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History of Haiti

Early History

The recorded history of Haiti began on December 5, 1492 when Christopher Columbus happened upon a large island in the region of the western Atlantic Ocean that later came to be known as the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus landed at Môle Saint-Nicolas on December 5, 1492, and claimed the island for Spain. 19 days later, his ship the Santa María ran aground near the present site of Cap-Haïtien; Columbus was forced to leave behind 39 men, founding the settlement of La Navidad. Following the destruction of La Navidad by the local indigenous people, Columbus moved to the eastern side of the island and established La Isabela. One of the earliest leaders to fight off Spanish conquest was Queen Anacaona, a princess of Xaragua who married Caonabo. The couple resisted Spanish rule in vain; she was captured by the Spanish and executed in front of her people. To this day, Queen Anacaona is revered in Haiti as one of the country's founders.

The Spanish exploited the island for its gold, mined chiefly by local Amerindians directed by the Spanish occupiers. Those refusing to work in the mines were killed or sold into slavery. Europeans brought with them infectious diseases that were new to the Caribbean, to which the indigenous population lacked immunity. These new diseases were the chief cause of the dying off of the Taíno, but ill treatment, malnutrition, and a drastic drop in the birthrate as a result of societal disruption also contributed. The first recorded smallpox outbreak in the Americas occurred on Hispaniola in 1507.

The Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513, were the first nationally codified set of laws governing the behaviour of Spanish settlers in America, particularly with regards to native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, endorsed their conversion to Catholicism, and legalised the colonial practice of creating encomiendas, where Indians were grouped together to work under colonial masters. The Spanish crown found it difficult to enforce these laws in a distant colony.

The Spanish governors began importing enslaved Africans for labour. In 1517, Charles V authorized the draft of slaves. The Taínos became virtually, but not completely, extinct on the island of Hispaniola. Some who evaded capture fled to the mountains and established independent settlements. Survivors mixed with escaped African slaves (runaways called maroons) and produced a multiracial generation called zambos. French settlers later called people of mixed African and Amerindian ancestry marabou. The mestizo were children born to relationships between native women and European, usually Spanish men. During French rule, children of mixed race, usually born of unions between African women and European men, were called mulâtres.

17th Century

French buccaneers established a settlement on the island of Tortuga in 1625, and were soon joined by like minded English and Dutch privateers and pirates, who formed a lawless international community that survived by preying on Spanish ships and hunting wild cattle. Although the Spanish destroyed the buccaneers' settlements in 1629, 1635, 1638 and 1654, on each occasion they returned. In 1655 the newly established English administration on Jamaica sponsored the re-occupation of Tortuga under Elias Watts as Governor. In 1660 the English made the mistake of replacing Watts as Governor by a Frenchman Jeremie Deschamps, on condition he defended English interests. Deschamps on taking control of the island proclaimed for the King of France, set up French colours, and defeated several English attempts to reclaim the island. It is from this point in 1660 that unbroken French rule in Haiti begins.

In 1664, the newly established French West India Company took control over Tortuga, and France formally claimed control of the western portion of the island of Hispaniola. In 1665 they established the first permanent French settlement on the mainland of Hispaniola opposite Tortuga at Port-de-Paix. In 1670 the headland of Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien, was settled further to the east along the northern coast. In 1676 the colonial capital was moved from Tortuga to Port-de-Paix.

In 1684 the French and Spanish signed the Treaty of Ratisbon that included provisions to suppress the actions of the Caribbean privateers, which effectively ended the era of the buccaneers on Tortuga, many being employed by the French Crown to hunt down any of their former comrades who preferred to turn outright pirate.

Under the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain officially ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France which renamed the colony Saint-Domingue. By that time, planters outnumbered buccaneers and, with the encouragement of Louis XIV, they had begun to grow tobacco, indigo, cotton, and cacao on the fertile northern plain, thus prompting the importation of African slaves. Slave insurrections were frequent and some slaves escaped to the mountains where they were met by what would be one of the last generations of Taíno natives. After the last Taíno died, the full-blooded Arawakan population on the island was extinct.

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