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Columbus to the French Occupation

Earlier on I mentioned that given that we were going to treat of about 21 topics in just 8 weeks, some topics would get short shrift. Well, the Spanish period gets about the shortest shrift of all from me. It is MUCH more important than the few notes below make it out to be, but this is an area I just haven't gotten around to getting anything in print yet. It is a project for the near future, but not now.

Thus, I BEG of any of you who know this period and wish to post something for the group -- please do.

On the other hand, I would encourage any of you who have picked up a supplemental history book to read with our on-line stuff, to read the section on the Spanish.

Below is a set of notes. It touches some topics I've touched earlier, and touches some that will be touched a bit later. But, it might give a bit of useful information on the Spanish period and other topics.


  1. Tribute. Columbus lied. He found bits of gold. There were/are some traces of gold in Haiti. But, he told the court that there were large amounts. Thus when he came on the second voyage there were expectations of great amounts of gold to be found. The Indians were given a tribute of so much gold that was to be paid to the kind.
  2. When tribute failed then service was substitute. The repartimiento and encomienda systems were enforced.
    p. 24 Chapman: Under Bobadilla a beginning was made of the system of repartimiento (apportionment), whereby the Indians were divided among the colonists. In theory the main objective of the laws was that the Indians might thereby be Christianized and civilized, but in fact its principal feature was that they were made to serve as slaves in the fields and mines.


    P. 19-20. The theory of the encomienda was simple. The Spanish crown gave or commended Indians to Spaniards, who became encomienderos, and this grant gave the Spaniards the right to exact labor or tribute from the Indians. In return, the encomienderos were obliged to provide religious instruction for their Indians and to protect them. The encomienderos also, as the system developed, came to own an obligation to the king, that of defending the land. The early encomiendas were sometimes called repartimientos though this term later had different meanings.

    In practice, the encomienda system was established by Columbus in 1499 after the failure of his attempt to impose a definite tribute on the Indians of Hispaniola. The pattern evolved that in the islands where there were relatively few Indians and were thus enabled to lead a relatively dignified and comfortable life under semifeudal conditions. The encomienda, then, started with Columbus, when he assigned three hundred Indians to Spaniards. When Queen Isabella learned this, she asked her famous question: 'By what authority does the Admiral give my vassals away?'

    The encomienda was put on an institutional basis by the first royal governor, Nicolas de Ovando, who arrived in April 1502 at Hispaniola, principle seat of Spanish government during the first quarter-century after 1492. A great company of men was with him, some twenty-five hundred in all, but none of them had come to labor with their hands. Ovando carried instructions to take away the Indians from Spaniards, put them under the crown, and require them to pay tribute out of the daily wages they would earn. This attempt failed, and by royal order of December 20, 1503, Ovando was permitted to grant Indians.

  3. As these systems took effect it became clear that other areas of the Americas were to be the source of gold and wealth--Mexico, Peru and so on. However, Hispaniola remained the center of the Spanish world for some time since it was first of all the stop off point on the way to Central and South America, and it became the bread basket to supply the conquiscadors.
  4. As the Indians died out they were, at first slowly and then much more quickly replaced by African slaves.
  5. Final note on the demise of the Indians. The entire Taino population died out. But two authors are at pains to point out that the whole blood line could not have died out. Michel Laguerre, a Haitian anthropologist dwells on this point, showing that there was enough time of interaction on a small scale between the African slaves and the last of the Indian slaves that they simply had to be children born of liaisons among them.

    Hanke says: That the Spanish took Indian women as concubines and there was a small population of mestizo children born of these unions.

    However, as other authors point up, there are not only no people left today who are anything near full-blooded Taino's, but there are no remnants of people with noticeable Indian features, and there are virtually no cultural influences from Indian culture on the culture of Haiti.

    (NOTE: I will address this topic a bit more, hopefully tomorrow.)


  1. General condition of the slaves.

    READ: from James: THE BLACK JACOBINS: P. 6-14. Some hint of condition of slaves READ: from Davis: PASSAGE OF DARKNESS: pp. 215 ff.

    Sorry, I don't have any of this material on line at the present. I see what I can do.

  2. There was a curious argument to be made that the French were more humane in their treatment of the slaves than either the British and Spanish. This argument rested on two premises:

    A. The French along regarded the slaves as human. Thus they had a special obligation to convert them, and some moral obligations to them as humans.

    It's interesting to note that precisely because of this the French would convert the slaves, but deny them religious instruction. They were frightened that the essence of their own Christianity, with its humanistic teachings would subvert the slaves. This is one of the reasons that the slaves came to be Catholics and to practice some of the rituals without much internalizing Christian doctrines or creeds. It also accounts for the overlaying of Catholic ritual with Voodoo content.

    B. The French had the Code Noir from 1665 on.

    The Code Noir of 1665 gave equal rights to free blacks. It also provided humanitarian treatment for slaves.

    Whites were regarded to have natural liberty; freedmen acquired liberty

    All slaves were to be baptized and instructed in the Catholic religion and to be supervised by Catholics. Slaves could marry with master's permission.

    No enforced marriage. 2 sets of clothing--special foods required

    Slaves could appeal ill treatment, but severe penalties for crimes.

    A white and slave could marry if they had child. The wife and child were free.

    However, the difficulty was that most of the provisions were not obeyed. But, the code did recognize the slave as a human. This separated the code from British and Spanish slave systems.

    In a treasure of book, Anna Julia Cooper deals with the odd phenomenon of slave loyalty to the white (or black) master, despite the oppression. This phenomenon of oppressed people identifying with their oppressors is quite well documented in the literature of the psychology of oppression.

    It should be noted, however, that the slaves tended to divide radically into two groups: field hands and household slaves. The slaves who most adopted the psychology of the master were the household slaves. And, in general, they were much better treated than the field hands.

    For two hundred and fifty years he trained to his hand a people whom he made absolutely his own, in body, mind and sensibility. He so insinuated differences and distinctions among them, that their personal attachment for him was stronger than for their own brethren and fellow sufferers. He made it a crime for two of three of them to be gathered together in Christ's name without a white man's supervision, and a felony for one to teach them to read even the Word of Life; and yet they would defend his interest with their life blood; his smile was their happiness, a pat on the shoulder from him their reward. The slightest differences among themselves in condition, circumstances, opportunities, became barriers of jealousy and disunion. He sowed his blood broadcast among them, then pitted mulatto against plantation slave, even the slave of one clan against like slave of another clan; till, wholly oblivious of their ability for mutual succor and defense, all became centers of myriad systems of repellant forces, having but one sentiment in common, and that their entire subjection to that master hand. p. 102 Anna Julia Cooper, A VOICE FROM THE SOUTH.


Primary form of resistance. Run away slaves.

From Price (Maroons) Code Noir of Louis XIV. for runaways
1st Ears cut off; branded on left shoulder with fleur de lys
2nd Knees lacerated right de lys
3rd Put to death

Significant fact of Maroons: We'll come back to this later at greater length.

This was a source of keeping African culture alive in a very pure 17th century form. Healing practices, family structure, religion and social structure of Africa were rigorous enforced. The enforcement systems were 17th century African too. Primarily poisons.


They were constant, but generally not very effective. The colonists feared the slaves very much and watched them carefully. They had a brutal system of punishment and tried to ensure the impossibility of communications among groups of slaves if they possibly could.

One very successful revolution: Macandal's revolt.


Again, I'll try to get something on line soon


The big shift in the dynamics of Haitian history came in the move from coffee to sugar as the dominant export crop.

Sugar was very labor intensive. It required lots of slaves. Also, coffee was nearly abandoned. This became the purview of the mulattos. This was to have an important impact later on when the plantation system failed. The mulattos already had a great deal of experience with and systems in place to exploit coffee.

However, the major change was brought about by the massive numbers of slaves who were needed to run the sugar plantations. Actually the French and the Spanish, for that matter, much preferred non-slave labor and used indentured slaves. But, sugar changed all of that.

Introduced by Columbus, sugar had always been a factor in the Americas. But, in Saint-Domingue, colonial Haiti, there was a conflict between small holders and plantation owners. About the 1680s the larger holders won out and began to quickly accrue much of the land.

It's interesting to note that the same battle went on in New England and the small holders won out. It's a fascinating speculation to imagine what difference would have occurred in U.S. history had the large holders won this struggle in the 17th century.

From 1680 on sugar dominated colonial Saint-Domingue. Coffee was almost abandoned and became the purview of the free blacks. This, too, became an extremely important factor in later Haitian history. First of all, by the 1760s the affranchais had built the coffee trade into one which rivaled the white-dominated sugar trade. Secondly, it set a pattern that followed into free Haiti. Since the whites were all gone, and the plantations broken up, coffee dominated what remained of the international economy of Haiti.

By the time of the final and successful Haitian Revolution there were approximated 500,000 African slaves, most of them quite recently brought from Africa. There were only about 20,000 whites and 30,000 free blacks and mulattos, a sum of about 50,000 free people to control 10 times as many slaves.

No where else in the slave-holding world was there anything like this concentration of slaves vis-a-vis masters. The situation was for a successful revolution was almost guaranteed.


Sir James Barskett says San Domingue was actually populated by 4 groups of people:

  1. Buccaneers. Warlike hunters.
  2. Freebooters. French pirates.
  3. Farmers.
  4. Slaves.

The pirates become an offensive threat to the Spanish.

Bryant Edward's book claims that the settlers on La Tortue, some English, French and Dutch, did nothing to the Spanish, except have the misfortune not to be Spanish. Rather, they hunted wild cattle in San Domingue. The Spanish attacked them about 1660, killing all the women, children and elderly on the island. The men then decided to fight an offensive war against the Spanish. The buccaneers were born.

Other European powers soon used the existing pirates and hired their own to harass one another in their constant wars.

Who were the pirates?
READ p. 69-78. Barskett book. (Again, I'll try to get some of this loaded up later.)

This will give a portrait of Morgan. We can see the character of the Caribbean settlers, even though he happens to be English.

Also this passage shows a bit about the beginnings of French settlement in San Domingue, leading to the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, which gave San Domingue to the French.