Sonthonax, Léger-Félicité, abolitionist Governor of Saint-Domingue (1763-1813). Autograph letter signed.

Au Cap (Haiti), "le 24 Nivoise, l'an 5" [i.e., 13 Jan. 1797].

4to (225 x 190 mm). A bifolium on printed letterhead of the Revolutionary government in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), signed "salut et fraternité". Address and remains of red seal on verso of second leaf.


A rare document written while the French abolitionist Sonthonax was directing the defence of Le Cap Français, the northern port home to a large population of free Black citizens, several months before his removal from Haiti and return to France: "Au directeur de l'Artillerie au Cap. Je vous renvoye, Citoyen, une demande qu'a addressee à la Commission le Commandant de Bombarde. Je vous invite à pèser l'utilité de l'objet de cette demande et à donner ensuite tels ordres que vous paraitront convenables. Vous voudrez bien m'accuser reception de cette Lettre et de la pièce qui y est Jointe. Salut et fraternité, Sonthonax".

In 1792 the Jacobin Sonthonax, a Girondin, had been dispatched to Saint-Domingue to quell the slave rebellion that would become the Haitian Revolution. Due to his abolitionist ideas he soon became deeply unpopular with the white plantation owners: the 'grands blancs' of the island turned against him and invited the British to invade, hoping for the restoration of slavery. Working with the Black general Toussaint L'Ouverture, the principal leader of the Haitian Revolution, Sonthonax became the first French legislator to outlaw slavery, promulgating a decree on 29 August 1793 to free slaves in the northern province of Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). The Revolutionary Convention in Paris subsequently passed a broader abolition of slavery in all French colonies on 4 February 1794.

In the words of C. L. R. James's famous 1938 study of "The Black Jacobins", Sonthonax was "as fierce an enemy as any black labourer [against white arrogance]. He wanted to sweep the aristocrats off the face of the earth. [...] The name of Sonthonax was in the mouth of every black. Here, astonishing sight, was a white man who protected the liberties and privileges of all, labourers and generals alike, as if he had once been a slave himself" (p. 185f.). The Blacks, writes James, "loved Sonthonax, called down blessings on his head, and made their children pray for him at night. Fifty years afterwards their old eyes would glow as they told travellers of this wonderful white man who had given them liberty and equality, not only in words but in deeds" (p. 261). Following the United States, Haiti in 1804 would become the second American state to throw off European colonial rule, and the first independent republic of Black people.

Art.-Nr.: BN#57469 Schlagwörter: , , ,