Since it became a French colony in 1697, slavery has been woven into the fabric of Haiti’s culture. For more than a century, a small group of French colonists populated the territory and lorded over a mass of mostly African-imported slaves. The slaves worked plantations; the French exported crops and reaped profits.
That is, until 1804. Then, after fifteen years of revolutionary unrest, the slaves overthrew the colonists. As a result, plantations burned. Slaves went free. They expelled the colonists and formed a new nation.
Haiti is the only country in the world to be formed by a slaves’ rebellion, a fact that remains a source of great pride. But even as the slaves earned their freedom, they inherited a nation riddled with challenges. Under colonialism, Haiti had a thriving export economy, but now its neighbors (including the United States, where slavery was still legal) refused to trade with, and in many cases recognize, the new republic. Unending struggles for power became a theme of the next two centuries. Consequently, there were coups and occupations and infighting, all set against a backdrop of poverty and disease.