Vertieres, Haiti (1803 AD)
The Battle of Vertieres the final engagement of the Haitian Revolution which had lasted on and off for over a decade. Inspired by the success of the colonists in the American Revolution, the Haitian War of Independence was the second successful revolt in the New World against a major European power. It is also believed to be the first time in history that a slave revolt resulted in the formation of a new state governed by former slaves. The Battle of Vertieres led directly to the withdrawal of French forces from the island of Saint-Domingue and the formal declaration of an independent Haiti a few weeks later. The date of the battle, November 18, is now a national holiday in Haiti.
The territory of Saint-Dominigue on the western side of the island of Hispaniola was the largest French colony in the Carribean, and one of the most profitable European colonies anywhere. Home to a large percentage of the world’s sugar and coffee production, the wealth generated in Haiti for the French Empire was immense. However, these labor-intensive crops required an immense workforce that was supplied almost exclusively by slave labor imported from Africa.
By the late 18th century, the number of slaves in the colony outnumbered the white settlers by more than ten to one. French control of the slave population depended on brutal, heavy-handed tactics. Under these conditions, a slave revolt became all but inevitable. In the 1780s, two world-shaking events inspired the slave population into an all-out rebellion: the success of the American Revolution, that showed that the European powers were not invincible; and the French Revolution, which drew off French military forces from the Americas.
War broke out in 1791. Under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture and others, the rebellion met with early successes. The French managed to maintain a presence on the island for more than a decade, primarily as a naval base to support the French colony of Louisiana. But after this territory was sold in 1803, the French became less invested in the Caribbean. Haiti was left with a relatively small garrison of about 2,000.
In November, a large rebel force under the command of Jean-Jacques Dessalines was assembled to deal the French a final blow. The French were cornered in the town of Vertieres, where they endured an artillery bombardment before the Haitian assault began. Despite putting up a fierce resistance, including a suicidal charge, the French were overwhelmed. More than half the garrison was wiped out, although they inflicted great casualties on the enemy as well. After the battle, the surviving French forces were forced to depart the island, and Haiti was established as an independent republic.
The Battle of Vertieres took place in and around the town of Vertieres, which is now largely overbuilt by the modern city. However, part of the battlefield has been preserved. The most important site related to the battle is the impressive Monument of Vertieres, a bronze sculpture mounted on an immense boulder commemorating the soldiers who fought at the battle as well as the newly-won freedom of the general populace.
The Vertieres battlefield is located in the heart of Vertieres just south of the port of Cape Haitian, approximately fifty miles north of Port-au-Prince. The field is an open site. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.haititourisminc.com (official tourism website of Haiti).