The Maroons

In this passage, Moreau de Saint–Méry explains that runaways (Maroons) are and have always been a persistent problem in Saint Dominigue and details the tremendous efforts put into retrieving the runaways. Despite this effort, some Maroons survived and thereby regained their freedom.


The Maroons

[One] cause of the celebrity [of the parish of l'Anse-à-Boeuf] is the story of the negro maroons in the mountains for more than 85 years. These were [mostly] the heights around Bahoruco or la Béate and nearby. . . . This was also the scene of their cruel brigandage.

In the month of March, 1702, M. de Galiffet [then the Governor] had these negroes pursued by fifteen men, who were in the forests 68 days and who sometimes passed four or five without finding water. They killed three negroes, captured eleven, and some 30 others escaped. Their food and farms were destroyed. In 1715 it was necessary to order their expulsion again, a step which M. Dubois, the commandant of the Cul-de-Sac, carried out in 1717. He found in their settlement a well of 40 feet in depth! They reappeared in 1719, the time when their chief, named Michel, was captured.

In 1728, M. Charles Baudouin, since the commandant of the militia in Jacmel, went against the maroons with some of the local settlers and left out [with] 46 prisoners

In 1733, they took 32.

In 1740 the whites went to the Grands Bois of the Mirebalais, where M. Marillet, provost of the constabulary of the Cul-de-Sac, attacked the fugitives with 22 constables. They killed seven and captured fourteen, all born in the woods, and from them learned that 23 had fled. . . .

A new expedition [came] in the month of December, 1761. Placed behind a breastwork, the negroes taunted their adversaries by a dance. The latter, furious, threw themselves into ditches whose depths were full of pointed pine stakes, covered with vines and creeping grasses. Fourteen mulattoes, making up nearly one half of the attackers, were maimed. Many of the maroons were killed; others were captured with their arrows and their firearms.

Under the generalcy of M. de Belzunce, the black chief took his name [sic] and resumed disorders. Later these seemed to have become less frequent, when in 1766, M. d'Ennery was obliged to establish a post at Boucan-Patate, which the negroes attacked while that guard-house was being built and another at the dry branch of the river at Anses-à-Pitre. In spite of that, they came to murder, pillage, and carry off the slaves from Grands Bois and le Fond-Parisien as far as Sale Trou.

Then the chiefs of the two Colonies concerted measures to pursue them. . . . M. de Saint-Vilmé found the base of the blacks at Bahoruco and attacked, 6 January 1777, but the [defenders'] dogs having barked the night before, they hurled themselves into woods so dense that the troop could not penetrate. The detachment was so broken down with fatigue, some soldiers having been reduced to drinking their urine, that they pulled back to get supplies. More than 30 mulattoes disbanded and it was necessary to wait while fifteen grenadiers or chasseurs were sent for. Provisions for a month were hurried out. Then M. de Saint-Vilmé marched anew, and found no maroons at all. . . .

In 1777 the maroons repeated their ravages, at Boucan-Greffin. They reappeared there in 1778 and plundered M. Coupé, carrying off his housekeeper.

This negress, named Anne, having refused to follow the maroons, was bound and [partially] garroted, and dragged off by force. After two days' march, they arrived. The chief of the band, named Kébinda took her for himself, but she still resisted. After trying to flee, she was recaptured and the whole group condemned her to death, but the chief refused this. Finally won by a passion that was aroused by her refusals, he let himself be persuaded by her, over some four months, that she would become his wife if he married her in a church.

One night Kébinda left with her. They reached a guardhouse on the Spanish frontier, where Anne cried out, causing him to be captured. She was restored to M. Coupé and the Government gave her her liberty, under the name of Faithful Anne. Although he was released by the Spaniards, Kébinda died some time afterwards, of regret for a love betrayed. . . .

The blacks did not cease their incursions in 1779, 1780, and 1781. . . .

Finally, in 1782, M. de Saint-Larry, former surveyor and lieutenant of militia, [took a new initiative]. Established since 1779 at Anses-à-Pitre, where he had had to be continually on guard, far from all French farms and close enough to some Spaniards of a lightly-policed [frontier] area, Saint-Larry sought to acquaint himself with the latter and especially with those who had good relations with the maroons. He succeeded in this, attached these Spanish-speaking inhabitants of the border to him, and talked frankly to one of them, Diego Felix, a free Spanish quadroon. Saint-Larry's design was to bring the negroes to give up and to form a village acceptable to the Government. He spoke also to [another such] quadroon and [two other apparently white] men of the Spanish-Language population.

The answers of the negroes being favorable, M. de Saint-Larry was able to give confidential word of this to M. Darcé, the King's major at Jacmel, and M. de Vincent, the deputy commander at Port-au-Prince. They replied that he should continue these discussions. [Saint-Larry] had gifts sent to the slaves by Diego Felix and also an invitation for about a dozen of them to meet him at Trou-Jacob, about five leagues off, and he would come there alone, by sea.

On the day indicated, fourteen negroes clad in simple garments but with leather cartridge cases on their belts, together with their firearms and machetes, came from one side, with Diego Felix and M. de Saint-Larry in uniform and [two of his Spanish-speaking associates] from the other. Santiago, a Spanish negro born in Banique and taken by the maroons 45 years before, and Philippe, a native of the forests, their chiefs, announced that they agreed to withdraw to the parish of Neybe, to a place where they were to be directed by three or four Spaniards, and that after a year they would all be baptized at Neybe. Then they would go at once to the place which the authorities would assign to them. Santiago gave 137 kernels of corn to express the number of slaves involved. M. de Saint-Larry, after having passed out to them presents of cloth and kerchiefs, promised to return in two months. . . .

[The negotiations went slowly forward and in time were satisfactorily ended. Consultation with the Spanish authorities brought their approval also.]

[The establishment had failed, therefore, to crush the rebels and restore them to slavery. It boded no good for the future of that institution. On the other hand, a promise had been won from the slaves that there would be no more raids on the outlying plantations or settlements. Also, those favored blacks would pursue and arrest the fugitive slaves of both nations and receive the twelve-gourd bonus per fugitive offered in a Franco-Spanish treaty of 1777. No mention is made by Moreau of any compliance with the latter provision. The expense of the military actions, which had been high, would of course also end.]

Such are the true details on these people who once devastated a large area of country. Among them are men of 60 years who have never lived anywhere but in the forests where they were born. The special quality of them all is anxiety, which is limned in their faces. Fear agitates them all. . . . Fright had accounted for as many as 1,800. Their true locale is towards the Nisao, in the mountains which are north of Azua. It was to that place that they retreated when obliged to flee the mountains of Bahoruco . . . where they had an easy food supply in the wild animals.

They have for advance posts small, low huts with two men, with a back-up hut behind it, and thus successively right to the main body of their troop. Their sentinels are wild dogs. Some Spaniards go to buy rams and munitions for them even in the French Part.

For plundering, they lay in wait and spied for long periods, if necessary, to find the proper moment. They were cruel if they wished to intimidate or sought revenge. They also carried off other blacks, whom they made into veritable slaves for themselves. They would admit persons who came freely to join them only after being assured that they were not spies. They killed them upon the least suspicion. . . .

These slaves, after the expedition of M. de Saint-Vilmé, wandered about in terror of being ambushed. They were at times obliged to eat the leaves of trees and wild fruit. A cruel dysentery which ensued, and smallpox, which came after that, mowed them down in great numbers.

[Especially typical of this second half of the eighteenth century, however, in the ferocity of feelings aroused, was the case of Macandal, the arch-poisoner.]

The Case of Macandal

It was at the plantation of M. Le Normand de Mézy in Limbé that the negro Macandal, born in Africa, belonged. His hand being caught in the mill, it had been necessary to cut it off, and he was made a herder of animals. He ran away.

During his period of hiding, Macandal made himself famous for the poisonings which spread terror among the negroes and which made them all obey him. He kept an open school for this execrable art. He had agents in all the corners of the colony, and death flew in at his slightest signal. Finally, in his comprehensive plan, he had conceived the infernal project of making all the men who were not blacks disappear from the surface of Saint Domingue. Also, his successes, which went on increasing, had spread an alarm which assured that there would be more. Not the watchfulness of the magistrate, not that of the Government, nothing could come up with the means of catching this wretch. Efforts punished by an almost sudden death served only to terrify people even more.

One day the negroes of the Dufresne plantation in Limbé had arranged for a big dance there. Macandal, who had gone unpunished for a long time, came to join in the dance.

One young negro, perhaps because of the impression that the presence of this monster had produced on him, came to notify M. Duplessis a surveyor, and M. Trévan, who were on the plantation. They distributed tafia so profusely that the negroes all became drunk and Macandal, in spite of his caution, lost his good sense.

They went to arrest him in a slave hut, from which they led him to a room in one of the ends of the big house. They tied his hands behind his back and for want of irons put on a piece of bridle harness. The two whites wrote to the Cape to tell of the capture and with two negro domestics they kept guard over Macandal, with loaded pistols on the table, where there was a light.

The guards went to sleep. Macandal, perhaps aided by the two blacks, unfastened his hands, put out the candle, opened a window of a gable, threw himself into the prairie, and reached some coffee plants, leaping like a magpie.

The land breeze which was rising made the window hook rattle and woke people up. There was a great uproar. They searched for Macandal, whom the dogs soon found, and recaptured him.

Macandal, who could have escaped if he had used the two pistols on the table instead of fleeing was condemned to be burned alive. This was by an order of the Superior Council, 20 January 1758. Since he had boasted several times that if taken he would escape in different forms, he declared that he would take the shape of a fly to escape from the flames.

Fate having willed that post to which his chain was fastened be rotten, the violent efforts which he made because of the torments of the fire pulled out the screw ring and he leaped out over the funeral pyre.

The blacks cried out: "Macandal is saved!" The panic was wild. All the gates were shut. The detachment of Swiss guards who were on duty at the place of execution had the enclosure cleared out. The jailer Massé wanted to kill him with a sword thrust, but upon the order of the King's Attorney he was bound to a plank and thrown back into the fire.

Although the body of Macandal had been incinerated, many negroes believed even now that he did not die in this torture.

The memory of this creature, for whom epithets are inadequate, still awakens equally sinister ideas. The slaves call both poisons and poisoners "macandals," and this name has become one of the cruelest insults which they can address to each other.

There is towards the east of Cavaillon a large mountain called Blue Mountain, celebrated because it served as a retreat of the slave Pompey, whose devastations and crimes desolated this Part for a long time. This mountain has many caverns, even very spacious ones, where you find fetishes and other evidence of their frequent use by the aborigines. It was in one of these caverns that Pompey was taken after a vigorous defense.

The Downward Spiral

[The cases of Macandal and Pompey and the almost never-ending struggle of the maroons to survive were the more spectacular features of the resistance of the slaves. Behind this and known chiefly in the immediate areas involved, was the depressing accumulation of suicides and abortions. What with absentee ownership and gradually impoverished soil, these could rapidly become worse.]

Compared as a whole, this plain [of Léogane] produces smaller crops than those of the Cul-de-Sac and of l'Arcahaye. The sugar there . . . has been harvested for a long time without rest, for the first sugar estate of the French Part was that which M. Deslandes, a settler and then King's Major for Léogane began there in 1680. The areas near the sea, in particular, are the most worn out and want manuring.

Léogane was in one period mentioned as the place where you found the greatest luxury in the Colony, the one upon which the others modeled themselves. In 1712, 40 wheeled carriages were counted in the parish. Since the time when almost all the proprietors of the plain, however, have come to live in France, people here live almost isolated lives and seem only busy with sending big revenues to these owners. Among the latter are those who—and perhaps as a direct consequence of this practice—do not watch out that their estates have always enough of the food needed for their slaves. If they don't seem to know that you always expect too much labor from a man who is not fed enough, it is the duty of the Government to remind them of it. . . .

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), 247-256.