"​Haitians in the Spanish Atlantic World" by Jane Landers, Ph.D.

Landers is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (2010) and Black Society in Spanish Florida (1999).

In November 1793 the three most important revolutionary leaders of Saint Domingue, George Biassou, Jean-François, and Toussaint Louverture pledged their allegiance to Spain and were organized as the Black Auxiliaries of Carlos IV. Each received gold medals bearing the likeness of the king and documents expressing the gratitude and confidence of the Spanish government.

When the French Assembly finally abolished slavery, however, Toussaint broke with the Spaniards and in May of 1794 offered his services and loyalty to the French Republic. Georges Biassou and Jean-François remained loyal to Spain, but in 1795 Spain and the Directory of the French Republic concluded a peace treaty by which Spain ceded western Hispaniola to the French, and agreed to disband the Black Auxiliaries.

In December, 1795, Georges Biassou led his followers to St. Augustine, Florida where he was recognized as the General of Florida’s black militia and defended that Spanish colony against Seminole Indian attacks. Jean-François led a larger group to Cádiz, and later fought for Spain in Orán. Smaller groups of the black exiles of Saint Domingue sailed for Panama, Guatemala, and the Yucatán, where they continued to serve Spain as black militiamen.

Seasoned by war against French planters, French and British troops, and their own countrymen, and well-acquainted with "dangerous notions" of liberty, equality, and fraternity, despite their monarchical rhetoric, these men became objects of fear throughout the Atlantic world. George Biassou died in Florida in 1801 where, after an elaborate funeral, the parish priest recorded him as "the renowned caudillo of the black royalists of Santo Domingo." The home where he lived in Saint Augustine, Florida now bears an historic marker.