It’s time for another episode of Haiti History 101, beloved pupils.
Did you know that Haitians fought for U.S. Independence?
Yes, dames and gentlemen, they did. In 1779, a ship sailing from St. Marc headed to the United States carrying gallant soldiers from Haiti. They were known as Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, and they were part of what is often referred to as The Siege of Savannah or The Battle of Savannah.
The British had captured Savannah, which was an extremely important port, and thereby financial resource for the about-to-be-formed United States. Major General Benjamin Lincoln needed a little hand in regaining this port, and the French came to the aid of the future United States of America by sending Charles Henri d’Estaing (being a Frenchman his actual name was Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector d’Estaing).
Centuries later, it was a well-known fact among some in the USA. In 1922, in an address made to the Society of the Sons of the Revolution, Professor of Sociology in the University of Pennsylvania Carl Kelsey declared:
D’Estaing embarked at Sainte Dominique, with 800 mulattoes and blacks. These sons of Haiti came to America and shed their blood in the effort of the French and American troops to recover Savannah from the British. Amongst those Haitiens [sic] who fought under our Flag were Beauvais, Rigaud, Chauvannes [sic], Jourdain, Christophe, and others later distinguished in the subsequent struggles of their own countrymen for independence.
In the 1883 book History of Georgia by Charles Colcok Jones the Franco-American forces operating before Savannah in the fall of 1779 are listed. The Division of D’Estaing included 156 Volunteer Grenadiers from Cape Francois, 545 Volunteer Chasseurs from Sainte Dominique, and these included troops from Port-au-Prince and the Cape, as Cap Haitien was then known.
D’Estaing reportedly had 3500 troops, whether the free blacks and mulattoes’ number were at 800 or 1500, historians differ. Simon S. Nerelus writing in the book Haiti and Haitians: from Challenges to Triumph – the 9-1-1 Call puts the number of non-French volunteers drafted from Haiti at 1500.
And the Battle of Savannah was not the only battle in which Haitians were involved. Historian and journalist Ralph Pezzullo points out at another battle that took place at Lynnwood Harbor off the coast of Florida in 1781, in which British commander Lord Cornwallis was defeated by a fleet from St. Domingue (Haiti’s French colonial name).
Historians point out that the Battle of Savannah was a pivotal part in the U.S. fight for independence from England, and that it was one of the bloodiest battles (even d’Estaing, a veteran of the Austrian War was wounded).
For years though, the wonderful gentlemen and women writing history books would often, well, not mention this. Haitians’ participation in the United States battle for independence was practically a little known world history fact. In 2007, after endless lobbying and fundraising, the Haitian American Historical Society had a monument erected to commemorate the contributions of the Haitian soldiers. It stands on Franklin Square in Savannah, Georgia today.
This has been another episode of Haiti History 101. Report to class next time beloved pupils for another session.
Image Credit: Steve Bisson