Historical Concealment Of Colonial Slave Rebellions
In his article, The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s:
New Light on the Causes of Slave Rebellions1
David Geggus contends that; "It was precisely during the Age of Revolution
(1776-1815), when French St. Domingue experienced the most successful slave
revolt of all time, that the frequency of slave rebellions and conspiracies
reached an all-time low in the British colonies. The case of Jamaica appears
especially enigmatic. That islands slaves made an impressive record of violent
resistance :from the seventeenth century to the 18308. Yet during the 1790s,
a decade that brought not only massive uprisings in neighboring St. Domingue
but also the epochal abolition of slavery by the French Republic." On the
other hand, and contrary to this statement, we find two rebellions taking
place during the 1790s in Jamaica according to the Table in Jan Rogozinski's
The contrary information documented
by each author raises several questions, several of which are listed below:
- How can this statement be reconciled with the information on Jamaica
in table 17 (titled Caribbean Slave Rebellions, 1522-1844 of the book
by Ian Rogozinski?
- How can the discrepancy regarding slave conspiracies/uprisings can
be accounted for?
- Is David Geggus' claim merely an affirmation of the statement below
which Sibylle Fischer made in her book regarding the proclamation made in
Cuba against Jose Antonio Aponte.3
"Someroulos is rehearsing a strategy that we will find time and again in
the elite's dealings with slave rebellions and events potentially linked
to Haiti. He reaffirms the hemispheric bonds of colonialliml that link Cuba
to Spain and denies any coniiections that would violate the boundaries of
The Impact of the Haitian Slave Revolution on Mainland South America
- Is the statement made by David Geggus an example of an historian covering
up unpalatable events, and therefore excising the event from history , and
in the process sanitizing the portrayal of a nation's colonial rule?
The various criteria by which countries come to
be termed as "Caribbean" are as varied as the countries thusly labeled. In
general tenns any nation which has a coastline on the Caribbean may justly
be called a Caribbean Nation. Applying this broad geographical generalization
the South American nations of Colombia and Venezuela are well within the
geographical scope of this project. More important than a mere geographical
compatibility however, is the historical connection between both nations
in their fight for independence from Spain, and the Haitian slave revolution.
During his lowest hours, when he had nowhere else to turn for succor, Simon
Bolivar twice landed on Haiti, and was on each occasion re-supplied, re-armed
and rejuvenated. Without the aide Bolivar received from Haiti his quest for
independence from Spain would have been a much prolonged, more bloody affair
than it was. That is, if it coUld have succeeded at all.
1815 found Simon Bolivar in Haiti attempting to secure
the backing of President Petion in his fight against Spain. A similar appeal
for aid from the British on Jamaica had been unsuccessful, and Bolivar finally
fled to Haiti after narrowly escaping several attempts on his life.4
Initially Petion was reluctant to provide Bolivar aide against the
Spanish, but he finally relented. Petion's agreement however, was conditional
on the understanding that, in the words of Albert Prago, Bolivar would "take
immediate steps to abolish slavery. The Liberator accepted the condition:
when he implemented the promise shortly after returning to the mainland,
the rewards were great for the patriot annies."5
Eventually, with the aide provided by Petion and others,
Bolivar was able to fit out an expedition consisting of "six schooners and
a sloop - 250 men, mostly officers, and arms for 6,000 troops."6
He set sail on March 31, 1816 amidst the pageantry of full dress uniforms
and salutes fired from guns on shore as he sailed past.7
Unfortunately, the campaigan did not progress as splendidly as had the expeditions
departure. Bickering and feuding amoung the leaders of the expedition
forced Bolivar to return to Haiti after a few small initial successes. Once
again the freedom of much of the South American mainland depended on the
generosity of the former slave colony. Petion re-supplied Bolivar's force,
and the Liberator once again sailed for the mainland and his destiny.
Although Petion's conditions for supplying Bolivar's expedition
were not honored for many years after the Spanish defeat, the fact that he
imposed them clearly indicates a desire to spread freedom to those enslaved
elsewhere. Considering the aide Bolivar received from Haiti, one would suppose
he would hold the people of that nation in high esteem. As we can see from
his letters below however, this was not always the case. In the lands which
Bolivar :freed, the color of a persons skin became all important. Although
he praised the Haitian's military achievements on occasion, overall his comments
regarding the only nation which helped him in his time of need were negative.
This ungrateful behavior on the part of Bolivar raises many questions, several
of which may be found directly after the section of letters.
Letters written by Simon Bolivar the "Liberator" to Gener Paulo Santander.
Vice President of Colombia.
"It is born out of the maxims of politics and derived from the examples
of history that any free government which commits the folly of maintaining
slavery is repaid with rebellion and sometimes with collapse, as in Haiti."8
- Written Apri1 20, 1820; concerning the issue of slavery:
"As for the slaves, if the hornets nest is stirred up the resuh will be
similar to that of Haiti. The greed of the colonist caused that revolution,
after the French Republic decreed emancipation and the colonists spurned
it. By their recalcitrance and stubbornness they spurred their natural enemies
into action. The impetus to our revolution has been given, and no-one can
know restrain it, the most that can be done is to give it proper direction.
The example of freedom is alluring, and that of domestic freedom is insistent
- Written May 30, 1820; concerning the issue of slavery:
"I then cast my eyes over the endless coastline of Colombia, threatened
by the fleets of every nation, by the Europeans whose colonies surround us,
and by the Africans of Haiti whose strength is mightier than primeval fire."10
- Written December 23,1822; concerning the strength of Haiti, and the
vulnembility of Colombia:
"The wars in Russia and Haiti should be our model on some points, but
without the terrible type of self-destruction that those countries adopted."11
- Written March 11, 1825; concerning the military tactics Bolivar wished
to implement at this stage of the war against Spain:
"Never forget the three political admonitions that I have ventured to
give you; first, it will not be to our advantage to admit La Plata to the
league; second, or the United States of America; third, do not attempt to
liberate Havanna. These three points seem to me to be of the greatest importance.
I believe our league can maintain itself perfectly wen without embracing
the extremes of the South and the North and without creating another Republic
of Haiti (in Cuba)."12
Letters from Simon Bolivar to the Congress of Bolivia
- Written May 20, 1825; concerning foreign policy:
"The island of Haiti, if you will permit the digression, was in a state
of perpetual insurrection. Having experimented with an empire, a kingdom,
and a republic, in fact every known type of government and more besides,
the people were compelled to call upon the illustrious Petion to save them.
After they had put their trust in him, Haiti's destinies pursued a steady
course. Petion was made president for life, with the right to choose his
successor. Thus neither the death of that great man nor the advent of a new
president imperiled that state in the slightest. Under the worthy Boyer,
everything has proceeded as tranquilly as in a legitimate monarchy. There
you have conclusive proof that a life-term president, with the power to choose
his successor, is the most sublime inspiration amongst republican regimes."13
- Written May 25, 1826; concernjng the issue oflifetime presidency:
When examining these letters one must remember that Bolivar
was a rich landowning, slave master, who was proud of his Spanish lineage.
One must then ask if the views Bolivar expressed were inspired by Petion,
inspired by political necessity, or inspired by genuine anti-slavery beliefs?
For exzample, is his comments in the letter written on December 23,1822;
concerning the strength of Haiti, and the vulnembility of Colombia, refering
to an actual military threat posed by Haiti, or does Bolivar reveal his concerns
about being overwhelmed by slaves who are following the example of the Haitian
Revolution? And by linking Haiti with a power such as Russia, is Bolivar
complimenting Haiti or denigrating it? Written almost a year apart,
the letters of May 10th, 1825 and May 25th, 1826 portray contradicting views
of Haiti, why the wish to exclude in the 1925 letter while the praise in
International Recognition of the Republic of Haiti
After years of conflict with France, the people of Haiti
declared themselves an independent Republic on January 1st, 1804. Instead
of being welcomed into the family of nations however, Haiti was long ignored
by the major European powers, and even longer ignored by the United States
of America. As early as 1823, Britain recognized the independence of many
of Spain's erstwhile colonies, Haiti was not formally recognized until1825.
This was 21 years after they had achieved their actual independence. France
waited until 1838 to acknowledge Haitian independence, and this was only
obtained at the cost of a large indemnity and a 50% reduction in import duties.14
Despite the slow pace of international recognition however, by 1860,
an important countries had representatives in Haiti. That is all nations
except the United States of America. Why was the United States of America
unwilling or unable to acknowledge Haiti as an independent nation?
The answer lies in the United States of America's retention of slavery. The
fact is that the U.S. could not acknowledge the independence of a nation
of former slaves while half of their own nation was under the control of
Therefore it wasn't until the southern U.S. slave owning
states were on the verge of defeat during the American Civil War that a treaty
of friendship, commerce and navigation could be signed with Haiti. This occurred
on November 1864,15
more than sixty
years after Haiti had actually gained its independence.
1 Geggus, David. "The Enigma of Jamaica in the 1790s: New Light on
the Causes of Slave Rebellions." The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser.,
Vol. 44, No.2 (Apr., 1987): 274-299. Online via JSTOR. <www.jstor.org/>
(February 1,2005). Page 274.
2 Rogozinski, Jan. "A Brief History Of The Caribbean; From The Arawak And
The Carib To The Present." New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1992. Page 159.
3 Fischer, Sibylle. "Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures
of Slavery in the age of Revolution." Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
4 Trend, J.B. Bolivar; And The independence Of Spanish America.
Clinton, Massachusetts: Press Inc., 1951. Page 97.
5 Prago, Albert. The Revolutions in Spanish America; The ]ndependence
Movements Of 1808-1825. New York: The Macmillan Company,1970. Page 194.
6 Worcester, Donald, E. Bolivar. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1977.
7 Rourke, Thomas. "Man of Glory; Simon Bolivar." Safety Harbor, Florida:
William Morrow &
Company, Inc., 1939. Page 154.
8 Bierck, Harold A jr ., edited by. "Selected Writings of Bolivar
Volumes 1 &2." New York: The Colonial Press Inc., 1951. Page 223. ,
9 Ibid. Page 229.
10 Ibid. Page 307.
11 Ibid. page 483.
12 Ibid. Page 499.
13 Ibid. Page 596.
14 Ibid. Page 576 (footnote).
15 Wesley, Charles H.. "The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti
and Liberia as Independent Republics." The Journal of Negro History, Vol.
2, No.4 (Oct., 1917): 369-383. Online via JSTOR <www.jstor.org/>
(February 6, 2005).
- Dupuy, Alex. Haiti In The New World Order: The Limits Of The Democratic
Revolution. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1997.
- Fagg, John Edwin. Cuba, Haiti, & The Dominican Republic.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965.
- Fausto, Boris. A Concise History at Brazil. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1999.
- Pick, Carolyn E. The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution
From Below. Knoxville, Tennessee: The University of Tennessee Press,
- James, Preston E. Latin America, 3rd ed New York: Odyssey Press,
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Destiny. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1993.
- Leyburn, James G. The Haitian People. New Haven: Yale University
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- Millington, Thomas. Colombia's Military and Brazil's Monarchy; Undermining
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Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 1989.
- Prago, Albert. The Revolutions in Spanish America: The Independence
Movements Of 1808-1825. New York: The Macmillan Company,1970.
- Rogozjnski, Jan. A Brief History Of The Caribbean,. From The Arawak
And The Carib To The Present. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1992.
- Rourke, Thomas. Man of Glory: Simon Bolivar. Safety Harbor,
Florida: William Morrow & Company, Inc" 1939. Trend, J.B. Bolivar;
And The independence Of Spanish America. Clinton, Massachusetts: Colonial
Press Inc., 1951.
- Worcester, Donald, E. Bolivar. Boston: Little, Brown & Company,
Artical © 2005 Michael C. Twomey.