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Sunday, 11 October 2009 23:54

Lesson 1: Revolution in Haiti

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(adapted from Colonial History of Haiti


  1. Students will learn about the history of Haitian colonial rule by examining and discussing two separate articles.
  2. Students will examine the foundations of slavery in Haiti and look at the organization of the slaves as they revolt and eventually win their independence from France.

Procedure: (This lesson will take approximately 2 – 3 class periods)

Step 1: Introduction
1. Open the class by asking a few questions that will get the students thinking about revolutions on a general level.  Ask your students to discuss and write down, in pairs, their responses to the following questions:

  1. Is there anything worth losing your job for?
  2. Going to jail for?
  3. Dying for?
  4. What is a revolution?
  5. Why do people begin revolutions?
  6. What kind of choices and decisions have to be made by people deciding to revolt?
  7. What kind of personal traits a required to be a liberator or leader of a revolution?

2. Discuss as a class students’ responses to the  questions.

Step 2: Mini Lecture
1. Now that the students are situated in the revolution topic, give a brief lecture describing the colonial history of St. Domingue (later Haiti).

Mini lecture notes here

Class Sturcture

  1. highly immobile
  2. ruling class of “big whites”—the creole plantocracy, clergy and merchants.
  3. The second class of whites, the “small whites” were the shopkeepers, overseers and small planters.
  4. The bottom tier of Haitian society, the “free men of color”, who made up fortyfive percent of the free population, included Mulattoes and free blacks who had either purchased their freedom or who had been freed by their masters. Though this last group represented many who owned large landholdings, there was very little chance that they would ever gain social or political equality from the “big whites.”
  5. The slaves, who outnumbered their masters by a fifteentoone margin, were a discontented desperate lot. Mortality was high, since the prevailing slaveholder philosophy assumed that it was cheaper to work a slave to death within a few years and buy another than to allow the slave to reach old age.

Slave discontent

  1. evident in the large number of permanent Maroon communities in the mountains.
  2. Between 1679 and 1778, seven slave conspiracies had been organized; one of which was very well planned but failed because the leader, Mackandal, was betrayed and later executed. In 1790, a wealthy free Mulatto named Vincent Ogé led a rebellion armed with revolutionary slogans of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” and weapons from France.
  3. The rebellion was quickly put down and a wave of terror against the slaves began. In response, the slaves, many of them recent arrivals from Africa, revolted and burned most of the plantation lands to the north of the city of Le Cap.
  4. The terrified whites were forced to forget their differences for a time to face the common enemy.
  5. But the Free Blacks slowly realized that they had more to gain by joining with their darker brothers, particularly after the small whites began to massacre Mulattoes in the area around PortauPrince.
  6. Events became very confusing, with the Spanish aiding the slaves, the British aiding the white liberals, and the white Royalists fighting the white Patriots. Commissioners sent from France were powerless to settle the differences and prevent new revolts from spreading. In 1794 after Le Cap was destroyed in the fighting, and with opposing Spanish and British forces controlling much of Haiti, the French Republic was successful in persuading former slave general Toussaint L’Ouverture to join forces with them.
  7. Touissaint, active in the rebellion for two years on the side of the Spanish and French supporters of the king, decided to unite with the Republic after learning that the Jacobin controlled French Assembly had officially emancipated the slaves early in 1794.


  1. uniquely prepared for his role in history. The students will learn that, although a slave, he became educated and well-read, managed his master’s affairs with great skill and became respected by masters and slaves alike for his diplomatic abilities.
  2. his controversial leadership of a successful revolution resulting in his being named Commander-inChief of the French armies, LieutenantGovernor of Haiti and finally Dictator for Life of the Republic of Haiti.



Step 3:

1. Once you have finished the lecture, with students working with their previous partners, pass out the articles  “The Haitian Revolution Revisited” (Student Reading 4.1.1) and “The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon” (Student Reading 4.1.2), one for each partner.   Have them read and respond to the question at the end of the reading.

Step 4:

  1. After a few students have expressed finished reading and responding to their questions, have them share what they have learned with their partner.
  2. Wrap up with a whole class discussion of the readings and questions. And then finish with the following:
    1. How are the Haitian and French Revolutions related?
    2. Do you think internal factors (class conflict, population growth, etc.) or external influences (French politics, international war) best explain the development of the Haitian Revolution?


Students’ understanding of the significance of the Haitian Revolution can be assessed either through the discussion or the last questions could be written and submitted for an individual grade.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 October 2009 06:17

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