's official neutrality towards France. But the black generals did mention their dealings with the Spaniards; for example, in October 1791 Toussaint Bréda told some other black officers that he was in conversations with the Spaniards, whom he had asked for some supplies for his troops. In addition, in January 1792 the black General Georges Biassou addressed the Dominican governor, Joaquín García, for asking him to stop Jean-François' ascent to absolute power in Saint-Domingue as soon as possible, before it was too late.

The turning point: 1793

Spain kept its contacts with the former slaves in secret until 1793. In late January, the French National Convention executed Louis 16th, the Spanish King's cousin. Two months later, France and Spain declared war to each other. As a consequence, the Spanish government did not feel the necessity to keep its contacts with Saint-Domingue's rebels in secret anymore. So the Spaniards started to mention their dealings with the slave insurgents in the official documents and even intensified them, in order to join them to the Dominican colonial army, following the King's instructions. Significantly, the said instructions are dated in February 1793, one month before the declaration of war between France and Spain, which means that the Spanish Crown had been in contact with the black rebels for a long time and also that he planned to declare war to France as soon as possible, after the execution of his cousin the French sovereign.