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About the Author
Marcus Rainsford (1758-1817) was a career officer in the British Army who fought in the Revolutionary War in the United States. He also wrote the epic poem The Revolution; Or, Britain Delivered, as well as a number of other poems and pamphlets.
Paul Youngquist is Professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is author of Cyberfiction: After the Future.
Grégory Pierrot is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bucknell University.
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AN Historical Account OF THE BLACK EMPIRE OF HAYTI
By MARCUS RAINSFORD, PAUL YOUNGQUIST, GR, #201;GORY PIERROT
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
From the Period of its Discovery, by Columbus, to its highest State of Prosperity in 1789.
HAYTI, Hispaniola, or St. Domingo, the largest and most valuable of the West India Islands, is situated in the Atlantic ocean, between the island of Puerto Rico on the east, and Jamaica and Cuba on the west; a small part of the rocks and shelves which form the Bahama islands lie at no great distance to the north; and it is bounded on the south by the Caribbean sea, and ultimately by the continent of South America. It lies in the latitude of 18 deg. 20 min. north, and in 68 deg. 40 min. west longitude from Greenwich. It is in length, according to the best accounts, more than 450 miles from east to west, and 150 in breadth.
This beautiful island was the sixth discovered by the enterprising and unfortunate Columbus in his progress towards the discovery of a new world, of the honor of which, in the appropriation of a name, he was to be deprived by the caprice of his contemporaries, in favor of an obscure adventurer, of no other merit in the discovery, than that of having trodden in his steps. It was the first on which he formed a settlement, or made any stay in his first voyage, and appears to have afterwards received the principal marks of his consideration. To it he was directed by the natives of Cuba, where he had previously landed, as more rich in its mines of that fertile ore with which it was necessary to bribe the avarice of the Spaniards, to prolong that ardour of discovery which it had cost him so much labour to excite.
Columbus first arrived at Hayti, for so this country was called by its natives, on the 6th day of December, 1492. He landed at a small bay, which he called St. Nicholas, and then named the island Espagnola, in honor of the country by whose king he was employed: from thence he sailed along the northern coast till he found a more convenient harbour, which he named Conception, and where he first had access to the inhabitants, through the means of a female whom his people overtook, and prepossessed in their favor, by the usual means of trifling presents and gentle behaviour.
It is our wish to pursue in this place a sober narrative of fact, rather than to give loose to the fascinations of romantic description, or else the early Spanish writers have handed down such accounts of the aborigines of Cuba, Hispaniola, and Jamaica, as would warrant the most extravagant eulogy on their personal appearance, manners, and ingenuity. It may, however, naturally be supposed possessing the necessaries of life without labour, on a soil the most fertile, and in a benignant climate, in a state of the utmost simplicity, and consequently free from the general enemies to beauty, they would have personal advantages not to be expected in their descendants under the combined evils of slavery in a voluptuous state. Even the rigidity of history has been softened into the most pleasing descriptions of them: "They appeared," says Robertson, "in the simple innocence of nature, entirely naked, their black hair, long and uncurled, floated upon their shoulders, or was bound in tresses around their heads.—They had no beards, and every part of their bodies was perfectly smooth. Their complexion was of a dusky copper colour; their features singular, rather than disagreeable; their aspect gentle and timid; though not tall, they were well shaped and active." "The industry and ingenuity of this race," says another elegant writer, "must have exceeded the measure of their wants. Placed in a medium between savage life, properly so called, and the refinement of polished society, they were perhaps equally exempt from the bodily distresses and sanguinary passions of the former conditions, and from the artificial necessities and solicitudes of the latter." They were unquestionably the most unoffending, gentle, and benevolent of the human race.
That there were some grounds for a belief in the ingenuity ascribed to them by Peter Martyr and others, as far as it related to their simple agriculture, and some progress in the arts of ornament as well as utility, may, perhaps, be proved by a fact of another nature which tends to illustrate the character of this people, while it may afford a lesson to our own times;—would that we could not say to our own country.
When, among the numerous disasters of Columbus, he was wrecked on the eastern coast of the island, and if he had before impressed the natives with admiration of the superior nature of their visitors, was now placed in a situation the best calculated to prove their natural equality, and even to tempt by an unlucky opportunity any inclination to their injury, instead of the smallest hostility. Guacanahari, the cazique, or king of this division of their island, of which it appeared to be governed by seven, having been informed of his misfortune, expressed great grief for his loss, and immediately sent aboard all the people in the place in many large canoes; they soon unloaded the ship of every thing that was upon deck, as the king gave them great assistance: "He himself," says Columbus, who records it, "with his brothers and relations, took all possible care that every thing should be properly done both aboard and on shore; and from time to time he sent some of his relations weeping, to beg of me not to be dejected, for he would give me all that he had. I can assure your Highnesses," he adds, "that so much care would not have been taken of securing our effects in any part of Spain; as all our property was put together in one place near his palace, until the houses which he wanted to prepare for the custody of it were emptied; he immediately placed a guard of armed men, who watched during the whole night, and those on shore lamented as much as if they had been interested in our loss. They are supposed to have migrated originally from the neighbouring continent, and are ascribed by Sir Walter Raleigh to the Arrowauk tribe of Guiana.
Thus far we have preserved the necessary sobriety in collecting a description of the first inhabitants of St. Domingo; but when we come to speak of the territory itself, this caution ceases, for, no description that we have yet seen is adequate to the appearance, even at the present day, of a country which requires all the aid of romance to imagine, much less to describe.—Of fertility, which it requires but the fostering hand of man to guide to all the purposes of life, and of a climate the most salubrious among the Antilles, and in which longevity is general.—"In these delightful countries too," observes Robertson, "Nature seemed to assume another form; every tree and plant, and animal, was different from those of the ancient hemisphere;"—Columbus boasted of having discovered the original seat of Paradise.—"In these delightful vales," exclaims the Abbé Raynal, "all the sweets of spring are enjoyed, without either winter or summer. There are but two seasons in the year, and they are equally fine. The ground always laden with fruit, and covered with flowers, realizes the delights and riches of poetical descriptions. Wherever we turn our eyes, we are enchanted with a variety of objects, coloured and reflected by the clearest light. The air is temperate in the day time, and the nights are constantly cool."—"In a country of such magnitude," says Edwards, "diversified with plains of vast extent, and mountains of prodigious height, is probably to be found every species of soil which nature has assigned to all the tropical parts of the earth. In general it is fertile in the highest degree, every where well watered, and producing almost every variety of vegetable nature and beauty for use, for food, and luxury, which the lavish hand of a bountiful providence has bestowed on the richest portion of the globe." "The possessions of France
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments ix
A Note on the Text lvii
An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti 1
Editorial Notes 277