JAMAICA ON FIRE: HAITI AND THE PROBLEM OF INSPIRATION
By Tom Zoellner
Any study of the march toward freedom in the Caribbean must give a central role to the horror and splendor of the Haitian Revolution – the 1791 revolt of enslaved people in the outpost of Saint-Domingue that turned into a full-blown war against the French slave-owning class.
When I first set out to write a day-by-day account of the consequential 1831-32 revolt in Jamaica that proved the tipping point for abolition in the British Caribbean, I expected to find multiple references to Haiti in the jail cell depositions of the captured rebels. How could it have not been inspiring to them? Here was the motivated leader Toussaint Louverture who responded quickly to the news of a local rebellion, gathered a team of talented co-conspirators to make it even bigger, formed an alliance with the Spanish, repurposed the discourse of the French revolutionaries, used modern European military tactics to foil his oppressors, dictated the terms of retreat to a humiliated British invasion force, and then set his freed colony on a course to be the world’s first republic governed exclusively by freed slaves? He was famous enough throughout the Caribbean to have been an inspiration to Jose Antonio Aponte, the enslaved Cuban rebel leader who had even kept a drawing of Louverture in his house. But to my surprise, in the Jamaican revolt I found barely any mention of the successful revolution next door.