Revolution Across the Caribbean: How the French Revolution gave birth to a New World in the West Indies

In our earlier note we had looked at the impact of the French Revolution on different parts of the Caribbean, and how the revolutionary wars in Europe provided inspiration to a whole generation of young leaders and commanders, privateers and pirates, across the West Indies, from Mexico to Haiti to the Spanish colonies along the Latin American coast.

The historian Paul Fregosi has noted an important fact: That one of the unintended consequences of the French revolution and the ambitions of Napoleon was the break-up of the French empire in the Caribbean, and the eventual weakening of both British and French influence in the West Indies. Thus by the end of the Napoleonic war (in 1815), France’s imperial domain had not grown bigger, but smaller instead.

This, in turn, was accompanied by another important development: The emergence of the United States as a maritime power in the West Indies, and the birth of a number of new nations that broke free from the colonial ties that bound them to England, France and Spain.

One of the biggest losses for France came about with the slave uprising in Western Hispaniola, when Napoleon made the fatal mistake of re-introducing slavery in order to sustain his military campaign back in Europe. The nett result of this was that all the black soldiers of the French army and militias – who had initially been slaves and who had supported the French revolution on the basis of universal equality and freedom for all – turned against France, and opposed France instead. This was the spark that ignited the Haitian war of independence, and which culminated in the birth of Haiti: The first free republic of the Caribbean, on 1st January 1804. (As you sail in the game, do check the news reports about the Haitian war of independence, and note that by January 1804 Haiti will appear on the map and the Haitian flag will be unlocked.)

The other nation that suffered territorial losses as a result of the French revolution was Spain, that had a huge area under its control. But during the Napoleonic Wars, Spain would become part of Napoleon’s empire, and allied to France instead.

In the process, the ideas of the French revolution would also spread to Spain’s colonies, and even after the defeat of Napoleon these ideas – for liberty and independence – would remain alive; inspiring Latin American leaders like Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar to rise up against Spanish rule and to fight for their independence as well.

Spain, by the 1810s, was a weaker country as a result of the war in Europe; and was less able to control the citizens who lived in its colonies thousands of miles away. Across the Spanish colonies, nationalist patriots began to call for their own freedom from the crown of Spain, and agitated for self-rule. The people of Venezuela rose up in July 1811 and unilaterally declared their independence from Spain, and the Venezuelan War of Independence would drag on for more than a decade, leading up to the great Battle of Carabobo (1821) and the naval battle of Lake Maracaibo (July 1823) when the pro-independence forces of Venezuela fought against Spain at sea and on land. (You can see the port of Maracaibo on your map in the game, and this was the location of this important naval battle.)

All these developments can be seen and found in the game, as you sail from port to port and read the news reports that are updated. (From 1795 onwards the news reports grow more regular, as important events occur with more regularity.)
So check the news as you sail in the Caribbean captains, and watch the map: The world of the Caribbean will be changing before your very eyes, with territories and ports changing hands along with the grand sweep of history. You are sailing in interesting times! Happy sailing!



[Image: The leader Simon Bolivar at the Battle of Carabobo, 1821. Source: open source/internet]