The Pennsylvania Gazette: Magnitude of the Insurrection (12 October 1791)
The magnitude of the Haitian insurrection quickly became clear as alarmed observers related that considerable armies were being raised to fight the rebels. It is noteworthy that such reports even to northern U.S. newspapers expressed little sympathy for the rebels.
Extract of a letter from the master of a vessel at Cape François, to his owners in this city, dated September 18th.
"I take this opportunity by a brig bound to Philadelphia, to inform you I am still lying here with my cargo on board, as well as all other vessels loaded with American produce. They will neither buy our cargoes, nor let us go out of port. We have not sold 20 barrels of flour since I have been here. The merchants I am consigned to are constantly out fighting the Negroes. This afternoon went out a large body of troops in order to make a general attack to-morrow on the Negro camp, which is from 8 to 10,000 men. When we shall get away from here God only knows. There is no trusting any body for sixpence. No articles of provision will sell. Cash is kept close.
Extract from another letter of the same date.
"The Negroes are destroying and burning every thing before them. To-morrow an army of two thousand men is to go out to the plains to attack the Negroe camp in our neighborhood.—We hope it will be successful. By keeping watch and patrol, we have prevented the Negroes from attempting any thing against this place. We are secure from any danger at present."
Extract from another letter of the same date.
"I dropped you a line, on guard, the other night by Capt. Green. Since which the blacks have continued their ravages; they have burnt and destroyed almost every sugar plantation in that part of the Island. When these devastations will cease, is as uncertain as it was on the first day of the insurrection. A total stagnation of business, and an impossibility of collecting a farthing of specie, are amongst the calamities that attend this barbarous rebellion. Personal safety in the town is not yet endangered; you need therefore be under no apprehension on that score."
Of the late Disturbances at S. Domingo, received from a gentleman at Cape François, in a letter to his friend in this city.
Cape François, Wednesday evening, Aug. 24.
YESTERDAY morning the Volunteers were all ordered out by order of the Assembly, who convened at an early hour. I was not acquainted with the case till near 9 o'clock, at which time a draft from every company was made, together with a large party of the Cape regiment, to march immediately to the plains, and but a few miles from town, where it seems the Negroes of a number of plantations had rebelled, assembled in a body, and killed the Overseer of one plantation, and a gentleman belonging to this town. In the afternoon reports began to circulate, and the alarm became general. Several thousands of the Negroes had assembled, and committed some ravages by burning several habitations, which they continued doing all last night, in spite of the troops which went out to stop their depredations. Many Negroes were yesterday killed, indeed all that could be met with. This morning a respectable re-inforcement were sent to the body which marched yesterday. I have not yet heard whether the insurrection is quelled—but the damage already sustained is immense. Upwards of 30 habitations are already destroyed. To what length they will carry their rage God knows. To night, no doubt, many more habitations will be destroyed. A gentleman living within a few doors of us was this morning brought in dead. Planters, with their wives and children, are every minute arriving, who bring accounts of continued distress and destruction.
The cause of this dreadful insurrection I dare not conjecture; but it is said, the tyranny of some of the Overseers is not the least of the causes. A plot to burn the town and the shipping in the road, has been discovered, and which was to have been attempted the night before last. Many will be the sacrifices before the business ends, and doubtless the conspirators of so infernal a piece of work, will soon meet their just reward. Some are taken up on suspicion of supplying the incendiaries with the means, and some have been caught in attempting to execute the infernal project.
Nothing has been done in town these two days, but keeping the volunteers and militia in arms, and every store and ship is obliged to be kept shut. In fine, all is fear, suspicion, jealousy! and every one has an interest in watching even the looks of the people of color.
Sunday, 28 August.
Since writing the foregoing, numerous have been the most cruel murders and massacres,—and numberless plantations, with the buildings and crops, destroyed by fire.—From the quay is an extensive view of a vast plain, bounded by a ridge of mountains, about 8 or 10 miles distant. The length of the plain I have not ascertained, but it may be about 30 miles. No longer than Monday last, this great space was filled with beautiful villas, elegant places, and nearly the whole covered with sugar cane; the greatest part of which are now laying in ashes. Almost the whole is destroyed!—If the infernal devils were content with this destruction, it would be happy for the Colonists; but they add the cruelty of savages to their incendiary conduct, inhumanly murdering all the whites they catch, sparing neither age nor sex.—I cannot enter into particulars; it would take more time than I have to spare.—Suffice it to say, that our troops are not able to check the ferocity of the Blacks, who are continually increasing in numbers. As many as 5,000 are assembled in a body, about 6 miles from town, and now and then the artillery has a chance to throw a few shot among them. Upwards of a thousand have already been killed on different plantations, and in different manners. If any are taken, they are commonly put to death on the spot.
Since the commencement of the insurrection great numbers have been brought prisoners to town, a few Mullatoes, and the rest Negroes. If the prisoners did not walk so fast as their guard, they would be pricked with bayonets to quicken their pace. In a few instances the prisoners have been killed in the streets, not being able to avoid the rage of the people, which follows a prisoner till he ceases to live. Yesterday a shocking massacre of about fifty black prisoners was acted at the Champ-de-Mars. They were brought to town and ordered to be executed immediately at that place. They came to town in four or five parties, at different times of the day. Among them were some women, who, with the rest, were either shot, or cut to pieces with sabers. Indeed, my friend, I do not know where to stop in this horrible description! And I mention these particulars just to give you an idea of this war or horror and carnage in which we are engaged!
The villages of Limbe and Port-Margot, situated on the other side of the mountains, at the back of the town, are burned, and all the inhabitants who could get off with their lives, are arrived here. Alas! To see beautiful girls, lovely women, with their children and infants, traveling the streets without a shoe to their feet, just escaped from the flames of their dwelling! 'Tis too much!' And yet I have seen all this and more, if it were necessary to mention.
Sunday morning, September 11th.
The embargo, which was laid on all vessels at the commencement of our troubles, is taken off the Americans, and they may sail when they please. In consequence, I take the opportunity of sending this letter by Capt. Watson, who will sail on Tuesday for Philadelphia.
I shall close my account of the insurrection with a few particular transactions which have occurred the week past. Two white men, and a number of blacks have been hung, some blacks shot, and many who have been brought to town will share the same fate. On Thursday 5 white men were brought to town from Gonaives, who had been detected there spreading false alarms, with intention to plunder. Eight others, on Friday were brought in, caught in the same business; and yesterday two more were taken among the negroes, who had been assisting them in burning some habitations the night before. The punishment of these whites will, no doubt, be severe, if found guilty upon evidence.
Friday in the evening we had a heavy rain, and the Negroes, taking advantage of this circumstance, made an attempt to cross the bridge at Haut-du-Cap, where our army is encamped, but were repulsed with fixed bayonets, the troops not being able to fire because of the rain. In the morning about 20 were found dead on the spot where the action happened.
Since the beginning of the insurrection, all the American Captains have enrolled themselves and do duty every night upon the bay. Four Captains at a time and generally one man from every vessel form a respectable corps-de-garde. On Friday night last the Governor sent a very polite letter to the Commander of the American Guard, while on duty, with a request that 12 men might be spared to man a schooner for an expedition in the morning (yesterday) to L'Acul, with intention to bring off some cannon and stores deposited there, and which it was feared would fall into the hands of the Negroes. The request was granted, and the number immediately obtained from the guard then on duty, with Capt. Lillibridge as the officer. In the morning they sailed, in company with a sloop of war. They have not yet returned; and it was reported in the evening that the Negroes had got two 24 pounders mounted, which kept playing upon the sloop, and prevented their effecting the object of the expedition. I mention this only as a report; I will not assert it.
We are every day expecting succors from Jamaica. The letters of our Assembly to the Governor and Assembly of that island, requesting a supply of troops, are published in some of the papers which I send you.
At present our fears for the safety of the towns are subsided, and every exertion making to quell the insurrection, and for putting a stop to the depredations of the blacks. The volunteers have been continually upon duty, who go to the camp in rotation, and are relieved every two or three days from those in town. In general they are very much harassed by the intense heat. The free Mulattoes and Negroes are all armed by the government, and in many instances have behaved bravely against the Negroes.
In the situation of affairs at present, it is next to impossible to tell when the troubles will end. The Negroes keep themselves embodied in different places, and when attacked, they immediately fly and scatter. This method of theirs harrasses our troops in such a manner that, without effecting any thing essential, they get quite worn out, and are obliged to be immediately relieved. In fine, if I may be allowed to hazard a conjecture, it appears, that several months will elapse before the insurrection will be quelled, and it will require years to reinstate this part of the colony in the flourishing situation that it was in 3 weeks ago.
Letter from the President of the General Assembly, to the Members of the General Assembly of Jamaica.
Cape François, 24 August 1791.
"The measure of the misfortunes of St. Domingo is filled: In a short time this delightful country will be but a heap of ashes. Already the Planters have bedewed with their blood the land which they had fertilized with the sweat of their brow: at this moment, the flames are consuming those productions, which were the glory of the French empire. Principles, destructive of our property, have kindled a flame amongst us, and armed the hands of our own slaves. Philosophy, which is the consolation of mankind, has reduced us to despair.
"Bereft of assistance, and reduced to the last extremity, St. Domingo looks for friends and protectors in all her neighbors. We will not remind you of your interest, that is exposed to danger from the spirit of philosophy, which is the cause of our misfortunes, and which, being equally inimical to your system, would plunge you into the same misfortunes, if the crime were once completed, without hope of reparation. We will only call upon that generosity, which is the distinguishing characteristic of your nation.
"We freely call upon you for assistance; and we do it with confidence.
"Inspired with these sentiments, the General Assembly of the French port of St. Domingo have determined to depute Mr. Bugnet, one of their Members, to present you our request.
"1. He will present to you our constitutional act, which establishes our legal character of Representatives of the people of St. Domingo.
"2. His nomination.
"3. The proclamation for soliciting assistance from all the neighboring powers.
"I have the honor to be, with the most cordial and brotherly affection, gentlemen, your most obedient humble servant,
(Signed) P. de CADUSCH, President."
The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 12 October 1791; available on cd-rom (Accessible Archives: Wilmington, Del., distributed by Scholarly Resources, 1998).