We all are keeping a watchful eye on the devastating events in Haiti; and contributing to relief funds as well. I want to honor Haiti by sharing some interesting information about its history. For example, did you know that we have Haiti to thank for our successful revolution and the Louisiana Purchase? Did you know that the country has not always been referred to as Haiti? (I love people and places that have changed their name!)
I read the book, The Louisiana Purchase by Thomas Fleming soon after it was published in 2003 and was surprised to learn how the country now referred to as Haiti basically saved our country from a hostile Napoleon takeover. Fleming describes how, in the early 1800s, Napoleon set his sights on taking over the United States and sent some 50,000 of his troops to accomplish that task. Napoleon seemed destined for victory because there was little to stop him; the United States had no army to speak of and was consumed with inner turmoil. In fact, Americans would probably all be speaking French right now if Napoleon had not decided to have his troops first stop by St. Domingue (the country now referred to as Haiti) to squelch a slave revolt. But the slaves there had something else in mind. The French army experienced constant battles with the newly-independent slaves of St. Domingue. It was a tougher battle than they had anticipated, but still the situation was under control, at least until the yellow fever set in. Napoleon tried to fortify his troops by sending more, but to no avail. The people of St. Domingue persevered in establishing their independence and Napoleon’s attempts to take over the New World were thwarted. Soon afterward, Napoleon found himself in need of additional funding (cash), which is part of the reason that he agreed to the Louisiana Purchase.
Independence requires christening which often translates into donning a new name. Before the days of Spanish and French conquests, the island was inhabited by the Taíno Indians who called the island Kiskeya. It was only after Christopher Columbus landed on the island in the 1400s that the name was changed to Saint-Domingue. However, with their newly-found independence, the country adopted the name Haiti, honoring one of the names previously used by the Taíno Indians.
Haiti’s revolution helped to preserve the United States’ still new (and floundering) revolution. It seems only appropriate to honor Haiti today as the country faces a tragedy of epic proportions. Click here for information on relief efforts and ways you can contribute.