Revolution! From Europe to the Caribbean

Captains, you may have noticed that there is now a historical module in the game, and that every time you dock at any port you can read the latest news from Europe and the Caribbean region. (In my game I have reached the year 1790, and I have just received news of the unfolding revolution in France).

That such news could reach me at Guadeloupe is no surprise either: The Caribbean was never an isolated part of the world, and during the time period of the game (18-19th centuries) events that took place in Europe would have an impact elsewhere, including the West Indies. During the initial stages of the game the most significant event was of course the War of American Independence, which affected relations between Britain and her colonies in North America; as well as other nations such as France and Holland that lent their support to the American revolutionaries – and as a result the North American theater of war soon expanded to the Caribbean as well.

The French revolution was another major event of global importance, as it would eventually alter diplomatic-military relations among the nations represented in the game; and also lead to shifting alliances and the exchange of territories. (More on that later, in subsequent notes).

For now I would like to focus on one aspect of the French revolution that had an obvious impact on the Caribbean: The idea of liberty and equality, and how that radically changed social-political relations in the Caribbean region.

It has to be remembered that up to the 1790s most of the colonies in the Caribbean were run on the basis of a slavery-based political economy. But when the French revolution broke out, the revolutionary forces in France opposed both feudalism and slavery. News of the revolution reached the French colonies in the Indies such as Guadeloupe, Western Hispaniola, etc. and was met with resistance: Many of the French plantation owners were then loyal to the King of France, and the news of the arrest (and eventual execution) of King Louis XVI sent shock waves among the wealthy merchant classes in the colonies. It was also shocking to many of the French naval commanders who were themselves of elite/aristocratic background, and who feared that they would also be arrested and persecuted if they returned to France. (Some of the French navy commanders were so fearful of the French revolution that they defected to the enemy.)

The other major impact of the revolution was that it inspired the call for liberty among the slaves of Guadeloupe, Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean; and soon spread to the other British, Dutch and Spanish colonies as well. The merchant-planters whose plantations were located in the other European colonies were alarmed by this development, for fear that a slave revolution in the French colonies might spread to their own colonies. And true enough, this would be one of the catalysts that led to the Haitian revolution (which will appear in the news reports that you can read when your ships are docked.) One of the best books to read on this subject is C. L. R. James’ ‚The Black Jacobins’, 1980.

As the revolution spread, it would contribute to shifts in alliances between the countries. Holland and Spain at first opposed France, but would later become allies. France in turn would spread its influence across the Caribbean, aided by its allies Spain and Holland.
And so, do read the news whenever you are docked at port Captains – You never know how events in the Caribbean and far away in Europe will affect your fortune, and remember that you are sailing in historical times. Good sailing to you all!

 

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(Photo: Painting of the Battle of Vertieres, during the revolution in Haiti (Western Hispaniola), 1803. Source: Open source/internet)