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Take the time to read the following chronology. From these brief facts you will see a history of a truly resilient people, who fought off slavery and survived civil wars, countless massacres and truly oppressive leadership. The Haitians proclaimed themselves the first black republic in the world in 1804, and have remained independent to this day.

December 5, 1492: Columbus discovers Haiti (the island of Hispaniola)
1697: The Spaniards cede the western third of Hispaniola to the French crown at the Treaty of Ryswick. Haiti is now called "Saint Domingue".
1697-1791: Saint Domingue becomes the richest colony in the world. Its capital, Cap Français, is known as the Paris of the New World. It is also a regime of extraordinary cruelty; the 500,000 slaves taken by the French are flogged, starved, and buried alive for minor offenses.
August 1791: the first major black rebellion takes place, initiated by Boukman, a voodoo houngan. This begins the markings of civil war between the black dominated north and the mulatto dominated south.
1796: Toussaint L'Ouverture, an educated herb doctor and military man, emerges as the leader of the former slaves in the north. He restored order, ended the massacres, and restored some of Saint Domingue's former prosperity.
1801: Napoleon Bonaparte despatches an army of 34,000 to tru to subdue the slave armies and retake the colony for France; this mission was unsuccessful. The leader of the army Leclerc ultimately had Toussaint L'Ouverture seized and deported to France. He died within a year.
May 1802: Convention in Paris reintroduces slavery, which brings on more rebellions and massacres.
January 1804: Jean Jacques Dessalines proclaimed the independent black Republic of Haiti in the northern half of the island. Dessalines was unpopular with the mulattos and was assassinated in 1806. His death led to civil war again between the south (under General Petion) and the north (under Henry Christophe).
1820: Henry Christophe commits suicide by shooting himself with a silver bullet; he had been a tyrannical ruler, crowning himself "king", and building a palace and citadel (at Cap Haitien in the north) at great cost to Haitian lives. At his death Haiti was taken over by General Boyer, and civil war ceased. Boyer obtained official Haitian independence from France at the price of 150 million French francs.
1843 to 1915: Haiti sees 22 heads of state, most of whom leave office by violent means. Rivalry continues among the whites, the mulatto elite, and the blacks.
1915: Presdient Guillaume Sam is dismembered and the Americans invade the country. They remain for 19 years. Despite improvements made to the infrastructure by the Americans, the Haitians opposed their presence.
1934: The Americans leave Haiti, which is now prospering once again.
1957: François Duvalier, a doctor and union leader, was elected president. Duvalier, also known as 'Papa Doc', terrorized the country, rooting out any and all opponents to his administration. He was a practicing vodunist, his loa being Baron Samedi, the guardian of cemeteries and a harbinger of death. He ensured his power through his private militia, the tontons macoutes (which means in kreyol, "uncle boogeyman").
1964: Duvalier changes the constitution so that he can be elected president for life.
1971: François Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his son Jean Claude, age 19 (also known as 'Baby Doc'). By this time Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere (and remains so to this day).
February 1986: The Duvalier regime collapses under Operation Deschoukay and Baby Doc flees to France.
December 1990: Jean-Bertrand Aristide (a religious priest) is elected in a landslide victory.
Military coup deposes Aristide's government; Organization of American states imposes an embargo lasting three years.
1994: Aristide returns to Haiti to serve out his term of office, facilitated by the US military and UN troops.
December, 1995: René Préval elected in a landslide victory
Today (1998): elected government, President René Préval (currently no Prime Minister)

  • The Caribbean and the Bahamas James Henderson, Cadogan Books, London, 1997

Compiled by Anne E. Shroeder, Language Works
EMail: anne@language-works.com