Victor Schoelcher, the most famous French abolitionist of the 19th century, whose life work culminated in the final abolition of slavery in the French West Indies by the Second Republic in 1848, visited Haiti in 1841.
Schoelcher later published his impressions of Haiti in his book, Les colonies étrangères dans l’Amérique et Hayti. He was the first European abolitionist to visit independent Haiti … 47 years after the triumph of liberty and equality.
According to Schoelcher, the free negro in Haiti had retrograded into an “animalistic” existence. He declared that “the crime of Haitian barbarism is not only mortal for your Republic” but it was also “universal crime” and said that nothing had come from the tree of liberty planted in Haiti but “bitter and disappointing fruit.”
Schoelcher describes his arrival in the ‘Paris of the Antilles’:
“There is something fearful, especially for the abolitionist, in the first step one makes upon the soil of Hayti. When you approach, by the Cape, this colony, once so powerful, the question arises, ‘Where is the city of which colonial history has spoken so much, and which was called the Paris of the Antilles? You fancy that you are entering a place suffering from a long siege. The pavements are broken, removed, and destroyed; the spacious streets are deserted; there exists the silence and inanimation which follow great public disasters, and only the clothing stretched upon the ground to dry in the sun, announces that the inhabitants are not fled, as at the approach of a plague. Hardly will the traveler meet with a person of whom he can inquire his way. The princely mansions, three stories high, and built of stone in a style surpassing that found in any other island in the Archipelago, unprotected from the weather, are falling into decay, and are no longer occupied, except by vigorous trees, whose green branches pierce through the dismantled windows, whence are falling the magnificently worked iron balconies which adorned them. No one here is sufficiently rich to even preserve these vast ruins; and it is only by penetrating the interior that you may perceive, leaning against the old wall, a hut where a miserable family dwells, and plants bananas in spots which served as vestibules to the lordly planters.
To day Hayti contributes to commerce a little coffee, a little cotton, a little tobacco, and a few other trifles; and yet this island is perhaps the point of the globe to which Providence has been more bountiful than any other. It abounds in riches of every description. Its soil, of an inexhaustible fertility, besides sugarcane, coffee, tobacco, and cocoa, produces the spices of India, all the fruits of America, and almost all those of Europe; its forests contain timber for building, for veneering, and for dying; and its mahogany, which is superior to that of any other country, is so abundant that its inhabitants use it for firewood. Many of its rivers roll golden sands along their beds; it contains mines of copper, of iron, of coal, and also, it is said, of quicksilver; it has mountains of sulphur and quarries of marble, or porphyry, and of alabaster; it possesses jasper, agates, fossils, crystals and agrillaceous soils; its mineral kingdom is not less immensely wealthy than its vegetable; birds of brilliant plumage and sweet song are not wanting, nor or game and the honeybee. In short, this luxurious isle is a promised land, a paradise on earth.”
Schoelcher on the state of morals in Haiti in 1841:
“Marriage is almost the exception … Many of the Haytian mothers appear utterly dead to all moral considerations, and leave their children to grow up as they please, the victims of wayward passions and of conduct without restraint”
Schoelcher on the living conditions and work ethic of Haitians:
“The huts of the poor are nothing more than slave cabins. Some branches of trees, interwoven together and plastered with mud, often leaving the interior exposed to the weather, composed dwellings inferior to those of the Indians; they are without furniture, without household utensils, without chairs, with bamboos for water-pitchers, and calabashes for glasses and plates … the negroes have become entirely ignorant of the necessities of life, or go without them without the slightest regret; they live upon a little water and five or six bananas, a species of food for which they have such a predilection, that, upon learning of the death of someone, they say, in their particular language, ‘Pauvre diable, la quitté bananes!’ (Poor devil, he’ll get no more bananas!)”
“The Haytians are a people badly clothed, guarded by soldiers in rags, living with perfect indifference in houses tumbled to ruins, and disputed the possession of filthy streets with horses, asses, hogs, and chickens, who seek food in cities without police. The people have fallen almost into a complete torpor. They are no longer conscious of the ruin of their cities and the misery of their firesides. They do not suspect that they are wanting everything. I have seen their senators dwelling in straw houses, their instructors and deputies walking the streets with their coats worn out at the elbows. In a word, everybody suffers from a sort of general atomy, which from material, passes, by an intimate connection, to spiritual things.”
Schoelcher accuses Haitians of perpetuating slavery in the Western hemisphere by giving comfort to defenders of slavery:
“Have you not thought about what you are doing? Have you not considered the responsibility that weights on you? Are you not afraid that one day the voices of four million of your brothers will be raised against you in the universe’s tribunal, accusing you of having slowed down their emancipation?”