“A PERFECT NEUTRALITY”:
SPAIN'S STRATEGY IN SAINT-DOMINGUE'S REVOLUTION, 1791-1795
Antonio J. Pinto
Now isn’t that too much? The lion he came and
tried to eat the bone. After turning it over every
way, he had to leave it. Then the dog fell on the
bone; he gnaws away on it till he is tired, and then
he goes his way also. And now here comes a
miserable chicken and fancies she can do something
with the bone. That is too much.
SCRAC, JK – HRC, b. 1. Testimony by a veteran of
Saint-Domingue’s revolution, describing Spain’s
ambition in that territory. Undated .
“The moment of vengeance is coming; tomorrow, at night, all the whites must
be exterminated”.1 According to the French expeditionary Antoine Dalmas, this was the
proclaim transmitted by the black leaders that had been planning Saint-Domingue’s
slave insurrection in the last two weeks of August 1791, in order to encourage the rest
of the slaves to start killing the whites in the night of August 21st. Apparently, a mythic
vodou ceremony that was celebrated in Bois Caïman signaled the beginning of Saint-
Domingue’s slave revolution, which shook the political, economic, social and racial structure of that French colony. The said revolution gave way to a bloody war that
finished on January 1st, 1804 with the birth of the black Republic of Haiti: the first black
independent state in History.
Not only were the effects of Saint-Domingue’s revolution restricted to that
colony or the French Antilles, but they were also felt in other foreign possessions. Its
impact was particularly dramatic in Spanish Santo Domingo, since the latter and Saint-
Domingue had shared the territory of the island of Hispaniola from the late 17th
Century. For that reason, a few weeks after news of the slave revolution reached Santo
Domingo, governor Joaquín García reported the events to the Spanish Crown and
asked for its instructions. The said instructions were received in the colony by early
1 DALMAS, 1814: 117.
1792, and consisted of two main lines of action: the neutrality towards Saint-
Domingue’s revolution, which was regarded as a mere echo of the French revolution,
and the strengthening of the Dominican frontier, to prevent any attack by the black
insurgents to that Spanish colony. Yet those instructions hid Spain’s true interest, as
the Spanish government wished to take advantage of the chaos in Saint-Domingue for
Spain’s own benefit.
In this presentation, I study the impact of the slave revolution in Santo
Domingo, in order to clarify the nature of that historical event and Spain’s role in it.
The presentation has two parts: in the first one, I analyze the nature of Saint-
Domingue’s revolution to do away with the image of the former slaves as “black
Jacobins”, so I can highlight their conservative goals in that historical process, and thus
explain Spain’s strategy to back the slave revolution from its very beginning. In the
second part, I study the collaboration of the Spanish Crown with the black insurgents. I
pay special attention to its official alliance with them in the spring of 1793, to the
latter’s main victories at the service of the Spanish King, and to Spain’s changing
attitude towards their black allies from 1795 onwards, when the Treaty of Basel
terminated the circumstances that had justified the coalition between the Spanish and
the black army.
Spanish Santo Domingo at the foot of the volcano
Self-liberation ethos vs. insurgent ethos
Most experts in slave rebellions have stated that there were two main ways of
slave resistance: violent resistance, whose manifestations were marronage and black
insurrections, and non-violent resistance. The latter became manifest in different
everyday actions that, far from being aimed at doing away with the slave societies
suddenly, weakened them from within instead. Hence, non-violent resistance must be
regarded as the main way of black resistance because it showed the slaves’ permanent
discontent with their condition. That is why, in order to refer to the spirit that inspired
it, the professor of the University of the British West Indies, Hilary McD. Beckles,
created the concept “self-liberation ethos”.2
The German philosopher Hannah Arendt refuted the possibility of any slave
rebellion to demand freedom: she argued that the wish for freedom could only appear
in people who know the implications of that right. In her opinion, slaves do not
because they live subject to the will of another person. She admitted that the slaves
could rise up in rebellion to ask for the termination of the planters’ abuses. However,
she warned that one always runs the risk of mistaking the black insurrections for
freedom with the slave revolts for the bettering of living conditions, which were
socially relevant but politically sterile, since they did not lead necessarily to the
transformation of the existing order.3 Apparently Saint-Domingue’s revolution had
contradicted her, but this conclusion proves itself wrong if one considers carefully the
slave reality within the American plantations.
Robin Blackburn and Michael Craton have identified two main groups in the
slave collective: the creole slaves, born as slaves within the plantations, and the
African-born slaves, who had already been free in their country of origin, but were
captured and sold as slaves by their enemies in Africa to the European slave traders.
Most creole slaves were familiar with the metropolitan culture and even learned to
read and write; this knowledge allowed them to read some metropolitan writings and,
as a consequence, they knew about the universal right of freedom, which they longed
to conquer. Hence, since both the African-born and the creole slaves had an idea of the
implications of freedom, they corroborated Arendt’s assertion that only those who
knew about that right could rise in revolt to conquer it. In addition, Saint-Domingue’s
revolution gave them a direct experience of liberty, which they had lacked till then.4
As the slaves had different backgrounds, their goals in the rebellions depended
on them. Blackburn distinguished between slave masses and elite slaves: the latter
were basically creole slaves, since their closer relation with the planters, favored by
their knowledge of the metropolitan culture, enabled them to hold posts of
responsibility within sugar mills; there were also some African-born slaves within the
elite slaves groups. Since their condition was already good in the plantations, they
asked for freedom, which was the next logic step in the bettering of their living.
2 MCD. BECKLES, 2000: 869-878.
3 ARENDT, 2003: 117.
4 BLACKBURN, 1988: 191; CRATON, 1997: 244.
Moreover, they did not wish to extend freedom to their fellow slaves, but preferred toenjoy that right exclusively and keep the mass of slaves in the plantations, in a near-toslavery condition. For their part, the slave masses were essentially African-born and
only longed for the substantial amelioration of their condition without asking for
freedom, because their living was too miserable. Therefore, if one takes into account
that all the slaves knew about liberty but not all looked for this universal right from the
start, one will consider incorrect to talk about a common black self-liberation ethos, as
McD. Beckles did. That is why, in this research, I argue that one should talk about a
slave insurgent ethos: not all the slaves longed for liberty, but they all did feel
discontent with their situation and wished to put an end to it, in different ways.5
The slave revolution and the Ancien Régime
The governor of Santo Domingo, Joaquín García, wrote the first report about
Saint-Domingue’s revolution to the Spanish government in September 1791:
The night of August 22nd-23rd an insurrection of black slaves, some free mulatos,
and whites (so they say) happened around the Guarico (the northern part of the
colony), which started with the depraved deed of burning the sugar mills; killing
every white man, and proclaiming liberty. [...] Several stained whites are involved in
the plot and have directed the cruelest actions, and the gravest crimes.6
There are several misinterpretations in García’s letter: first, the “stained
whites”, that is, the créole petits blancs had only caused trouble in Saint-Domingue
between 1789 and 1791, when they had asked for the right of representation from the
French National Assembly and had confronted the metropolis; second, García argued
that the troublemakers were the creole whites, the affranchis or free-colored and the
5 BLACKBURN, 1988: 191; CRATON, 1997: 244; MCD. BECKLES, 2000: 869; GEGGUS, 2002: 66-68; POPKIN,
6 Archivo General de Simancas (AGS), Secretaría del Despacho de Guerra (SGU), (box) b. 7149, (expedient) e. 74, document (d.) 439. Joaquín García’s report about Saint-Domingue’s revolution. Santo Domingo, September 1791:
La noche del 22 al 23 de Agosto último, se manifestó en la inmediación del Guarico (que es la parte del Norte de la colonia) una sublevación de los negros esclavos, algunos mulatos libres y blancos (según aseguran) dando principio con el depravado hecho de incendiar las habitaciones azucarerías; matando a todo hombre blanco, y proclamando la libertad. […] En esta confederación se hallan muchos blancos tiznados, que son los que dirigen los hechos más atroces, y delitos de la mayor gravedad.
black slaves, all together, but the coalition of the three groups was impossible since
each one of them had different interests in Saint-Domingue.
Finally, the Dominican governor said nothing about the role played by a third
social actor, the French monarchists, in the crisis of the neighboring colony. Many
French inhabitants of Saint-Domingue that supported the Ancien Régime and were
landowners or members of the colonial government (grands blancs) had fled that
colony from September 1789, when news of the French revolution was first heard in
Saint-Domingue. They were scared by the chance that the revolutionary ideas entered
that colony, making it possible for the people of color to take power and slaughter the
whites. So they took refuge in Spanish Santo Domingo, which they regarded as the
American spiritual reserve of monarchy and Catholicism.7 From Santo Domingo, they
planned to prevent the subversive ideas from triumphing in Saint-Domingue. They
knew that the French maritime bourgeoisie, financier of the French revolution, had its
main sources of income in the slave trade and the sugar market, both linked to slave
labor in the said French colony. Hence, everything seems to point out that they
conspired from Santo Domingo to provoke a slave revolt in Saint-Domingue, so they
could pressure the French maritime bourgeoisie to stop the radical development of the
metropolitan revolution at once, unless they wished to lose the Guarico to the slave
To reach their goal, they took advantage of the royalist mentality of Saint-
Domingue’s slaves, who regarded the French King as their only defender against the
abuses of the white colonial elite.8 For that reason, they spread the false rumor that
the French King had granted the slaves a three-day holiday per week, and that Saint-
Domingue’s colonial government had stopped the publication of that initiative, for fear
of its consequences for the interests of the white inhabitants of the place.9 That is why
the slaves that rose up in rebellion in the plains of the North Province around Le Cap
François waved the royalist white flag, and claimed to have rebelled “to restore Louis
16th to his throne, and the clergy and nobility to their rights and privileges”.10 Curiously,
7 DEIVE, 2007: 173.
8 OGLE, 2009: 89-91.
9 Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (SCRBC), John Kobler – Haitian Revolution Collection
(JK – HRC), b. 1. Typewritten copy of a document about the first days of the Haitian revolution. Undated.
10 The National Archives (TNA), War Office (WO) 1/58. Pierre-Victor Malouet’s report about the Spanish policy in Saint-Domingue’s revolution. Brussels, November 9th, 1793; National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), Record Group (RG) 59, M 9, Dispatches from the United States Consuls in Cap
the slave uprising happened when news of the French King’s arrest in Varennes, after
his failed attempt to flee France, arrived in Saint-Domingue.11 The maneuver of the
French monarchists exiled in Santo Domingo near Saint-Domingue’s slaves has led to
the characterization of Saint-Domingue’s revolution as a black Vendée by many
scholars, among whom one must highlight the Argentinian sociologist Torcuato S. di
Tella.12 Nevertheless, the cited French monarchists were political refugees that lacked
any economic resources to fund the slave uprising, so they had to count on foreign
support to achieve their goal; the assistance of the Spanish Crown through the
Dominican government was crucial for their task.
Spain's diplomatic ability
Theoretically, Spain could not back the reactionary plot urged by the French
monarchists exiled in Santo Domingo officially, as it had proclaimed itself neutral
towards the French revolution, of which Saint-Domingue’s revolution was regarded as
a mere echo. Yet the Spanish government could actually support any reactionary plot
against the French revolution from within France unofficially. By late 1790 the
secretary of State of the Spanish King Carlos 4th, the Count of Floridablanca, created
the policy of the cordon sanitanire, which consisted of two basic points: on the one
hand, Spain would proclaim itself neutral towards the French revolution; on the other
hand, it would strengthen its frontiers to prevent the revolutionary ideology from
entering the Spanish territories, and it would also support the French counterrevolutionaries to undermine the revolution from within.13
In the Caribbean, the Dominican governor incarnated that attitude: right after
the revolutionary outbreak he sent forces to the Dominican frontier, to stop the slave
rebels from invading Santo Domingo; but at the same time, he took the French exiled
monarchists in and backed their reactionary plot to provoke the failure of the French
revolution in that territory. In fact, the first letters by the black General Toussaint
Haïtien, 1797-1906, Roll (R) 1/1797-1799, “Observartions on the French Part of Hispaniola and the West India Islands worth perhaps to be noticed by the Government of the United States of America”: 2.
Undated [Le Cap, 1797].
11 GEGGUS, 2002: 84.
12 TELLA, 1984: 70.
13 Quoted in ANES, 1981: 186.
Bréda, later known as Toussaint Louverture, dated in October 1791 prove that the black
insurgents received provisions (food and weapons) from the Dominican government:
“After the demands I have just transmitted to the Spaniard, I am waiting for the things
I asked for him day after day”.14 The black generals themselves described that trade
with the Dominicans to the North American agents later on: “The Spaniards supplied
also the revolted with all kind of ammunition, and the Spanish Government
encouraged them in their rebellion”.15 Obviously, there are no official Spanish
documents describing the cited trade, because if the Dominican government produced
them, it would prove that Spain had violated its compromise of neutrality towards the
French revolution, thus making France declare war to Spain at once. For that reason,
there are many chances that the cited trade was carried out by the inhabitants of the
Dominican frontier with the secret approval of the colonial authorities.
The French refugees and the Dominican government counted on the help of
Saint-Domingue’s governor, the Marquis of Blanchelande, leader of the royalist
faction, to achieve their goals. In September 1791, Blanchelande himself went to Santo
Domingo to ask for Joaquín García’s help against the black rebels, who had already
gone out of control and had started killing the white inhabitants of the French colony
indiscriminately. At that point, Joaquín García refused to assist him though he had
backed the black Vendée that was then starting to go wrong: on the one hand, García
told Blanchelande that he could not assist him without first consulting the Spanish
Crown; on the other hand, the Dominican governor added that if he sent troops to
Saint-Domingue, he would weaken the defense of his own colony that would be an
easy prey for the former slaves if they decided to cross the frontier. Blanchelande
exploited the latter argument precisely to persuade García to help him, telling the
Dominican governor that if the French and the Spanish did not join their forces to
confront the black insurgents, the whole island would soon be a black possession.16
Doubtlessly, García’s reaction was inspired by the Spanish Crown’s instructions,
which were explained in a letter addressed to the Spanish colonial governors some
14 Quoted in CAUNA, 2007: 155; NESBITT, 2008: 3-4: “D’après les demandes que je viens de faire à
l’Espagnol, et que j’attends de jour en jour la chose que je demande [...]”.
15 NARA, RG 59, M 9, Despatches from the United States Consul in Cap Haïtien, 1797-1906, R 1/1797-1799, “Observations on the French Part of Hispaniola and the West India Islands worth perhaps to be noticed by the Government of the United States of America”, p. 3. Undated [Le Cap, 1797].
16 AGS, SGU, b. 7149, e. 74, d. 439. Joaquín García’s report...
weeks later: “[...] Your Excellency and the rest of the cited colonial governors must not
become involved in those events to back one of the parties that exist between the
whites and their respective governments against the other, thus observing a perfect
neutrality”.17 In the same document, the King commanded Joaquín García to send
troops to the Dominican border and take in Santo Domingo all the French royalists that
fled Saint-Domingue.18 The Dominican government’s plan consisted of backing the
black Vendée secretly to stop the triumph of the French revolutionary ideology in
Saint-Domingue, as there was a high risk that the said ideology arrived at Santo
Domingo, too. Hence, in the short term its objectives and those of Saint-Domingue’s
colonial government and white refugees were the same, but they differed in the long
The Dominican authorities knew that there were many chances that the black
rebels turned against the same white people that had tried to use them for their own
benefit. In that case, the Dominican authorities would send more troops to the border
to avoid a black invasion of Santo Domingo, and would also protect the French white
monarchists that crossed the frontier. After that, they would wait until the French and
the former slaves killed each other, so they would have the perfect excuse to send
troops to Saint-Domingue not only to restore order, but also to restore the Spanish
sovereignty over that territory, which had been a Spanish colony until the French took
it in the peace Treaty of Ryswick (1697). García confessed his plan to the Cuban
governor in 1794.19 The former slaves could also turn against the Dominican
government, but if the latter’s strategy succeeded, its benefits would be so huge for
Spain that they were worth the risk, as Julien Raymond pointed out some years later:
In order to cast aside any bad thought, can we not argue that Spain could not try to
make us lose our colony by rising our slaves in revolt, without risking herself to lose
17 AGS, SGU, b. 6846, e. 79, d. 376.
Instructions by the Spanish Crown to Luis de las Casas and the other Spanish colonial authorities, describing the Spanish policy towards Saint-Domingue’s revolution. San Lorenzo, November 23rd, 1791; GEGGUS, 2002: 172-173: “[...] deben Vuestra Excelencia y los demás Gefes referidos tener por regla e Ynstrucción no mezclarse para sostener un Partido más que otro de los que hubiese entre los Blancos y sus respectivos Gobiernos, observando en este punto una perfecta neutralidad”.
18 TNA, WO 1/58, pp. 349-353. “Nottes extraites des déclarations et rapports de plussieurs français
arrivant de Saint-Domingue”. Anonymous testimony about Spain’s role in Saint-Domingue’s revolution.
19 Archivo General de Indias (AGI), Estado (E), b. 5A, e. 22., d. 1. Joaquín García’s letter to the Cuban
governor. Bayajá, April 3rd, 1794.
the Spanish part of the island, and that our revolted slaves could encourage theirs
and ruin this beautiful part? We can answer to that that surely Spain had already
counted on that sacrifice, and that assuming it, she will not pay dearly our losses;
many lands will be left for her.20
Joaquín García even refused to enroll the French refugees in the colonial army
destined to Saint-Domingue: if he did so, the latter could demand their rights over
Saint-Domingue when order had already been restored there.21
Between racial prejudice and military strategy: the black auxiliaries
The black Spartacus
The first leader of Saint-Domingue’s black insurgents was Boukman Dutty, who
officiated as papaloi or vodou priest in the mythic ceremony of Bois Caïman, in the
night of August 21st, 1791, which signaled the beginning of Saint-Domingue’s revolution.
Despite his role in that episode, everything seems to suggest that he participated in a
meeting celebrated in the plantation of Lenormand de Mézy on August 14th, in which
several elite slaves agreed to start the slave uprising one week later to achieve
freedom exclusively for themselves. They knew they had to count on the support of
the slave masses, whom they planned to take back to the plantations when everything
was over, in a near-to-slavery status. For that reason, they pretended to fight for
universal freedom and attended the Bois Caïman ceremony, so their revolution was
sanctioned by the black masses using the symbolic code of vodou, which was familiar
to the latter. It was then that Boukman became initiated in that cult and officiated as
vodou priest to have his leadership acknowledged by all the slaves, regardless of their
20 RAYMOND, 1793: 9.
Dira-t-on, pour nous dissuader de cette perfidie, que l'Espagne ne pouvoit réussir à perdre notre colonie en soulevant nos esclaves, qu'en s'exposant à perdre elle-même la partie espagnole de cette île, et que nos esclaves révoltés auroient entraîné les leurs et ruinés en commun cette belle partie? On peut répondre qu'assurrement l'Espagne avoit dû compter sur ce sacrifice, et qu'en le faisant, elle n'eût pas payé trop cher notre perte; assez de terres lui seroient encore restées.
21 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 343. Report by the Dominican Archbishop. Santo Domingo, April 24th, 1793;
YACOU, 2007: 182-184.
22 DALMAS, 1814: 118.
Boukman led the black rebels’ first victories against the French army and
became known by his cruelty against the former masters. However, his glory was
rather short, as the French captured him in November 1791. His enemies took him to Le
Cap François, capital of Saint-Domingue’s North Province, were he was hanged. After
that, his corpse was beheaded and his head was shown on a pike in Le Cap’s courtyard
with the message: “The head of Boukman, leader of the rebels”23, so the rebels could
see it and know the destiny that awaited them unless they surrendered
unconditionally at once. Toussaint Bréda joined the insurgents right after Boukman’s
death, once he had made sure the safe scape of his former master, Bayon de Libertas,
and his family to North America. In the first days of the revolution he acted as “General
Doctor” under the command of the black General Georges Biassou.24
The black rebels’ alliance to Spain
After Boukman’s tragic death, Jean-François Papillon became the insurgents’
new commander-in-chief, giving himself the titles of Grand Admiral and Knight of the
order of St. Louis.25 As such, he led the former slaves’ first negotiations with the
Dominicans, aimed at getting food supplies, weapons and ammunition from the
Spanish camp, which were described by Toussaint Louverture in some letters dated in
October 1791: “I cannot meet you; neither of us can go to the Spanish [camp]. If the
Spaniards has anything to communicate to me, he only has to come to my camp”.26 At
first, the Spaniards never mentioned those dealings in their official documents in order
to preserve their official neutrality towards the French revolution and its echo in the
Caribbean. Yet there are some important documentary evidences that show that a
significant part of Saint-Domingue’s rebels regarded Spain and its representatives as
their allies in Hispaniola. Otherwise, it is impossible to explain why the black general
George Biassou addressed a letter to Joaquín García in January 1792, asking him to
interfere and stop Jean-François’ ambitious plan to become general of all the black
23 LACROIX, 1819: 114; FICK, 1990: 113; DUBOIS, 2004: 124.
24 JAMES, 2003: 99.
25 Histoire des désastres...: 91; LACROIX, 1819: 101; JAMES, 2003: 98-99; GEGGUS, 1997: 145.
26 Quoted in CAUNA, 2007: 154. Original source: Pièces trouvées dans le camp des révoltés, Paris,
Imprimerie Nationale, 1792: “je ne peux satisfaire à votre rendez-vous; nous ne pouvons pas quitter notre camp, pour nous transporter tous deux à l'Espagnol. Si cet Espagnol a quelque chose à me communiquer, il n'avait qu'à se transporter à mon camp”.
insurgents at once, unless García wished Spain to suffer the consequences of that
officer’s thirst for power.27
Spain’s attitude towards the French revolution changed abruptly from January
1793, when the French National Convention executed Louis 16th, the Spanish King’s
cousin. From that moment on, the Spanish government wished to confront France in
the battlefield, but instead of declaring war to France right after the execution of the
King, the Spanish Crown took some steps to make France declare war to Spain first. On
March 7th, 1793 the French ambassador in Madrid, the Marquis of Bourgoing,
transmitted France’s declaration of war to Spain, which was answered by the Spanish
Crown on 23rd March. As war between both countries had already started, Spain did
not need to keep its contacts with Saint-Domingue’s insurgents in secret anymore, and
began to mention them in its official correspondence. In fact, the Spanish King’s first
instructions commanding the Dominican governor to start negotiations with those
soldiers are dated in February 1793, some weeks before the declaration of war
between both nations. Thus it became proved that Spain’s link with them went further
back than March 1793. The document is highly interesting because in it Carlos 4th also
admitted that not only had he assisted Saint-Domingue’s black slaves to prevent the
French revolutionary ideology from entering Santo Domingo, but also to recover the
western hemisphere of the island for the Spanish Crown. 28
Negotiations between the Dominican authorities and the black generals Jean-
François Papillon and Georges Biassou intensified in April and May 1793, and were
undertaken by the mulato priest José Vázquez, who already knew Jean-François and
took advantage of their friendship to make the agreement easier. The Spaniards
offered the black officers freedom only for themselves and their main collaborators, as
well as lands in Spanish Santo Domingo. Since the Spanish offer recovered the black
leaders’ original program to achieve exclusive freedom, they embraced the Spanish
Crown happily. On May 6th, 1793 Jean-François pronounced his oath of loyalty to the
Spanish King, which was confirmed towards the end of that month in a letter
27 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 2, d. 7. Copy of Biassou’s letter to Joaquín García. [January 20th, 1792]; YACOU,
28 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 343. Report by the Dominican Archbishop, describing his plan to negotiate with Saint-Domingue’s former slaves. The Archbishop mentions the Spanish Crown’s previous instructions, dated on February 22nd, 1793. Santo Domingo, April 24th, 1793; DEIVE, 1984: 101; YACOU, 2007: 182.
addressed to the Dominican Archbishop: “[…] that I will consider myself fortunate for
being able to arrive under your protection and I will do my best to serve the great King
and will stay loyal to my promise to avenge God and the great King [of France] till the
last moment, and will hurry to aid Spain”.29 From that moment on, the black insurgents
under Jean-François’ and Biassou’s command became “Carlos 4th’s Black Auxiliaries”.
Nevertheless, they never saw the Spanish King’s protection as an end, but as a means
of avenging the French King and of defending the Duke of Enghien’s rights to the
It was then that His Catholic Majesty the King of Spain aware of our zeal for
our King, as well as of our wish to fight his enemies and the horrors
[perpetrated] against Louis the benevolent, declared himself as our protector
and our Father, and swore to exterminate the Republican hydra, avenge the
oppression of his family and the tyranny executed against the princes of Royal
Significantly, in some of the letters exchanged between the Dominican
authorities and Jean-François, the latter mentioned the black rebels’ trade with the
former. For instance, in another letter dated on May 6th, 1793 Jean-François listed
some items he needed in his camp and asked the Dominicans for them.31 The cited
trade was bilateral, as in another document Jean-François excused himself for not
sending the Dominicans the coffee provisions promised, provided that the last coffee
harvest had been lost due to the bad weather.32 That information is very interesting
because in March 1793, the Marquis of Bourgoing had mentioned the Spaniards’ secret
trade with Saint-Domingue’s insurgents as one of France’s reasons to declare war to
29 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 368. Jean-François’ letter to Santo Domingo’s Archbishop. La Mine, May
28th, 1793: “[…] que je mestimeray [sic] heureux de pouvoir devenir sur votre protection et je m'enhardiray à servir au grand monarque et soutiendray jusqu'au dernier moment a venger le Dieu et le grand Roy et m'empresser à courir en secour de l'Espagne”. I have preserved the misspellings that appear in the original document.
30 AGS, SGU, b. 7159, e. 58, d. 296. José Lafond’s letter to Joaquín García. Campo de Luisa, Acul and its dependencies, March 23rd, 1794:
Entonces fue que Su Majestad Católica el Rey de España instruido así de nuestro zelo [sic] por nuestro Rey, como de nuestro ardor en combatir sus Enemigos y los horrores cometidos contra Luis el benéfico, se declaró nuestro protector y nuestro Padre, y juró exterminar la Hidra republicana, vengar la opresión de su familia y la tiranía executada contra los príncipes de la Sangre Real.
31 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 350. Jean-François’ letter to José Vázquez. La Mine, May 6th, 1793.
32 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 359. Annex to Jean-François’ letter to José Vázquez. La Mine, May 9th, 1793; GEGGUS, 2002: 173-174.
Spain. The Spanish secretary of State at the time, Manuel de Godoy, contested those
accusations alleging that the Dominicans never traded with the rebels on their own
accord, but they rather felt obliged to do so because the former slaves had threatened
to invade Santo Domingo otherwise.33 However, if one examines the cited
correspondence between the black General and the Dominican government, one will
find no trace of a threat on the part of the black insurgents, who rather prayed for the
A questioned loyalty
Initially, the white officers of the Dominican army disapproved the enrolment
of Saint-Domingue’s former slaves by the Spanish Crown: they refused to trust the
former slaves that had risen up in rebellion and had killed their masters. The latter’s
first victories against the French convinced them that the former slaves' oath of loyalty
to the Spanish King was sincere, but the Dominicans’ suspicion against the black
auxiliaries was arisen again by late June 1793, after Le Cap’s fire provoked by the slaves
that lived around that city, who had been called by the French commissioner, Léger-
Félicité de Sonthonax, to help him impose his authority over the French general
Galbaud. In exchange for their help, Sonthonax granted them universal freedom on
August 29th, 1793 and also sent some secret agents to Spanish Santo Domingo, so they
persuaded Jean-François and Biassou to embrace universal emancipation and desert to
the French side. For example, the commander of Terrier-Rouge, Martin de Sessessá,
told Jean-François to join France as soon as possible, since the Spaniards planned to kill
all the former slaves when they had achieved its strategic goals in Hispaniola.34 All
those offers were unsuccessful and Jean-François and Biassou stayed loyal to Spain.
Actually, they proved their sincere fidelity to the Spanish Crown in other battles that
made Spain win some important villages in Saint-Domingue. Among the black
auxiliaries’ victories, one must highlight the conquest of Port Margot by late February
1794. The episode was so important and the benefits of the new enclave were so huge
for Spain that the King decided to thank the black Generals for their services, giving
33 LA PARRA y LARRIBA (eds.), 2008: 174-175.
34 AGS, SGU, b. 7158, e. 30, d. 110. Joaquín García’s report about the offers of the French National Convention to the black generals. Santo Domingo, July 3rd, 1793.
them some golden and silver medals and even promoting them.35
Yet the prestige of the black auxiliaries decayed again after two unfortunate
episodes. First Jean-François and Biassou, who had been rivals from the very beginning
of Saint-Domingue’s revolution, confronted each other in the battlefield in the summer
and the fall of 1793. Their confrontation made the Dominican government nervous
because it harmed Spain’s interests; actually, the French took advantage of the
internal conflict within the black auxiliaries and re-conquered the Tannerie fort from
the Dominicans by late September 1793.36 Fortunately the governor of San Rafael,
Matías Armona, interfered and made both generals come to an agreement by late
November 1793.37 It then became evident that the described tension between both
black officers had been due to the intrigues of their respective personal advisors,
especially Toussaint Bréda, at the service of Biassou.
Second, the black auxiliaries demonstrated that they could also go out of the
Dominicans’ control and they committed a massacre of white French neighbors in
Bayajá in July 1794. The Spaniards had conquered the place in January 1794 and, in
exchange for their surrender, the French governor of the village asked them to not let
Jean-François’ soldiers enter the place in the future.38 In the following weeks, the black
auxiliaries gathered in front of the walls of the city every now and then to get
provisions from the Spaniards, but on July 7th, 1794, they entered the village. Jean-
François met the governor, Gaspar de Casasola, and told him to throw the French
neighbors out of the place at once, telling him that the latter were planning to give
Bayajá back to the French as soon as they could. Casasola refused to do as the black
General told him, and Jean-François commanded his men to massacre all the white
inhabitants of the city.39 Many Spanish neighbors of Bayajá died in the killing, too. The
different foreign governments denounced Spain for that episode, accusing the garrison
of Bayajá of allowing the massacre without interfering.40 From that moment on, the
35 AGS, SGU, b. 7159, e. 55, d. 277. Imposition of medals to the black Generals. Bayajá, March 10th, 1794; quoted in VICTORIA OJEDA, 2005: 67.
36 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 462. Jean-François’ letter to the Dominican Archbishop. Dajabón, September 23rd, 1793.
37 AGS, SGU, b. 7157, e. 22, d. 474. Jean-François’ letter to José Vázquez. Dondon, November 17th, 1793.
38 ARDOUIN, vol. II, 1853: 410.
39 TNA, WO 1/59, pp. 241-247. Juvenal’s testimony about the massacre of Bayajá. [July-August 1794]; ARDOUIN, vol. III, 1853: 3-21.
40 TNA, WO 1/59, pp. 241-247. Juvenal’s testimony about the massacre of Bayajá. [July-August 1794]; ARDOUIN, vol. III, 1853: 3-21.
Dominican government prevented Jean-François and his soldiers from participating in
the conquest of another big city in Hispaniola, though they were still used in other
The diaspora of the black auxiliaries
Spain and France put an end to their confrontation in Europe signing the peace
Treaty of Basel on July 22nd, 1795, which was made public in Santo Domingo by Joaquín
García on October 25th, 1795. The Treaty implied Santo Domingo’s cession to France in
exchange for the evacuation of the places occupied by the French army in the North
and the North-East of Spain between 1793 and 1795, during the War of Rosellón. One
day later, Jean-François, Biassou and all the black auxiliaries entered Bayajá, gave up
their weapons and put themselves at the disposition of the Spanish Crown.42 Yet the
Spanish King wanted to get rid of the black auxiliaries at once: since Santo Domingo
had already become a French possession, the consequences that had justified Spain’s
alliance to the former slaves had already expired. As a consequence, the Spaniards
wished to put an end to their relation with the troops to blame for such shameful
episodes as the massacre of Bayajá.
First, García took them to Havana but the Cuban governor, Luis de las Casas,
complained because the colored people of that city became excited when they knew
about the forthcoming arrival of Jean-François and Biassou.43 After that, Biassou
decided to leave for Florida, whereas Jean-François, his family and his former soldiers
were taken to Cádiz.44 They arrived in the city in March 1796;45 from that moment on,
they went through several sufferings and realized that the Spanish government had
already downgraded them, depriving them of the medals and all the other decorations
it had granted them in the past years. Doubtlessly, the Spanish authorities wished to
41 AGS, SGU, b. 7159, e. 1, d. 5. José de Urízar’s letter to the Count of Campo de Alange, telling him about the necessity of keeping a close eye on the black auxiliaries after the massacre of Bayajá. Santo Domingo, July 15th, 1794; GEGGUS, 2002: 176.
42 Archivo Histórico Nacional (AHN), Ultramar (U), b. 2776, e. 7. The Marquis of Casa-Calvo confirms the fulfillment of the peace treaty of Basel. On board the ship Santa Isabel, October 27th, 1795.
43 AGI, E, b. 5A, e. 24, d. 1. Report by Luis de las Casas about the imminent arrival in Cuba of the former black auxiliaries. Havana, January 8th, 1796.
44 GEGGUS, 2002: 183.
45 GEGGUS, 2002: 197.
erase any official proof of their previous links to Saint-Domingue’s former slaves.46 The
latter went on living in Cádiz in really miserable circumstances until 1813, when the
Spanish Cortes de Cádiz resolved to disperse them among different Spanish
possessions in Latin America. However, Jean-François did not live to see the end of
their tragic situation: he had died round 1805.47
In the first place, I have proved that Saint-Domingue’s revolution started as a
reactionary plot urged by the French monarchists exiled in Santo Domingo, together
with the royalist groups that remained in the colony, led by the governor
Blanchelande. The monarchists wished to stop the radical development of the French
revolution in continental France, because they were terrified by the possibility that the
subversive ideas arrived in Saint-Domingue and persuaded the people of color to rise
up in rebellion, provoking a white massacre. For that purpose, they took advantage of
the royalist loyalty of most slaves and told them that the revolutionaries threatened
the French King, who supposedly had just granted them a three-day weekend. Causing
the black revolution, the monarchists hoped to persuade the French maritime
bourgeoisie, financier of the French revolution, to stop its radical development at
once, unless it wished to lose the money they earned from the slave trade and the
sugar market, closely linked to Saint-Domingue. Nevertheless, the royalist faction
needed additional support to carry out its plan, and it counted on the help of the
Spanish Crown, which backed it through the Dominican government.
In the second place, I have demonstrated that Spain backed the slave
revolution from its very beginning: first, it traded with the black rebels secretly from
1791, in order to preserve its official neutrality towards the French revolution; second,
when France and Spain had already declared war to each other, Spain intensified its
contacts with the black insurgents that then became official. They promised the latter
freedom and land exclusively for the black officers and their main collaborators, and
made them believe they were regarded as equal to the other white officers in order to
46 AGI, E, b. 3, e. 10, dd. 25 and 26. Documents concerning Jean-François’ miserable condition in Cádiz. Cádiz, July 28th and August 10th, 1796.
47 GEGGUS, 2002: 200.
keep them loyal to the Spanish King. But the Spanish Crown planned to get rid of those
troops as soon as it achieved its strategic goal in Hispaniola: the re-conquest of Saint-
Domingue, which had been a Spanish possession until the French took it in 1697.
Unfortunately for the Spaniards, not only did they not reach their goal, but they also
had to give Santo Domingo up to France in the peace Treaty of Basel in 1795. Since the
latter also meant the termination of the circumstances that had justified Spain’s
alliance with the black insurgents till then, the Spanish government showed that its
racial prejudices prevailed when its strategic ambitions had already become frustrated:
it downgraded the black officers and it tried to erase any proof of its former alliance
Antonio J. Pinto
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Comparative Studies Group on Caribbean and Atlantic World (GECCMA)
Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)
Project “Diccionario biográfico español de ministros de Ultramar” (HAR 2009-07103)
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