Looking at Haiti through Historical Glasses

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“Ayiti Cheri” (or Haiti My Dear) is bleeding from devastation of a massive 7.0 earthquake that rocked the island on January 12, 2010.

While the words- “the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere”- continue to echo throughout the media, we never get to see the side of Haiti that is full of a rich culture and a history of leading other nations to freedom.

Many are simply unaware of Haiti’s historical context and contribution to the Americas, and despite the fact that much of our black history is often buried and never told, we are so much more connected to Haiti than we know. The history and journey of Haiti can never be summed up in just a few paragraphs, but a brief recollection of Haiti’s connection to America will go far to summarize Haiti’s plight.

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How Haiti Came to Be


Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and is the first independent nation in Latin America, the first independent black-led nation in the world, and the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a successful slave rebellion.

First occupied by the indigenous Taino Indians before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492, the French colonized the land importing enslaved Africans to Haiti in 1517 and using enslaved Africans to make it the richest French colony in the New World.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave and leader in the slave revolt, along with Jean-Jacques Dessalines rose up against the French, defeated their troops in a slave revolt, and declared the independence of Haiti on January 1, 1804.

Haiti agreed to make reparations to French slaveholders in 1825 in the amount of 150 million francs, reduced in 1838 to 60 million francs, in exchange for French recognition of its independence and to achieve freedom from French aggression. This bankrupted the Haitian treasury and mortgaged Haiti’s future to the French banks, permanently affecting Haiti’s ability to be prosperous.

Haiti’s Connection to the Americas


Haiti’s slave revolt against the French led to the Louisiana Purchase. When Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army was faced with an uprising in Haiti and failed to re-conquer and reestablish slavery there, he was forced to abandon his plans to rebuild France’s New World empire. As a result, the U.S. paid $15 million ($213 million in present day figures) to acquire the 14 state Louisiana territory. Bonaparte later said “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.”

• In 1779, about 750 volunteer Haitian slaves fought alongside colonial troops against the British in the Siege of Savannah in the American Revolutionary War in Savannah, GA.

Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable, a Haitian born to slaves in Haiti, was the first known non-indigenous settler in Chicago in the 1770’s and is credited with being the founder of Chicago.

• Haiti’s fight for independence left Haiti diplomatically isolated by 1806 for fear of a slave revolt by American slaves and ultimately forced the hand of Thomas Jefferson to end the U.S. slave trade in 1808.

• In 1815 Simon Bolivar, the South American political leader who was instrumental in Latin America’s struggle for independence from Spain, received military and financial assistance from Haiti on the condition that Bolivar free any enslaved people he encountered in his fight for South American independence. As a result, Bolivar was able to liberate Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and Peru.

L’union Fait La Force- Strength Through Unity


Further Reading


Detailed history can be found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiti
Haitian leaders in the fight for independence thelouvertureproject.org
Haitian revolution en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_Revolution

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About Fabiola Fleuranvil

As a first generation Haitian-American born in America to Haitian parents, I had all these negative images of what Haiti was based on the stories told by the media. It was not until my first and only trip to Haiti in July 2007 to bury my maternal grandmother that I learned that Haiti was so much more than what the images showed. This trip was the absolute best experience in my life albeit a humbling one, and I really got to see Haiti for what it truly was- so much culture, natural beauty, a village mentality where everyone is family and takes care of one another, and a fighting spirit of people who never give up and never complain. My family in Haiti has been impacted and my parents have lost cousins and family that I will never meet, but at least they have family in America to help them rebuild.

All of my African-American brothers and sisters are all just one or 2 ships shy from being Haitian. Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean was usually the first stop during the Transatlantic Slave Trade before we landed in America. Some of us ended up staying in Haiti and the rest of us were shipped to America, and that is the only thing that separates us. We just ended up on a different ship, but came from the same place.

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2 Comments

  • ASouthernJule

    Reply Reply January 22, 2010

    Great piece!

  • Brandi Crisafi

    Reply Reply March 19, 2010

    I mean, er, awesome thoughts, Liz – I need some time to think about this!

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