Resistance and Rebellion

The Age of Revolution

Excerpt from Learn Our History | Vol. 3

The Age of Revolution is a term that modern historians have used to describe a period that saw some of the most significant revolutionary movements in world history. This era, from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, is defined in particular by two movements - the American Revolution (1765-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799). Two campaigns that have become synonymous with 'liberty' and 'justice'.

These revolutionary wars, the men who fought them and the legacy they left, are all etched in history. Even the Industrial Revolution, a transition to new manufacturing techniques, is recognised as a key constituent of this rebellious era. There is, however, another monumental revolutionary movement that is largely less-esteemed than its revolutionary peers.

That is the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804); a revolution that, similarly to its American and French counterparts, saw ordinary individuals fight for equality, brotherhood and, above all, freedom.

Further similarities between these three revolutions can be seen in the demand for human rights; the battles fought against an oppressive force and the climatic formation of an independent republic. Although marked differences can also be seen in the forms of oppression being faced and the skin colour of the oppressed.

The Haitian Revolution saw the successful revolt of the enslaved population of Saint-Domingue, the elimination of slavery from the colony and the founding of a new, independent nation - Haiti. Perhaps no other revolution quite captures the fight for liberty and equality like that of the Haitian revolutionaries, who fought for their freedom in the face of unspeakable cruelty.

Sadly, their struggle and its relevance are routinely underappreciated. It is almost as if history has decided that revolution is only important when white men rebel. The Age of Revolution saw white men fight against oppression from other white men, but it also saw those same white men team up to oppress black men and women.

The newly formed United States of America refused to acknowledge the newly independent Haiti, while the newly revolutionised France, would go on to send warships to Haiti to demand restitution for their lost colony.

Still, the significance of the Haitian Revolution, in particular, is not just that it happened, or even its aftermath, but in its development. The Age of Revolution, or the Age of Resistance, was not an 'age' for enslaved peoples. It was a daily reality. The Haitian Revolution was the culmination of the countless smaller acts of resistance and rebellion that define this colonial age of oppression.

Contrary to popular belief, enslaved peoples never just accepted their plight. Despite finding themselves trapped, often for generations, these people grasped every opportunity to better their circumstance.

For these enslaved people, the unwillingness to be cowed by coercion took many forms. Some committed suicide rather than live in slavery. Others escaped, forming semi-permanent secluded settlements, such as the Cockpit Country of the Jamaican Maroons. Others still engaged in sabotage, destruction, or cultural resistance - in effect rejecting imposed European cultural practices and maintaining African ones in secret. Resistance came in many, many forms.

These daily acts of resistance, these struggle to attain some semblance of independence within the structure of the 'slave society', led to larger rebellions aimed at destroying the plantation system and institution of slavery altogether.

As much as we revere the fighters of the American and French Revolutions, we should acknowledge and applaud the heroes of resistance throughout the Caribbean. Revolutionaries from Nanny of the Maroons to Toussaint L'Ouverture. However, we should not forget the often nameless individuals who sowed the seeds of rebellion, day by day.