Monday, March 12, 2012

Haitian Soldiers Memorialized At The Siege of Savannah Monument

Franklin SQ Monument

The Siege of Savannah--On Oct. 9, 1779, a Haitian regiment known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue served as a reserve unit to American and French forces fighting a British contingent. The unit was comprised of more than 500 free men of color from Haiti.

As battered American and French soldiers fell back, the Haitian troops moved in to provide a retreat. The battle resulted in the largest number of casualties the allies suffered in a single engagement.
Many of the Haitian soldiers later fought to win their country's own war of independence, crediting their military experience in Savannah. (Source: Haitian American Historical Society)

Haitians Want It Known That Haitian Heroes Aided American Revolution : Georgia: Display in museum depicts the 1779 Battle of Savannah and recalls the 'Chasseurs Volontaires'--infantry volunteers from Haiti. Placard salutes the bravest feat "ever performed by foreign troops in the American cause."(LA Times)

In the Los Angeles Times, Dan Sewell reported on 18 December 1994--SAVANNAH, Ga. — Among the Revolutionary War exhibits in this coastal city's history museum there stands a figure in 18th-Century dress, a figure much like the rest except for one major difference:

It is black.

The figure, part of displays depicting the 1779 Battle of Savannah, commemorates the "Chasseurs Volontaires"--infantry volunteers from Haiti who carried out what a placard calls "the most brilliant feat of the day, and one of the bravest ever performed by foreign troops in the American cause."

It is a rare American tribute to the heroism of Haitians who fought on U.S. soil for the independence of this nation, 215 years before U.S. troops landed in Haiti to help restore the elected president.

Little-known in this country, the battle is cited proudly by some Haitians in the aftermath of the U.S. intervention that ended three years of rule by an army junta.

"We, who stood side by side with you in the Battle of Savannah, Georgia, to fight for the independence of the United States, are happy that today you stand side by side with us to uphold democracy in Haiti," President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said in Washington shortly before his U.S.-enabled return to Haiti following three years in exile.

Most people probably didn't understand Aristide's reference, historians say.

"It's hardly known about at all," said John Kennington, a historian who works with the Coastal Heritage Society here.

For one thing, Kennington said, popular knowledge about the American Revolution usually centers around the Northeast and East--Paul Revere's midnight ride, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the climactic fighting at Yorktown--even though it was also waged in the South.

Another reason the Battle of Savannah isn't a focal point of American histories: We lost.

A combined American-French force had laid siege to Savannah and British officers and Georgia civilian authorities were discussing surrender when reinforcements arrived from a Beaufort, S.C., garrison.

On Oct. 9, the allies launched a bloody frontal assault that was repelled. The British pursued the dazed allies, who suffered more than 1,000 dead or wounded.

But the bulk of the force lived to fight another day mainly because their retreat was covered by a rear-guard stand made by the Haitians, historians say.

About 800 Haitians, including 80 slaves who were rewarded with their freedom, had voluntarily joined the French force. Accounts of Haitian casualties vary, although most historians agree they were heavy and included at least a dozen deaths.

Haitian historians say the battle had a major impact upon Haiti's future. The Haitian volunteers returned home with battle experience and a new view of their colonial status.

"The Haitians who participated in those battles came back with an ideal; an ideal of freedom and liberty was developed," said Gerard Laurent, a Port-au-Prince historian and author of 19 books on his homeland's history.

Benjamin Franklin
Among the volunteers was teen-ager Henri Christophe, a general in the Haitian revolt that in 1804 established the Western Hemisphere's second republic and its first black-majority one.

Yet there was no sign of U.S. gratitude for the Savannah heroism, Haitian historians say. Instead, they supported the French against the Haitians and have been hostile or, at best, indifferent to their Caribbean neighbors during most of their history.

Americans continued to own slaves six decades after Haitian independence, and obviously feared any contacts that might encourage American blacks to rebel. Haiti was isolated or exploited by larger nations as it fell into the cycle of dictatorships and internal strife it was hoped would end when Aristide became its first freely elected president.

When Haitians today cite the Battle of Savannah, they may do so in a sense of long-delayed Haitian-American kinship, or in bitterness.

"Those who were in favor of the intervention say that we are finally rewarded for Savannah," said George Michel, another historian in Port-au-Prince. "Others against the intervention say: 'Look how we are being treated after we helped them with their independence.' "

At any rate, because of the latest milestone in Haitian-American relations, historians say, the Battle of Savannah may take on new significance. Laurent noted there is talk in Savannah of creating a battlefield park as an attraction for its thriving tourist industry.

"Then maybe the Americans will remember things they seem to have conveniently forgotten," Laurent said.

The Rev. Thomas Wenski, head of the Haitian Catholic Center in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, said such history is important for Haitian children struggling for acceptance as immigrants.

"It's something very important for Haitian kids growing up in the United States to know," Wenski said. "This is one of the ways for them to have pride in their heritage."

Savannah Swords

Wider knowledge of Savannah, Wenski suggested, would have led to a memorable landing cry in Haiti, just as World War I soldiers paid tribute to the French marquis who was a Revolutionary War hero.

"Like the Americans who said 'Lafayette, we are here!' They could have said when they landed in Haiti, 'Henri Christophe, we are here!' "

Franklin Square, City Market, Savannah, GA

Franklin Square was created in 1791 and was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin who was an agent for the Colony of Georgia from 1768 to 1775. In those days, the square was referred to as Water Tank Square, Water Tower Square and the Reservoir Square, because it was the site of the city’s water supply. The square is located at the Western End of City Market, where visitors can find distinctive shops, antiques and fabulous dining experiences. (source, Los Angeles Times, 1994)


  1. This claim is an anachronism. How could Haitians have fought for U.S. independence when Haiti didn’t exist? Haiti was the antithesis of Saint Domingue. Who ever claims that Haitians fought for U.S. independence is putting the cart before the horse. France fought for U.S. independence and recruited volunteers from their colony of Saint Domingue. Haitians became Haitians when they decided they would no longer tolerate slavery in their midst. Haitians fought to liberate Colombia and other South American states from Spain in part because they wanted slavery to end in these lands. No Haitian shed his blood for the slave state known as the U.S.A. The U.S.A and Haiti didn’t enjoy diplomatic relations until the U.S. Civil War.

    1. The FIRST sentence describes the NAME of this group as: "the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue" -- that is French, of course, that means "Hunters of the Volunteers in Santo Domingo" in English.

      If you are unfamiliar with the word "Saint Domingue" or "Santo Domingo" that was the island that houses modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic. You see, if you read carefully, you don't need to rant. The origin of the soldiers is clearly delineated and named in the First sentence of this article.

      It's kinda like talking about "Germany" or "Spain" before the requenesta or when the Iberian Peninsula was controlled by the Moorish Muslims for 700 years. Who were those people? Spanish? I don't think so ... the Moors were expelled in 1492 along with the Jews .... now isn't it ironic that the The Reconquista coincided with Columbus so called 'discovery' of an island in the Caribbean Sea that Columbus named "Santo Domingo" ....

    2. On second thought, if you really want to get technical in 1776 the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA didn't exist either. John Hanson was the first president of the USA in 1781. Like it or not, the USA wasn't even formed as a nation until 1781 -- George Washington was the first president under the US Constitution in 1789; there were 8 presidents BEFORE George Washington who were elected and served under the Articles of Confederation.

      Now, again I ask you. If you can speak of the USA of 1776 (that didn't exist until 1781), then the country of Haiti can also exist exist retrospectively before 1804.

  2. Ron, it's extremely presumptuous of you to assume that I didn't know the meaning of Saint Domingue. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are on the island known as Hispaniola by its European conquerors or Haiti by its original inhabitants. It was Saint Domingue only for a brief period when Spain ceded its side to France at the end of the 18th century. Columbus did not name the island Santo Domingo.
    Sorry, but it is not "kinda like talking about "Germany" or "Spain" before the requenesta(sic) or when the Iberian Peninsula was controlled by the Moorish Muslims for 700 years." The Reconquista involved established peoples regaining their freedom from a foreign invader, that's not what happened in Haiti. Haiti 1.0 (Taino Haiti) was blotted out by the Spaniards resulting in Hispaniola, which broke apart to become French St. Domingue and Spanish Santo Domingo. Haiti 2.0 (the 1804 version) was born out of a violent conflict that required the blotting out of the French element because they wouldn't recognize the Black man's right to live as a free human being. It's too bad you don't like to be reminded of that fact. By the way, are you aware that the main use for these volunteers in St. Domingue was to act as slave catchers?

    1. {{By the way, are you aware that the main use for these volunteers in St. Domingue was to act as slave catchers?}}

      Yes. They were used much like the Miskito (or Mosquito) Indians, who would be used to track down the Maroon slaves (in Jamaica). And on an ironic twist of fate the the Jamaican Maroons were used to capture the sugar plantation slaves in Jamaica. Then the triple irony, the Jamaican slaves were used to enslave and colonize Sierra Leone for the British Crown. And when they (Jamaican Maroons) were caught harboring escaped slaves, they were deported to Nova Scotia in Canada and eventually relocated (for lack of a better term) to Sierra Leone. The cycle of oppression does indeed complicate the story and trajectory of slavery.

      The reason why I mentioned Germany, is because the country of Germany didn't exist before 1871. Before that it was Prussia, Austria and host of other city-states or assorted disjointed fiefdoms. In the USA we refer to the people who immigrated from the Rhineland from 1683-1808 to Pennsylvania as "Germans" there are even areas called "Germantown" that were established BEFORE 1871...BEFORE there was even a land called GERMANY....England's Queen Victoria was even German -- so what do you call Queen Victoria? Is she English? British? or German?

      In Germany, much like Haiti, the people and the lands are certainly renamed. It seems to be a global phenomenon. But, why do Haitians get marginalized by geographical nomenclature? Nobody sits around calling the Germans, Saxons, Jutes, Teutons, Normans and Angles -- or referring to Germany under Roman Rule or Catholic Rule ....okay, that's enough of that tangent. I could make the same point for Spain and Portugal ...

      You're right, Columbus didn't name the island Santo Domingo, he named it "La Isla Española".

      What I don't understand is what your fuss is all about. I think the sculptures are cool. It is a relatively unknown aspect of American history that the French wages a proxy war against the English and they used black soldiers to fight that battle -- this again is ironic given that the two colonies that were the most hostile to armed black men were Georgia and South Carolina.

      Savannah of all places has erected statues, when they use slave dungeons (slave jails, slave barracoons) as parking garages.

      Thanks for commenting.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

    2. Ron,My fuss is the nonsense of people describing Alexandre Dumas's grandmother as a "Haitian slave". If your ahistorical approach is accepted that would be correct. My way of seeing things would prevent such absurdity. Savannah erected statues, big deal! How about reparation for all the labor stolen. Thanks for the German history lesson, but I already knew all that stuff. The singular event of Haitian history was the struggle against, and defeat of the slave system. The half a million human beings who went from being mere tools of the French to being fully human after they defeated Bonaparte's attempt to decimate or exterminate them, depending on how much resistance they put up, deserve to be respected. They chose to break with the whole bloody mess that was St. Domingue.

    3. I actually view those statues as a symbol of the domino effect of freedom. Let me explain, the American Revolutionary War that was waged by 13 of the 32 British Colonies was financed and supported by the French Crown. That's why you'll find so many cities named after that Bourbon King Louis, like Louisville, Georgia (one of the slave smuggling markets that sold illegal African slaves after the 1808 import ban), Louisville, Kentucky, St. Louis, Bourbon Street, and of course the ubiquitous fleur-de-lis. Not only is the fleur-de-lis stamped on every thing New Orleans, but it is one of the branding punishments in the Code Noir.

      After the French-Indian War, or some call it the 7-Years War, or the Battle for Quebec (whatever name one chooses to call North American Battles between the French and the British from 1754-1763) that dang near bankrupted the English, the British Crown started imposing a string of draconian taxes on all of the colonies.

      The French didn't just walk away into the sunset of life, they waged war against the British just like French fought the Iroquois -- war by proxy. Hurons and the Algonquians were used as a proxy for the French against the Iroquois much like the American Patriots (for lack of a better term) were used by the French against the British.

      But, the unpredictable nature of war is legendary. The British won the Battle for Quebec against the French, but they lost 13 of their North American Colonies as well as the land mass called the United States, in the process. The French financed the American Revolution, but it bankrupted the government and eventually the King and his Queen were beheaded by the French people.

      Those French notions of freedom, equality, brotherhood did not remain in France, but the French Revolution's motto of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" was exported to their colony that is known in the modern-day as Haiti.

      The unintended consequent of the Battle of Quebec was NEVER the Haitian Revolution, but it did indeed happen. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that doubled the land mass of the USA was a direct result of the Haitian Revolution. As I stated earlier, this was the domino effect of freedom. Just like water it had no boundary.

      The statues in Savannah, Georgia, of those armed black men, call them Haitian, call them what you may, symbolize the biggest fear of the slave-owning plutocrats in the USA -- armed, organized, slaves fighting for freedom.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

    4. Ron, although I disagree with you I must say I find you an erudite guy. Did we not agree before that the chasseurs were slave catchers? In what way were they a threat to the status quo? An educated man like you must be aware of the fact that slaves have always borne arms for their masters and for the master's freedom. You are enamored of these statues. the following link is to a statue and other monuments that truly represent freedom from slavery:
      Have you ever heard of a slave called makandal who was executed in 1758 in St. Domingue? You seem to ascribe the impetus for freedom solely to what happened in the U.S.A and France:

    5. {{Did we not agree before that the chasseurs were slave catchers? In what way were they a threat to the status quo? An educated man like you must be aware of the fact that slaves have always borne arms for their masters and for the master's freedom}}

      Okay, you got me with a direct hit in my heart. I wish I could say otherwise, but the historic record revels an ugly truth in your statement.

      Several months ago, I took my kids to a local art museum to see a traveling exhibition of Nigerian Igbo Art. The artifacts were beautifully curated with maps, timelines and audio tours. I pointed out the location of the various African Kingdoms of Nigeria on the map and we located the different slave ports .... then my kids stopped me in horror and asked: "Are these the Africans that sold us into slavery?"

      Now, how do you answer such a question when you know that the kingdom that stayed intact for the centuries of the transatlantic slave trade HAD to be complicit slave traders. Those Nigerian Africans profited in Africa's destruction and divestment of its human capital. So I looked at my kids and told them that not only did they sell us to the Europeans, but they sold our people for seashells (cowry shells), trade beads, and iron bracelets (manilla). Scroll down and look at the Manilla money of Nigeria with the picture of the Queen of England on it.

      It certainly breaks my heart to see how Africans kill other Africans wholesale (Rowanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, Angola, Sudan, Nigeria, etc.) or Jamaicans killing Jamaicans, or American blacks just gunning each other down day after day....It doesn't HAVE to be this way, but when does it end?

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

    6. Ron, I think you paint with too broad a brush. The African participation in the transatlantic slave trade isn't as straight forward as your comments on Nigeria would indicate. The following link indicates that some Africans fought the trend and paid the price for their heroism: I would like to know what you make of people such as this lady and Makandal. The Black race isn't better or worse than the others. Who is the African Hitler or Stalin?

    7. I agree. I'm sorry if it seems like I painted the broad brush of sweeping generalizations. It's just that the family that came stateside and was hosted at our local museum, most likely benefited from the slave trade. Truth is ugly, but I'd rather deal with that than some goofy mythic fiction.

      That being said, you just struck a nerve with the whole slave catcher thing --- I can cover slavery from up and down, on every continent, with every race, it's just when I see the post colonization of Africa and the mass incarceration of black men -- it seems like a sweeping generalization but it is just general deep pain.


    8. "Truth is ugly, but I'd rather deal with that than some goofy mythic fiction." To which mythic fiction are you referring to?

    9. The mythic fiction is the uncritical romanticism of Mother Africa from the perspectives of her orphaned diaspora. I'm just not an African worshiper, I'm well aware of my roots and I'll champion Africa all day, every day; but, when anyone refers to "slave catchers," my first thoughts go straight to Africa. Who were the people who did the catching for the Europeans and let's not forget the Muslim's Trans-Saharan slave trade. We in the states tend to forget the Indian Ocean and Islamic slave trade out of Zanzibar.

      In other words, tens of millions of Africans (documented by ship manifests) were sold into eternal slavery off the West Coast of Africa (and the East Coast, and Madagascar) by other Africans. They were the "mother of all slave catchers." The Europeans were the "buyers," but the Africans were the "sellers" (of course not ALL AFRICANS, since the slave trade was NEVER about the rank-and-file everyday people irrespective of race, religion or geographic boundary --Slavery was rich man's game). That's what I mean when I speak of goofy myths -- sometimes many folks, and I'm not including you among them, forget that the 300+ years of human trafficking had willing buyers and willing sellers.

      I am 100% against slavery. Human beings are NOT A COMMODITY! People have rationalized oppression, subjugation and enslavement for profit since the beginning of time. They've said it was because the "other" was an inferior being; they've dehumanized and animalized the enslaved human beings; I could go on, and on, and on...but the bottom line is I don't buy it.

      I like to deconstruct history, shake it up, turn it on its side, dismantle it and reconnect the dots. You can disagree with my point-of-view, but I'm grateful to live in a time where my viewpoints on slavery and oppression can be aired without fear of imprisonment or death.

      Thanks again for visiting this site. You should really explore other posts, too. BTW--The reason why France, England and the USA are germane, is because this post is about the American Revolution and the key players were the USA, France and England.

      --Ron Edwards, US Slave Blog

    10. I get it, you're a U.S. patriot. I can respect that. I find it strange that you should think only of Africans as the main slave catchers when ancient Greek and Roman societies were based on slavery. The Vikings did a brisk trade in Irish flesh, The Middle East was awash in Eastern European flesh for centuries. I could go on but I think you get my point. Europeans weren't the passive buyers you pretend they were.This bit by Paul Mooney sums up your view rather wittily I won't try to sell you any watches. I have and will continue to explore your site.

    11. Really? A US Patriot? :) -- I'm going to take that quote to the bank.

      Thanks for the link, I love Paul Mooney.

      You stated -- {{I find it strange that you should think only of Africans as the main slave catchers when ancient Greek and Roman societies were based on slavery. }}

      Please, read the second sentence in the third paragraph of my previous comment that states: "People have rationalized oppression, subjugation and enslavement for profit since the beginning of time...."

      {{Europeans weren't the passive buyers you pretend they were.}} I have over 1300 posts on this blog and if you can point out just one instance of passivity with relationship to Europeans and slave buying, slave selling, slave trading, please let me know and I'll delete that post. Heck, I even inserted an image of Gollum/Smegel from "Lord of the Rings" in one post:

      Or this post about one of the most famous New Orleans slave trading hotels. I interspersed images of "The Shining" along with the original photographs of the rotunda that has been immortalized in drawings, paintings, and sketchings --

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  8. Among the Revolutionary War exhibits in this coastal city's history museum there stands a figure in 18th-Century dress, cemetery monuments

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