Saint Domingue: Some Geography

Here Moreau de Saint–Méry describes the topography and peoples of the French part of the island, providing some important basic knowledge which he expands upon in subsequent passages.


Of all the domains of France in the New World, the French part of the island of Santo Domingo is the most important. . . .

This is because of the riches which it produces for the mother country. It is also enormously valuable as a market for French foodstuffs and [is] a stimulant to French trade. The French Part is noteworthy on this account to all students of government. This applies equally to learning the facts about the different areas of this vast state and to understanding the principal points of its administration. . . .

[It is] a Colony whose distance from the mother country prevents it from being particularly like France, but its loss or rescue form one of the great subjects on which France must mediate.

Finally, the scientist, the naturalist, the planter, and many others . . . will enjoy this faithful description of an establishment whose fate can have much influence upon the destinies of France.

It is for these reasons that I am pursuing this project of publication.

The French Part of Santo Domingo forms the western portion of that immense island. The Spaniards occupy the entire eastern part. . . . But the French Part does not, unlike the Spanish Part, offer. . . a length almost equal to its breadth. French Santo Domingo has an irregular shape, produced by a double cause. One is a sinuous boundary line between the two countries. The other factor is the presence of two unequal points of land, or, more accurately, two peninsulas, which extend from the southern and northern edges of the island to run to the west, leaving between them a sort of bay or little gulf.

The mountains of Saint Domingue . . . serve to vary the climate, which depends upon their height, their nearness, and the way in which they are located in reference to the prevailing winds. . . . In general, the French Part or Saint Domingue is warmer and more exposed to droughts than the Spanish Part. The droughts are becoming longer and more frequent. This arises from a greediness which counts the future for nothing. . . . People have cut down the trees which covered the higher points and which summoned the life-giving rains and held onto the abundant dews. There was also a humidity whose beneficial influence was prolonged by the forests.

The French Part has about 520,000 persons, divided into 40,000 whites, 28,000 freedmen or descendants of freedmen, and 452,000 slaves. This offers the following proportion: eleven and three-tenths slaves for one white, ten whites to seven freedmen, and sixteen slaves to one freedman.

Source: Médéric-Louis-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry, A Civilization That Perished: The Last Years of White Colonial Rule in Haiti, (Philadelphia, published by the author, 1797-1798), translated, abridged, and edited by Ivor D. Spencer, (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1985), 13-15.