The French and Haitian Invasions of the Dominican Territory


Hispaniola as seen from the International Space Center.

The following is a list of French and Haitian invasions in the Dominican Republic. This includes incursions during the colonial period and after the independence of the country.

The Dominicans

This includes episodes of years before the Dominican Republic was established in 1844 as a free and independent country. The Dominican people existed as an identified population native of Hispaniola since the XVII century. Before then, the word ‘Dominicans’ doesn’t appears in any writings when refering to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants of Hispaniola. Between the XVII century and 1821, the words ‘Dominicans’ and ‘Spaniards’ was used interchangeably to refer to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants and regardless of color (the slaves became Spaniards upon gaining their freedom).

Part of the first page of the 1821 independence manifiesto against Spain to constitute Haití Español (Spanish Haiti). Notice the new independent government called itself Spanish Haiti, but the nation was the Dominicans. If Spanish Haiti would had existed beyond two months, the country would be called Spanish Haiti and the people Dominicans, similar to how there’s The Netherlands and its people are the Dutch rather than The Nethers. The Dominican nation pre-existed the creation of the Dominican state by several decades going as far as into the Spanish colonial period.

Differentiating the French and Haitian Invasions

We differentiate between the invasions of the French and the invasions of the Haitians. The former invaded prior to 1804, corresponding to the end of Saint-Domingue (although France didn’t relinquish its ownership of the western part of Hispaniola until Haiti reached an agreement to pay them a certain amount for France recognition of their independence). Haitian invasions are after 1804, the year Haiti was founded as a country. To note, the Haitian nation came several decades after the creation of Haiti.

We make one exception and include the invasion of 1801 headed by Toussaint Loverture as a Haitian invasion, despite it was done in the name of France and predates the creation of Haiti. Some of the reasons we do this includes that the army consisted almost entirely of Haitians and most of the generals were Haitians too with very few French. Also, in 1802 a French army arrived from France sent by Napoleon Bonaparte and intended to undo the invasion by Toussaint. The fact that the French government didn’t trust Toussaint for initiating this invasion without the permission of the French government is a sign that this was not a French invasion beyond the name only. Further studies have shown that one of the intentions of Toussaint was to declare the island free of France once he had full control. The fact that his reaction at the arrival of the French army was of anger pinpoints that his invasion wasn’t a “French invasion.” To put it another way, if Toussaint’s invasion was “French,” why the negative reaction from Paris after knowing of his invasion and then, his own negative reaction at the arrival of the French troops to the island?

Border Squirmishes

The invasions listed doesn’t includes the multiple border incursions first by the French and later by the Haitians spanning from the XVIII century to the XX century. These are too numerous to list. In these incursions the invaders were either French or Haitians with the intention of stealing domestic animals (in particular cattle) and farming produce from farms on the Dominican side of the border. The stolen goods would be taken to Haiti where they would be sold (first killed in the case of domestic animals). Given the nature of the intentions, these were more often committed at night. The victims more often than not were Dominicans, usually the owners of the affected farms protecting their property from trespassers. Penetrating the homes and killing the Dominican inhabitants was rather rare, but when it did happen it was due to the owner attempting to protect his property from the trespassers and the robbery.

Facade of Parroquia Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, the principal church in Azua. The town was founded in 1504 by Diego Velázquez and for a long time in the Spnish colonial period it was one of the most important towns on the island. Very rarely did invading Haitian troops along the southern part went past Azua.

The French Invasions

1625 – This is the year that French and other Europeans began to invade and settle the northwestern coast of Hispaniola. They became firmly established on the offshore island of Tortuga and from there started settling Hispaniola proper. These events included many collisions with the Spaniards/Dominicans, who on multiple occasions attempted to remove them from the island with military excursions from Santo Domingo.

1641 – One of the then most important towns on the island, Azua de Compostela, was invaded. The French made a tremendous destruction of the town and killed many Dominican inhabitants.

1656 – The area of Guaba (now a part of Haiti) was invaded. The French committed a widespread pillage and put the town on fire.

XVII century drawing of the battle near Santiago de los Caballeros during the French invasion headed by Deslisle.

1660 – Headed by the French General Deslisle on orders of Bertrand d’Oregon, the assigned French governor of what still was a Spanish territory, hence the governor of a French colony that was not recognized by Spain, invaded the northwestern and northcentral parts of the now Dominican Republic. The city of Santiago de los Caballeros was subject to a widespread pillage and destruction by the French invaders. The Dominican inhabitants fled for their lives to La Vega.

1674 – The town of Guaba was rebuilt and it was many years since the horrible French invasion of 1656. This year it was invaded once again by the French and once more pillaged and put on fire. Many Dominican inhabitants were killed.

1689 – Pierre-Paul Tarin de Cussy invades the Cibao Valley from the west (the march towards the eastern part started near the Limonade Plains in modern northern Haiti). Santiago de los Caballeros is once again attacked, invaded, pillaged and destroyed by fire. Many Dominican inhabitants caught in the town were killed. Those that managed to escape to the mountainous areas to the north and south of the town were followed by the French invaders with the intention of killing them.

Calle El Conde in Santo Domingo.

1714 – Santo Domingo is attacked by the French. It was saved from a general pillage and its destruction by the errors of a marine in one of the French boats conforming the Jean-Pierre de Charitte’s invading force.

The Haitian Invasions

1801 – The first Haitian invasion is headed by Toussaint Loverture. Although there were some resistence from the Dominicans, particularly near the Sillón de la Viuda area north of Santo Domingo, the Haitian troops divided in two bodies, one invading through the north and the other through the south, and managed to reach Santo Domingo with not much difficulty. A resistence was made by Dominicans at Santo Domingo, but in the end Toussaint managed to cause a capitulation via diplomacy. This invasion was made in the name of France, but first it required permission from Paris, something that was never done. Once Napoleon became aware of what Toussaint had done, a French army from France was sent to Hispaniola. Toussaint was back in Haiti when news reached him of the arrival of the French army and they gain control of all the Dominican towns. A group of Dominican soldiers (with their wives) that were taken from Santo Domingo to accompany the Haitian army back to Haiti was disarmned and killed (along with the wives too) as a retaliation. One of the positive aspects of this invasion was that slavery was abolished, though slaves were a very small part of the Dominican population and, generally, the treatments that most slaves received by that time meant that slavery existed more in name than in actions. Despite that, the abolition of slavery was a good thing.

1805 – A year earlier Jean Jacques Dessalines was declared Emperor of Haiti for life. He headed the bloody and dreadful invasion of the east. Although the Haitian army was composed of two bodies, one invading through the north and another through the south, Dessalines himself entered via the south. Many Dominican towns in the South region were subject to mass killings, pillage and destruction. It’s notable that the Dominican inhabitants of the town of Baní fled to the mountains once they heard the Haitian army was coming. When Dessalines arrived, he was in presence of a ghost town with not a soul in sight. In the Cibao, headed by Henri Christophe, the town was subjected to an invasion and massacre as it put resistence to the Haitian army marching to Santo Domingo. This resistence was headed by the Dominican governor of the Cibao or now the nothern part of the Dominican Republic (elected via vote by the inhabitants of Santiago). It should be noted that he was a mixed race native of La Vega elected as governor mostly by white people. Being of color wasn’t an impediment in reaching political greatness so early in the XIX century, something that would had been impossible in most places in the Western Hemisphere at that time, including the United States.

Gaspar Arredondo Pichardo comments the arrival in Santiago of people from the South region lamenting the invasion of Jean Jacques Dessalines in 1805. The Haitian troops hadn’t reached Santiago yet.

TRANSLATION: “Finally, we in the northern part of our territory started to see the arrival of people from the southern part. They were covered in ulcers, begging for support and some were crying the destruction of their families. All were afraid of the events they witnessed. They had the typical characteristics of sufferers. This was a sign for what awaited us.”

Santo Domingo was subject to a month long siege by the Haitian military encamped around the town, outside its walls and gates. Unable to conquer the town and from a maneuver of a French boat from Martinique off the coast of Santo Domingo, making it seem it was headed to invade the coastal towns of Haiti, on orders of Dessalines the Haitian army quickly started its march back to Haiti. Dessalines gave orders to kill everyone and destroy everything as they march back to Haiti. Generally, the branch of the Haitian army that return via the south didn’t follow through with Dessalines orders of destruction, mostly because it was headed by the Haitian mixed race Alexandre Petion. Dessalines decided to return to Haiti via the Cibao.

The Dominican countryside and town inhabitants were massacred, others kept as prisoners and forced to march back to Haiti. All the Dominican women and girls were raped. Even the livestock and domestic animals of simple country farmers were killed and some stolen and taken to Haiti. Most of the northern towns (except for Puerto Plata and Samaná) were pillaged and put on fire. What was left of Santiago was put on fire by Dessalines himself. Even towns out of the way were destroyed and the Dominican inhabitants killed or taken as prisoners, such as San José de las Matas. Once in Haiti, some of the prisoners were subject to slavery and others massacred. The Dominican women and girls were given as prizes to Haitian military generals and were forced to become sexual slaves of them or face massacre.

The killings in this invasion denote it was a vengeance for not taking control of Santo Domingo, because many of the Dominican victims along with their spouses were tied to their beds alive and then their house was set on fire with them inside. Countless Dominicans were captured and forced to stand besides a river (with their backs facing the river) and then were stabbed to death or mortally shot. Others were duped under a false pardon by the Haitian army only to be sent to the nearby church to thank God for the change of heart, only for the church to be surrounded by the Haitian army, stormed and everyone killed. Having African blood in full or in part wasn’t an automatic safety from the destruction, since even mixed people and blacks were killed in the most dishonorable way. This was certainly the most bloody aspect of the infamous “Campaign of the East” and the most bloody of the Haitian invasions.

1822 – Haitian dictator Jean Pierre Boyer invades with not much resistance. He claims he arrived in peace and intended to do no harm to the Dominican population, but the Dominicans had declared their independence from Spain to create Spanish Haiti. The Spaniards took all weapons and ammunitions, basically leaving the Dominicans with no means of defending themselves in case of a Haitian invasion. That’s exactly what happened. Though Boyer claimned he arrived in peace, he was accompanied by more than 50,000 soldiers armned with weapons of all kinds. Despite this, Dominicans began to revolt (with not much success, usually the revolters were captured and killed) against Haitian rule from near the beginning of the Haitian Domination which lasted 22 years. Some of the negative aspects was the closure of the schools and the University of Santo Tomás de Aquino (the oldest university in the New World and precursor of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo), the prohibition of the Spanish language (despite this, Dominicans continue to speak Spanish only through the entire 22 years), sexual liberties by the Haitian soldiers on a Dominican population that was very religious, etc. Some of the positives was liberating the slaves again, as the French reestablished slavery. Anyone that was freed during the first liberation wasn’t reslaved. It was ordered by the French authorities that young Haitian boys and girls would be captured in the border region and subject to slavery. As during the first time, this time the slaves were a minority, in fact an even smaller part of the population. Unlike the first time where the slaves were mostly Dominicans, this time they were Haitians for the most part born in Haiti. Overall, Boyer’s policies caused more harm than improvements and his regime was greatly criticized by Dominicans and Haitians islandwide.

1844 – The Haitian President Charles Herard invades the Dominican Republic. This invasion included the killing of many Dominican civilians and the destruction of many Dominican towns, particularly west of Santiago in the north and west of Azua in the south. Herard was also heard saying that he will do to Dominicans something for which he would be criticized for, but that he thought was necessary to “save” his country. He was referring to subjecting Dominicans to a general massacre.

Jean-Louis Pierrot, President of Haiti during his 1845 invasion of the Dominican Republic.

1845 – The Haitian (at one time President of Haiti) Jean-Louis Pierrot invades the Dominican Republic. The Dominican generals Antonio Duvergé (a Dominican though born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico) and José Joaquín Puello confronted the invading Haitian forces until they were victorious.

1849 – Haitian President Faustin Soulouque invades through the South region. He made it as far into Dominican territory as Azua. Dominican General Pedro Santana confronted and beat him, forcing the Haitian army to retreat back to Haiti. During the return, his troops puts on fire every Dominican town along the way including Azua, Las Matas de Farfán and Neiba.

Bust of General Antonio Duvergé in Santo Domingo.

1855 – Now elevated to Emperor of Haiti (Faustin I), Soulouque invades a second time. Prior to invading he encouraged the Haitian army by promising to submit the entire Dominican population to a general massacre (including the mixed race and black Dominicans) and that his troops would chase and hunt the “Dominican rebels” as far as the mountains of the Cibao and find them in all their hiding spots. He ended the speech by saying that he will kill the Dominicans like wild hogs and the soldiers repeated “like wild hogs.” The army of around 30,000 men was split into three bodies, though Soulouque himself entered through the South region. Again, the Haitian invaders were beaten despite they were considerably more numerous and better armned than the Dominicans. The retreat back to Haiti also included the destruction of several Dominican towns and many Dominican civilians from the towns and rural areas were taken as prisoners.

1856 – General Paul Decayette, the Conde de Jimani and member of the Court of Faustin Soulouque, invades through the north. He is confronted and beaten by the Dominican army in Sabana Larga near the town of Dajabón. The exact date was January 24, 1856. With this victory the Dominicans put an end to the 12 years Dominican-Haitian War, one of the longest wars of independence in the Western Hemisphere (though with intermissions).

Ulises Heureaux, President of the Dominican Republic during the 1893 incursion into Dominican territory of the Haitian army.

1893 – Usually, the border squirmishes involved independent gangs of Haitians that would penetrate Dominican territory with the intent of committing robbery and at times murder(s), but this one was of the Haitian military and involved several actions to the detriment of Dominicans. The effect was so great, that the presidents of Haiti (Forvil Hyppolite) and of Dominican Republic (Ulises Heureaux) met close to Manzanillo Bay near Montecristi to find a solution to the border issues.

1910 – Haitian troops invade the Dominican Republic, though not on orders from the government of Haiti. Despite that, their belligerent acts towards Dominicans almost caused the start of a new war between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.