Welcome back to Haiti History 101. This Haiti as it was in the 1880s. Welcome to the second installment. If you missed the first, go here.
The city of Miragoane was to be the site of one of Haiti’s most ferocious color wars, as asserted by many historians, including the every reliable Jacques Nicolas Leger. Here is a sketch of the city, as it looked in the year 1881. [Image via: Haiti Xchange ]
But what exactly happened in that city? According to historian Max Manigat (author of the book Leaders of Haiti: 1804-2004), on March 27th 1883, hundreds of politicians and other opponents of Haiti’s then president Lysius Salomon, and mostly members of Parti Liberal (Liberal Party) left their hideout in Cuba and Jamaica, where they had gone into exile a few years before and landed in the South of Haiti. Jacques Nicolas Leger in the book Haiti and Her Detractors contends that the exiles were led by Charles Jean-Pierre Boyer Bazelais. According to the book Haiti, Rising Flames from Burning Ashes, Bazelais was the grandson of Jean-Pierre Boyer, one of Haiti’s past presidents.
Historian Marc Pean asserts that Salomon depended on this man, his Minister of War, Anselme Prophete (left) to crush the insurgents. Prophete, according to Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Part 1, Issue 2, had been an exile in New York after the fall of Haiti’s one-time prez Sylvain Salnave in the 1860s. Leger contends that initially the rebels received a great welcome from the people of the South, who were eager to rid themselves of Salomon. But the tide later turned, when Salomon’s forces attacked vigorously and overturned the early Jacmel and Jeremie victories of Bazelais and his men.
This war between Salomon’s forces and Boyer Bazelais’ forces, according to Leger, was to be financially and humanely detrimental to Haiti. First, there were hundreds of lives lost, and Haiti was forced to pay indemnities to foreign businessmen who lost property during the strife. Moreover, Salomon had the homes and businesses of the exile rebels and their families burned to the grown. Boyer Bazelais received a bullet wound to the head in September of 1883 and in October of that same year, he poisoned himself.
Sir Spenser St. John, a British visitor to Haiti in his book Hayti: Or, The Black Republic published in 1889, was to make this remark about the atmosphere reigning in Haiti in the 1880s, and compared the decade unfavorably to 1860s Haiti. He wrote:
The town of Petionville or La Coupe, the summer and health resort of the capital where the best families sought a little country life during the great heats was almost entirely destroyed during the revolution of 1868 and the proprietors are still too poor to rebuild Society also has completely changed I saw at balls given in the palace in 1863 a hundred well dressed prosperous families of every shade of colour now political dissensions would prevent such gatherings even if there were a building in the city which could receive them and poverty has laid its heavy hand more or less on all It is the same in a greater or lesser degree in every other town of the republic.”
The book Haiti and the Americas edited by Carla Calarge, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, it is noted that there was a large community of Cubans in Haiti, who had sought refuge there mostly during the presidency of Nissage Saget, one of Salomon’s predecessors. The book indicates that Salomon had sided with Spain against them, because he suspected that they were allies of his enemies. After Salomon’s exile, they were once again able to get together and organize openly in Haiti, and in 1895, were able to lead another revolutionary war against Spain towards the independence of Cuba.
Leger maintains that Salomon was supposed to have left the presidency in 1887, but an election in 1886 renewed his presidency for another seven years. Some, contends Leger, felt this was leading to a President for Life tenure, and were clamoring for Salomon’s fall. Pean depicts the Haiti as this time as being very rebellion-minded. Mysterious fires occurred in Cap Haitien. Salomon sent the closest associates of the senator Francois Denys Legitime and the deputy Thales Manigat to exile, leading to the total dissolve of the Parti National.
Meanwhile, an exile Pierre Theoma Boirond Canal—made secret contacts, and started to plan the fall of Salomon. Still according to Pean’s account, On August 5th, 1888 (a Sunday), three shots of cannon announced an alarm and the taking up of arms by General Seide Thelemaque, military commander of the city of Cap Haitien. Troops gathered, including General Borno Mompoint and Nord Alexis (a future president) who had been imprisoned in Port-au-Prince, Alfred Box, the inspector of schools, and Augustin Guillaume, director of Lycee National, the great political men and the great planters such as St. Martin Dupuy and Augustin Guillaume from Cap Haitien. Intellectuals and big landowners joined together, including Cincinnatus Leconte, a businessman (and future prez of Haiti). They publicly declared that this was the end of Salomon. They all marched towards Port-au-Prince to establish what they termed “the people’s sovereignty”.
[Below to the right: Pierre Theoma Boisrond Canal]
Pean maintains that as early as July 1888, a great number of Salomon’s closest associates had advised him to leave the presidency, citing his declining health. Pean quoting Jean Price Mars’ account of Haitian history, states that Salomon had a secret meeting with his advisers to recommend a successor, and they all declined the post. He asked him advice on the choice of Seide Thelemaque and his associates anonymously agreed. But Boisrond Canal was told of every detail of the meeting and began to maneuver so that this wouldn’t happen. Canal sent delegates to meet with Thelemaque who convinced him that he had lost the trust of the head of state. In Gonaives, Thelemaque met with the French delegate Compte Desaissons, who convinced him not to march towards Port-au-Prince because cases of yellow fever were registered in the capital, and that their arrival would only aggravate the situation. Pean maintains that in reality, Desaisons already had a pact with Boisrond Canal, who was planning on putting his friend Francois Denys Legitime in power in Salomon’s place.
Pean’s account states that on August 10th, Thelemaque was edging closer to Port-au-Prince, and Salomon went into exile. Legitime returned from exile. He was given a warm welcome. Meanwhile, provisional government was put in place with Boirond Canal, as president, Legitime as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Seide Telemaque as Minister of War and the Marines. By September 17, 1888 the first results from the election were emerging. The North was clamoring for Thelemaque, the south for Legitime. On the night of Sept 28, 1888, there was a clash between two camping army regiments…somehow Thelemaque got shot and died around 10 pm. The historian Jacques Nicolas Leger maintains that it was an accident, and the result of a stray bullet. Pean, however, sees things differently. According to him, Boisrond Canal gave an exclusive interview to the newspaper Le Moniteur Haitien on October 2, 1888, in which he said: “I felt it, I had a gut feeling that what happened would happen. How many times have I told the General Thelemaque to be on his guard against all these phony ass friends who hangs around him!” [“Je sentais, je prévoyais le denouement qui vient avoir lieu. Combien de fois n’ai je pas signalé au general Thelemaque la nécessité de se prémunir contre les meneés des faux amis qui l’entourent!”]
In an account published by Price Mars in which he interviewed Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, it was said that the attack didn’t come from the forces of General Seide. As a matter of fact as the whole thing was happening, according to Price Mars, the chief of the northern army division was in conversation with the U.S. minister in PAP. Furthermore agrees Pean, in an investigation, northern army officers said they would never have dared attack Le Fort Salnave (where Thelemaque was shot), which was across from the Palais National.
Francois Denys Legitime became president. Leger maintains that Thelemaque’s supporters blamed Legitime for the general’s death. Thelemaque was eulogized in newspaper articles, and poems.
With the advent of Legitime to the presidency, Rose Marie Isaure Marion, his wife (they had been married since 1869) and mother of his nine children, became Haiti’s First Lady. It was thought to be a great match. The former Miss Marion, according to the website Premiere Dame Haiti, was the daughter of general Cinna Marion, himself the son of Ignace Marion, one of the original signers of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence. Zoraide Michel, Mrs. Legitime’s mother, was the sister of a senator, a Mr. Jean-Claude Michel.
[Below: Florvil Hyppolite in a lithograph drawn by the good folks at Harper’s Weekly in 1888.]
[Below: Ah, the beauty of Haitian architecture! A home in Port-au-Prince in the 1880s.]
The book After the Crossing: Immigrants and Minorities in Caribbean Creole Society, edited by Howard Johnson, reports that on July 4th and July 7th 1888, there were huge fires in Port-au-Prince. The authors cite insurance records. According to this same book, Haiti proved to be the land of opportunity for many British West Indians (white and black), particularly from Jamaica and St. Lucia, who established themselves in Port-au-Prince and smaller cities. The book cites J.R. Love and Frederick B. Coles as examples. Love had a medical practice and was also a church parson. Coles was a businessman. Because few women came with them, they married Haitian women.
Haiti’s former president Lysius Salomon died on October 19th, 1888 at his home in Paris at the age of 73. Legitime was opposed by Florvil Hyppolite, and gave up the presidential seat on August 22, 1889. Mompoint Jeune held court as Interim President. The decade ended with Florvil Hyppolite being declared president in October of 1889.
The book After the Crossing: Immigrants and Minorities in Caribbean Creole Society states that in later years Anselme Prophete was imprisoned by Hyppolite in the early 1890s for alleged plotting, and was expelled from Haiti in 1894 (he later returned).
The historian Charles Dupuy has indicated that Hyppolite’s primary advisor during his presidency was an illiterate woman, a Victoire Jean-Baptiste (who, um was also a lady friend of his). According to Marc Pean’s book, Prez Hyppolite apparently appreciated her services enough to give her L’Habitation Bayeux, a mammoth sugar plantation as a gift. Pean maintains that after Florvil Hyppolite’s death, she sold it off.
This, dear readers, concludes what life was like and the events of the 1880s Haiti. Phew! Aren’t you glad this segment was partitioned in two?