In 1789, there were 288 sugar plantations in Haiti’s Northern Province, 314 sugar plantations in Haiti’s Western Province, and 191 sugar plantations in Haiti’s Southern Province. As Saint-Domingue, Haiti was the largest producer of sugar in the world and the most of its slaves worked on sugar plantations.
Sugar is the reason why Saint-Domingue was the most intensely cultivated spot and the wealthiest colony in the world at the time. Its exports were more valuable to France than all of the 13 original American colonies were to Great Britain. It is no exaggeration to say that sugar was the economic lifeblood of Haiti.
These export numbers are taken from Jacques Nicolas Léger’s apologetic book, Haiti: Her History and Her Detractors:
White Sugar – 70,000,000 pounds
Brown Sugar – 93,000,000 pounds
White Sugar – 16,540 pounds
Brown Sugar – 18,518,725 pounds
White Sugar – N/A
Brown Sugar – N/A
These export numbers are taken from “The Beauties of Negro Rule: The Present and Past of Haiti” which appeared in Volume 18 of DeBow’s Review:
White Sugar – 47,516,531 pounds
Raw Sugar – 93,573,300 pounds
White Sugar – 18,517,381 pounds
Raw Sugar – 8,016,540 pounds
Raw Sugar – 2,500,000 pounds
Raw Sugar – 40,470 pounds
Has ceased entirely to be an article of export
It is important to note that both the apologists and detractors of Haiti are in agreement that the commercial sugar industry never recovered from the Haitian Revolution and had ceased to exist by the 1820s. This was not because sugar had ceased to be an extremely profitable commodity.
These export numbers are taken from Clifford L. Staten’s The History of Cuba and Jorge Perez-Lopez’s The Economics of Cuban Sugar. They show how French planters, who were exterminated and banned from owning land and property in Haiti, shifted their operations to Cuba where their capital and expertise was welcomed:
Haiti’s earliest rulers – Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe (in the North) – understood the importance of preserving the wealth generating export-based plantation economy and used coercion to keep the former slaves attached to the plantations in areas under their control. This was only reason why Haiti continued to export sugar at all into the 1820s.
Ultimately, it was the Haitian refusal to work on the sugar plantations that doomed the reconstruction of Haiti’s plantation economy. Foreign capitalists were banned from owning property in Haiti and instead used their capital to bring American railroads and steam powered mills to the next generation of sugar plantations in Cuba. By the 1860s, Cuba was exporting a billion pounds of sugar a year and Haiti was hopelessly outmatched in the production of that commodity.
Freedom for the Haitian meant not working on sugar plantations, engaging in subsistence agriculture by squatting on a small plot of land, distilling sugarcane into rum for domestic consumption, and cutting down mahogany or logwood and harvesting wild coffee beans to generate a cash income. This is why Haiti was exporting 83,212,627 pounds of coffee and 154,466,502 pounds of logwood in 1903.
In 1790, Saint-Domingue had exported 68,000,000 pounds of coffee. There are no statistics on logwood which apparently wasn’t a significant commodity at that time. The nature of Haiti’s exports in the 19th century show what was fundamentally an African peasantry living out its own preferred lifestyle.
There’s another number which explains how Haiti became the Fourth World country that we are familiar with today: by 1900, the population of Haiti had grown from around 500,000 to 1,347,000 while the extent of the country itself hadn’t grown by one kilometer since independence in 1804 and the total value of its exports were worth less than those of Saint-Domingue in 1789.
In 2012, there were 10.2 million people living in Haiti. Does it all make sense now?