Nighttime – December 25th, 1492: The Santa Maria runs aground in the shallow waters off the north coast of modern-day Haiti. After a friendly encounter with the Taino natives, Christopher Columbus orders the ship disassembled and a fort at La Navidad becomes home to the 39 crewmen—left with instructions to search for gold! Columbus continues his expedition, vowing to return.
Less than a year later, Columbus returns to La Navidad and finds the bodies of his sailors—dead. Fort Navidad is burned to the ground. Columbus demands explanation from local chieftain, Guacanagari. Historians vary in their explanations of what exactly happened, but one thing is for certain: Spanish colonization of the island of Hispanola had only begun. Over the next 100 years, the Taino people of Hispanola (it is reasonable to believe there were as many as several million) are exterminated by the Spanish colonists—through genocide and non-native disease.
Fearing attack, Spain ordered a consolidation of its colonists to the town of Santo Domingo in 1609—the modern-day capital of the Dominican Republic. The move, however, left the north and western shores of Hispanola susceptible to British, Dutch and French expeditions.
In 1625, French settlements began to appear in western Hispanola, and within forty years, the western third of Hispanola was formally claimed by the French. Among the terms in the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick, Spain ceded the western third of Hispanola to France. This French colony was called Saint-Domingue. While the Spanish colony was failing, the French colony became the richest colony in the western hemisphere, due to the massive production of coffee, sugar, indigo, cacao and cotton. But Saint-Domingue’s wealth came at no small cost. By 1790, West African-born slaves numbered more than 400,000. Slaves outnumbered the French-governing and mulatto class 10 to 1. (more…)