The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a period when the European colonial superpowers were losing their foothold in the Americas. The Haitian Revolution was started with the intent of the largely Black populace gaining independence from France and having a country of their own in the Caribbean. When General Jean-Jacques Dessalines announced that Haiti was an independent nation, long held fears would form in the 1804 Haiti Massacre.
To understand how things escalated no only needs to look at the institution of slavery as a whole. Looking at slavery in Haiti and how punishments toward Black slaves dwelled squarely in the depraved, Dessalines had enough fuel to stoke the flames for the act of genocide.
THE 1804 HAITI MASSACRE
Throughout the Haitian Revolution, there were several massacres prior to 1804. In the summer of 1791, Le Cap’s plantations were set ablaze and White people in the area were all killed. The same was done in the summer of 1793 in Cayes. Jean-Francois forces would descend upon the White populace of Fort Dauphin and wipe them out while the Spanish basically stepped aside in 1794.
When Dessalines took over Haiti in November 1803, he assured the French that they wouldn’t be killed but wasn’t warm toward their existence on the island. His advisors caught his ear and warned that White would attempt to leave and get help from other superpowers to defeat the Black Haitians. From there, slavery would be reinstated.
Advisors suggested that White citizens should all be killed. On New Years 1804, Dessalines declared the country’s dependence. He also gave the order for all White people to be killed with silent weapons such as knives and sickles. The reason was to keep White citizens from raising alarm. The general followed his soldier to each city and town to oversee the attacks. Dessalines would read the atrocities of slavery before killing White pulled onto the streets.
When killings were done in a town, an amnesty was offered to White people who managed to hide. Once they came out of hiding, Dessalines had them killed. One of the largest massacres occurred in Port-au-Prince where roughly 800 were killed and 50 were left.
THE FATE OF WOMEN
Dessalines never actually mentioned that women or children were to be killed. Depending on the location there was usually a larger number of survivors because they were spared. This became an issue with advisors as it was believed White people in Haiti could never be truly gone if White women and children remained.
Eventually, the general gave the order to kill women if they didn’t agree to marry Black men. If Dessalines wasn’t overseeing the killings, women were often raped as well.
When the smoke cleared thousands of White Haitians were dead with estimates between 3,000 and 5,000. The only White people spared were Polish deserter of the French Army, a small German enclave, and medical experts.
As it would happen, weeping violence happens to instantly sour relationships between countries. Dessalines said that Haiti wasn’t hostile and that it would work with countries where slavery was legal. Of course, their words following the acts said otherwise with them being seen as necessary.
The 1804 Haiti Massacre became a bogeyman for Southern U.S slaveholders and politicians to ward off emancipation as they feared something similar. The was the case for decades down the line and was often brought up as if the politicians themselves escaped the massacre.
-Haiti Constitution of 1805: https://web.archive.org/web/20051228150910/http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/history/earlyhaiti/1805-const.htm