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    United States: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Go Now!

    United States
    Explore the vast openness and wildlife found roaming in the western United States, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park (pictured) in North Dakota. Begin Your Journey!

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    Trinidad & Tobago
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    St. Kitts & Nevis: Nevis Island. Go Now!

    St. Kitts & Nevis
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History of Haiti

WARNING: Safety is a concern in Haiti, please read this travel warning before going!

What is today known as Haiti, or the island of Hispaniola as a whole, was most likely first settled by the Arawak people from South America. In about 600 AD the Taino, another group of Arawak arrived. Later the Caribs arrived, in about the 1500s, just as Europeans were also arriving to the region. The Caribs took control of most of the island, although their rule was short lived.

Christopher Columbus was the first European to arrive on the island of Hispaniola, which he did on his first journey to the "New World" in 1492. It was also on the island that the Spanish set up their first colony in the Americas when they created the settlement of La Isabela on the island's north coast. This settlement struggled though as it was hit by two hurricanes before the year 1496 so in that year the city of Santo Domingo was established by Christopher Columbus's brother, Bartholomew. Near the same time a settlement near Leogane was established in the western half of the island.

The island was home to gold mines, and as was common, the Spanish used the local people as cheap labor on these projects, as well as on agricultural projects. Between the European diseases and the forced labor, most of the Carib population on the island had died by the early 1500s, at which time the Spanish on Hispaniola began important African slaves to participate in this labor.

After gold was the initial mineral sought, the economy turned to the growth of sugarcane, beginning in 1516. This industry required much manual labor and slave number increased as conditions generally decreased. As these tensions rose, slaves rose up to fight or escaped into the mountains, as numerous communities of escaped slaves arose in the mountains throughout the island. The Spanish also struggled along the coasts as piracy began to rise in the early-1500s and the island held little hope of survival.

By the late 1500s most of the island's natural resources had dried up and trade was diminishing due to piracy so the island fell into poverty as classes ceased to exist and only the city of Santo Domingo (in modern day Dominican Republic) survived at a decently high economic scale.

In order to survive, the people on the island resorted primarily to illegal trade with the Dutch and others, which the Spanish government outlawed. Due to this, Spain decided, in 1605 to forcibly move their people closer to the city of Santo Domingo, where they would be overseen. This event though only led to thousands of death by starvation or disease, while creating greater hostility on the island. It also cornered Spanish forces to one area, giving the pirates more coastline to attack. This led to pirate settlement in the area and the pirate island of Tortuga (off the island's northwest coast) being created.

In 1660 the British took control of Tortuga and handed it over to Jeremie Deschamps, a Frenchman, who immediately turned the island over to France. With this, France also staked claim on the western half of the island of Hispaniola, calling this region Saint-Domingue. In 1697 this became official as Spain ceded the western third of Hispaniola to France. Under this initial French rule the pirates were almost entirely defeated and agriculture became the region's primary form of economic support. The primary crops grown were tobacco, indigo, and cotton, industries that required much manual labor, and hence encouraged the importation of African slaves.

Throughout the 1700s the island's population grew substantially as numerous settlements were created on all coasts, including the new capital city of Port-au-Prince. Sugarcane and coffee became important export crops in the region as the economy started to slowly grow. By 1780 this region produced over 40% of all sugar consumed in Europe. However the new capital was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in 1751 and again in 1770.

Throughout the economic boom, slaves were imported in greater and greater numbers since working conditions were so brutal, few slaves actually had children, but rather the slave owners just imported new slaves. Due to this, most slaves were born in Africa and numerous African traditions and customs were brought to the region and remained over time with each new shipment of slaves. This was most pronounced in voodoo, which combined with French Catholicism to create an odd version of Catholicism that continues to exist today in Haiti.

However, there also grew a middle class in Haiti, primarily formed by children of French fathers and African mothers. By law these people were free and soon Haiti held the largest population of free blacks in all of the Caribbean. Despite being free, these people held few rights.

In 1789 revolution broke out in France and the following year civil war broke out in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). This war was short lived and many of the initial rebels fled to the Spanish side of the island to seek refuge. This didn't stop the French though as they entered the eastern half of the island and finished their civil war in short order.

This however led to a slave revolt in 1791, beginning the Haitian Revolution. This revolution was begun by slaves, who burned their owners' lands. This revolt spread quickly and by 1793 the slaves in the region were freed, although with restricted rights. As the battle ensued the British threatened to attack, but the rebel slaves stood up to the British and defeated their army. By 1801 Toussaint Louverture, who was leading the slave revolt, took over the entire region and even took the entire island of Hispaniola. Despite never claiming independence from France, the threat of power in the region led to France sending in troops to end the violence.

The French did little to restore what the slaves had fought for and in 1803, after selling the Louisiana Territory to the United States, it was clear France was moving out of the region so the former slaves regained control of the region and declared independence in 1804 under the name Haiti. France however didn't recognize this independence until 1825 when Haiti essentially bought their freedom in order to lift economic embargoes on the country.

Most of the French remaining on the island in 1804 were murdered, although most left prior to the formal declaration of independence. This new country struggled at first, like many new countries, as the people were not unified and politicians fought for greater and greater power as each seemed to declare himself emperor or president for life.

In 1822 the eastern half of the island declared independence from Spain and for a brief period was taken over by Haiti. However the primarily Spanish people of the east viewed the Haitian occupation as repressive as Spanish language, customs, and even the Catholic Church were suppressed. In 1844 this union ended with the eastern half of the island rebelling against Haiti.

The 1840s and 1850s were filled with political turmoil and more self-proclaimed emperors coming to power, then losing power. This ended in 1869 when the government was somewhat pacified as the domestic focus shifted to education and infrastructure. This relative peace and stability continued into the 1900s.

Beginning in 1911 the political chaos returned as did Haitian debt, leading to the United States occupying the country until 1934. Under U.S. occupation many roads were built and many public works were improved, but social justice and freedoms were restricted as the U.S. essentially forced a new constitution on the people.

In the early 1930s the United States' stock market crash hurt the Haitian economy and eventually helped lead to the removal of U.S. troops. This removal, however just led to more political instability. Dictator after dictator came to power in the late 1930s into the 1940s. In 1946 a coup took over the country and established general elections in Haiti, but this brought little progress and dictators continued to rule the country until 1986.

In 1986 the people overthrew their president, but this democracy only lasted a short period of time because soon the military was again ruling the country in the early 1990s. This ended in 1994 when the military leaders, under much international pressure stepped down and general elections again took place in 1995. Since this time politics have been disjointed and have included a couple coups, but generally nonviolent with the exception of protests in 2004, which led to United Nations peace keeping troops to arrive. Additionally, many have accused various governmental regimes of actually partaking in the drug trade from South America to the United States.

In January, 2010 a massive earthquake struck Haiti just outside of Port-au-Prince. This caused between 50,000 and 300,000 deaths. This also destroyed the economy, hurt the food supply, and spread diseases, causing more deaths and starvation.

This page was last updated: November, 2012