ONffroy de Verez, An Historical Account


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Jamaica, England, Constantinople, Turkey, Peru, New Orleans

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The Slave Revolts

In 1790, Jacques Rolland Onffroy and his family arrived in Saint-Domingue. He and his sons joined the British Legion of Saint-Domingue organized by and under the command of Barron de Montalembert, a legion that accepted many of the noble French emigrées that had fled France. His capable service earned him the rank of colonel commanding the militia and French emigrées over a district of 20-some locations. His sons were made officers.

Storming of Gros MorneHistory tells us that Anne Marthe Rolland Onffroy was made captain of artillery in the Legion of Montalembert at the age of 18 years. Ironically the Onffroys, loyal to the French monarchy, found themselves combatting the French Republican army in Hayti serving under the British military, France’s historic foe.

With the close ties to France, it is not surprising that the slaves of Saint-Domingue heard the news of the French Revolution and the slogans of freedom, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. They began to reconsider their own oppressive state of servitude. Revolution was in the air again, this time in Hayti, and there was a great deal at risk.

To provide a perspective, in his Biography of Toussaint L’Overture published in 1863, here is what Reverend John Riley Beard wrote.

In 1789, the French portion of the island contained 739 sugar plantations, 3,117 coffee plantations, 789 cotton plantations, and 182 establishments for making rum, besides other minor factories and workshops. In 1791, very large capitals were employed in carrying on these cultivations; the capitals were sunk partly in slaves and partly in implements of husbandry. The total value of the plantations was immense as may be learnt from the fact that the value of the products of the French portion was estimated -

  • In 1767 at 75,000,000 francs
  • In 1774 at 82,000,000 francs
  • In 1776 at 95,148,500 francs
  • In 1799 at 175,990,000 francs

The last value is the highest. The sum represents the supreme pressure of servitude and is consequently a measure of the injury done to the black dwellers in Saint Domingo. Already in 1801, the value fell to 65,352,039; in other words, the slave-masters were, at the end of two years, punished for their injustice and tyranny by the immediate loss of nearly two-thirds of their property; so uncertain is the tenure of ill-gotten gains.

Slave RebellionIn the year 1791, goods were exported from Hayti to France to the value of 133,534,423 francs - that is about $27,000,000. The entire value of the territorial riches of the chief plantations, including slaves, amounted to no less a sum than 991,893,334 francs. Curious is it, in the statistical table issued by authority, whence we learn these particulars to see “negroes and animals employed in husbandry” put in the same class. Observe too, the items’ the value of the “negroes old and new, large and small” is set down at 758,333,334 francs, while the other animals are worth only 5,226,667 francs. We thus learn that three-fourths of the wealth of the planters consisted in their slaves. Such was the stake which was at issue in the struggle for freedom of which we are about to speak.


Flames at Le Cap

In 1791, a Voodoo priest, Boukman, set in motion a horribly simple but effective plan in the heart of slave country where the plantations were closely spaced. It was at the main harbor of Le Cap Francais where the slave pens were located. On a signal, slaves outside Le Cap would set fire to their masters’ plantations. The resulting huge flames would be the signal for slaves everywhere to rise up, kill their masters and join the revolt. It was planned that the uprising would continue until all the whites were dead. Their weapons were basic - farming tools, sharpened sticks, a few swords and pistols. and primarily - fire.

For three solid weeks the plantations burned turning the skies black with smoke and forcing the ships in the harbor to flee out into the sea to avoid the falling embers. Then the movement began to lose its momentum. Boukman, the Voodoo priest and leader, was killed in the battles that followed. With the slave revolt lacking leadership and direction, the slaveowners took advantage and regained partial control, publicly torturing and executing many of the captured rebels and displaying Boukman’s head in Le Cap’s public square.

Toussaint L’Ouverture became one of the leaders of the revolt in 1791. He had been raised and well-educated on a plantation in Saint-Domingue and, born a slave. He was freed in 1776 at the age of 33 and always considered himself to be a Frenchman. Throughout 1792 and 1793, Toussaint L’Overture worked strategically to build an alliance with the Spanish to combat the French planters of Saint-Domingue, and after several battles, the French recognized that he was a significant military commander in his effective use of “European style” military tactics.

Toussaint L'OvertureOn August 1793, he made his famous declaration to the blacks of Saint-Domingue:

“Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint L’Ouverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.

Your very humble and obedient servant,

Toussaint L’Ouverture,
General of the armies of the king, for the public good.”

His strategies to combat the French worked. On the very same day that he made his declaration, the French Commissioner proclaimed freedom for all the slaves in French Saint-Domingue and by early 1794, the French revolutionary government proclaimed the abolition of slavery in the region. His allegiance with the French Republic caused a mass emigration of refugees out of Saint-Domingue - primarily those noble French emigrées who had survived.

Allying himself with the French Republican government, by 1796, Toussaint L‘Overture shared command of the French territory of Saint-Domingue with Sonthonax, who was elected as the colonial representative of the French national assembly. Their major concern was to prevent the French emigrée planters from returning to their plantations. Toussaint L’Overture was also occupied with on-going conflicts with the British military forces still trying to gain control of the region.

In 1799 Napoleon wrested power in France and passed a new constitution that included a provision that French colonies would be subjected to special laws which seemed to indicate a return to slavery. Toussaint passed his own constitution in 1801making himself Governor General for life. In addition, Article 3 of the constitution stated: “There cannot exist slaves [in Saint-Domingue], servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French."

Toussaint may have gone too far since his constitution ruled out the involvement of French government officials in Saint-Domingue’s government. The refugee French emigrée planters were also pressuring Napoleon to restore slavery to Saint-Domingue in order to return the profitability of the plantations on Saint-Domingue to the pre-Revolution level. Napoleon sent an expedition of 20,000 troops to regain control and fighting broke out between the French troops and those of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

The French finally seized Toussaint L’Ouverture and his family and deported him to France. He was thrown in prison where he died of pneumonia in 1803. Back in Saint-Domingue, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian armies to a final victory and defeated the French in 1803.

An Onffroy Story Told

In his memoirs, A.M. Rolland Onffroy tells of the pillaging of the family's sugar plantation.

"In the greatest secrecy, they (the Royalists) deputized agents in England as well as Jamaica to solicit for the occupation of the four French parishes in the name of his Majesty Louis XVII and an arrangement was made in Jamaica between General Sir Adam Williamson, governor of this colony in the name of the King of Great Britain, and Colonel Venault de Charmilly in the name of the inhabitants of Jérémie and other provinces on November 5, 1793. During the negotiations, the mulatto Rigaud, commandant of the southern part of the Republic, resolved to seize the parishes of Tiburon Cape, Lilet, Cape Dammarie and Jérémie, bound among themselves by a pact which devolved from the origin of the troubles in Saint-Domingue. They therefore attacked them with two large columns,2,000 men each, but with very different success. While experiencing a severe defeat at Desriveau at the hands of the Jérémians, the other army corps seized Cape Tiburon without a single shot fired in spite of all our efforts to have this province fall into the hands of the English, whom we expected to land at Jérémie and come to our immediate aid. Two companies of Republican cavalry were transported to our sugar plantation, seized the person of my father, completely ransacked his home and took him as a prisoner to the town of Cape Tiburon.

The order was even given to one of these said companies to turn its cannon on the sugar cane and set fire to it. But this officer, not having taken part in the ransacking of my father’s house and not having the soldiers to execute the order was not able to seize my father because of the excitement the pillaging had caused his soldiers. My father, then, was at liberty to place himself as prisoner in the hands of the commander of the second company who had not taken part in the pillaging. Because my father demanded to be led before the commander-in-chief of the Republican column, he was taken there as a legitimate captive. This measure saved his life, because however cruel this man, he did not dare publicly shoot my father in the midst of his friends and of his numerous slaves who interceded for him saying that they would not work unless their master was freed.This work was indispensable to assure the survival of the sugar refineries and the rum rations of the Republican army.

Our sugar crops afterwards were in as flourishing a condition as before the troubles in Saint-Domingue. In effect, more than three hundred negroes were assiduous in their work and seemed even more devoted to us than before. When my father was arrested, he required that my two brothers and I be allowed to stay with certain white employees from his house and some loyal negroes on a small property, difficult to get to, that belonged to my older brother, though he was absent, having accompanied my mother-in-law and my sisters to the continent of the United States of America. From this location, we wrote to the Republican commandant at Tiburon that, if he didn’t free our father, we would rejoin the Jérémians camped with the Irish at three leagues from Tiburon and that we would bring all our whites and our resources. These threats along with the supplications of our slaves had their effect, my father was freed.The day after his arrest, we called together the employees who wanted to join the Jérémians. We charged them with assuring the Irish commandant of our ardent desire to serve their cause as much as we could as long as it was in line with the promises we made to rejoin our father under his parole.

But just as this was occurring, a large detachment of cavalry once again seized my father and my brother and took them to Tiburon. Seeing it as my duty to be a prisoner too, I joined them in the evening. They gave us the town as a prison. We risked the greatest danger but my father found the way to escape them, he proposed his sugar plantation as collateral to the commandant of Cap Tiburon if he would provide a passport to either New England or to Cages Saint Louis. As a present, he gave the commandant’s wife a new carriage that had recently been shipped from Europe and he obtained permission to return on his own recognizance to do an inventory. We prolonged it for three days knowing well that the day that the signature of procuration was received would be the day we died. Actually what could we expect from such a monster who had obligated his father, a rich and very respectable colonist, to testify in his favor, and afterwards killed him and painted the walls of his bedroom with the blood of his victim.

The inventory was done, it was 6:00 PM, and it was necessary to return to Cape Tiburon to sign our death warrant or find a way to evade them by returning to the small property that had been an asylum. There was no choice, the cavalry companies were finishing up their foraging in our sugar plantation in order to return to town. We were alone with the terrible commandant. My father suddenly left us, making for the mountains, and afterwards sent his main commander to tell me to follow him. I did not obey him until the second invitation in order to give my father time to make his way into the mountains where we had journeyed before.

Meanwhile, the Republican commandant began to suspect something when he did not see my father return. Repeated reports caused him suspicion. He mounted his horse, checked the caps of his pistols which were missing, and left at a gallop, telling us he saw through us. I didn’t wait since my brother had already rejoined my father. We suppered at the base of a ravine from dishes that were carried by our slaves of whom the leaders reassured us of their loyalty and devotion and offered to follow us anywhere. But my father, distrusting these proclamations of attachment, chose only five to carry the important papers and certain linens that we were able to save from the pillaging of our home. In this way, we reformed with what was left of the corps. He reassured them that he would not delay to attack Cape Tiburon with the English army and the brave Jérémians, told them the place where he would stay until the attack and gave them orders and imposed the discipline by which he confided their destiny.

We returned later to my brothers property where we were soon joined by a surveyor, Monsieur L’Amoreux de Saint Albave who knew personally, as we did, the prisons of Cape Tiburon. Forced to cross the highest mountains and deepest forests, we were able without his help to conceal ourselves and return without falling into the hands of our enemies. All of us worked together to assure our flight. But we weren’t without worries, an unhappy white employee on the property with whom we passed the night denounced us and showed the path we had taken. We set out on the shortest route possible towards the Irish.

It was resolved, then, that we would march in a direction lateral to the seashore and towards the heights of the islet of Pierre Joseph and that afterwards, having gone several leagues, we would be nearing the Irish. At daybreak, we found ourselves in a very deep forest which had the effect of blocking our headway from point to point. A river came to our aid by erasing our tracks. We entered the water and followed the river’s course for a long time being careful not leave a single footprint on the banks. But the direction we were taking veered back towards the ocean and, as we believed, was taking us farther away. Finally, from our departure point, we arrived at a small coffee plot, high in the hills of Monsieur Dusvel which was less than two leagues from either of these points.

There were still two hours of light and we had marched for nine hours without ever stopping. It was critical to take some food and rest. We were on a rise directly in the middle of the woods and we weren’t able to discern which way to go. Monsieur L’Amoreux was lost and after we heard noise in the small valley below, it was obvious that we were discovered."

Emigration to Jamaica

Jacques Rolland Onffroy, his sons and his family were once again made refugees by the revolution in Saint-Domingue. This time they boarded ship for Jamaica where they took ownership of coffee and sugar plantations to rebuild their fortunes. It may be that Jacques’ sons remained in Saint-Domingue for a time with the Legion of Montalembert to combat the slave revolt. Jacques oldest son, Guy Louis Rolland Onffroy, a student of the marine before the revolution, served as a captain of the cavalry and and later of the grenadiers in the regiment of Clarence in Jamaica and was killed there. His son, Henri Achilles Onffroy, settled in Jamaica and was married to Mademoiselle Le Mercier du Quesnay.

Anne Marthe Rolland Onffroy married Pauline de Gournay in Jamaica in January 31,1807, with whom he had seven children, six boys and a girl, who were all born in Jamaica during an emigration that lasted 26 years.