During the 16th-17th century, needing an inexhaustible workforce, France initiated slavery to attain higher production in both the sugar and coffee trade.  Dominating this trade would elevate its standing amount the Great powers of the time and enrich the country.  The plantation system (already in existence) was the most successful form of achieving their goal. To that end, the official records indicate 1,381,000 slaves were taken from various areas of Africa and brought to the new world, arriving in the West Indies, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Saint-Domingue (Haiti), which received the vast majority.  A small number arrived in New France, which included Illinois and Louisiana.

Sugar and coffee were the main staples of Europe, and it was here that plantation owners became the richest in the Caribbean.   However, the cultivating of Cane fields and refining its product, sugar, were labor-intensive, and thousands died each year. Coffee plantations were no better, hard work under a hot sun.  By 1789, Saint-Domingue manufactured 60 % of the world’s coffee and 40% of its sugar. The mistreatment of the African population led to the Haitian Revolution. 

During the initial years of the revolt, countless plantation owners with their slaves relocated to Louisiana. More slaveholders followed as French forces lost battles to the Haitian army, while others arrived at the end of the revolt.  Thus, by default, Louisiana would become a  place where the French would recreate the world they had just left.

Although international slavery was outlawed in the U.S by 1807, it did little to stop internal or domestic trade. Slaves from the North were purchased and sold to Southern plantations, slavery flourished. The influx of slaves directly impacted Louisiana, making it one of the essential Slaveholding States in the Union.  The former French territory became part of the United States in 1812 and it is possible that the slaves from Saint-Domingue were added to the number of slaves held in bondage.

Though sugar was still an important crop, cotton soon took its place as a dominant commodity.  Louisiana as a proslavery state succeeded from the Union in 1861.  Like other parts of the country, news of the Civil War ending in April, 9th 1865, did not reach many slaves until June 19th of that year. 

The above is essential; however, it is incomplete. There is little information about the lives of Haitian slavery in the United States. The Historiography is not overflowing and there is a need to discover more information about their daily lives.  Were they sold to other plantations, and how did the growing institution of American slavery impact their lives? In essence, more research is needed.  In the end, Juneteenth is as vital to Haitian descendants as it is to others of African ancestry. Let us rejoice!

Terms:   North America- Haitian, Haitian Revolution, France, Louisiana, Juneteenth, slavery.

Dr. Cranston Ramirez Knight

Historian – Haitian American Museum of Chicago