ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




Considering its importance the Villate Affair must be considered as a landmark in the development

of the social process of events in St. Domingo. Toussaint L’Ouverture,

. . . reestablished the equilibrium to the benefit of the Blacks. . . .

François Duvalier                                                                                                                                                                          Baron Samedi



The  Galbaud Revolt & Villate Affair

Or Color Prejudice in St. Domingo

A Commentary by François Duvalier and Lorimer Denis


During the  revolt of Galbaud [Governor of St. Domingo led the royalists and petit blancs against the Commissioners]—20 June 1793—and pressured by circumstances, the Civil Commissioners had to call the slaves to their rescue—the only force capable of saving the Government; one of the consequences of this act was to fortify the indigenous in the awareness of their power.

Each rebel band was integrated to form an indivisible Whole. When Toussaint L’Ouverture returned to the tricolor, this act of solidarity among the rebel bands will reach its highest degree of polarization, because the secular tendencies and aspirations will find their greatest exponent in the personality of that Leader. At that moment a group of men became aware of their class [read: caste]. This new factor will modify the equation of forces in St. Domingo. . . .

Thereafter, the struggle was unleashed between the new freemen and the representatives of [France] on the one side and the former freemen and the big planters on the other. . . .

But this class antagonism will evolve towards a struggle for preponderance. A struggle that will explode between the prototypes of the two classes: Toussaint L’Ouverture and Villate, Who was Villate? A knowledgeable man, says Schoelcher, a soldier of great courage and great capacity, who won all his ranks with the sword. being very disinterested, also because of a weak character, he let the monopolists grow rich during his government, but never took anything for himself. 

Who were the monopolists? According to Schoelcher, many mulattoes had come to live in le cap in order to be under the administration of one of their congeners. Villate had favored them beyond measure. they occupied almost all the municipal and civil offices. The National Guard was composed almost entirely of mulattoes. However, the city’s prisons were filled up with blacks.

The exclusivism of the affranchis had attained its peak.

But Toussaint was watching. . . .

For a long time he had been struggling with Villate’s partisans. . . .

The explosions came on 22 march, when . . . Laveaux came to Le Cap to put in order the finances being shared out by the mulattoes. Villate allied himself with the colonial aristocracy in order to make the coup, but he underestimated the Black factor devoted to Toussaint L’Ouverture. . . .

Toussaint arrived in Le Cap from Gonaives, liberated Laveaux . . . incarcerated by Villate, and remained the only Master of the situation. The Negroes, by supporting the “Representatives of France were also supporting Toussaint L’Ouverture, who the conspirators detested as much as the Governor.” This affair, says St. Remy, took on the proportions of a war of caste. The attempted coup, as ill-conceived as it was criminal, resulted in the establishment of black preponderance in the North. . . .

In this antagonism of factions in St. Domingo, it was, we would say, providential that Toussaint L’Ouverture thought of CLASS [read: caste], and that he succeeded after so many struggles in realizing the domination of the Northern Province destined to play such a great role in the wars for National Independence. And, it is almost certain that if he had failed in this great struggle of classes, the future of the Blacks would have definitely been precarious, because with Villate acquiring supremacy in the North and Rigaud already preponderant in the South, Independence would have been conquered to the sole benefit of the men of color in league with the colonial aristocracy. . . .

Considering its importance the Villate Affair must be considered as a landmark in the development of the social process of events in St. Domingo. Toussaint L’Ouverture, by dominating the crisis provoked by Villate’s ambition, reestablished the equilibrium to the benefit of the Blacks. . . .

For accomplishing all this, Toussaint was elevated to the rank of General of Division. He used this promotion to organize his army in the North and the Center. . . .

What was the behavior of the Blacks and the reaction of the mulattoes to the promotion and adulations of which Toussaint L’Ouverture had been the object from [France]?

Naturally, all these marks of favor, . . . had the effect of increasing Toussaint L’Ouverture’s prestige among the blacks, while arousing the jealousies of the mulattoes. In particular, Rigaud, who was only General of Brigade, had been deeply irritated by the nomination of his rival to the rank of General of Division; he couldn’t restrain his anger over the thought that he would be obliged to obey a former slave. 

Another event soon brought Rigaud’s exasperation to its peak; it was when he learned that the Commissioners had conferred the title of “General-in-Chief of the Army of St. Domingo” on Toussaint L’Ouverture. . . . Rigaud, who was more or less living in complete independence in the South since Sonthonax’s departure, was fearful of the preponderance of the black element in the North and the Artibonite.

Absolute master in the South, he could not stand the Blacks. His administration was totally military and essentially aristocratic: the Commandants of the fortified towns were performing the municipal functions; the District Commanders, justices of the Peace and Agricultural Inspectors were officers. Rigaud, one will recall, had an Army of eight thousand men; all of his superior officers were mulattoes.

The Blacks couldn’t go beyond the rank of captain; all public offices were the monopoly of the men of color; and under the pretense of suppressing vagrancy, Rigaud had sent all the Blacks to the plantations and had subjected them to a kind of servitude that resembled slavery in certain ways.

Meanwhile, how was Toussaint L’Ouverture shaping his politics in the North? Aiming at hegemony, at national Independence, he rid himself, one after the other, of Laveaux and Sonthonax by sending them to represent St. Domingo in [France}. . . .

The Genius of our Race, the Great Toussaint L’Ouverture, was obsessed by the idea of the Union of the two classes, indispensable factor to the realization of National independence. Visionary that he was, he will forget his pride and try to make Rigaud, who was sick of France, understand that the salvation of the two classes rested upon their unification.

Unfortunately, blinded by the colonial ideology and his hereditary tendencies, Rigaud was unable to raise himself to the level of these magnanimous conceptions of Toussaint, to combine in the same ideal of common rehabilitation the destiny of two human groups which nevertheless belong to only one race: the black race. . . .

What did Rigaud do about these counsels imprinted with wisdom and grandeur? . . .

Here is how General Rigaud enflamed the minds of the people of St. Domingo:

Brothers of the South, know it well, there exists in the country two classes of men, the disgusting and incapable class, and the sympathetic and intelligent class. Let us be of the latter, and let us chase the former to the mountains where its home is destined to be, far from our life, among inferior beings incapable of society. . . .

Confronted with this attitude that was profitable to neither class, one understands Toussaint’s indignation in his speech in the Church of Port Republican, where he pointed out the real causes of the antagonism between the two classes:

People of color, who since the beginning of the revolution have betrayed the blacks, what do you want today? No one is ignorant of it; you want to command the colony as masters; you want the extermination of the whites and the enslavement of the blacks! . . . But consider it, you perverse men forever dishonored by the deportation and then the slaughter of the black troops known under the denomination of “Swiss.” 

Have you hesitated to sacrifice to the hatred of the petits blanc those unfortunates who had shed their blood for your cause? Why have you sacrificed them? It is because they were black. Why does General Rigaud refuse to obey me? It is because I am black. It is because he has sworn me an implacable hatred because of my color.

Why else would he refuse to obey a French General like himself, who has contributed more than anyone else to the expulsion of the English. Men of color, because of your foolish pride, because of your perfidy, you have already lost your share of political power.

As for General Rigaud, he is lost. I see him at the bottom of an abyss; rebel and traitor to the Country, he will be devoured by the troops of liberty. Mulattoes, will he continue? I see in the depth of your souls that you were ready to rise against me; but although all the troops are incessantly leaving the Western Province, I leave there my eye and my arms: my eye to watch you, and my arms that will know how to strike you. . . .

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This selection is contained in the book Problème des classes à travers l’histoire d’Haiti (1948) by François Duvalier (1907-1970) and Lorimer Denis (1904-1957). 

Source: George F. Tyson, Jr., ed. Toussaint L’Ouverture. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1973

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update 12 January 2012




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