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The plot theory of the Haitian Revolution

A dialog from Robert Corbett's Haiti list, January 1999

Date: Tue, 19 Jan 1999 20:23:20 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Subject: Corbett returns to the plot theory in the Haitian Revolution
To: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9901192005.A29871-0100000@netcom3>

Returning to the theme of the plot theory.

Tonight I was going through some old computer files and I had made some notes when reading Ralph Korngold's book CITIZEN TOUSSAINT. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1945.) I've always thought this was the best book on Toussaint in English.

I was startled at my own notes. I read:

--p. 66. Korngold makes the startling claim that the slave rebellion was staged by France's officials. This was to wean the colonists from independence. Toussaint was the leader and organizer.

This brought back to mind the whole discussion on the list a while back about the plot theory which I first REMEMBERED hearing about when I read Madison Smartt Bell's novel, ALL SOULS RISING. Bell uses the plot theory in his book. I say when I first remembered because I had made these notes on the Korngold book long before reading Bell, I just didn't recall it.

So, I hurried to Korngold to see the exact claim. It is extensive and actually begins on page 65. Korngold writes:

Whenever the Third Estate [in Paris] had wished to obtain concessions from the King and his supporters, it had made use of the Paris populace and the peasants to frighten them. Supposedly spontaneous popular outbursts, such as the storming of the Bastille, the march of the women on Versailles, the peasant revolt, were in reality carefully staged performances, ordered and paid for by financiers like Laborde, Boscary and Dufresnoy, by wealthy merchants and industrialists. In practically every case they accomplished their immediate purpose. There was, however, a fly in the ointment. When the actors were no longer needed, they refused to be dismissed and eventually staged a series of performances of their own, not at all to the liking of the original promoters. In the summer of 1791, however, the danger of this was not as obvious as it was to become a year later, and Governor Blanchelande [in Saint-Domingue] and the government party decided to employ a similar expedient. They arrived at the conclusion that the best way to cure the colonists of their hankering for independence was to stage a slave rebellion.

A slave rebellion would make the colonists realize that the support of the mother country was indispensable to them. They would realize that they were too few in number to keep the slaves in subjection without outside help. Loss of life and destruction of property were of course unavoidable to teach them that lesson, but if things were allowed to drift, blood was bound to flow anyway, and it might well be the blood of the officials. Since the officials owned few slaves and possessed little property in the colony, they were not incurring a great deal of risk. If the movement got out of hand reinforcements from France would restore order. The principle difficulty was to find a Negro sufficiently capable to organize the revolt and to keep it under reasonable control.

The manager of the Breda plantation, Bayon de Litertat, was out of sympathy with the attitude of the colonists. For lack of any other group with which to affiliate, he found himself drawn to the government party. They welcomed him and admitted him to their counsels.

One day a government official called on him and disclosed the hazardous plan. He explained that an exodus rather than an insurrection was intended. The slaves were to leave the plantations and take refuge in the mountains, where they were to remain until the signal was given for them to return. They would be rewarded with a few badly needed reforms.

Celigny-Ardouin, the first Haitian historian to shed light on this phase of the insurrection, claims that Toussaint overheard the conversation and offered his services. It appears more probable that de Libertat recommended him. Anyway, he and the government official were brought face to face and this agreement was made; --

Toussaint was to organize the insurrection, but was not to be held responsible for the consequences and was to receive a safe-conduct, signed by Governor Blanchelande, guaranteeing him immunity.

Pages 65-67.

The primary source of much of Korngold's information seems to be Baron De Whimpffen's 1797 account of Haitian history. I have a copy of this work, actually an original first edition! (and also have a 1797 first edition of the French translation if anyone is interested in trading for a comparably rare volume), but I haven't read it yet. Now I'm motivated to get to that to see if de Whimpffen is another source of this tale.

Bob Corbett

Date: Thu, 21 Jan 1999 07:50:15 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Subject: "plot theory" in the Haitian Revolution: Lucien adds
To: Bob Corbett 2bcorbett@netcom.com>
Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9901210739.A18914-0100000@netcom15>

From: Charlot J Lucien <charlot4@juno.com>

I have not had a chance to go back to a few books on the subject, but I would like to offer these few quick comments.

I am subjectively -gut feeling- reluctant to believe that Toussaint's fate was sealed following a conversation that the overheard. This goes against every thing we know about the man, a thinker, calculator, slow to make up his mind. (But just to play the devil's advocate, is it possible to question the way he quietly lead the Breda family to safety then returned to his rebellious activities? Can we muse that he had some kind of protection from governmental agents and that explains that he was able to safely make his way between the belligerent parties? Toussaint left us with so many questions about his motives and actions that everthing is up for speculation).

Does anything in Breda's personality indicate that he was prone to plots and conspiracies? He seems to have lived a quiet and prosperous life, and I wonder if there are valuable, credible information that would support his being interested in any kind of political turmoil. ... I assume that a psychological profile (I am not a psychologist) of both men would contradict such a theory.

Even considering the shortsighted actions of government agents during this period, one fact remains troubling. How would they overlook the fact that by concocting a slave revolts, they would be moving into uncharted grounds given the slaves predisposition to slash into whatever looked white whenever they had a chance?