the end of the sixteen-century most of the Spaniards had abandoned
Espanola for the richer lands of Peru and Mexico. The rest had
deserted the western part of the island for its eastern half from
where Spain ruled its colonies in the Americas. However, Dutch
and French traders began exchanges with the few Spaniards of Espanola's
western part. We saw in our previous discussion that to discourage
this trade, the island's governor compelled these Spaniards to
emigrate to the eastern part of the island in 1605. The consequences
of this measure were far reaching. Instead of putting an end to
the trade, it resulted in the establishment of buccaneers and
pirates on the Western part of Espanola and the eventual split
of the island into two colonies. As we will see, buccaneers and
pirates would later allow the French to conquer the western part
of Espanola and turn it into the colony of Saint Domingue (now
Haiti). On the other hand, the eastern part of the island would
remain under Spanish domination and would later become the Dominican
a pivotal role in the establishment of a French colony in Espanola.
L'ile de la Tortue or Tortuga Island is haped as a sea-tortoise,
stands off the northern coast of Haiti. It is very mountainous
and full of rocks; yet, it is hugely dense of lofty trees that
grow upon the hardest of those rocks. The rocks are abundant on
the northern part of the island. At the beginning of the 17th
century the population lived on the southern coast of the island.
This part contained a port that allowed several entries to ships
of up to 70 guns. The southern part of the island was divided
into four; the first part was called Low Land or Low Country.
This was the main part of the southern coast because it contained
the island's port. The town was called Cayona and there lived
the richest planters of the island. The second was called the
Middle Plantation. Its territory could only grow tobacco. The
third part was named Ringot. These places were situated towards
the Western part of the island. The fourth was called the Mountain;
it is there that the first cultivated plantation was established
upon the island.
1629, buccaneers established something of a rough place of settlement
on Tortuga where there grew up a systematic victualling trade
between them and pirates. The island became a stronghold for pirates
and buccaneers in the Caribbean. Early in 1631, The Spaniards
from Santo Domingo raided the nest of robbers in Tortuga and drove
them away leaving a small garrison of twenty-five soldiers to
prevent their return. That did not however stop Frenchmen and
Englishmen from settling in the island.
French and English pirates colonized Tortuga Island at the beginning
of the seventeen-century. The French settled in Tortuga Island
from St. Christopher, another island in the Caribbean. When the
Spaniards destroyed the English settlement in Nevis in 1629, Anthony
Hilton, a shipmaster and leader of the colony, decided to find
another place where he could combine planting with piracy; he
determined to establish himself on Tortuga. Hilton's new colony
on Tortuga was brought under the control of the Providence Company
in 1631 and it rapidly grew as wandering Englishmen and Frenchmen
were attracted by the opportunities it afforded of finding employment
on the privateers who made it their base. Constant desertions
of indentured servants from the hard discipline and constant labor
of St. Christopher and Barbados brought new inhabitants to Tortuga.
The laxity and excitement of life on Tortuga which alternated
log wood cutting and cattle hunting in the Espanola forests with
the prospects of adventure and booty at sea made the new settlement
the goal of every fugitive in the Caribbean.
soon arose between the French and the English settlements in Tortuga.
The island was the scene of disorder and excess of every kind
and in 1633 the Audiencia of Santo Domingo resolved that the desperadoes
must be cleared out once more. They wished to provide a ruthless
lesson to any one tempted to follow their example. But it was
not until 1635, when the dissension between the English and French
in Tortuga became so acute as to lead to constant fights, that
the Spaniards took advantage of the situation to descend upon
the settlement in force. It fell into their hands with hardly
a show of resistance. Indeed, the English governor fled at once
on board of a ship that happened to be in the harbor and left
the colonists to their fate. The Spaniards killed most of the
men and converted the women into slaves.
French suffered a fate almost similar to the English. The Spaniards
repined at the French's property and grudged them the possession
they had freely given. Hence, they gave notice to others of their
own nation who sent several great boats well armed and manned
to dispossess the French of the island. The expedition succeeded
and the French fled unto the woods. At night they sailed from
Tortuga Island to the main land. They performed this easily since
they had no women or children with them. There, the French retreated
to the woods again to seek food and spy on the Spaniards. They
were planning on stopping the Spaniards from going to Tortuga
Island. The Spaniards of the main land tried to starve the French
in the wood but failed. The French quickly armed themselves with
guns, powder and bullets. They waited for an opportunity to attack
the Spaniards when the Spaniards of Tortuga would come to help
those of the mainland. When this opportunity presented itself,
the French quickly fled the woods and sailed to Tortuga where
they attacked the small number of remaining Spaniards on Tortuga
Island. Having done so, the French fortified themselves as best
they could to prevent a return of the Spaniards. They also sent
a messenger to the island of St. Christopher asking for help and
relief as well as a governor to unify them against their enemy.
French governor of St. Christopher sent a man named Le Vasseur
in quality of Governor together with a ship full of men and all
other necessities for their establishment and defense in Tortuga.
The governor quickly built a fortress upon the highest rock on
the island whence he could hinder the access of any ships or other
vessels that should design to enter the port. Without access to
this port no one could access the island except through a very
narrow passage capable of receiving only two persons at once and
not without difficulty. A great cavity in the middle of this rock
allowed the building of a great battery. After the construction
of the fort, Le Vasseur ordered two guns to be mounted on the
place. They also destroyed the narrow way leading to the fort.
The new security of their refuge led the French to begin peopling
the island and seek their living by hunting and planting tobacco
as others cruised and robbed the Spaniards from the coasts of
Spaniards feared the French presence in Tortuga. They feared quite
rightly that the French would one day invade the main land. They
thus decided to invade the island with 800 men in several canoes
when many of the French were abroad at sea and others employed
in hunting. They landed again in Tortuga almost without being
perceived by the French. They had established themselves on top
of a mountain when they discovered that the French had cut down
trees to reveal invaders. With the help of some slaves (black
and white) and Indians, the Spaniards made their way on top of
the mountain and built a battery there. Meanwhile, the French
who knew of the Spaniards' plan sought help from nearby buccaneers
and filibusters. The buccaneers and filibusters landed at Tortuga
at night to avoid being seen by the Spaniards. They then climbed
the mountain where the Spaniards had taken refuge. They attacked
the Spaniards just as the latter were about to attack the French.
The Spaniards were caught in surprise. It was a complete defeat!
Surviving Spaniards fled hearing the shriek of the others. This
victory established the French as the owner of the island of Tortuga
whence they would conduct their invasion of the western part of
Espanola and create St. Domingue.
Establishment of St. Domingue
The French settlement in Tortuga followed three forms. In the
first category, you found those who chose to either hunt or plant
or else to rove on the sea in quality of pirates. They generally
sought out for a comrade or a companion to share their fortunes.
They joined the whole stock of what they possessed towards a mutual
and reciprocal gain. The hunters were subdivided into two several
sorts. Some only hunt wild bulls and cows while others hunted
wild boars. The first group was called buccaneers. There were
in the middle of the 17th century around 600 buccaneers on the
island. The dominions of the French on the island caused the number
of wild cattle to decrease in Tortuga. This in turn caused the
number of buccaneers to decrease in Tortuga. Chasing wild boar
was not sufficient to feed them. The second group of hunters chased
nothing but wild boars. They salted the flesh and preserved it
to sell it to planters. They usually have certain places designed
for hunting where they lived for the space of three or four months
and though not often a whole year.
Governors of Tortuga always behaved as owners until the year 1664.
In the year 1664 the French West India Company laid the foundations
of a colony in Tortuga under which the planters of Espanola were
assimilated and named as subjects thereunto. Bertrand D'Ogeron
was recommended to consolidate French power in the Antilles. He
was appointed Governor of Tortuga in 1665 and ordered to make
the island a center from which to extend influence on Espanola.
task was very difficult. At first he could not persuade the buccaneers
to accept his government for they were determined not to abandon
their intercourse with the Dutch or with any rovers who came to
their harbors. He found the men whom he hoped to convert into
settled colonists dispersed in small and unorganized parties living
in the most primitive fashion.
of his first acts was to take a census of the settled population.
He found that there were 450 whites in the colony, 60 slaves and
a few indentured servants. In 1665, he reported to Colbert, the
famous French minister of Commerce of Louis XIV, that there were
"seven or eight hundred Frenchmen scattered along the coasts
of the Island of Espanola in inaccessible places surrounded by
mountains or by great rocks...So it is necessary for his majesty
to give an order to cause these people to leave the said island
of Espanola and betake themselves in two months into Tortuga which
they would do without doubt if it were fortified and that would
bring in a great revenue to the King if all captains of merchant
ships and others were forbidden to buy or sell anything to the
Frenchmen called buccaneers along the coast of Espanola."
thus actively and successfully engaged in developing Tortuga as
a colony, transforming its population of adventurers into a stable
population. The governor gradually persuaded the buccaneers to
abandon their wild life in the woods and to settle down to planting
either on Tortuga or in places on the extreme west of Espanola
like Petit Goave or Leogane. He brought out many new settlers
from France, sometimes at his own expense and that of his friends.
In a report to France, he asked for the immigration of at least
12,000 men, women and children to develop a French population
in the colony. Although D'Ogeron never succeeded at bringing this
annual number to St. Domingue, his initiative opened a real immigration
movement toward the colony from France. Discontented planters
came to join him from the other French islands, and within two
or three years there were 2,000 French colonists in Western Espanola
leading settled lives and employing a growing number of black
slaves upon their plantations.
true buccaneers who roamed the woods were reduced to hardly 100
persons. D'Ogeron did not attempt to suppress or absorb the filibusters
in the same way for he designed to employ them to further national
policy. He was more successful than the English and he had attracted
all the French rovers from Port Royal and had concentrated them
in his own stronghold of Tortuga. War was imminent and he was
thus provided with a ready-made force of privateers to let loose
in his own stronghold of Tortuga.
many ways, D'Ogeron is considered as the first real governor of
St. Domingue. His policies resulted in the establishment of a
strong French settlement in Espanola and the splitting of the
island into two colonies in the seventeen and eighteen century,
that of St. Domingue on the island's western part and that of
Santo Domingo on the eastern border. We will have to wait until
1697, and the Treaty of Ryswick for Spain to officially give up
Western Espanola, St. Domingue, to France.
(courtesy of discoverhaiti)
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