The Colony of Saint-Domingue on the Eve of Revolution

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Geggus, David Patrick, University of Florida. "The Colony of Saint-Domingue on the Eve of Revolution." The Haitian Revolution: Viewed 200 Years After, an International Scholarly Conference. John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI. June 18, 2004.


Following are rough notes of Geggus's presentation, taken by Stuart Maxwell on June 18, 2004.

  • Haiti's revolution was important because of where it took place & because of the colony's wealth & importance to France.
  • Slaveowners "walked on barrels of gunpowder" - there was some awareness that the slaves would rise up. (Rare prognostications)
  • Slaveowners were also seen as a threat to break from France.
  • Still, the revolution was unexpected.
  • Saint Domingue did not see very many insurrections between 1700 & 1791. Partly because many could escape to the mountains or to spanish side. When it became harder to become a maroon in 1780, the stage was set for revolution.
  • Few who took up arms in 1791 had been maroons, and only one general had been - Jean François.
  • Demography of the slave trade offers compelling pointers to the insurrection, yet the surge of slaves went mostly to the coffee plantations inthe mountains, and these areas were drawn most slowly into the war.
  • Number of police did not increase commensurate with slave growth - remaining at about 200.
  • Possibility for manumission declined dramatically.
  • Fertility rates in the North were drastically low prior to the revolution. (few years before); could be related to overwork and to food shortages.
  • It is extremely difficult to point to any particular pressure which spawned the revolution.