A Guide to Haiti's Early History.
Situated in the Caribbean Sea, positioned between the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico, lies the island of Hispaniola. At 76,480 sq km, it is the world's 22nd largest island, and the 2nd largest in the Caribbean.
The island was originally occupied by Taino Indians, which was politically divided into five long established caciquedoms or tributary kingdoms.
The indiginous Tainos gradually died off due to the infectious diseases brought onto the island by European settlers, of which they had no immunity.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island on 5th December 1492 during his first voyage to the Americas, claiming the island for Spain.
Nineteen days later his ship ran aground, forcing him to leave behind 39 men, who founded the settlement of La Navidad ( Christmas in Spanish ) at the present day Cap Haitien.
This led to the island becoming the first European colony of the New World.
In 1665 King Louis XIV of France declared the island a French colony, naming it Saint-Domingue.
In 1697 the signing of the Ryswick treaty ended the war of the Great Alliance between France on one side and England, Spain and the Netherlands on the other.
With the signing of the Treaty of Aranjuez in 1777 and the signing of the Treaty of Basel in 1795 the island was divided into two, with the Spanish colony of the Dominican Republic on the eastern two thirds of the island and the French colony of Haiti ( still at this point in time known as Saint-Domingue ) on the western third.This set the stage for the island to become the richest and most prosperous colony in the West Indies, by means of a rapidly expanding slave trade from the African continent, brought in to work the sugar, coffee and Indigofera * plantations by the French and the Spanish to exploit their side of the island for it's gold resources.
(* Indigo dye was extracted from this plant genus, an economically important crop as blue dye was once very rare, indigo is best known today as the blue of ' blue jeans ' ).
Inspired by the French Revolution ( 1789 - 1799 ),slaves on the island began pressing for freedom and better civil rights.
In 1793 France and England went to war, and British troops invaded the French colony.
Further tensions plagued the island after the execution of King Louis XVI on the 21st of January 1793. So in order to try and build a better rapport with the slaves, French commisioners Sonthonax and Polverel, abolished slavery in the colony.
Former leader of the Slave Revolt,Toussaint I'Ouverture, having established a firm following, went on to establish an army of troops that eventually drove out both the Spanish and the British.
I'Ouverture restored stability and brought prosperity to the colony by renewing revenue, even inviting former plantation owners back to the island in order to conduct trade with Europe and America.
With the change of government in France in1799, so to came a change of heart concerning the decision to abolish slavery.
With the backing of former plantation owners the government of France ordered Napoleon Bonaparte to send 20,000 men to retake the island in order to oust I'Ouverture and restore slavery.
But within months of the invasion the French had lost 18 generals and 50,000 troops to Yellow Fever, but not before they had kidnapped I'Ouverture and had him sent to France and imprisoned. He was to die at Fort de Joux in the Jura Mountains on the 7th of April 1803.
Jean Jaques Dessalines
Following I'Ouverture's kidnap, his ally Jean-Jaques Dessalines rallied his troops and went on to defeat the few remaining French troops at the Battle of Vertieres on the 18th of November 1803.
Subsequently, on the 1st of January 1804, former African slaves of the French colony of Saint- Domingue proclaimed independence, naming their new nation Haiti in honour of it's former Taino name.
Haiti is the only nation in the western hemisphere to gain independence by means of a slave rebellion.
Since that monumentous achievement Haiti's 200 year history has endured unsurmountable problems. The continent of The Americas only official, predominantly French speaking nation has seen 32 military coups, a U.S occupation ( 1915 - 1934 ) oppression from corrupt governments headed by dictators of despotic regimes, a further rebellion ( 2004 ) periodic flooding since the 1930's due to soil erosion and deforestation, and more recently the devastating earthquake of January 2010.These events have culminated in the deaths of millions of the Republic of Haiti's population over the last two centuries.
The 27,751 sq km country which is situated in both the area's Hurricane Belt and seismically active Caribbean Plate, is also the poorest nation of the American continent, resulting in poor education, poor healthcare, mass unemployment and vast city slums in and around it's capital Port Au Prince.
Earthquake damage after the quake of January 2010.
All Images courtesy of wikimedia commons.