ONffroy de Verez, An Historical Account


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View of Cap FrancaisIn the Spring of 1742, Rolland Pierre Onffroy left his family's homestead in Véret to sail for Hispaniola. He was 22 years old and had inherited the property de la Roziére in Saint-Domingue. Undoubtedly he had heard many stories from his grandmother, Anne Le Tellier Onfroy, about her life in Hispaniola and St. Christophe.

In his memoirs, Comte A.R. Roland Onffroy wrote:

Rolland-Pierre, Esquire, Lord de la Rosière left for the island of Saint-Domingue. He gave power-of-attorney to his brothers, Jacques Francois Abraham, Esquire, lord of Varennes and William Onfroy, Esquire, Sire of Beaumes, to manage his affairs during his absence. He was married to Marie Claire de Pike. It was written into his testament, 'He names his son, Jacques Rolland Onffroy, as his heir'.

This is the era in which a large part of the family’s fortunes were made. There is proof in the generosity of Rolland Pierre Onffroy who, in his will, provided for his executor a diamond worth 5,000 ecus. The titles held by Rolland-Pierre were as follows, Chevalier, Sire de la Rosière, des Damassins, de Vèret.”

In the early 1700‘s, the French colony in the western portion of Hispaniola was thriving and was now called Saint-Domingue by its inhabitants. The temperate climate and rich soil were ideal for the cultivation of sugar cane and coffee. The French planters had carved out large plantations from the lush landscape.

The Human Tragedy of Slavery

As the sugar industry developed, the plantations throughout the Antilles began to undergo a consolidation. The smaller planters began to be forced out as the wealthier planters grew their plantations ever larger. The powerful large planters, of course, controlled the local governments and were the ones appointed as officers in the militia. A large plantation might encompass 200 acres with several sugar mills and boiling houses on the property. Such an operation required a large work force willing to do the hard labor of growing and processing sugar cane. A new source of labor was opened when the English began importing slaves from the African continent. The planters discovered that the Africans were much better workers than the indentured Europeans. They worked much harder and without complaint - unlike the Europeans; the Irish were paricularly tempermental.

The importation of African slaves became one of Hayti’s largest industries. What follows is another excerpt from Reverend John Riley Beard, in his book, Toussaint L’Overture. This book was published in 1863 amidst the struggle of the American Civil War and presents a raw and unexpurgated account of slavery in Hayti and a description of the way of life of the French planters.

The large black population of Hayti was of African origin. Stolen from their native land, they were transplanted in the island to become beasts of burden. The slave-trade was then at its height. Nations and individuals who stood at the head of the civilized world, and prided themselves in the name of Christian, were not ashamed to traffic in the bodies and souls of their fellow-men.

Three hundred vessels, employed every year in that detestable traffic, spread robbery, conflagration, and carnage over the coasts and the lands of Africa. Eighty thousand men, women, and children, torn from their homes, were loaded with chains, and thrown into the holds of ships, a prey to desolation and despair. In vain had the laws and usages of Africa, less unjust than those of Christian countries, forbidden the sale of men born in slavery, permitting the outrage only in the case of persons taken in war, or such as had lost their liberty by death or crime. Cupidity created an ever-growing demand; the price of human flesh rose in the market; the required supply followed. The African princes, smitten with the love of lucre, disregarded the established limitations, and for their own bad purposes multiplied the causes which entailed the loss of liberty.

Bowels of a slave shipProceeding from a less to a greater wrong, they undertook wars expressly for the purpose of gaining captives for the slave mart; and when still the demand went on increasing,they became wholesale robbers of men, and seized a village, or scoured a district. From the coasts the devastation spread into the interior. A regularly organized system came into operation, which constantly sent to the sea-shore thousands of innocent and unfortunate creatures to whom death would have been a happy lot. In the year 1778, not fewer than one hundred thousand of its black inhabitants were forcibly and cruelly carried away from Africa.

Driven on board the ships which waited their arrival, these poor wretches, who had been accustomed to live in freedom, and roam at large, were thrust into a space scarcely large enough to receive their coffin. If a storm arose, the ports were closed as a measure of safety. The precaution shut out light and air. Then, who can say what torments the negroes underwent? Thousands perished by suffocation, — happily, even at the cost of life, delivered from their frightful agonies.

Death, however, brought loss to their masters, and therefore it was warded off, when possible, by inflictions, which, in stimulating the frame, kept the vital energy in action. And when it was found that grief and degradation proved almost as deadly as bad air, and no air at all, the victims were forced to dance, and were insulted with music. If, on the ceasing of the tempest and the temporary disappearance of the plague, things resumed their ordinary course, lust and brutality outraged mothers and daughters unscrupulously, preferring as victims the young and innocent.

When any were overcome by incurable disease, they were thrown into the ocean while yet alive, as worthless and unsalable articles. In shipwreck, the living cargo of human beings was ruthlessly abandoned. Fifteen thousand, it has been calculated, — fifteen thousand corpses every year scattered in the ocean, the greater part of which were thrown on the shores of the two hemispheres, marked the bloody and deadly track of the hateful slave-trade.

Slave ship off Cap FrancaisHayti every year opened its markets to twenty thousand slaves. A degradation awaited them on the threshold of servitude. With a burning-iron they stamped on the breast of each slave, women as well as men, the name of their master, and that of the plantation where they were to toil. There the new-comer found everything strange, — the skies, the country, the language, the labor, the mode of life, the visage of his master — all was strange.

Taking their place among their companions in misfortune, they heard them speak only of what they endured, and saw the marks of the punishments they had received. Among the " old hands," few had reached advanced years; and of the new ones, many died of grief. The high spirit of the men was bowed down.

For the two first years the women were not seldom struck with sterility. In earlier times, the proprietors had not wanted humanity; but riches had corrupted their hearts now; and giving themselves up to ease and voluptuousness, they thought of their slaves only as sources of income, whence the utmost was to be drawn. The evils consequent on slavery are not lessened by the incoming of one or two stray rays of light.

White French Society in Saint Domingue

Reverend John Riley Beard continues with an account of the stratification of society in the French colony of Saint-Domingue.

"The white population was made up of diverse, and in a measure conflicting elements. There were first, the colonists or planters. Of these, some lived in the colony, others lived in France. The former, either by themselves or by means of stewards, superintended the plantations, and consumed the produce in sensual gratifications; the latter, deriving immense revenues directly or indirectly from their colonial estates, squandered their princely fortunes in the pleasures and vices of the less moral society of Paris.

Possessed of opulence, these men generally were agitated with ambition, and sought office and titles as the only good things on earth left them to pursue. If debarred from entering the ranks of the French nobility, they could aspire to official distinction in Hayti, and in reality held the government of the colony very much in their own hands, partly in virtue of their property, partly in virtue of their influence with the French court.

There were other men of European origin in the island. Some were servants of the Government; others members of the army; both lived estranged from the population which they combined to oppress. Below these were lespetits blancs (the small whites), men of inferior station, who conducted various kinds of business in the towns, and who, despised by white men more elevated in station, repaid themselves by contemning the black population, on the sweat of whose brows they depended for a livelihood. Contempt is always most intense and baleful between classes that are nearest each other.

Tobouron Cape Mixed-blood Classes

From the mixture of black blood and white blood arose a new class, designated men of color. On the part of the planters, passion and lust were subject to no outward restraint, and rarely owned any strong inward control. From the blood sprung from this mixed and impure source came the chief cause of the troubles and ruin of the planters.

Some of the men of color were proprietors of rich possessions; but neither their wealth, nor the virtues by which they had acquired it, could procure for them social estimation. Their prosperity excited the envy of the whites in the lower classes. Though emancipated by law from the domination of individuals, the free men of color were considered as a sort of public property, and, as such, were exposed to the caprices of all the whites. Even before the law they stood on unequal ground. At the age of thirty, they were compelled to serve three years in a militia instituted against the Maroon negroes; they were subject to a special impost for the reparation of the roads; they were expressly shut out from all public offices, and from the more honorable professions and pursuits of private life."

These two issues - slavery and the class stratification of island society - were to be the downfall of the white sugar planters in the Antilles. As tens of thousands of African slaves were imported, the white planters were eventually greatly outnumbered and they began to live in constant fear of a slave rebellion. If a rumor was heard, the alleged ring leaders were run down and captured. There was no trial, except perhaps a rigged trial in front of a jury of white planters, and the unfortunate victim was put to death in the most gruesome ways - burning him alive; cutting off body parts which were broiled and force-fed back to him and worse. With regards to the class stratification of society on the Antilles islands, the white planters controlled the local governments and militias and the poorer whites and men of color were subjected to severe inequalities and humiliations which sowed the seeds of revolution.

The Onffroy Plantations in Saint-Domingue

Rolland Pierre Onffroy became rich as a planter in Saint-Domingue. He married Marie Claire de Pike who came from a Jacobite family loyal to the Stuarts. Marie Claire de Pike was descended from Thomas More who was beheaded by King Henry VIII after refusing to forego his Catholic principles and recognize the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. This descendence was by way of the Ropert family, one of whose daughters married Samuel de Pike. Marie Claire de Pike’s father was a naval engineer at Le Cap Francais in Saint-Domingue and her mother was Claire d’Auvergne de Gagny.

Jacques Achilles Roland Onffroy de Vérez was born into these circumstances in Saint-Domingue on the 22nd of September, 1751.