Artwork: Mujer criolla y criadas by Agostino Brunias (Source)
Racial and Social Classes in colonial Saint-Domingue (Haiti)
I. Whites - Grands Blancs
The Grands Blancs were: usually wealthy whites; born in Europe or of direct European ancestry; owned most of the land, plantations and slaves in the colony; had the greatest access to political power in the domestic affairs of Saint-Domingue; usually did as they pleased in the colony; numbered around 30, 826 (with the Petits Blancs) by the outbreak of the French Revolution (1789)
Whites - Petit Blancs
The Petits Blancs were: typically poor (or poorer) whites; usually owned neither land nor slaves; little real political power; occupy secondary functions in the colony (usually as overseers, innkeepers, sailors or soldiers); many were former indentured servants; felt much antagonism towards most of the population; could not make full alliance with the Grands Blancs despite color (usually because considered too poor); could not make any alliance with the free coloreds because too racist and jealous of the success of the latter; want to become Grands Blancs but often experience a lot of difficulty; still many did better than some free coloreds; numbered around 30, 826 (with the Grands Blancs) by the 1789.
II. Free Coloreds - Gens de Couleur Libres & Affranchis
The Gens de Couleur Libres and Affranchis were: ** not all mulattoes or quadroons; some born free, others into slavery; a very complex group; sometimes mixed-race (usually the product of an union between white French men and (more often then not) enslaved Black women, as the case with André Rigaud); sometimes Black (like Toussaint Louverture, who had purchased his freedom and became an Affranchi); many were educated in France; some became considerably wealthy and owned plantations and slaves; rarely treated those slaves with more regards then their white counterparts (because of the established system and desire to keep social distinction alive); not considered equal to whites and often experienced humiliation and discrimination; most important characteristic was that they were “people of color” who were not slaves; many of those who remained in Haiti after the Revolution became part of the emerging elite; numbered around 27, 548 by 1789.
The slaves were: essentially considered property; regardless of the Code Noir of 1685, had little real legal protection in practice; enjoyed almost no control over their lives, bodies, labour, sexuality or offspring; separated by the rest of the population by law; number of slaves in island increased considerably every year, not by normal reproductive activity, but due to significant importation of new slaves; experienced different lives if were house slaves, plantation slaves or urban domestic slaves; life expectancy varied with type of labour; plantation slaves usually estimated to live around 10 years after arrival to Saint-Domingue (some scholars argue less); many ran away to escape conditions and formed maroon communities, if only for few months; numbered around 465, 429 by 1789.
Overall, while Saint-Domingue was a “typical” slave island for the 18th century, a few observations could be made. First, due to the vast import of African slaves each year to the island, whites were easily outnumbered by a ratio of about 15 to 1. This did not appear particularly alarming to most as they believed the slaves would never “even think” of rebelling and were overall passive creatures, incapable of intellectual or physical desire for freedom.
Another interesting feature of Saint-Domingue is that it possessed one of the fasting growing Gens de Couleur Libres (free people of color/free coloreds) populations. Many of those individuals enjoyed European education and wealth, therefore competed directly with the white population by challenging typical racial and social hierarchies. Increasingly by 1769, Saint-Domingue’s local administrators attempted to limit the social mobility of the Gens de Couleur Libres by excluding them from occupying certain functions in the colony. Racial and color lines were becoming much more rigid than they had before, so much so that there were fewer nuptials between wealthy Gens de Couleur Libres and aspiring white families (a practice that had been fairly common only decades earlier). Moreover, various laws were passed around the same time to segregate whites from free coloreds in churches, theatres, dance halls and other public areas. Despite growing antagonism from the white population - as an increasingly important planter and slave-owning class - most of the free coloreds did not initially think of an alliance with the slave population.
All in all, by the eve of the French Revolution, which drastically influenced the outbreak and earlier episodes of the Haitian Revolution, the social climate in Saint-Domingue was already tense.
[ Source, Source, Source, Source, Source & Source ]