Page images

Fayette, and Robespierre, the leading members of the society called L'Amie des Noirs, ultimately procured the decree of the 15th of May, 1791, by which all people of colour resident in the French colonies, born of free parents, were entitled to, as of right, and should be allowed the enjoyment of, all the privileges of French citizens.' It was on this occasion, that Robespierre uttered that memorable exclamation, which at once seemed to put an end to all the hopes and the intrigues of the colonial planters resident in Paris -Perish the colonies rather than sacrifice one iota of our principles!' There had been in Paris the preceding year a young man of colour, of the name of Vincent Ogé, whose widowed mother held a coffee-plantation in St. Domingo. This youth determined, by force of arms, to cause the rights of citizenship for his class to be respected. He landed secretly at the Cape, reached his mother's dwelling, and was joined by about 300 of his own colour. They were, however, soon dispersed or made prisoners by a superior force; Ogé, together with his second in command, a mulatto of the name of Chavanne, and a few others, escaped with difficulty into the Spanish part of the island, but were basely given up to their enemies, by whom they were secretly tried for creating an insurrection, and condemned to suffer death. The sentence was as follows:

The court condemns the said Vincent Ogé, a free quarteron,* of Dandon, and Jean Baptiste Chavanne, a free quarteron, of La Grande Rivière, to be brought by the public executioner before the great door of the parish church of that city (the Cape), and there uncovered, and in their shirts, with ropes about their necks, on their bare knees, and bearing each in his hand a burning torch of wax of the weight of two pounds, to confess their crime, and declare in a loud and distinct voice, that wickedly, rashly, and ill-advisedly they have been guilty of the crimes of which they are convicted, that they repented of them, and asked pardon of God, of the King and of justice. This being done, they are then to be taken to the Place d'Armes, and to the opposite side of that appropriated for the execution of white people, and have their arms, legs, thighs, and ribs broken, alive, upon a scaffold erected for that purpose, and placed by the executioner on wheels, with their faces turned towards heaven, there to remain as long as it shall please God to preserve life; after this, their heads to be severed from their bodies and exposed on stakes, and their goods confiscated, &c.'

Two days after this, Jacques, the brother of Ogé, with one of his companions, shared the same fate; twenty-one were hanged, and thirteen condemned to the galleys for life. These judicial massacres created the utmost horror among the people of

A quarteron, according to the system of Franklin, is a mulatto who may have from ninety-six parts of white and thirty-two of black blood, to seventy-one parts white and fifty-seven black.



[ocr errors]

colour, and, by changing the guilty into martyrs of liberty, separated for ever the class of mulattoes from that of the creoles; their common interests as proprietors gave way to fixed hatred and vows of vengeance, and even the ties of family connections were from that moment totally dissolved. The news of this event in Paris contributed mainly to the decree above mentioned, and the complete overthrow of the colonial committee of planters.

If, however, the legitimate authorities on the island and the creole population had not followed the example of the mothercountry, in promoting civil discord among themselves, engaging in ferocious and sanguinary contests, seducing the king's troops from their allegiance, and indulging in all manner of licentiousness, the people of colour might still have remained tranquil ; for when they perceived the popular fury acting against the constituted authorities, to whom alone they looked for protection; when they beheld the soldiers murdering their officers, and the reinforcements sent from France join the popular party, while the government wanted the power to enforce the decrees in their favour, they gave themselves up to despair. Thus depressed, the creoles conceived that all danger had ceased with the dispersion and submission of those who had taken up arms in consequence of the barbarous punishment of Ogé-but, to use the expression of Mirabeau, 'they were sleeping on the margin of Vesuvius, and the first jets of the volcano were not sufficient to awaken them.' From long habit they considered the negroes as unworthy of notice. The negroes, however, had not been unmindful of the late transactions in the colony, nor did they fail to inquire with anxiety into the cause of the strange commotions that were passing around them.

The first transaction in which they were concerned was about the middle of August 1791, when a fire broke out at a plantation. in the north, and at the same time one of the slaves on a neighbouring plantation made an attempt on the life of his bailiff. Without further inquiry, every negro that could be laid hold of, belonging to these plantations, was deemed a criminal, and made the victim of creole justice. Many days, however, did not elapse before it was discovered that they were acting in concert; that the whole of the northern part of the island was in flames; and that all the whites who fell into their hands had been put to death, without distinction of sex or age. Those who escaped fled into the town, where a general consternation prevailed. The domestic blacks were locked up, and a general cry of indignation was raised against the mulattoes, as the supposed instigators of the insurrection; and numbers of innocent men of this class were put to death. The population flew to arms, and all hands were employed in fortifying the town, which the negroes approached in detached parties,




carrying fire, and pillage and massacre over all the surrounding country, which, in the course of four days, exhibited only heaps of ashes. The fire,' says Lacroix, which they set to the plantations of canes, and all the buildings, the dwelling-houses and stores, covered the face of the heavens during the day with volumes of smoke, and in the night the horizon blazed with the appearance of the aurora borealis, which, to a great distance, threw a reflection as of so many volcanoes, and communicated to every object the livid tint of blood.'



The white population deemed it expedient to imitate the conduct of the blacks, by torturing and massacring every negro, whether innocent or culpable, that fell into their hands. Frequently,' says Lacroix, did the faithful slave, who presented himself with confidence, perish by the hands of an irritated master, whose protection he had sought.' It is indeed gratifying to find, that amidst the horrid atrocities committed by this enslaved and uneducated race, on the first bursting of their chains, they soon began to distinguish their enemies, and to shew compassion on the helpless women and children of the planters who fell into their power.. Neither were instances wanting of self-devotion and gratitude to their former masters. When Colonel de Mauduit had been basely murdered by his own troops, a black servant, of the name of Pierre, collected his scattered limbs, gave them that burial which had been refused to them by the soldiers, and, having watered them with his tears, made, says Lacroix, that tomb his own funeral pile, which had been raised by his piety. Bryan Edwards relates a story of the extraordinary fidelity and attachment of a negro slave, who, although he had joined the insurgents, was determined to save the lives of his master and his family. He conducted them by night to a place of safety, and in the day returned to the revolters; and thus continued for nineteen nights, during which they were entirely fed by the exertions of this faithful negro.

The colonists were at length induced to try the effect of conciliatory measures. The governor, M. de Blanchlande, issued a proclamation most earnestly entreating them to lay down their arms and return to their duty; but it was too late they were already well organized under two principal leaders, named JeanFrançois, who had taken the title of grand-admiral of France, and his second, named Béassou, generalissimo (as he styled himself) of the conquered districts. To this proclamation they replied in a letter to the governor, signed All the general and chief officers who compose our army. It stated that they entertained all possible respect for the representative of the person of the king; but that those who should have been to them as fathers, after God, were tyrants, monsters who had rendered themselves unworthy of the fruits of their EE 4



labours; and will you,' they add, ' brave general, that we should be like sheep, and throw ourselves into the jaws of the wolf? No, it is too late. God, who fights for the innocent, is our guide; he will never abandon us; thus then behold our motto," To conquer or die.'


The fortifications being now completed, a feeble attack was made on the main body of negroes, who soon drove the detachment back into the town. When the whites were able to oppose them with increased numbers, the practice of the blacks was to stand their ground no longer than to receive and return a single volley; and as soon as one party was dispersed or cut off, another appeared, and thus, by their superior numbers, they succeeded in harassing the whites, and spreading desolation in every quarter.

'In this terrible war, human blood was poured forth in torrents. It was computed that, within two months after the revolt first began, upwards of two thousand white persons, of all conditions and ages, had been massacred; that one hundred and eighty sugar-plantations, and about nine hundred coffee, cotton and indigo settlements had been destroyed (the buildings thereon being consumed by fire); and one thousand two hundred Christian families reduced from opulence to such a state of misery, as to depend altogether for their clothing and sustenance on public and private charity. Of the insurgents it was reckoned that upwards of two thousand had perished by the sword or by famine, and some hundreds by the hands of the executioner.'— History, p. 148.

The time seemed now to be arrived for the men of colour to avenge the martyrdom of Vincent Ogé. A general rising took place in the west; joined by the negro slaves, they set fire to the coffee plantations, and continued to burn and lay waste the country to an extent of thirty miles round Port-au-Prince. The chiefs, however, of this caste intimated that they had no objection to treat with the white inhabitants of Port-au-Prince, and accordingly a treaty was signed called the concordat, the conditions of which were, an amnesty for the past, and an engagement on the part of the whites to admit in full force the national decree of the 15th May. They further permitted the formation of certain free com

On concluding this concordat, a transaction occurred of a most disgraceful nature. About two hundred negro slaves had been embodied and trained with the mulatto troops. To return these to the plantations was considered as a step pregnant with mischief. Their masters were therefore indemnified out of the public treasury, and a ship hired to transport the men, as a recompense for their services, to the Mosquito shore, there to be landed ou some desert spot, with three months provisions, their arms, and a few husbandry utensils. The captain, however, landed them clandestinely in Jamaica. Commodore Affleck caused them to be carried back to St. Domingo. The Colonial Assembly sent them in irons on board a hulk in the roadsted of the Môle St. Nicolas. In this situation, about sixty of these poor creatures were in one night butchered, and their bodies thrown into the sea; the rest were left to perish in extreme misery.

panies of mulattoes, to be commanded by their own officers; but these concessions came too late, and the flame, which had only been smothered, soon burst out again with redoubled fury. It happened, that almost at the same moment in which the decree of the 15th May was acknowledged by the colonists, its repeal was actually voted in the National Assembly in Paris. On the news of this reaching St. Domingo, the mulattoes, believing themselves betrayed by the whites, flew instantly to arms, and the most sanguinary conflicts ensued,

Three commissioners had been sent from France with an armed force to regulate the affairs of the colony, and to see the decrees of the National Assembly carried into effect. Their arrival caused the utmost terror, suspicions having arisen of a design to declare a general emancipation of the negro slaves. They acted in the most arbitrary manner, cashiered no less than three governors, and finally, quarrelled among themselves. All was confusion and uproar. Galbaud, the last governor, had been seized and sent on board a ship; but his brother, a man of spirit and enterprize, gained over the militia, landed twelve hundred seamen, and being joined by a considerable body of volunteers, attacked the government house, where the commissioners were assembled under the protection of the regular troops and the men of colour. The conflict was fierce and bloody; Galbaud's brother was taken prisoner, and the son of Polverel (one of the commissioners) fell into the hands of the governor's party. The latter sent a flag to the commissioner, proposing an exchange of the brother for the son; but this sturdy jacobin rejected the proposal, declaring that his son knew his duty, and was prepared to die in the service of the republic.

Terrified at the passing scenes, and apprehensive of the yet more dreadful ones, to which these seemed the prelude, thousands of persons of all descriptions embarked with the wreck of their fortunes on board the vessels in the roadsted, and made their way to the United States. Many of the planters repaired to England; and in consequence of their representations and entreaties an expedition was sent from Jamaica under Colonel Whitelocke, to occupy such parts of St. Domingo as should be willing to put themselves under British protection. On the 19th September, 1793, he took possession of the town and harbour of Jeremie, and a few days afterwards of the fortress and harbour of St, Nicholas; but the town refused to submit, and joined the republican army raised by the three jacobin commissioners. This army consisted of the troops brought from France, the national guards, and the militia, constituting altogether a body of fourteen or fifteen thousand whites; to which were added a motley band of slaves who had deserted their masters, and negroes from the gaols, making

« PreviousContinue »