November 18, 1803: Winning Haitian Independence, but Without the Devil’s Help!

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A Brief History

Contrary to Pat Robertson’s beliefs, on November 18, 1803, Haitians won their independence, not with the Devil’s assistance, but with their victory at The Battle of Vertières, the last major battle of the Haitian Revolution.  The victory lead to the establishment of the Republic of Haiti, the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.

Digging Deeper

After the Haitian Earthquake of 2010 took over 100,000 Haitian lives, Pat Robertson (Chancellor of Regent University and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network), proclaimed on television that Haiti, while under the heel of Napoleon III, had made a pact with the Devil in order to gain its independence from France, adding “true story” at the end of his assertion.  First off, Napoleon III had not even been born when Haiti gained its independence.  Second, I have yet to uncover any conclusive evidence that leading Haitians made an actual pact with THE Devil…

In reality, Haiti had been fighting a long, bloody race war for its independence since August of 1791, even before Napoleon I (the man actually in charge of France when Haitian independence was achieved) became France’s head of state.  If anything non-human assisted the Haitians in their eventual success it was Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that spreads yellow fever.  During the conflict, France lost about 20,000 people to yellow fever (almost as many as the 37,000 lost in combat).  Even Napoleon’s brother-in-law and commander of France’s expedition to Haiti perished of the dreaded illness.

With Napoleon’s brother-in-law dead, veteran of the American Revolution, Danatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, vicomte de Rochambeau, became the new commander of French forces in Haiti.  Opposing him were Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines.  In 1802, Rochambeau had won a victory over Louverture at the Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres.  Louverture, who once referred to himself as “the first of the blacks”, eventually suffered arrest and imprisonment, dying in France just over a year after suffering the aforementioned military defeat.  Even with Louverture dead, the Haitian Revolution did not conclude.

In fact, the French having suffered from yellow fever and a British blockade, dwindled in numbers.  When the final major battle of the war was fought at The Battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803, only 2,000 French battled against 27,000 Haitians.  The outcome was hardly surprising.  When the remnants of the French army, having lost 1200 dead and wounded out of that 2,000, departed the island, Dessalines, who soon became the first Emperor of Haiti, had accomplished something not even Spartacus could realize in ancient times: perhaps the only successful slave uprising in human history.

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever been to Haiti?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

In What If? 2, Thomas Fleming asks, “What if yellow fever had not decimated the French forces in Haiti in 1802?”

Cowley, Robert, ed.  What If? II: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been (What If Essays).  Berkley, 2002.

For more on this topic, see also the following:

Rainsford, Marcus, Paul Youngquist, et al.  An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti.  Duke University Press Books, 2013.


About Author

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.