Haitian Invasions and Occupation of Santo Domingo (1801-1844)

Map of Hispaniola (Haiti and Santo Domingo), Putnam's Handy Volume Atlas of the World (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1921, p. 115
Public domain image, Courtesy Hathi Trust Digital Library

The Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic) would be the target of aggression from its Hispaniola neighbor, French-ruled Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), in the early nineteenth century culminating in a twenty-two year occupation which would have long term consequences for both nations. Haitian aggression began in late 1800 when Toussaint L’Ouverture, the general-in-chief of Saint-Domingue, invaded Santo Domingo in order to both expand his sphere of control and capture the port of Santo Domingo.

L’Ouverture’s troops crossed the border and easily captured and occupied the city of Santo Domingo for the entirety of 1801.  L’Ouverture did not end slavery in the colony despite abolition being one of his stated goals. In early 1802, L’Ouverture ended the occupation when he was forced to turn his attention back to the western third of the island to confront a newly-arrived French military expedition.  In 1805, Jean-Jacques Dessalines was named L’Ouverture’s successor.

In 1809, Santo Domingo was returned to Spanish control. In 1822, Haitian president Jean-Pierre Boyer invaded Santo Domingo for the third time with the intent of unifying the island. The subsequent 22-year occupation would result not only in the economic and cultural deterioration of Santo Domingo but also in a resentment of Haiti by the Dominicans. Agriculture in Santo Domingo was for the most part reduced to a sustenance level and exports dramatically declined.

The emigration of Dominican landowners led to the redistribution of their property to Haitian officials and the practice of Haitian soldiers commandeering supplies from the countryside only made the situation worse. Culturally, the Haitians took steps to limit the Catholic Church’s influence. They confiscated church property, deported the foreign clergy and severed most remaining ties to Rome. To the pious Catholics who made up the majority of Dominicans, these practices were seen as a great insult and only deepened the hatred for the Haitians. The only positive reform introduced by the Haitians was the manumission of the small number of slaves still held in the colony.

While sporadic resistance had existed throughout the occupation, it only began to crystallize in 1839 under the leadership of Juan Pablo Duarte. In 1844, Duarte’s secret society, La Trinitaria, received their opportunity when Boyer was overthrown in Haiti and his successor, Charles Rivière-Hérard, was forced to focus on consolidating his rule at home. On February 27, 1844, the rebels drove the last Haitian troops from the capital, securing independence.