II. 1789 to 1804
In May 1791, three years into the French Revolution, the National Assembly in Paris awarded freeborn men of color in Saint-Domingue the same liberties as whites. When by August the whites in the colony refused to acknowledge this decree and contemplated secession, free people of color rebelled. Meanwhile, that same month, slaves took up arms near the northern port city of Cap-Français and they allied with Spain, which was at war with France. Then, in late 1793, Britain, which too was at war with France, invaded the colony. In an attempt to win over the ex-slaves and save the colony, the French commissioner, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, proclaimed an end to slavery, a decision that was approved by the French National Convention in 1974, thereby abolishing slavery in the French empire. While some rebels stayed loyal to Spain, Toussaint Louverture, the acclaimed revolutionary leader, switched sides to help the French expel the Spanish and the British. Within two years Spain made peace with France. It withdrew and let France have eastern Hispaniola. Meanwhile, ex-slaves led by Toussaint and people of color, now called "anciens libres," led by André Rigaud defeated the British, who withdrew in 1798.
A year later Rigaud disputed Toussaint’s authority and the two leaders went to war. Toussaint, the victor, ruled the colony as governor and liberated the slaves in eastern Hispaniola. In 1802, however, Napoleon sent an army to restore the old plantation regime in the colony. Toussaint was arrested and sent to France where he was imprisoned and died. France then retook eastern Hispaniola. Meanwhile, Toussaint’s lieutenants, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe, surrendered and briefly fought alongside the French as they waited for an opportune moment to rejoin the revolution. In the meantime, to consolidate power, they pursued African-born revolutionaries who had not surrendered to France. Finally, in late 1802, they turned on the French, who were weakened by yellow fever and war. United with General Alexandre Pétion, who had served under Rigaud, they vanquished the French commander, the Comte de Rochambeau. The last battle was at Vertières in 1803. On 1 January 1804, General Dessalines proclaimed Haiti independent, the second independent nation and first successful slave revolution in the Americas.