W.W. Wright’s “Free Negroes in Haiti” appeared in the November 1859 edition of DeBow’s Review.
It is difficult to exaggerate the impact in Dixie that previous failed experiments in abolition in the Caribbean had on Southern racial attitudes and the evolution of Southern republican theory in the Antebellum era.
The “Congo of the Antilles” provided a spectacle that illustrated why “Black Republicanism” had to be opposed at all costs:
“No country has been more favorably situated for receiving these blessing than the Queen of the Antilles. Her independence, achieved early in the present century, every enemy banished, or exterminated from her soil, placed in the very focus of civilization, midway between the two greatest nations of the earth, the cynosure of tens of thousands of friendly eyes, the object of Christendom’s prayers, the spot of all others on earth that could command the philanthropists of every nation, possessing a soil of unbounded fertility, a corps of laborers well instructed in the culture of those articles which ever return most renumerative prices, and a climate better adapted to the constitution of its inhabitants than any other under the sun – with all these advantages, it was to be expected that the empire of Hayti would soon assume an important rank in the family of nations, or at least occupy a respectable position as a land of industrious, moral, and thriving men.”
In 2012, Haiti is still the cynosure of millions of friendly eyes, the object of Christendom’s prayers, and the one spot on earth of all others that commands the attention of philanthropists of every nation like Sean Penn and Amanda Kijera.
“And, indeed, such were the expectations of the friends of the negro race. Let them be but once free, remove the depressing shackles of slavery, unbind their arms, said they, and soon we will see a race fully equal to the whites; agriculture will progress, commerce be fostered, and the cause of education and religion be advanced; Euclids were to spring from the mountains, Aesops and Dumas’ were to write verses and romances in the valleys, and the golden shores of the Artibonite were to witness a pastoral peace and happiness, unequaled in the happy valley of Amhara, or in the famous Utopia of the Jesuits, on the banks of the Panara!”
The Yankee abolitionists of America had similar predictions about the superiority of “free labor” to “slave labor.” It was confidently announced at the time that “slave labor” was retarding the agricultural progress of the South relative to the North. Many a carpetbagger arrived in the South during Reconstruction to try out these “free labor” ideas only to quickly go bankrupt after realizing the free negro was worthless as an agricultural laborer.
“How have these expectations been fulfilled? What has been the result of this fifty years’ trial under circumstances the most favorable that could be imagined?”
W.W. Wright was writing this article in DeBow’s Review from the perspective of the 55th years of freedom in Haiti. Sir Spenser St. John was writing from the perspective of the 81st year of freedom in Haiti. Hekseth Prichard was writing in the 96th year of freedom. We’re observing Haiti from the perspective of the 208th year of freedom.
“It might be self supporting, and yet, like an infant in the cradle, it requires constant aid. It is tributary to the whole world for articles of the first necessity. Our ancient St. Domingo, which exported 40,000,000 lbs. of sugar, does not now make enough for the wants of its invalids; and, to speak truly, the only labor that flourishes on the island is the manufacture of rum!”
I find this to still be true of Haiti today: it depends on the charity of the world for basic sustenance, it is still “like an infant in the cradle,” it still requires “constant aid.”
“Even the superb roads and highways of St. Domingo no longer exist. “From the Cape to Gonaires, from Port-au-Prince to Jacmel, all the routes I travelled,” continued this writer, “are nothing more than paths almost impracticable, and often even dangerous. The bridges over the rivers are in such a bad state that it is necessary to dismount from your horse in order to cross them. Horses and asses are at present the only means of transport in Hayti.”
It sounds like a scene out of “Deadliest Journeys: Congo.” Most Haitians are Congolese transported to the Antilles.