French Revolution

1789-1798: Jamaica and Haiti -The Caribbean Front of the French Revolution

The French Revolution was a bloody event in Europe, and French colonies in the Caribbean, especially those on Hispaniola, followed suit. Because Jamaica was Hispaniola's nearest island neighbor, the war impacted its history in many ways.


Revolt on Hispaniola

The island of Hispaniola was divided between the French (on what is now Haiti) and the Spanish (on the current Dominican Republic). The French were further divided amongst themselves. The white Frenchmen disliked the mulattoes, who were people of mixed race; the mulattoes disliked the creoles, who were born slaves on the island; and the creoles disliked the newly imported slaves from Africa.

Even so, it was a mulatto who began a revolt with the belief that they were all equals. His attempts to free the slaves got him captured on the Spanish half of the island, and he was eventually tortured and killed. This event sparked a true uprising, and more than 12,000 were killed in the first months of the fighting. Eventually the white population was wiped out.

Invading Jamaica

Though worry was widespread that these events might inspire another revolt on Jamaica, the islanders had many other problems to worry. Hispaniolan refugees, along with any slaves who remained faithful to them, fled to Jamaica. This French influx was also seen as an opportunity for spies to enter the island, and the Jamaican militia and troops were quickly posted to stand watch.

It turns out that this was not an idle concern. Although the Second Maroon War in 1795 may not have been a result of French influences upon the Trelawny Town Maroons, it was thought to be at the time. Later plots by Duboison and Sas Portas were revealed, and the men's slaves were deported. Duboison gave up Sas Portas in exchange for his own life, but Sas Portas was not as lucky and was hanged at the Kingston Parade.

Several other events took place at the same time, including a slave uprising and a fire that nearly destroyed Montego Bay. These events were both quite unsettling for the islanders. Still, French immigrants from Hispaniola usually settled easily into the community. Many were entertainers who found a whole new audience to delight.

Another change in Jamaica was the encouragement of cultivation on the island. A 1791 announcement by the Assembly encouraged the growth of yams, cocos, maize, plantains, coffee, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. These soon became important crops for export and helped Jamaica economically in the following years.

Louis and Toussaint

Jamaica remained relatively uninvolved in the events taking place on Hispaniola, despite requests by the governor and settlers for help. Jamaica provided aid, but sent no forces to the island until 1793 when French King Louis XIV was killed. After that the British ordered Jamaica to invade and suppress the revolution on the island. Spanish troops on the other half of Hispaniola also prepared to launch an attack against the insurgent slaves.

Colonel John Whitelocke led Jamaican soldiers onto the island and took several cities with ease. British reinforcements landed in time to help them take the next town, but yellow fever set in and killed as many soldiers as the war had.

Reinforcements were slow to come, and their numbers weren't enough, but troops on Jamaica were delayed by problems with the Maroons. A man named François-Dominique Toussaint, now known as Toussaint L'Overture, led the blacks on their charge on the French.

Britain sent over General Williamson in 1795. He had been knighted and given the title of Governor before he left, though the war on the island was far from over. In fact, in 1798 Brigadier-General Thomas Maitland found himself in a losing situation. Dwindling troops and no promise of resupply caused him to make a move that would be important throughout history: He ended the fighting with Toussaint and withdrew to Jamaica. He disbanded the black troops on the island, worried that their return might spur more fighting on Jamaica.

Toussaint then found little barrier to control of the entire country. However, it took another 23 years for France to recognize the Haitian Republic. Though 1789 was the end to the fighting in the Caribbean, the war in Europe didn't end until 1815.

Though this was the end to Jamaica's fighting in the Caribbean, an internal war had sprung up during the French Revolution. The Second Maroon War caused trouble on the island.

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