The Pearl of the Antilles: Haiti in Colonial Times (1492–1791)

  • Philippe R. Girard


In 1492, during his first voyage to the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus landed in the Bahamas, then headed south for the coast of Cuba. Upon hearing that an island due east abounded in gold, pearls, and spices, he made his way across the Windward Passage, thus becoming the first European to land in Haiti. Columbus’s first taste of Haiti was as bitter as it was sweet. Leaving a young boy in charge of his admiral ship so that he could take some rest on Christmas Eve, he awoke to the sound of crashing wood. The Santa Maria had hit a reef and soon foundered. Columbus left some crewmembers on the shore, where they built Fort Navidad, the first European settlement in the Caribbean; but these men met a tragic end, killed by the native Tainos after Columbus’s departure. Luckily, Columbus noted with interest, the natives he had seen wore gold trinkets, looked submissive enough, and could presumably be enslaved without too much difficulty. As for Cuba and Haiti,

All these islands are fertile and this one is particularly so. It has many large harbors finer than any I know in Christian lands, and many large rivers. All this is marvelous. The land is high and has many ranges of hills, and mountains incomparably finer than Tenerife [in Spain’s Canary Islands]. All are most beautiful and various in shape, and all are accessible. They are covered with tall trees of different kinds which seem to reach the sky.1


Slave Trade Colonial Time Serial Killer Indenture Servant African Slave 
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  1. 1.
    Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages (New York: Penguin Books, 1969; translated by K. M. Cohen), 116.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted in Robert D., Nancy G., and Michael Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492–1995 ( New York: U. Press of America, 1996 ), 4.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Quoted in Eric Williams, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean ( 1970; reprint, New York: Vintage Books, 1984 ), 34.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Aristide and Christophe Wargny, Jean-Bertrand Aristide: An Autobiography (New York: Orbis Books, 1993), 143. From 1500 to 1650, Spanish imports of gold and silver from the entire New World (including Mexico and Peru) were 80 tons and 16,000 tons, respectively.Google Scholar
  5. See Henry Kamen, Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492–1763 (2002; reprint, New York: HarperCollins, 2004 ), 287.Google Scholar

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© Philippe R. Girard 2005

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  • Philippe R. Girard

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