Photos by Rachel Moscoso Denis
MISSION AND PURPOSE
The Haitian American Historical Society (HAHS) is a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization with the support of numerous public officials at the local, state and federal level. HAHS is dedicated to fully investigate any past instances where Haitian contributions have been identified. The organization seeks to establish truth and accuracy in historical events pertaining to Haitians and those of Haitian descent. This bold and ambitious goal will allow current and future generations to understand and appreciate the role and contributions of Haitians to American Society and other parts of the world. This is especially important for the next generation who are on the verge of losing their identities and connection to Haiti. It is our hope HAHS will promote understanding and positive cooperation between Haitians, Haitian-Americans and others of African descent toward a better appreciation of our common heritage.
HAITIAN MONUMENT OUTLINE
Theme: This monument will represent the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, a regiment of soldiers who formed one-tenth of the allied army before Savannah in the fall of 1779. This unit was comprised of over 700 free men of color from the Island of Haiti and was the largest unit of men of African descent to fight in the American Revolution.
The central image of this monument will be the depiction of six soldiers, including a drummer boy of the Revolutionary War in Regimental uniform in a resolute and determined pose. The soldiers will be obviously of African descent. These soldiers will be realistically portrayed and historically correct in detail. The monument's figures will be greater than life size and elevated to a height consistent with the tree canopy. Through words and symbols these figures will be associated with the modern nation of Haiti. The figures under arms represent the ten companies of Haitian soldiers of the line who fought in the six-week-long Siege of Savannah; the drummer boy represents Henri Christophe who, as a teenager, participated in this event. He, like many of his comrades, later became a leader in the struggle for Haitian independence from French colonial rule. Young Christophe in fact was to become commander of the Haitian army and later King of Haiti; he was to be the second head of state in the Western Hemisphere to be of African heritage. Facets on the monument base will present other aspects of Haitian involvement in the American War for Independence and present the related aspects of the Haitian War for Independence and Haitian support for South American colonies in their efforts to gain independence from European rule.
a. How does the theme relate to Savannah Chatham County?
This theme is directly related to the most significant military engagement to occur in Chatham County, one that occurred during a point in the Revolutionary War when the fate of the United States was very uncertain.
b. What is the level of significance of the theme or subject matter?
This theme is of local, state, national, and international significance. It depicts the largest military engagement of the Revolution in Georgia, let alone Savannah. It is of national significance in that it depicts the largest unit of African descent to fight in the Revolution and draws attention to the existence of others. It is of primary international significance in that it refers to an event in Savannah that included many of the leaders of the Haitian War for Independence. These men received military experience and were exposed to the ideals of independence and self-government in Savannah. It also draws attention to the role of France, Spain, Holland, and individual foreign volunteers who assisted in the American Revolution.
c. What is the merit of the theme to warrant a public presence?
This theme deals with the origins of the United States and the complex and often misunderstood factors that secured our independence. It recognizes the contributions of soldiers of African descent in our war for independence. It recognizes the power of the ideals of liberty and self-government that spread from the United States to other nations after our Revolution. It recognizes the power of the individual in the rise of Henri Christophe from slave, servant, and drummer boy to commander of armies and king of his nation through the force of his character and natural ability.
d. Has the subject been portrayed in any other manner in a public space locally?
This specific theme has not been dealt with locally or anywhere else in the United States. There are other monuments in Savannah recognizing other aspects of the Revolutionary War.
e. Does the subject matter fit into any established thematic group (such as the military theme of the Bull Street monuments)?
This theme falls within two categories: military history and African-American history.
f. Does the theme reflect a larger connection to the community as a whole or only to a distinct segment of the community?
This theme directly relates to Haitian and African-American history but in context with an event in which all elements of 18th century America and Europe participated together. Pulaski and Jasper are commemorated for their exploits and sacrifice but they also represent the struggle for independence, as does this monument.
PART I: THEMATIC REVIEW
A. AREA OF SIGNIFICANCE:
Military, politics/government, power of the individual
B. STATEMENTS OF SIGNIFICANCE:
The Siege of Savannah on October 9th, 1779 presents the Revolutionary War as a world conflict more than does any other engagement of the Revolution. The memory of this battle also reminds us of the fact that significant foreign resources of men, money, and material contributed to the eventual success of the cause of American independence. French, Polish, Native Americans, African slaves, free men of African descent, Germans, Hessians, Austrians, Scots, Welsh, Irish, English, Swedish, and American and West Indian colonials also participated as individuals or whole units in this most culturally diverse battle of the war. For six weeks this diverse force was assembled in three armies to contend for the possession of Savannah. This battle resulted in the largest number of casualties the allies suffered in a single engagement.
The presence of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue as the largest unit of soldiers of African descent to fight in this war is worthy of commemoration. The fact that their number was made up of free men who volunteered for this expedition is startling to most people and surprising to many historians. Their presence reminds us that men of African heritage were to be found on most battlefields of the Revolution in large numbers. As a new and relatively inexperienced unit, the Chasseurs participated in the siege warfare including the battle of September 24th and the siege of October 9th. Twenty-five of their number has their names recorded as wounded or killed during the campaign. Over 60 were captured in the fall of Charleston eight months later. The British Navy captured three transports carrying Chasseurs; these soldiers were made prizes of war and sold into slavery. Other members of this unit were kept on duty away from their homes for many months as part of French garrison forces. A subsequent unit of Haitians was a part of the French and Spanish campaign against Pensacola where they faced some of the same regiments of British troops that their comrades faced in Savannah.
The efforts of Haiti to secure its independence from colonial rule beginning in 1791 are remarkable for the fact that what began as a slave revolt was to ultimately succeed in prevailing over the resources of the French Empire and to form a government of Western Hemisphere Africans. Haiti, much smaller in population than the United States, was attacked by armies as large as those sent against America by Britain. The Haitian victory over the legions of Napoleon was achieved with much less foreign assistance than the United States enjoyed.
Many key figures in the Haitian War of Independence gained military experience and political insights through their participation in Savannah -- most notably Henri Christophe, a youth at the time but in his adult years a general of Haitian armies and king of his nation for fourteen years. There is little appreciation in the United States for the events that led to the formation of the Haitian nation. Influenced by both the events of the American Revolution and the rhetoric of the French Revolution, the people of Haiti began a struggle for self-government and liberty. The first nation in the Western Hemisphere to form a government led by people of African descent, it was also the first nation to renounce slavery.
The concepts of self-government and independence from European colonial rule were obvious elements in the Siege of Savannah. To see these concepts tested on the battlefield was to be an experience that would be carried far afield from this and other Revolutionary War battlefields.
3. Other; The power of the individual
The figure of Henri Christophe as a young drummer participating in the campaign to take Savannah is an important figure in Haitian history. His rise from slave to king demonstrates an incredibly rare occurrence in human history. To rise to national leadership from the lower landowning and educated class like a Jackson, or a Washington, or a Lincoln is a celebrated event. To rise from lifelong, multigenerational bondage and to assume the role of soldier, officer, general, and then national leader and political architect is truly an almost unique human achievement. Henri Christophe accomplished this in the violent and turbulent times of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
This organization proposes a sculpture of a group of figures on a significant base. Those to the rear are adult armed soldiers of the line; the figure in front will represent the teenager Henri Christophe in the role of military drummer. These figures are to be greater than life size and elevated consistent with the surroundings. A scale similar to the Oglethorpe monument is envisioned. The figures will represent Revolutionary War soldiers in a realistic and historically accurate manner. Their pose will suggest resolution and determination. Their gaze will be drawn to their front at the events of the battle they participated in. They will, in a manner suggested by the artist, be obviously portrayed as men of African descent. The base or pedestal for this monument will have on its facets additional representations of related Haitian history (see significance) executed in a manner compatible with the design of the figures, the design and execution to be the suggestion of the sculptor. It is the intention of the organization to commission the noted sculptor James Mastin to perform this work.
After consultation with the City Council, City Manager's office, the Coastal Heritage Society, the First African Baptist Church, and the Civil Rights Museum, the applicant suggests that Franklin Square be the location of this piece of public art. This is due to the association of this square with the African-American heritage of Savannah and its proximity to the well-visited city market area.
Your financial support is needed to accomplish our goal. Send your contribution to:
Organization: Haitian American Historical Society
Contact: Daniel Fils-Aimé, Sr., Chairman
9822 NE 2nd Avenue, Suite 3A, Miami Shores, FL 33138