The history of Haiti — which has taken such a terrible turn tis week — is intertwined with the story of Aaron Burr’s western conspiracy. The slave revolt and war for independence in Haiti in the 1790s and early 1800s intersected with Burr in two important ways.
First, many French refugees from San Domingo (as Haiti was then called) went to New Orleans, where they accentuated the local residents’ identification with France and their unhappiness with American rule after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Burr counted on the Creoles of New Orleans to declare their independence and join him in establishing a new nation with Spanish lands in the Floridas, Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico.
Second, slaves in the United States, inspired by the stories from Haiti, attempted their own revolts, most notably “Gabriel’s Rebellion” in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. After being arrested for treason in early 1807, Burr was held for trial in Richmond in the same prison where Gabriel was confined before he and many confederates were hanged.
In response to the tragedy in Haiti, the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, where I am on a fellowship this month and next, has put up an online exhibit of Haiti’s early history.