Discontent Spreads from An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti

Rainsford wrote one of the first favorable accounts of the Haitian Revolution. He blamed the colonists for refusing to alter the slave system. Our excerpts begin with reactions to the revolution in mainland France in 1789 and continue through the death in prison in France of Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1803.


In opposition to the wishes of a judicious few (among who was the intelligent De Charmilly) and even to the prohibitions of the government, the impetuous proprietors summoned provincial and parochial meetings, for the purpose of electing themselves to legislative functions; heated resolutions were passed; and eighteen deputies were elected, to represent the island in the meeting of the Estates-General, without any other authority than the noise of demagogues, and their own inclinations. Twelve were never recognized in France, and the other six were received with difficulty. The mulattoes, who could have no share in this self-created body, thought it naturally time to show an attention to themselves; and, accordingly, not only communicated with numbers of their brethren then resident in the mother-country, but augmented those powerful advocates in their behalf, with much more effect than was produced by the self-created body of colonial deputies. The negroes, however, more successful than all, without either deputies or intercessors, obtained, unsolicited, the interest of such a powerful body in their behalf, as to drown the recollection of every other object. A society, in which were enrolled the names of several great and good men, under the title of "The Friends of the Blacks" (Amis des Noirs), circulated its protests and appeals with such vigor, that, before the negroes themselves, although eager and alert in their inquiries, were acquainted with the importance which they had obtained in the deliberations of the mother-country, they were the prominent subjects of conversation and regret in half the towns of Europe. They were not, however, tardy in acquiring this information and though it would be difficult to contemplate any thing in human nature so bad, as to suppose that the highest and best of motives did not actuate so respectable a body as that which composed this society, or the similar establishment which had before obtained in London; yet the unhappy eloquence with which the miseries of slavery were depicted by them, and the forcible points of view in which all the errors of their opponents were placed, as well as the enthusiasm, which always accompanies the exertions of ardent minds, were certainly the cause of bringing into action, on a broad basis, that spirit of revolt which only sleeps in the enslaved African, or his descendant and which has produced on their side, and on that of the white inhabitants of the colonies, such horrors as "make ev'n the angels weep."

I conclude this account of the origin of the revolution of St. Domingo, with observing how much better it would have been for themselves, and perhaps for humanity, if happily discerning the signs of the times, the planters of this delightful and flourishing colony (a character which none have attempted to deny it), by resigning an overweening fondness for dominion, and an undue avarice of gain, had rather calmed than provoked the dissentions of those whose interest should have bid them to agree and by softening the evils of a state which is so bad in its best form, have conciliated the affections of those to whose labors, under the present regimen, every thing productive of wealth or prosperity must depend. A partial concession to those who, by complexion itself, claim half a right to political existence, would have been sufficient: with a little regard for the morals of a people who require them the most, and a revolution in their own minds, as far as human nature will admit. These would have preserved to them, now lingering in a melancholy exile, if not the sudden victims of their impolicy, an island the boast of the new world, and a powerful support of the old. If they had then contemplated some more legitimate means of prosecuting the labors, of their colony, they might, however immediately unavailing, have laid a foundation for their posterity more lasting than the bequest of inordinate wealth, and have claimed the approbation of society.

Source: Marcus Rainsford, An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending a View of the Principal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint-Domingo; with its Ancient and Modern State (London, 1805), 106–8.