The 1522 slave revolt of Hispaniola whose seed led to modern Haiti’s founding

Michael Eli Dokosi March 18, 2020
Enslaved people turn on their oppressors via Wikimedia Commons

It is a given fact that any oppressed people soon become anxious for freedom and for the African people whose widespread enslavement in the colonial Americas was a source of great pain, they organized the earliest known slave revolt in the New World in Hispaniola in 1522. In its day, it was described as the most successful African slave rebellion in history.

The first slave uprising in the New Word was as a result of one of the brutal slave labor systems on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. That revolt helped in the founding of the modern nation of Haiti which shares the island with Hispaniola now called the Dominican Republic.

On Christmas Day, 1522, 20 enslaved Muslim Africans used machetes to attack their Christian masters on the island of Hispaniola, then governed by the son of Christopher Columbus. The assailants killed several Spanish and freed a dozen enslaved Native Americans.

The uprising was quickly suppressed, but it prompted the newly crowned Charles V of Spain to exclude from the Americas “slaves suspected of Islamic leanings.” He blamed the revolt on their radical ideology rather than the harsh realities of living a life of slavery.

Prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish in 1492, the native Taíno people populated the island which they called Quisqueya (mother of all lands) and Ayiti (land of high mountains).

An estimated 400,000 Tainos living on the island were soon enslaved to work in gold mines. By 1508, their numbers had decreased to around 60,000 because of forced labor, hunger, disease and mass killings.

Hispaniola was divided between Spain and France in a 1697 treaty, which led to the establishment of the French colony of St. Domingue in the western part of the island. To provide labor for the colony’s sugar and coffee plantations, hundreds of thousands of slaves were imported from French colonies in Africa. The French plantation owners effectively ruled St. Domingue, often treating their slaves even worse than the government in France considered acceptable.

The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 proved to be a great leveler as the massive upheaval of French society brought about declarations of equality for all including African slaves in the colonies.

The French colonists in charge of St. Domingue furiously opposed these new ideals but a new dawn had arrived nonetheless.

In August 1791, a highly-organized revolt broke out among slaves in the north of St. Domingue. The rebel army soon grew to include tens of thousands of deserting slaves, who burned their former masters’ fields, cut down all who stood against them, and took rapid control of large areas of the colony’s countryside. Rival colonial powers England and Spain also declared war on revolutionary France.

As the revolution dragged on, an ex-slave named Francois Dominique Toussaint Louverture received the backing of the new French Republic to govern St. Domingue. Louverture ruled Haiti as a military dictator, warding off Spanish and British invasions but Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s new leader in 1802 sent troops to reassert authority in Haiti but it was too late as Louverture’s army beat the French soundly.

On New Year’s Day of 1804, the former slaves declared an independent country named Haiti, only the second colony in the New World to achieve independence after the United States thanks to the seed sown in 1522.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: March 18, 2020


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