Caribbean Project: African-American Colonization In Haiti

Why did African-American colonization fail in Haiti?
Toussaint L’ouverture, the George Washington of Haiti

Haiti

There are few topics more dear to the heart of White Nationalists than the dream of colonizing African-Americans in a foreign country.

I’ve spent the last month researching Haiti which was founded as the world’s first black republic in 1804. Jean-Jacques Dessalines exterminated the French and Whites were banned from owning property in Haiti under the 1805 Haitian constitution.

Like the United States, Haiti saw itself as a “City on a Hill” in the New World, but one reserved for Africans, not Europeans, who in a world of slavery were set free upon reaching Haitian soil and who were eligible on racial grounds to become Haitian citizens.

Why didn’t Haiti become the black version of the United States? Why didn’t free blacks in the United States and European colonies flock en masse to settle in the world’s first black republic? Why did Lincoln’s effort to colonize free blacks in Haiti fail?

Thomas Jefferson believed that Whites and free negroes could not exist under the same government. He envisioned the West Indies (with the exception of Cuba) becoming the “receptacle” for all free blacks expelled from North and South America:

“Nature seems to have formed these islands to become the receptacles of the blacks transplanted to this hemisphere … The most promising … is the island of St. Domingo, where the blacks are established into a sovereignty de facto, and have organized themselves under regular laws and government. I should conjecture that their present ruler [Toussaint Louverture] might be willing … to receive even the description which would be exiled for acts deemed criminal by us, but meritorious perhaps by them.”

Haiti was very eager to attract free black immigrants from the United States. Under President Jean-Pierre Boyer (1818-1843), Haiti even offered to pay part of the transportation costs of free blacks in the United States to emigrate to Haiti, subsidize their adjustment to life in Haiti, and offered them grants of prime fertile agricultural land in the former plantation belts:

“It occurred to President Boyer that if some of this emigration could be diverted to Haiti it would serve to recruit a population decimated by thirty years of strife and to introduce the skilled artisans sorely needed there. He argued that to banish to barbarous Africa colored people reared in civilized society was cruel when they might find both civilization and freedom in the Black Republic. As inducements he offered to pay part of the expense of passage and to support the immigrants until they could be settled on the fertile lands granted to them.” (Ludwell Lee Montague, Haiti and the United States, 1714-1938, p.70)

Boyer’s offer was a much better opportunity than contemporary European immigrants could hope for in the United States:

“In May, 1824, a Haitian agent was sent to New York to procure six thousand agricultural workers the first year, considering that there were five times six thousand free negroes in the state of New York alone.

The Colonization Society, jealous for Liberia, refused to cooperate, yet even so in four years Boyer succeeded in persuading some thirteen thousand freedmen to seek their fortunes in Haiti. However, eight years later few could be found on the lands assigned to them. Many had returned to the United States; others had drifted to the towns; only a score could be said to have made a success of the venture. What was the trouble?” (Montague, p.71)

President Boyer succeeded in attracting 13,000 free black immigrants from the United States. The vast majority of them ended up returning to America to live under white supremacy and white privilege in the Northern states:

“The immigrants had just begun to arrive when the American commercial agent in Port-au-Prince reported that, while there was room in Haiti for every freedman in the United States, the …

“religion, laws, language, manners, habits, customs, and in fact everything is so totally different from what they had been accustomed to, that they cannot feel so happy or so comfortable as in a country where the difference of soil or climate was the only change they had to encounter [Liberia]. Here too, they come with the impression that where there is no prejudice against color there is no difference in the ranks of society, but they have the mortification to find that they are as distinctly marked here as elsewhere, and that if they had chosen to be laborious where they came from they would have been much better off.” (Montague, p.71)

Much better off … in “racist” America!

One can imagine the shock of American free blacks as they arrived in Haiti and surveyed the paradise that was the Black Republic in the 1820s. They would have found a land of illiterate, indolent, impoverished, Kreyol-speaking, voodoo worshiping, xenophobic peasants living in thrall to a color conscious mulatto dictatorship:

“In 1826 the British consul general found sixty North Carolina negroes on the estate of the commandant of Les Cayes. They praised their master, but complained that Haitian peasants stole their goods, let cattle into their garden, and persecuted them generally. Three years later, when they were visited by one of the Quakers who had procured their emancipation and emigration, they said they had rather be slaves in North Carolina than sharecroppers in Haiti. Exploited by the elite (who dealt with their own people in the same way) and persecuted by peasants (resentful toward any upstart alien who tried to improve his holding and be superior to his neighbors), the industrious lost heart. The indolent were disillusioned when manna failed to fall from heaven. Boyer, disgusted with American freedmen, sought no more emigrants.” (Montague, pp.71-72)

Freedom in Haiti turned out to be so bad that this group of ex-slaves preferred to live under slavery in North Carolina!

In 1860, the militant abolitionist James Redpath, a partner of John Brown in Kansas, wanted to “strike a blow at the South by calling into existence a formidable competitor in the production of cotton, sugar, rice, and tobacco,” and was appointed by President Geffrard (1859-1867) to be “the general agent of emigration to Hayti from the states and provinces of North America.”

The outbreak of the War of the Between the States created a fresh crisis that rejuvenated the movement for negro colonization in Haiti:

“Reports from the field indicated an emigration of at least five thousands in 1861, if means could be found to get those in the interior down to the coast. Actually, twelve hundred had been embarked for Haiti by mid-November.

During the summer more people were seeking passage than Redpath could accommodate, but letters from St. Marc had begun to circulate in Boston complaining that no land allotments had been made, after weeks of delay, and warning that emigrants should bring furniture, utensils, and bedding, such things being unknown and unobtainable in the Artibonite. Next, emigrants themselves began to straggle home, reporting high mortality in Haiti and attributing it to unsanitary conditions at the receiving station. Critics arose who charged that all Haitians were so morally corrupt that no Christian dare take his family among them, that the land was prey to revolutionary disorder, despotism, and idolatry. There were new reports that settlers, after waiting for months, received waterless land, while promised irrigation ditches were abandoned incomplete; that Haitian officials appropriated their goods, peasants plundered them with impunity, and preventable diseases carried them away. By November public meetings were being held in Boston to denounce Haiti and emigration, and prospective colonists were refusing to sail. …”

Thus Geffard’s project ended in a disaster which must be attributed to the shortcomings of the Haitian administration. Of the sixteen hundred emigrants set out by Redpath, only some two hundred were still in Haiti two years later.” (Montague, pp.75-76)

Thus, the familiar story of crime, corruption, despotism, immorality, political instability, idolatry, unhealthiness and economic backwardness wrecked the second major effort to colonize free negroes from the United States in Haiti. Like modern Detroit, the only point the “Black Republic” had going for it was racial pride.

The Artibonite Valley in French Saint-Domingue had previously been the home of some of the most fabulous and productive sugar plantations in the world. In the 1860s, the irrigation system constructed by the French in the colonial era was in ruins, and things like furniture, utensils, and beddings were unknown there.

“In the spring of 1862 the Federal authorities were confronted with the problem of what to do with large numbers of negroes made dependent on the government by the fortunes of war … On December 31, 1862, Lincoln signed a contract engaging the United States to pay one Bernard Kock $250,000 for settling five thousand freedman at Ile-a-Vache …

When D.C. Donnohue, special agent for the Secretary of the Interior, reached Ile-a-Vache, he found only 378 of the 431 freedmen whom Forbes & Tuckerman had actually transported thither …

On March 5, 1864, a transport bore away Donnohue, De Long, thirty-nine of Redpath’s emigrants who had begged to be rescued, and all of the surviving colonists save three lodged in the Les Cayes jail and several who had fled to the mountains and could not be found.” (Montague, pp.78-79)

The Ile-a-Vache colony was the third and final attempt to resettle free negroes from the United States in Haiti. It too ended in disaster, but that project failed because the Lincoln administration was never serious about African colonization. The War Department prohibited the emigration of able bodied negro men in 1864 whose services were needed by the Union Army on the battlefield.

Black colonization in Haiti failed for the same reasons why a “black ethnostate” will never work in our own times. There are already independent black countries in Africa and the Caribbean, but they are generally unattractive to black immigrants because of the social and economic conditions that blacks invariably create wherever they have the opportunity to govern themselves.

Separation can only occur by force. This was known in the United States by the 1830s. By and large, free negroes rejected and viciously attacked the colonization movement, and their overwhelming resistance to the idea succeeded in converting many abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison to immediate emancipation and racial equality.

5 Comments

  1. If Lincoln had been serious about colonization he could have accomplished it by the simple act of removing Southern slaves captured as during the war and remove them as contraband to any land that would take them. Or in the alternative buy the slaves and then remove them to any land that would take them and manumit them only when they are unloaded on the foreign shore.

    He needed the blacks to obtain and maintain Republican control over the South.

  2. How about a chunk of the U.S.A. for them? Seriously? I don’t know where though. At that time a lot of the country wasn’t fully settled yet, today it would be a whole other ball game.

  3. By and large, free negroes rejected and viciously attacked the colonization movement…

    It says something that blacks preferred to live in the USA of the 19th century where they would range from third class citizens down to slaves–as opposed to moving to black majority colonies in Africa.

    We see the same trends today: mass migration of blacks from Africa to Europe/North America; black flight out of their inner cities to the suburbs.

    I wonder how much of the rage that blacks express in their violence, from flashmobs to torture-murders to Long Hot Summer riots, is a result of this realization: that they need white civilization far more than whites need them?

  4. Old discussion, but I found this site looking up information on free Americans of color moving to Haiti as I have ancestors who were black and free who actually did move there in the 1850s. They came back to America after the Civil War. The comments below are old but I wanted to point out that black Americans, especially free black Americans were intricately connected to this country. If you think about it, there really is “no place like home” and IMO it was ridiculous for Lincoln and for people today to think that people who helped create this country would so easily abandon it. Racism has always been a part of America, from its earliest beginnings, however during the antebellum areas, there were places where free black people lived comfortable lives. My own ancestors who moved to Haiti were from NC. They moved to Canada before moving to Haiti where they stayed almost 10 years. They then moved back to the US and lived in Michigan until they died, which was about 30 years. They had relative peace and prosperity in Michigan and the culture (American) that they were raised in. Just because people share a similar skin color does not mean that they will be treating each other well. Even to this day plenty of black West Indians and West Africans act like they are “better” than black Americans and it is solely based prejudice. For those that moved to Haiti, I’m sure they’d rather feel prejudice and racism in their own country versus having to get it in another country and another language.

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