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The Haitian Revolution
Digital History ID 175

Author:   Jessica Lange and Charles Victor Emmanuel LeClerc


In the summer of 1802, following Toussaint's imprisonment, rebellion broke out anew in Saint Domingue. In the following letter, General Charles Victor Emmanuel LeClerc (1772-1802), the French commander, discusses the problems faced by French troops, but nonetheless speaks confidently of suppressing the revolution. In fact, LeClerc died in November, three months after this letter was written, and in about a year, the Haitians, aided by yellow fever, which devastated the French ranks, defeated the French army.

When the Haitian Revolution ended in 1804, the population had been reduced by half and the economy was in ruins. In one gruesome episode, the French converted a ship, The Stifler, into an extermination machine. The French drove blacks into the ship's hold, where they were asphyxiated by noxious fumes.

American responses to the Haitian Revolution shifted radically over time. Under the administration of President John Adams, which was fighting an undeclared naval war with France, the United States signed a treaty with Toussaint, provided his army with arms and provisions, and even transported his troops by sea, allowing the blacks to successfully resist the French and mulatto military. But President Jefferson, who was strongly pro-French and a slaveholder to boot, adopted much more hostile policies toward the Haitian revolution. He assured the French in 1801 that he would be happy to supply a fleet and help "reduce Toussaint to starvation." He subsequently imposed a total embargo on Haiti.


I have received, Citizen General, your letter with the list of the troubling subjects with which you contend. Show no mercy with anyone that you suspect.... One must be unflinching and inspire great terror; it is the only thing that will suppress the blacks.

General [Antoine] Richepanse has very unwisely reestablished slavery in Guadaloupe. Here and there one sees signs of unrest. A division of boats is addressing the insurrection. Most of the troops of General [Jean-Baptiste] Brunet [who was responsible for Toussaint Louverture's arrest] are ill. I have ordered Jacques Dessalines [the black leader who is in a temporary alliance with the French against insurgents] to use the most violent means to frighten the rebels....

Reinforcements have now arrived.... But illness is ravaging the battalion so badly that I am obliged to send almost all back to France....

This insurrection is in its last crisis. By the first month of the revolutionary calendar, with a month of campaigning, all will be over....

Frequently inform me about your position. I need to be informed as often as possible. Use examples of severity to inspire terror.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: General Charles Victor Emmanuel LeClerc to Comte de Rochambeau

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