Are revolutions contagious? It certainly seemed that way in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. During this time period, there were revolutions in France, the United States of America, and Haiti. The French and American Revolutions have gone down in history as two of the world’s most famous events. However, we rarely hear about the Haitian Revolution. Many people did not even learn about it in their high school history classes. It seems strange that we are only recently really attempting to learn about this revolution that occurred in the Western world, however it is not that surprising. The Haitian Revolution has been left out of the history books due to poor documentation, disinterest, and the exclusion of people of color from historical discourse.
There are not a lot of written records about the Haitian Revolution. Most of what is known comes from stories passed down through generations. The only written documents are from white French colonists who interviewed Haitian people and wrote their stories down. The majority of the people who are currently studying the Haitian Revolution are not from Haiti. I find this interesting because the same people who are currently studying it are the ones who left the Haitian Revolution out of history. It makes me wonder why Haitian scholars had not done this first, although it may be that their work was left out of history similarly to their revolution.
Because there are not a lot of written first hand accounts of the Haitian Revolution, historians must rely on memories passed down through generations in order to write the history. It is in this passage of information that myth and history blend together to create the legend of the Haitian Revolution. It is sad that we may never know exactly what happened during this time, but, as I said before, it is not unusual for events like these to be left out. History cannot be written without bias. The scribe always has an opinion or perspective that motivates them to write. While memories are also biased, they are human beings’ lived experiences. Unfortunately for the readers of history, we may never get a neutral account. We must read critically and determine what the real truth is for us.
The difference between the motives behind the Haitian Revolution compared to the French and American Revolutions is also significant. The American Revolution consisted of free men fighting to establish their own government. The French Revolution had similar conditions and motives. In the Haitian Revolution, slaves were fighting for their freedom. It was also about upholding the French monarchy and Catholic values. There are very few similarities one can draw between this revolution and the other two. The motives and stakes were completely different and reflect the significant difference between white and black histories in the New World. The fact that the Haitian Revolution has been ignored in history not only leaves out people of color’s important contribution to the development of the New World, but also reflects how they have been treated in it.