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200 years of independence for Haiti

A brief summary of Haitian history leading to the first nation created by former African slaves 200 years ago.

Flag of HaitiThe first black republic

The first black republic is only 200 years old. For the first time an army of slaves defeated the oppressors and a new state was born. January 1st 2004 Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence.

Rebellion among slaves happened frequently in all the slave-colonies but the rebels very seldom succeeded to gain anything but more misery.

Haiti (St. Domingue as the colony in the Caribbean was then called) was one of the richest colonies in the world producing mainly coffee and sugar. And as most other colonies in the 18th and 19th century it was completely dependent on the work of slaves imported from Africa. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492. First Spanish and then French people made plantations started importing slaves in great numbers.


News of the French revolution in 1789 affected the political climate for everybody on the island. The white farmers started discussing the possibility of independence from France, but too late they realised that also their black slaves could have dreams of “freedom, equality and brotherhood”.

In August 1791 an uprising against the French farm-owners started among the slaves in Haiti. There was a clear majority of black slaves in the population and at first they had no problems in taking over control. Plantations were destroyed and many whites were killed or forced to flee from the island. French, Spanish, and English troops came aid. They were fighting each other for control but they all agreed the main aim: to prevent black domination in a former colony.

François Toussaint L'Ouverture, the grandson of an African chief, became the military leader of the former slaves. Toussaint remained in charge in the following many years of frequent battles, but in 1802 he was captured by French forces and later died in a French prison.


With the French arrival a revolution started once again and when it was finally over, an army of black slaves had their victory against the army of Napoleon. On January 1st 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, an African-born ex-slave could declare Haiti independent. It was the first black republic in the world and the first country in the Western hemisphere to abolish slavery completely.

As word got around the black population in Haiti became inspiration for Africans in the rest of the world.

Map of HaitiHaiti today

The historical events 200 years ago are well worth remembering, but unfortunately the story of Haiti since then has been very unstable and far from glorious. Officially Haiti is a republic with an elected government, but ruling today is Jean-Bertrand Aristide who has turned out to be a dictator of almost same level as the infamous François “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Aristide came to power in 1994 with the help of US troops. Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier escaped with a fortune to live a happy life in southern France. Most Haitians and the outside world celebrated the return of Aristide and had high hopes for a democratic future of the Country. All started well, but within a few years he lost interest in improving living conditions for his people and most human rights where violated. There are many reasons for the change in Aristide. Some of them are probably personal paranoia and others were the pressure from first of all the US and French governments, trying to push forward with their own political motives. When Aristide refused to do as he was told the outside world answered with economic embargos on Haiti and a landslide had started.

Aristide won the 2000-elections with 92 percent of the votes. Obviously the ballots were fixed and as a result Haiti lost even more of the international support and aid. Today Aristide used the 200-years anniversary for his own political motives, but the nation of Haiti today could hardly be described as free and there was not much to celebrate for its 7.5 million inhabitants. Torture, murders, political violence, gang-wars and violation of most other human rights are taking place every day. In public speeches Aristide talked about love to the people and the common struggles of the black race –but he was completely out of touch with his own people -and only relied on hired (white) mercenaries from the US.

Writers and intellectuals in Haiti protested strongly against the use of the historical events for political propaganda in a democracy that was about to collapse completely. Many of these protestors was arrested and imprisoned without any legal rights. Two famous reporters were gunned down in 2000 and people close to the government obscured investigations. In the end of 2003 demonstrations against the Aristide-regime took place almost daily. Police forces controlled directly from the presidential palace were hitting hard on any signs of uprising.

Aristide leaves Haiti

In the end of February riots increased in Haiti and different rebel groups finally forced Aristide to leave Haiti with the help (or force) of US miltary forces. He is currently in exile in the Central-African Republic. The situation in Haiti is currently chaotic and uncertain because of the many different groups of rebels who are probably not better rulers than Aristide himself.


In 2008 a number of tropical storms kills almost 800 people in Haiti, but in January 2010 is should get even worse for the hard tried nation. The worst earthquake in more than 200 years hits the island with an epicenter near the capital Port-Au-Prince. More than 230.000 people died in the earthquake! Infrastructure and nearly everything else got a final blow, leaving Haiti in chaos and making the relief aid even more difficult. Help form the outside world is urgently needed.

Links to donation pages for the major Danish aid-organisations currently working in Haiti:

JC, December 2003. Last update: January 2010

Links to more about Haiti on the web

History of Haiti:

Haiti today, background, different views and news:

Illustrations: map and flag from: CIA World Factbook: Haiti




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