that Haitians fought alongside American Patriots in our War for Independence?
It gives me cause to pause in seeing the U. S. Customs and Border Protection Services drop the heavy hammer on the Haitians, somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 under a bridge in Del Rios, Texas at the U. S.-Mexican border, trying to get into the United States. Homeland Security has quickly and significantly increased the number of agents and resources to the area of Del Rios. The Haitians are being flown back to Haiti.1 I could not help but think back on the fact that at two critical points in the history of the United States, actions undertaken by Haitians had an influence, and a positive one, on the destiny of our country. In the years from 1776 to 1781, Haitians helped the American colonists gain independence from Great Britain by fighting with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and two decades later, their defeating the French in their War for Independence from France was an important factor in influencing the French decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, an action that doubled the size of the United States.
Haitians came to assist the Americans in their fight for independence, even though they had not yet achieved their independence from France, in 1779. They were free people of color (called des gens de couleurs libres) organized into a regiment called Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue and eight hundred (800) volunteered to serve under the command of a French officer, First Lieutenant Count d’Estaing. They fought valiantly in the Battle of Savannah. Their bravery was memorialized by a statue erected by the city of Savannah in 2007.Photos of the monument and memorial inscriptions are shown at the end of the post2. In my unpublished book, I referenced the actions of these Haitians as one of the examples of people of African descent playing a role in the formation of the American Republic, contrary to the assertions of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney in the Dred Scott case. In addition to those 800 Haitians of African descent, five thousand (5,000) Americans of African descent fought in the Revolutionary War on the side of the Patriots. If fighting in the Revolutionary War that resulted in independence and the subsequent birth of the nation with the adaption of the Constitution does not qualify one as having a hand in establishing the nation and the Constitution, then nothing does.
The Haitians3 threw a monkey wrench in the designs of the French for empire in the Americas by defeating them in long drawn out wars from 1791 to end of 1803. The situation in Haiti over these twelve years was complicated, bloody, and just horrific, involving more than just France and revolting slaves and free people of color but British and Polish as well. In the beginning, the revolts of the Haitians were aimed at ending slavery within the French Empire leading to Civil War against white slave owners but ended up with the Haitians fighting for independence from France. That independence was achieved with the defeat of the French Army at the Battle of Vertieres on November 18, 1803. Between yellow fever and military casualties, total French deaths have been estimated at 40,000. With these losses coupled with the costs of wars in Europe, Napoleon was willing to get rid of the Louisiana Territory for $15,000,000 million. He undoubtedly needed the cash! The desire to acquire the Port of New Orleans was one of the main reasons why Jefferson was willing to, in a sense, go against his own advice to acquire this territory which at the time doubled the size of the United States of America.
The hell that the Haitians dished out to the French was surely one of the factors making this possible. A British Army officer, visiting Saint-Domingue, after observing the training of Haitian soldiers wrote, “At a whistle, a whole brigade ran three or four hundred yards, and then, separating, threw themselves flat on the ground, changing to their backs and sides, and all the time keeping up a strong fire until recalled…This movement is executed with such facility and precision as totally to prevent cavalry from charging them in bushy and hilly country”.4 This is just an indication of what the French were up against.
Some of the Haitian heroes at the center of these revolts and wars were Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. Probably the most famous of the three is L’Ouverture who, in 1802, put his army under control of the French Army after they had made promises which they did not keep. The French apprehended him, sent him off to France where he died in jail. Needless to say, that did not stop the revolution as the French were decisively defeated in November of 1803.
Notes and References
- “Biden Administration Sends More Agents to Texas Bridge”, Wall Street Journal (September 18, 2021). Biden Administration Sends More Agents to Texas Bridge (msn.com)
- The photos which are in the public domain are taken from “Haitian Soldiers at the Battle of Savannah (1779)”. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/haitian-soldiers-battle-savannah-1779
- Though I refer to the country as Haiti, it was called Saint-Domingue until the name was changed to Haiti on January 1, 1803 when independence was declared.
- “Haitian Revolution”, Wikipedia. Haitian Revolution – Wikipedia