The Spanish conquistadors, or conquerors, enslaved the Tainos and forced them to mine for gold. After a few decades, most of the native population perished due to the exposure to European diseases and slavery’s harsh conditions.
Because of this, the Spanish began importing slaves from Africa in 1502. By 1546, there were around 12,000 slaves in Hispaniola. Once the gold mines were exhausted, the settlers started to raise cattle and grow sugar. The imported slaves worked in plantations and sugar mills which made the economy of Hispaniola dependent on trade.These riches sparked European interest and by 1640, France sent a representative to establish its claim on Hispaniola.
During the 1670s, the French created permanent settlements and began tobacco, sugar, and coffee production. This created a plantation-based economy which required the colonists to import more slaves from Africa in order to create a larger labor force. On September 20, 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick recognized the east side of Hispaniola as the French colony of Saint-Domingue and became the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean. (How did Saint-Domingue become the wealthiest colony in the Caribbean?) In 1685, King Louis XIV created the Code Noir, also known as the Black Code, which were a set of laws the outlined France’s position on slavery in Saint-Domingue.
These set of codes stated that slaves were the private property of their masters, gave the plantation owners the right to shoot anyone they thought to be a fugitive. These runaway slaves were called maroons and if caught, they could have their ears off or killed. In addition, slaves could not gather for marriages, dances or other ceremonies. In 1789 the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen was created during the French Revolution by the National Assembly.
This written document explains a list of rights for French citizens, and many slaves in Saint-Domingue believed that this gave them the same rights as it did to people in France, but their white masters refused to abide. By August 1791, a revolution broke out in the north which took months of strategizing. It began with a rebellion that soon inspired revolts across Hispaniola.