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Case Study 1: St. Domingue - The Link to Thomas Clarkson

Portrait of Henri Christophe by Richard Evans (1816)

What connects Haiti to Suffolk and Cambridgeshire?

In 1789, just a few years after leaving Cambridge University, Thomas Clarkson travelled to France. His aim was to try and persuade the French to end the Transatlantic Slave Trade. During his stay in France, Clarkson met Vincent Ogé from Saint Dominque (now Haiti), who was campaigning for the civil rights of the free men of colour in Haiti and for the freedom of the enslaved people. Ogé knew and admired Clarkson's work and visited him at his hotel. Three months later, Ogé returned home and led an unsuccessful uprising. The colonial authorities broke him on the wheel and cut off his head. This marked the start of a bloody war in Haiti.

The enslaved Africans in Haiti, led by  Toussaint l'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henry Christophe eventually won their freedom. Toussaint died in a French prison, whilst Dessalines was murdered in 1804. Christophe, as commander of the army, took control of the north of Haiti, while Alexander Petion, his rival, became president of a southern republic. In 1811, Christophe made himself Henry I, King of Haiti. His country lived under the threat that the French would try and reclaim it.

In 1815, Clarkson also began correspondence with Henry Christophe. Henry hoped for trade and international recognition, which had been withheld. He turned to Wilberforce and Clarkson for support. Clarkson became Haiti's European advisor. Clarkson travelled to Paris in 1819 and 1820 to gather information for Henry.

Henry shot himself after his army rebelled against him in October, 1820. His two sons were bayoneted but the Queen and her two daughters were spared. For a few months (1821-22) Madame Marie-Louise and her two daughters lived with the Clarksons at Playford Hall, near Ipswich.


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