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Caribbean Week: Haitian Rebellion

Though modern Haiti has in recent years been beset with problems the Trent Miniatures figures in today’s post celebrate one of their greater successes.

Hispaniola, or La Española for those of you who have been paying attention in Spanish class, is one of the major Caribbean islands, and sits between Cuba and Puerto Rico. It is where Christopher Columbus founded the first of the New World European colonies, and currently is divided between Haiti, and its rather more prosperous neighbour the Dominican Republic. The Spanish were the first European settlers, initially on the west of  La Isla Española, at La Navidad, and the the more permanent La Isabela on the eastern part of the island, and as imported diseases (and abusive slave masters)  from Europe reduced the endemic population the Spanish began to bring in African slaves. However, on the lookout for new and more interesting toys Spain gradually paid less attention to the island, and French, English and Dutch pirates began to take a hold on the western side, after the Spanish all moved east toward the Santo Domingo river.  By 1659 the French colonisation was official, rather than just piratical, and the colony of Saint-Domingue was part of the French empire, though the equally formidable Spanish empire did not recognise the French ‘ownership’ of what is now Haiti until  38 years after the colony became official, in the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick.

Saint-Domingue provided an important exporting resource for the French empire providing lucrative sugar (60% of the world’s sugar in 1789) and coffee (40%), as well as cocoa, indigo and cotton, through the power of 790,000 slaves. Many of these slaves escaped into the mountain regions and the community had one of the larger black/mixed race free populations in the Caribbean, who were themselves subject to a racially defined caste system. However, the number of people held in slavery under Louis XIV’s code noir conditions, which allowed for some rights of slaves but still many more to those who held them, was still in the 1783-1791 period a third of the entire Atlantic human trade.

The French writer Guillaume Thomas François Raynal considered a revolt to be inevitable giving the increasing tensions between slaves and masters, and also the freeborn black/mulatto communities, and on August 21st/22nd the revolution began.  By 1792 the slaves had taken control of a third of the island, the French attempted to reduce some of the tensions by giving more rights to the black communities, but after Napoleon’s loss of interest in the region the last battle in the revolution took place in 1803. In 1804, on 1 January no less, Haiti became the first independent nation in Latin America and the only nation to become independent after a successful slave rebellion. 

The Trent Miniatures figures shown above have been superbly painted by Dave Woodward and are ready to battle against the French to gain their freedom. If you have an interest in the Napoleonic period a Haitian battle may add just that something different to your game play…

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