The Slaves Uprising: What were they thinking

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Bénot, Yves, Paris. "The Slaves Uprising: What Were They Thinking?" 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 Bénot's presentation, taken by Stuart Maxwell on June 18, 2004.

  • Slaves weren't fighting for independence - at least not to their understanding.
  • There was even in August 1791, a split between the ideals of the leaders and the ideals of the mass of insurgents.
  • Popular thought is that slave liberation was the first reason for fighting, and later political independence. However, the insurgents waned to destroy the whites (except for the priests) and to take over the country and live with their brothers, the colored citizens. They also wanted an extra day to tend to their gardens. They were also aware of the Rights of Man declaration, and wanted to force the observance of that document. They also claimed to be fighting for the king, the freedom to "live free or die." [In other words, there were lots of reasons the slaves were fighting.]
  • Insurgents had an idea of independence and not much idea of state power. Jean Pierre & Biassou got rid of Jeannot because of his brutality and because he could get in the way of negotiations with the whites. [White means settler, colonist, not "of white color."]
  • The liberators (insurgent leadership) understood that the blacks would still have to work hard.

In response to questions:

  • Slaves weren't thinking in abstract terms. They wanted to be liberated from the whip.
  • Practically speaking, if the slaves had managed to take Le Cap - which they tried to do for three weeks - what would have remained of the French control?