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St. Domingue (Haiti)
Note: No article has been written yet on this topic; the following are references from Jefferson's papers to St. Domingue (Haiti).
Primary Source References
1791 November 26. (Jefferson to Nathaniel Cutting). "The accounts of the disturbance on St. Domingo, contained in your letters from that island have given us the information of them on which we rely the most. I hope their issue will be favorable to the prosperity of the islands, which I am sure must bring advantage at the same time to the mother country and to us. This is not the language, I know, of Havre or Bordeaux whose purposes are better answered by ripping up the hen, and getting all the eggs at once."1
1791 March 24. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Their islands, but most particularly St. Domingue and Martinique are involved in a horrid civil war. Nothing can be more distressing than the situation of the inhabitants, as their slaves have been called into action, and are a terrible engine, absolutely ungovernable...An army and fleet from France are expected every hour to quell the disorders."2
1791 August 7. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "A decree of the National assembly of France, giving the rights of citizenship to the free people of colour of St. Domingo, has thrown that colony into a dangerous fermentation."3
1791 August 9. (William Short to Jefferson). "The French governor at S. Domingo has of his own authority given an exequatur to our consul there. He is much condemned for it by the ministry who will annul his act as being contrary to his powers. They will however, as they tell me, express to him that he is to consider the consul as a person having the confidence of the government of the U.S. and of course to pay attention to his observations."4
1791 August 24. (William Short to Jefferson). "Letters have been just recieved [sic] from the Governor of S. Domingo as late as the beginning of July. The decree of May 15. respecting the gens de couleur had arrived there and thrown every thing into confusion. The governor apprehends serious disorders that it will not be in his power to supress [sic]. The inhabitants shew marks of much discontentment with the national assembly and particularly those who had adhered formerly their decrees and took side against the assembly of St. Marc. The reports and private letters go much farther and say that it was determined to have no further connexion with France and that deputies were sent to Jamaica, for assistance. The city of Bordeaux is become particularly obnoxious to them for having offered to sent their garde nationale to the islands to enforce this decree to the assembly. The assembly had directed the commisaries to be sent out to carry this decree. Notwithstanding the time which has elapsed they have not yet set out, and such is the present organisation of the government that the assembly cannot find out on whom to place the non-execution fo their intentions. The colonial committee have the Governor's letter now under consideration and are in a few days to make their report on it."5
1791 August 30. (William Short to Jefferson). "The intelligence which continues to arrive from S. Domingo increases the alarms here. It is probably much exagerated [sic] by the different parties for different purposes, but is in reality bad enough. The troops there have taken side with the white inhabitants who are unanimously against the decree in favor of the gens de couleur. The commissaries intended to be sent there so long ago have resigned--others named have set out--whilst at Brest the assembly determined (a few days ago) that their departure should be suspended until the colonial committee should have made their report on the late troubles. It is said they sailed before this determination could be announced to them. This is the more unfortunate as they will go with orders to enforce the decree of May 15. and it is probable the assembly will either repeal or modify it. The colonial committee however are so much divided on this subject that several of its members have quitted it."6
1791 September 4. (William Short to Jefferson). "Nothing has transpired with respect to the situation of S. Domingo since my last. The report of the commissaries having sailed, as mentioned formerly, was groundless. Their departure is suspended of course until the colonial committee shall have made their report. It is so much divided in opinion that it will be difficult for them to agree on any thing. Several of the members have quitted it on that account."7
1791 September 8. (Sylvanus Bourne to Jefferson). "A new and alarming Catastrophe hath assailed this devoted island. About the 23d. of August. an insurrection among the negroes took place at Lembay about 3 or 4 Leagues distant and from thence to Lemonade, being about 10 Leagues they have burned and laid waste all the Plantations. Their whole plan is marked with bitter resentment for former injuries and the cry of "les droits de l'homme" is echoed thro their camp. They still continue their depredations and Government, for want of regular troops is unable to act offensively against them, and I fear it will be a long contest, and ruinous to the property of the Island. The City is now a perfect Garrison Passisaded all around and Cannon mounted at every avenue. The noble plain which fronts this City and which perhaps had not a parallel on the Globe for the rich luxuriance of its soil, elegance of its Buildings and the various decorations of art that the highly cultivated taste of its opulent possessors had given to it, is now again but a barren waste...Here we have a lively instance of the baneful effects of Slavery, and I wish that America might add another laurel to her wreath of Fame, by leading the way to a general emancipation."8
1791 September 29. (William Short to Jefferson). "The commisaries intended to be sent to S. Domingo are to set out immediately with instructions comfortable to the decree for repealing that of the 15th. of May as already mentioned to you. They are to carry also an act of general amnesty for all the French islands. Opinions are divided here between those who think that the islands from gratitude for the repeal of this decree who readily submit to strict commercial regulations, and those who think on the other hand that having thus found out a means of obtaining what they desire pretensions will augment proportion to the facility of realizing them."9
1791 Ocober 1. (Fulwar Skipwith to Jefferson). "The same reasons which have led me to return from M/que I find a letter lately received from Hispaniola have induced Mr. Bourne the Consul for the U States there to take up the resolution of leaving Cape Francouis--'tis said that the negroes throughout are in insurrection and threaten destruction to the whites. No accounts however have I yet seen that in my opinion ought to be confined in or that lead me into a satisfactory knowledge of the nature of their disputes. M/que remains in peace, but its ports are shut against our flour."10
1791 October 27. (Delamotte to Jefferson). "All of France is dismayed by the recent arrival of news of the 'desastre de St. Domingue."11
1791 November 8. (William Short to Jefferson). "Reports are probably much exagerated but the West India merchants express serious apprehensions of the destruction of that branch fo commerce on account of the disorders prevailing at S. Domingo and the inability of France at present to protect the inhabitants and proprietors against the insurrection of their slaves. It is said that intelligence was recieved [sic] yesterday from the Governor of S. Domingo, but I an not certain of it...Troops however are to be immediately sent to S. Domingo. The English Ambassador here sent a letter to the minister of foreign affairs informing him that the Governor of Jamaica had allowed the inhabitants of S. Domingo to purchase provisions there and had sent them arms of which they were in need to protect themselves against the revolted slaves. The assembly immediately voted their thanks to the English nation...P.S. Nov. 9. The minister of the marine has communicated to the assembly official accounts at length recieved [sic] from the Governor of S. Domingo. They come by the way of Jamaica, and confirm fully the revolt of the negroes. Many of them were killed, and the rest put to flight. Still the alarm was such that he mentions having applied for succour to the Spaniards, the Governor of Jamaica and the President of the U.S. Private accounts of a later date say that the insurrection has ceased. Still two ships of the line with troops are to be immediately sent there..."12
1791 November 13. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "He [Randolph Freneau] will see that the affairs of the French West Indies are in a desperate state. A second set of deputies has arrived here to ask succours. Abundance of women and children come here to avoid danger. The men are not permitted to come. I should not wonder to see some of your friends among them."13
1791 November 24. (Jefferson to William Short). "The subject of independence and their [deputation from Saint-Dominque] views towards it having been stated in the public papers, this led our conversation to it; and I must say they appeared as far from these views as any person on earth. I expressed to them freely my opinion that such an object was neither desireable on their part nor attainable: that as to ourselves there was one case which would be peculiarly alarming to us, to wit, were there a danger of their falling under any other power: that we conceived it to be strongly our interests that they should retain their connection with the mother country: that we had a common interest with them in furnishing them the necessaries of life in exchange for sugar and coffee for our own consumption, but that I thought we might rely on the justice of the mother country towards them, for their obtaining this privilege: and on the whole let them see that nothing was to be done but with the consent of the minister of France. I am convinced that their views and their application to us are perfectly innocent...It would be unwise...that the colonists should be disgusted with either France or us: for it might then be made to depend on the moderation of another power whether what appears a chimaera might not become a reality."14
1791 November 29. (Nathaniel Cutting to Jefferson). "Doubtless you have been particularly inform'd of the horrid devastation that has lately desolated the richest part of this flourishing colony. Therefore I shall not intrude a new detail on that subject. I will only observe that the damages are estimated upwards of one milliard tournois.--The unparalleled distress wherein this Colony is involved, seems only to be the necessary consequence of those unhappy dissentions whereof I gave you some account last year. Permit me now to acquaint you that I am very apprehensive the Ravages of the Insurgents will not be confin'd by the boundaries of the Northern District of St. Domingue...The People of Colour have recently declared that they will never submit to the Decree of the national assembly of France of the 24th of Sept. [returning power to the mulatos] ulto. which guarantees to the white colonists the Initiative that they have been so long struggling for.--A Body of Mulattoes to the number of one thousand, a few days since marched into Port-au-Prince in Battle array. This reinforcement to their Class, gives it an immense superiority in point of Force in that City.--Those Gentry declare that sooner than submit to the Decree beforemention'd they will join their forces to that of the Revolted Negroes and deliver the whole Country North of Port-au-Prince to Fire and Sword.--In addition to the painful apprehensions which this threat inspires in the breasts of the Planters, another circumstance gives them infinite uneasiness.--The ancient maroon negroes who have for many years past eluded the vigilance of all pursuers, have formed a junction with the Brigands who have recently scatter'd firebrands and death on this side of the mountains. A strong Party of them are reported to have dashed through a part of the Spanish territory and are now hovering on the borders of the fertile, wealthy but defenceless Plantations on the banks of the Artibonite. The distrest [sic] Inhabitants have not force sufficient to oppose the incursions of this savage banditti; they are moreover apprehensive that their own Slaves will greedily participate the work of destruction.--In fine, this peerless Colony is apparently on the verge of total Ruin!"15
1791 December 29. (Sylvanus Bourne to Jefferson). "At the time I had the honour of addressing you last, I was in expectation of forming such a mercantile connection, as would have induced me to return to the west Indies; but the late repeated bad news from that quarter, has discouraged the Person who contemplated this connection with me from any further pursuit of it."16
1792 January 5. (Jefferson to William Short). "We receive with regret daily information of the progress of insurrection and devastation in St. Domingo. Nothing indicates as yet that the evil is at it's height, and the materials as yet untouched, but open to conflagration, are immense."17
1792 March 10. (Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris). "Indeed our wishes are cordial to the reestablishment of peace and commerce in those colonies, and to give such proofs of our good faith both to them and the mother country, as to suppress all that jealousy which might oppose itself to the free exchange of our mutual productions so essential to the prosperity of those colonies and to the preservation of our Agricultural interests. This is our true interest and our true object, and we have no reason to conceal views so justifiable, tho' the expression of them may require that the occasions be proper and the terms chosen with delicacy."18
1792 April 9. (Jefferson to David Humphreys). "The troubles in the French island continue extreme. We have as yet heard of the arrival but of a few troops. There begins to be a reason to apprehend the negroes will perhaps never be entirely reduced."19
1793 January 2. (Jefferson to David Humphreys). "The French West Indies become more and more dependant on us for subsistence. There is at present some glimmering of hope that the efforts of the free inhabitants will be directed with more efficacy to the reduction of the common enemy. However we are far from certainty on that subject."20
1793 July 14. (Jefferson to James Monroe). "The situation of the St. Domingo fugitives (aristocrats as they are) calls aloud for pity and charity. Never was so deep a tragedy presented to the feelings of man...I become daily more and more convinced that all the West India Island will remain in the hands of the people of colour, and a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the bloody scenes which our children certainly, and possibly ourselves (south of the Potomac), have to wade through and try to avert them."21
1793 December 23. (Jefferson to William Moultrie). "It is my duty to communicate to you a piece of information, although I cannot say I have confidence in it myself. A French gentleman, one of the refugees from St. Domingo, informs me that two Frenchmen, from St. Domingo also, of the names of Castaing and La Chaise, are about setting out from this place [Philadelphia] for Charleston, with design to excite an insurrection among the negroes. He says that this is in execution of a general plan, formed by the Brissotine party at Paris, the first branch of which has been carried into execution at St. Domingo. My informant is a person with whom I am well acquainted, of good sense, discretion and truth, and certainly believes this himself...Castaing is described as a small dark mulatto, and La Chaise as a Quarteron, of a tall fine figure."22
1797 August 28. "Jefferson to St. George Tucker). "Perhaps the first chapter of this history, which has begun in St. Domingo, and the next succeeding ones, which will recount how all the whites were driven from all the other islands, may prepare our minds for a peaceable accommodation between the justice, policy and necessity; and furnish an answer to the difficult question, whither shall the colored emigrants go?...But if something is not done, and soon done, we shall be the murderers of our own children."23
1799 January 23. (Jefferson to James Monroe). "A clause in a bill now under debate for opening commerce with Tousaint and his black subjects now in open rebellion against France, will be a circumstance of high aggravation to that country, and in addition to our cruising round their islands will put their patience to a great proof. One fortunate circumstance is that, annihilated as they are on the ocean, they cannot get at us for some time, and this will give room for the popular sentiment to correct the imprudence."24
1799 January 24. (Jefferson to John Page). "Yesterday they voted in the H. of R. by a majority of 20. to retain a clause in a bill opening commerce with Toussant, now in rebellion against France. This circumstance with the stationing our armed vessels round the French islands will probably be more than the Directory will bear."25
1799 February 5. (Jefferson to James Madison). "An attack is made on what is called the Toussaint's clause, the object of which, as is charged by the one party and admitted by the other, is to facilitate the separation of the island from France...Rigaud, at the head of the people of colour, maintains his allegiance. But they are only twenty-five thousand souls, against five hundred thousand, the number of blacks. The treaty made with them by Maitland is (if they are to be separated from France) the best thing for us."26
1799 February 11. (Jefferson to Aaron Burr). "The southern states do not discover the same care however in the bill authorizing the President to admit Toussaint's subjects to a free commerce with them, and free ingress and intercourse with their black brethren in these states. However, if they are guarded against the cannibals of the terrible republic, they ought not to object to being eaten by a more civilized enemy."27
1799 February 12. (Jefferson to James Madison). "The bill continuing the suspension of intercourse with France and her dependencies has passed both houses, but the Senate struck out the clauses permitting the President to extend it to other powers. Toussaint's clause was retained. Even South Carolinians in the H. of R. voted for it. We may expect therefore black crews, and supercargoes and missionaries thence into the southern states; and when that leven begins to work, I would gladly compound with a great part of our northern country, if they would honestly stand neuter. If this combustion can be introduced among us under any veil whatever, we have to fear it."28
1799 February 19. (Jefferson to James Madison). "A consul general is named to St. Domingo; who may be considered as our Minster to Toussaint."29
1801 November 24. (Jefferson to James Monroe). "The most promising portion of them [West Indies] is the island of St. Domingo, where the blacks are established into a sovereignty de facto, and have organized themselves under regular law and government. I should conjecture that their present ruler might be willing, on many considerations, to receive even that description which would be exiled for acts deemed criminal by us, but meritorious, perhaps by him. The possibility that these exiles might stimulate and conduct vindictive or predatory descents on our coasts, and facilitate concert with their brethren remaining here, looks to a state of things between that island and us not probable on a contemplation of our relative strength, and of the disproportion daily growing; and it is overweighed by the humanity of the measures proposed, and the advantages of disembarrassing ourselves of such dangerous characters."30
1805 June 5. (Jefferson to Thomas Paine). "France has become so jealous of our conduct as to St. Domingo (which in truch is only the conduct of our merchants), that the offer to become a mediator would only confirm her suspicions."31
1820 December 26. (Jefferson to Albert Gallatin). "My proposition would be that the holders should give up all born after a certain day, past, present, or to come, that these should be placed under the guardianship of the State, and sent at a proper age to S. Domingo. There they are willing to recieve [sic] them, and the shortness of the passage brings the deportation within the possible means of taxation aided by charitable contributions. In this I think Europe, which has forced this evil on us, and the Eastern states who have been it's chief instruments of importation, would be bound to give largely."32
1824 February 4. (Jefferson to Jared Sparks). "St. Domingo has become independent, and with a population of that colour only; and if the public papers are to be credited, their Chief offers to pay their passage, to receive them as free citizens, and to provide them employment...I am aware that this subject involves some constitutional scruples...The separation of infants from their mothers, too, would produce some scruples of humanity. But this would be straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel."33
1825 August 7. (Jefferson to Frances Wright). "We are not sufficiently acquainted with all the nations of Africa, to say that there may not be some in which habits of industry are established, and the arts practised which are necessary to render life comfortable. The experiment now in progress in St. Domingo, those of Sierra Leone and Cape Mesurado, are but beginning."34
- Brown, Gordon S. Toussaint's Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
- Matthewson, Tim. A Proslavery Foreign Policy: Haitian-American Relations in the Early Republic. Westport CT: Praeger, 2003.
- Rebok, Sandra. “La Revolution de Haïti vue par deux personnages contemporains: Le scientifique prussien Alexander von Humboldt et l’homme d’état americain Thomas Jefferson." In: French Colonial History 10 (2009), 75-95.
- Look for more sources on St. Domingue (Haiti) in the Thomas Jefferson Portal
- 1. PTJ, 18:79.
- 2. Ibid., 19:604.
- 3. Ibid., 22:11.
- 4. Ibid., 22:22.
- 5. Ibid., 22:70.
- 6. Ibid., 22:107.
- 7. Ibid., 22:126.
- 8. Ibid., 22:133.
- 9. Ibid., 22:172.
- 10. Ibid., 22:180-1.
- 11. Ibid., 22:236.
- 12. Ibid., 22:271-3.
- 13. Ibid., 22:294.
- 14. Ibid., 22:330-1.
- 15. Ibid., 22:350.
- 16. Ibid., 22:468.
- 17. Ibid., 23:26.
- 18. Ibid., 23:249.
- 19. Ibid., 23:387.
- 20. Ibid., 25:9.
- 21. Ibid., 26:503.
- 22. Ibid., 27:614.
- 23. Ibid., 29:519.
- 24. Ibid., 30:635.
- 25. Ibid., 30:640.
- 26. Ibid., 31:9.
- 27. Ibid., 31:22.
- 28. Ibid., 31:29-30.
- 29. Ibid., 31:44.
- 30. Peterson, Writings, 1098.
- 31. Ford, 10:150.
- 32. Peterson, Writings, 1450.
- 33. Ibid., 1486-1487.
- 34. L&B, 16:120-121.