The Impact of the Revolution

As conspiracies and revolts reached a height in the 1790s, slave societies started to fear the influence of "French Negroes," who were thought to harbor ideals of freedom brought about by the revolutions in France and Saint-Domingue.

The city of Baltimore, among others, passed an act against black Domingans in 1797, stating, "Many of the slaves imported into this state by the French subjects or citizens mentioned in the said act have been guilty of disorderly conduct, and are suspected to be dangerous to the peace and welfare of the city."

Interestingly, the largest U.S. revolt — in terms of participants — took place in 1811 in Louisiana and was led by Charles Deslondes from Haiti. French and French Creole-speaking men were associated with uprisings in British, Spanish, and Dutch colonies until 1820, and they led a large revolt in Curaçao in 1795.

In Cuba, José Antonio Aponte, a free man who organized an uprising in 1812, had promised his followers that help would come from Haiti, and he galvanized his troops with pictures of Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. In the United States, black abolitionists, nationalists, and activists were inspired by the uprising and its emblematic figure, Toussaint L'Ouverture. They daringly paid tribute to the revolution at a time when white abolitionists played it down, afraid it would repel sympathetic whites.

During the 1816 rebellion in Barbados, references were made to Haiti. In 1820 Denmark Vesey, who had been enslaved on the island for a few months and had bought his freedom in Charleston, South Carolina, recruited determined participants — including enslaved Haitians forcibly brought during the revolution — to what was one of the best-organized slave conspiracy in the country. His goal was to free the enslaved with the help of Haiti and sail to Africa or to the black republic.

Even though Haiti was not in a position to effectively help in Cuba or South Carolina, it is a fact that the black republic sought to export the benefits of its revolution. Its constitution gave Haitian nationality and protection to any black or Asian person. As a result, enslaved men and women who successfully escaped to the island became free and could not be returned. Several cases concerning runaways were brought by slaveholders to King Christophe early on, and to presidents Alexandre Pétion and Jean-Pierre Boyer, but no foreign refugee was ever sent back to enslavement. In addition, Haiti provided financial and military assistance as well as refuge to Simón Bolívar, the liberator of Spanish America, in return for a promise to abolish slavery there. In 1824 and again in the 1850s the island nation actively recruited African-American immigrants.

Frederick Douglass paid tribute to the significance of the Haitian Revolution when he stressed that blacks owed much to American and British abolitionists, "but we owe incomparably more to Haiti than to them all."