We’ve already seen Hesketh Prichard’s description of the Cul-de-Sac plain in 1899 in Where Black Rules White.
James Franklin, a British merchant, made several lengthy visits to Haiti in the 1820s when Jean-Pierre Boyer was president. In 1828, he published a book called The Present State of Hayti which illustrates that the economic decline of Haiti was already well advanced in his time and couldn’t possibly have been caused by the French indemnity.
I’m particularly interested in Franklin’s comments on the state of the agriculture in Haiti. After two decades of freedom and equality (and a lack of racism, slavery, white supremacy, and colonialism), Franklin travels through all the areas whose cultivation by the French had made Saint-Domingue the wealthiest colony in the world, a place richer than all 13 American colonies combined.
Here are some excerpts from Franklin’s eyewitness account of a world transformed by the immutable laws of the Visible Black Hand of Economics:
The Northern Plain
“The plains of the north, formerly celebrated for their sugar plantations, and extending from Three Rivers to the old Spanish lines of demarcation, are in a similar state with every other part of the country, only partially cultivated in the elevated part, with coffee and some cotton. …
All these elegant structures which once gave the face of these plains and the mountains around them such an air of grandeur, and excited the admiration of the traveller, are demolished, and scarcely a vestige of their original site can be discovered. Sometimes a dilapidated stone wall, and the remains of a windmill may point to the passerby that near them once stood an extensive range of buildings, and perhaps a mansion of some magnificence. The highly productive and very extensive estates once to be seen in the vicinity of La Petite Ance, St. Acul, Limonade, La Grande Rivière, Les Dondon, Marmalade, Limbé, and Plaissance, are now neglected wastes, with little to be seen but the spreading guava, the wild indigo, and a thousand other weeds and shrubs, raising themselves unmolested on the very spots which once displayed all the luxuriousness of vegetation, aided and matured by the skill and industry of the husbandman.” (James Franklin, The Present State of Hayti, pp.285-286)
The West – Artibonite Plain
“The whole of the extensive plain of the Artibonite is in a similar condition … There is nothing like an extensive scene of cultivation, nor can such be found through the whole of the republic. In this plain on the coast are situated St. Marc and Gonaives, which at one period were both places of considerable trade, and the inhabitants wealthy, living in great splendour and magnificence; but like other places inhabited by the blacks and people of colour, they are neglected, the houses gone to decay, and allowed to moulder into ruin. Nothing is left to remind the traveller of what they were. Contrasting what they are with what they are represented to have been, he at once infers, that the present inhabitants are a race devoid of all desire of improvement, and raised only a small degree above brute creation, for whom in their natures and habits they differ but little.” (Franklin, p.277)
The West – Cul-de-Sac Plain
“The plains of the Cul-de-Sac, in the vicinity of the city, were celebrated in former times for their extreme productiveness, but they are now very little cultivated … On ascending the mountains, and looking into the valley below, the mind is at once struck with the inertness and indolence of the people, and with the devastation that must have been committed during the revolt of the slaves. Remains of houses and plantation works are to be seen in every direction, scattered implements for manufacturing sugar are spread around you, and walls, which were erected for dividing properties, as well as for the internal division of the lands in cultivation, are thrown down and mouldering, or overrun with creepers and convulvus, and various other shrubs, so as in places to become perfectly imperceptible. There is nothing to be seen in these once delightful plains like cultivation; all looks a barren waste, as though the inhabitants had been driven out, or cut off by some scourge, and the whole country had since been a refuge for beasts of prey. The mountains remain untouched, except now and then a small patch for the cultivation of vegetables, and on which is erected a miserable hut, in no respect superior, in point of accommodation or comfort, to the wig-wam of the North American Indians, but in which the sluggish Haytian will dwindle away his days in laziness, sloth and every species of lust and sensuality.” (Franklin, pp.277-278)
“From Aux Cayes through the country by Cape Tiburon to Jeremie, cultivation appears in a very backward state. The passing traveller sees nothing to attract him, except now and then an object which reminds him that the vicinity was once the scene of great havoc and desolation, and that all that was valuable and useful had been destroyed by some great convulsion. The remains of habitations, the remnants of walls, and scattered implements of tropical labour, are to be seen in all directions. Here an iron boiler, half buried in the surface; there an old shaft of a mill, or some other part of the apparatus for the manufacture of sugar, and often a dismounted cannon, arrest the attention of the traveller as the wretched memorials of a devastating war.
In the district of Jeremie, which produced at one time large crops of coffee, cocoa, indigo, and cotton, but few symptoms of agricultural industry are visible. The finest plantations of the French are now totally obscured and overspread with the creeper, the windband, and numberless other species of indigenous weeds. In vain does the traveller look for those settlements which wore the gay appearance of culture, and for those plantations which enriched the proprietors, and placed them in that ease and affluence to which their industry and perseverance so justly entitled them. Instead of such a scene, the whole country, as we approach toward the capital, exhibits nothing but neglect and waste, and their concomitants, poverty and wretchedness.” (Franklin, pp.304-305)