Proclamation. In the Name of the Republic. We, Etienne Polverel and Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, Civil Officers of the Republic, Whom the French Nation Sent to this Country to Establish Law and Order


The broadside presented here is a rare copy of the official Creole text, translated from the French, of a proclamation issued in the colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) granting freedom to enslaved women and to the children of newly emancipated slaves. The articles describe the procedures by which slaves could be married and the laws that governed the status of women and children after marriage. The document also specifies the value of women and of children of both sexes by age and thereby the amount of indemnity to be paid to their masters. The translation into Creole was a radical step, taken so that the slaves might know exactly what rights they had under the proclamation. In August 1791, slaves in Saint-Domingue staged a massive revolt, setting in train the chain of events that ultimately led to the founding of independent Haiti in 1804. In 1792, the de facto government of revolutionary France sent Etienne Polverel and Léger-Félicité Sonthonax as civil commissioners to the colony for the purpose of enforcing a decree by the National Assembly enfranchising free blacks and mulattoes, but that did not yet free the colony’s slaves. Under growing pressure from the revolt and threatened by invading British forces, on August 29, 1793, Sonthonax issued a decree freeing the slaves in the northern part of the colony, for which he was responsible. Polverel followed two weeks later with a proclamation freeing all slaves in the west. The proclamation presented here was issued by both Polverel and Sonthonax— in the name of the French Republic. The document is from Les imprimés à Saint-Domingue (Imprints from Saint-Dominique), a collection held by the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Pères du Saint-Esprit that includes approximately 150 texts printed in Saint-Domingue before independence in 1804. The books were produced between 1764 and 1804 at presses in Cap-Français, Port-au-Prince, and Les Cayes and were digitized in 2006 with the support of the L’Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

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J-B. Michel Printing House, Port-au-Prince


Title in Original Language

Proclamation. Au nom de la République. Nous Etienne Polverel et Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, Commissaires civils de la République, que Nacion Française voyé dans pays-ci pour metté l’ordre & tranquillité tout-par-tout

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1 page


  1. Nick Nesbitt, Universal Emancipation: The Haitian Revolution and the Radical Enlightenment (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008).

Last updated: December 29, 2015