100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Haitian President Dies In Explosion At National Palace

Haiti was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 who promptly claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, and renamed it La Isla Española (“the Spanish Island”), or Hispanola. Mexico and South America were more lucrative for the Spanish so Hispaniola grew at a slow pace. In 1606, fearful of pirate attacks, the king of Spain ordered all colonists on Hispaniola to move closer to the capital city, Santo Domingo. The decision backfired, as English, Dutch, and French pirates then established bases on the island’s abandoned northern and western coasts. Although the Spanish destroyed pirate settlements in 1629, 1635, 1638 and 1654, on each occasion they returned. In 1655 the English administration in Jamaica re-occupied the pirate bases. In 1660 they made the mistake of placing Frenchman Jeremie Deschamps as governor on condition he defended English interests. Deschamps promptly proclaimed the island for the King of France and defeated several English attempts to reclaim the island. It is from this point in 1660 that unbroken French rule in Haiti begins.

Slaves are brought over from Africa to work the plantations. Some escape and live in the wilderness while others gain their freedom. The capital, now called Saint-Domingue, had the largest and wealthiest free population of color in the Caribbean, the gens de couleur (French, “people of color”). The mixed-race community in Saint-Domingue numbered 25,000 in 1789. As numbers of gens de couleur grew, the French rulers enacted discriminatory laws. The outbreak of revolution in France had a powerful effect on the colony. In 1791 slaves in the northern region of the colony staged a revolt that began the Haitian Revolution. In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte sent a massive invasion force under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc to increase French control. Napoleon abandoned his dreams of restoring France’s New World empire, sold the US the Louisiana Purchase and gave the island up to a large army of revolutionaries in 1804. Independence was declared and the new nation was given the indigenous name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”). Most of the remaining French colonists fled to Louisiana or Cuba. Haiti became the world’s oldest black republic in the Western Hemisphere. In the early 19th century Haiti saw several revolts and political unrest. The Constitution of 1867 saw peaceful and progressive transitions in government that did much to improve the economy and stability of the Haitian nation and the condition of its people.

Cincinnatus Leconte was a Haitian lawyer who served as minister of the interior to President Pierre Nord Alexis. He was forced into exile in Jamaica after a 1908 revolt deposed Alexis and gave François C. Antoine Simon the presidency. Returning from exile in 1911, Leconte gathered a large military force. The revolution ousted President Simon and brought Leconte back to Port-au-Prince in triumph. Leconte was unanimously elected president of Haiti by Congress and given a seven-year term. He took office in August 1911. During this period of unrest, the US sent warships and troops to protect American citizens and businesses.

Cincinnatus Leconte
President of Haiti

On August 8, 1912 President Le Conte was at the National Palace in Port Au Prince when a series of explosions took place followed by a tremendous explosion that killed the president and hundreds of soldiers.

“So great was the force of the explosion, that a number of small cannon, fragments of iron and shell were thrown long distances in all directions, and many of the palace attendants were killed. Every house in the city was shaken violently and the entire population, greatly alarmed, rushed into the street.”

It is thought that powder magazines stored in the basement destroyed the National Palace while it is speculated by some that the smaller explosions were a cover-up for an assassination. Military authorities took over and by the afternoon General Tancrede Auguste, Senator and ex-Minister of Public Works was named president. It is feared that the final death toll may reach 400.

The Haitian National Palace
destroyed August 8, 1912

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