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Parkinson to page 74

As I’ve decided to start keeping a timeline of revolutionary events, I’ve started to notice that Parkinson isn’t much for dates. This makes for a much breezier read, no doubt, but doesn’t really help my timeline creation.

Roume, St. Leger, and Mirbeck left St. Domingue on September 17, 1792, to be replaced by Commissioners Sonthonax, Polveral, and Ailhaud. The new Commissioners brought 6000 troops, but were greeted everywhere by hostility. “The landowners were infuriated by their liberal attitudes; the mulattoes, whom they had come to befriend, were, to their astonishment, equally infuriated by their rumored intention to bring about the abolition of slavery; and even the freed blacks, who considered themselves mulattoes, were antagonistic.” (Parkinson, p. 66)

Bizefranc, the Comte de Laveaux, leader of the French troops, whom Parkinson calls “a very remarkable man,” defeats Toussaint in battle. Toussaint is wounded in the arm by the Chevalier d’Assis at Mont Pel�e. Toussaint, leading another thrust with his arm in a sling, is pushed back by Laveaux at the “Morne.” Dessalines makes his first appearance during this battle, and after it, Toussaint makes him a Captain. (Parkinson, p. 67) Toussaint suffers heavy losses – half his men! – at Tannerie, and is forced to retreat into the mountains. “It was a cruel blow to him but a good lesson, his first resounding defeat.”

In the midst of this came word that Louis XIV had been beheaded. This news blew apart the alliances and loyalties, driving officers of the French army to join with the rebels or with Spain, and driving repatriated slaves back into the mountains. “To make matters worse for Sonthonax, France was now at war with [both Britain and Spain],” which meant that France’s enemies surrounded the colony. (Parkinson, p. 67)

To my mind, what happened next is one of the pivotal moments in Haitian revolutionary history – or, if not pivotal, it was certainly akin to throwing a barrel of gasoline into a burning house – though Parkinson almost brushes over the event. General Galbaud was sent from France to prepare St. Domingue’s defense. “He could not have been a more unfortunate choice. He owned property on the island and, acting from his pocket, he immediately sided with the French planters against the mulattoes whom Sonthonax had armed and encouraged.” [my emphasis] The Commissioners tried to kick Galbaud off the island. In desperation, Galbaud first kidnapped Commissioner Polverel’s son; then, when that didn’t work, he mustered his army of sailors and attacked Le Cap. “So Sonthonax and Ploverel turned to the black army for help and in order to enlist their aid promised them their freedom from slavery.” (Parkinson, p. 68)

What makes this pivotal to my mind is the actions of Sonthonax. By arming, encouraging, and emancipating mulattoes and slaves, he fanned the fires of their revolution, and gave, in essence, official French sanction to the freedom fighters. Though he had promised the Assembly he had no intention of freeing the slaves, after Galbaud’s defeat he had no choice. “On 29 August 1793 he declared the emancipation of the slaves of St. Domingue. He cried out to the crowd that gathered to hear the proclamation that he had ‘a white skin but the soul of a black man’. The crowds knelt with joy in front of him and Sonthonax was reduced to tears…” (Parkinson, p. 70)

  • “Ten thousand refugees [of the fires in Le Cap set during the struggle with Galbaud] scrambled on to seventeen warships and sailed for the United States, where the lucky ones landed at Chesapeake.” (Parkinson, p. 68) That must have been quite an event in Chesapeake. There must be an account of it.
  • Parkinson produces a letter on pp. 68-69 “from the archives of Haiti” that seems to prove that Toussaint was one of the early instigators of the rebellion.

    The rebels joined Spain, claiming that they desired to serve under a king. Spain gave the rebels arms and ammunition, training, and a promise of liberty. Though given the lower rank of Colonel by the Spaniards, Tousssaint used the alliance with Spain to swell his ranks to 5000 troops. He did it with a series of daring and bold raids, including one in which he rode his horse into the enemy camp and demanded – and won – the surrender of 1500 troops. Toussaint also strictly forbade torching and looting; “when the whites and mulattoes realized they had no atrocities to fear from him and that their women were protected they surrendered to him almost eagerly.” (p. 73)

    Meanwhile, another menace was growing. The British, prompted by the appeals of the St. Domingue landowners, began to advance on the island. They swept easily up from Jeremie through Mole St. Nicholas and Leogane, encountering little resistance. Where stubbornness was encountered, the unscrupulous British commander Whitelocke offered hefty bribes to the officers. One who turned him down was Laveaux, and with particular vigor. However, Laveaux was also running short of money and supplies, and so sought to contact Toussaint to open negotiations. (Parkinson, p. 74)