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Title: A Memoir of Transactions That Took Place in St. Domingo, in the Spring of 1799 - Affording an Idea of the Present State of that Country, - the Real Character of Its Black Governor, Toussaint - L'ouverture, and the Safety of our West-India Islands, - from Attack or Revolt
Author: Rainsford, Marcus
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Memoir of Transactions That Took Place in St. Domingo, in the Spring of 1799 - Affording an Idea of the Present State of that Country, - the Real Character of Its Black Governor, Toussaint - L'ouverture, and the Safety of our West-India Islands, - from Attack or Revolt" ***

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                           THAT TOOK PLACE IN

                             _ST. DOMINGO,_

                         IN THE SPRING OF 1799;

                        AFFORDING AN IDEA OF THE

                     PRESENT STATE OF THAT COUNTRY


                        =Toussaint L’ouverture,=

                                AND THE
                         FROM ATTACK OR REVOLT;


                    _THE RESCUE OF A BRITISH OFFICER
                       UNDER SENTENCE OF DEATH_.


                        Inest sua Gratia parvis.


                           CAPTAIN RAINSFORD,



                        PRINTED BY R. B. SCOTT.
              At his Office In St. Clement’s Lane, Strand.





Very little will be expected in the following pages when coming from the
pen of a Soldier; but that little will be found to be _his own_; and
this on a Subject of much doubt and importance may possibly protract its
existence in an age of compilation! He is however, better satisfied to
consider it as a small emanation of gratitude to a singular man, who in
the possession of extraordinary power, did not use it unworthily.

                                                London, January, 6, 1802






The object of public attention is ever the sport of public rumour; and
truth is not infrequently affected by the fabrications of the idle and
the ignorant, when men and things are misrepresented by popular

The present armament of Bonaparte against St. Domingo, and the general
alarm for the safety of our colonial possessions from the powerful
situation of the Brigands in that island, have occasioned much
conjecture, but produced no authentic information, while on a subject of
such importance it becomes a duty in those competent in any degree, to
relieve the anxiety of the public mind. Had Bryan Edwards lived, we
should not so long have fluctuated in uncertainty.

The present writer has by no means presumed to increase the number of
ephemeral details, as contradictory as untrue, which have been offered
to the public, of transactions that have now too long deformed this
delightful country. In the dangerous duties of his profession, the
common accidents of war afforded him a peculiar opportunity of judging
(among other affairs) of the present state of St. Domingo, of its
defence, and of the character of its extraordinary Governor.

The events themselves, with the opinions resulting from them, form,
then, the subject of these pages; and authenticity will supply the place
of the decorations of style. To preclude, however, the possibility of
doubt, I think it necessary to say thus much of myself:—

Born of a respectable family in the kingdom of Ireland (where my elder
brother, Counsellor Rainsford, now enjoys the liberal fortune of our
ancestors)[1] I early embraced the military profession, and joined a
regiment under the command of the Earl of Moira, in which I served
during the American war. Our corps was considerably employed during two
campaigns, and was in the memorable battles of Camden, &c. I afterwards
unfortunately left that regiment to enter into a provincial one,
commanded by the late Lord Charles Montague, and served in Jamaica four
years. On the commencement of the present war, I went to the continent
in the corps of Royal Fusileers commanded by Colonel Hardy, and shared
its complicated hardships during the retreat.[2]

I was removed in May, 1795, through the interest of my inestimable
brother-in-law, General Doyle, to a black corps, to be raised in the
West Indies, under the command of General Keppel. I went to Barbadoes,
and from thence to Jamaica, where the corps was to be raised. I arrived
on the 17th of August, and continued on duty till a severe attack of the
yellow fever compelled my return in his Majesty’s ship, Sampson. After
recovering in England, at the instance of his Royal Highness the Duke of
York I went to Martinique in 1798, but it not being understood by
General Keppel that his corps was to be levied there, he ordered me back
to Jamaica, from whence, I found on my arrival, the officers had sailed
for England.

Desirous, as I always am, of being with my regiment, to facilitate that
object I undertook the mode of returning to Martinique by beating up to
the island of St. Thomas, an exertion of considerable difficulty and
danger. This, however, I but little regarded; and Admiral Smith, with
whom I had been long acquainted, kindly accommodated me in his cabin on
board the Hannibal to the Mole St. Nicholas. Losing no opportunity of
proceeding on my voyage, I went on board a little Danish schooner,
commanded by Mr. Frazer.

We had not been many days at sea, when a violent hurricane having
dismasted the vessel, drove us under the walls of Cape François. Thus
unfortunately commenced the opportunities of obtaining that information
and forming that judgment of the Present State of St. Domingo, which I
am about to submit to the public. Had I conceived it possible, at that
time, that a relation of facts respecting that unhappy country would
have become so interesting to my friends, I might from these
opportunities have collected much respecting it, and been enabled to
communicate what I collected in a better form.

Thus situated, the Brigand boats soon came out to meet us; and it was
recommended to me, as the only means to prevent the confiscation of the
vessel, and avoid becoming myself a prisoner of war, to pass for an

We were permitted to land at the once famous city of the Cape; and the
first object that excited our attention amidst thousands of People of
Colour of every description, was the respectable TOUSSAINT in familiar
conversation with two private Brigands. He very civilly came up to
us—enquired the news—from whence we came? and our destination. I
accommodated my answers to the occasion, and to the character I was to
support, and complained of severe treatment from the English! to which
he replied, “_Je pense que les Anglois y sont bien malade à la Mole_”—he
believed the English were very sick at the Mole—and we took our leave.

I then retired to the American hotel, and was introduced to the table d’
hote—to behold for the first time a _perfect system of equality_!

Here were officers and privates, the general and the fifer, at the same
table indiscriminately. I had the honour of sitting near a fat drummer,
who very freely helped himself from my dish, and addressed me with
frequent repetitions of “_A votre Santé bon Americain_.” Here also
TOUSSAINT dined, but did not take the head of the table, from the idea
(I was informed) that no man should be invested with superiority but in
the field. In the evening I went to the billiard table, where TOUSSAINT
also came. Much hilarity prevailed, and his affability highly increased
the satisfaction of the company. I played with him, and found nothing to
dissipate the pleasure which the novelty of the scene inspired. There
were several tables in the same room, at which all played with the same
familiarity with which they dined.

I was here informed that a review was to take place on the following
day, in the plain of the Cape; and desirous of being present at such a
spectacle, I was accompanied by some Americans, and others of my own
country who resided in the island under that appellation.

In traversing this once superb town, what a scene of desolation every
where presented itself to my contemplation! On the site where elegance
and luxury had united all their powers to delight the voluptuary,
remained nothing but ruins. On these were erected temporary houses for
the American merchants and little shops of the natives, which but
exhibited the devastation with additional horror. The great street still
contained the walls of many superb edifices of five and six stories
high, and most beautiful structure; highly-finished gilt balustrades, in
some instances, yet remained. Nor was this all—in different parts of the
general ruin the skeletons of their possessors were mingled with the
broken walls—

            “There in the ruin, heedless of the dead,
            “The shelter-seeking peasant rears his shed;
            “And, wondering man could want the larger pile,
            “Exults, and owns his cottage with a smile.”

Through this dreadful scene I passed to behold a review, of the real
grandeur of which I had not the least conception. There were two
thousand officers out, Generals and Ensigns, all carrying arms—yet with
the utmost regularity and attention to rank—none of that disregard which
had marked the leisure of the preceding day being the least evident.
Each general officer had a demi-brigade, which went through the manual
exercise with a degree of expertness I had seldom before witnessed, and
they performed excellently well several manœuvres applicable to their
method of fighting. At _a whistle_ a whole brigade ran three or four
hundred yards, and then, separating, threw themselves flat on the
ground, changing to their backs and sides, and all the time keeping up a
strong fire till recalled—after this they formed again into their wonted
regularity; and this manœuvre is executed with such facility and
precision, as totally to prevent cavalry from charging them in bushy and
hilly countries. Indeed, such complete subordination prevailed, so much
promptness and dexterity, as must astonish an European who had known any
thing of their previous situation.

After the review I returned to the city, to continue my solitary walk
through the remaining monuments of human ferocity, and indulge in
contemplating the vanity of all sublunary establishments.

I was brooding over scenes where Fancy herself had once been satiated,
when I arrived at a large square, in the centre of which was a
considerable eminence, and a seat on the top;—there were two centinels
to guard it—of whom I enquired if I might ascend the steps? They
answered in the affirmative, but cautioned me not to touch the _Cap of
Liberty_ which crowned it, for it was SACRED TO SANTHONAX AND POLVEREL!
My curiosity induced me to ascend; when I perused, immediately under the
cap, a showy inscription in French, of which I do not exactly recollect
the idiom, not daring to take a copy, but it was to the following

                              My Friends,
                       We came to make you free.
             The French Nation gives liberty to the World.
                             YOU ARE FREE.
                          Guard your Freedom.
                  Vive la Liberte—Vive la Republique.
                           Vive Robespierre!

This inscription, I understand, formed a part of their speech in 1793,
when the Blacks and the Mulattos carried them in triumph to the
Government-House, and afterwards set fire to the city in eight different
places. They used every woman with savage barbarity, and then murdered
with the bayonet, man, woman, and child. Sixty-two thousand inhabitants
left the city. They exterminated the Whites, and revelled in their
cruelty eighteen days! Such is man when in the possession of power! and
happy would it be for the human race if the Insurgents of St. Domingo,
so little removed from savage life, were not countenanced by those who
have partaken of the felicities of civilized society. Of the carnage
that flew through this island enough has already been said; but it is
yet in the recollection of many Americans, that the view of the city in
flames, the adjacent sugar works, &c. was the most dreadful ever beheld.

After a long perambulation over these scenes of former horrors, I
returned to the hotel, but with a mind so much impressed with what I had
seen, that for a considerable time I could not divest myself of the most
terrible ideas:—my imagination was haunted with the shades of those who
had fallen, and murdered worth and innocence were ever before my
eyes.——I was also dissuaded from walking too much, lest by some
observation I might be suspected not to be an American.

For three weeks I continued among these people; and, except the
recollection of what _had_ been, without any other sacrifice than my
wish to be on duty, and the necessity of subscribing to every sentiment
hostile to my country, I enjoyed the amusements and the habits of a
capital. I remained unmolested and comfortable.

On the topography of the island, I shall not retail what is told by
those who recite its history, nor have I ever had leisure to inspect it.
It is, I believe, considered the richest, as well as the largest of all
the islands, except Cuba; and nature seems to have lavished on it the
advantages which are but partial in the others. It extends about 400
miles in length, and is more than 70 in breadth, yet completely peopled.
Its natural defence is unequalled, being entirely fortified by vast
rocks and extensive shoals. It contains gold (perhaps _really the least_
valuable of its productions) and the most charming rivers meander
through its variegated soil.

From these reasons, labour is so much abridged, that no want of leisure
is felt through the pursuits of business, of pleasure, or of arms. It
would be no small gratification to the feeling heart, to perceive the
peasant in other countries, enjoy a portion of the ease of the labourer
of St. Domingo.

The present productive system seems to be founded in a reference to
first principles. Every soul employs a certain portion of their time to
labour, which is chiefly agricultural; and all take the field from a
sense of duty to _themselves_. A perfect consolidation appears in all
their conduct, and I never saw a concession in them which did not come
from the heart. I have more than once seen sixty thousand of them
reviewed, at one time, on the plains of the Cape, in complete
subordination _in the field_, and whose united determination against an
invading enemy, would be victory or death! No coersion is necessary
among them, and it is of course unattempted; the only punishment
inflicted, is a sense of shame produced by slight confinement.

Amongst a people thus hardened into an _orderly_ ferocity—trained from
inclination—impenetrably fortified on the finest territory on earth, and
next to inaccessible to external attack, what hopes are entertained of
the success of the present armament I know not; but, whatever might be
expected from a _compromise_ with TOUSSAINT, I feel perfectly convinced
no other means will succeed in the subjugation of St. Domingo. United as
are the blacks and mulattos, _fifty thousand_ men would ere long be
dissipated in such an attempt; and if the number now sent against them
_could_ be found sufficient to effect a temporary conquest, what number
of men would continue to keep them in subjection?

And with respect to any views they may be imagined to contemplate of
extending their possessions, none who know the respectable state of
defence in which our Islands are kept, will ever entertain the smallest
fear respecting them. Of a territory the extent of Cuba, I would not
hazard so much, but in the present situation of our islands, so
comparatively small, possessed by Planters of distinguished humanity and
talent,[3] defended by a militia, prompt on all occasions; with an army
well appointed on their shores, under the superintendence of ability,
experience, and power at home; and a vigilant navy round their coasts,
the wonder of the world—few will have sufficient temerity to suggest
that the people I have been describing, will leave their favourite and
favoured island for the mere purpose of a vain gasconade—and against
those whom I am persuaded they would rather conciliate as their friends.

Before I proceed to state the dreadful occurrence which nearly
terminated my existence, on the island whose unfortunate situation I
have been so candidly describing, I shall give a sketch of the man who
holds so conspicuous a situation, and of whom so little is really known.

TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE, the present Commandant of St. Domingo, is one of
those characters, which contentions for power and the extention of
territory, as well as the jars of individual interest have not
infrequently introduced to astonish the World.

Born a Slave, in which capacity he continued till the revolution, it is
hostile to _received opinions_ to consider him in any other light than
as a fortunate Brigand; but chance has directed that the present writer
should be constrained to acknowledge—he is worthy of imitation as a
man—he excites admiration as a governor—and as a general, he is yet
unsubdued without the probability of subjection! His regard for the
unfortunate appears the love of human kind; and, dreaded by different
nations, he is the foe of none.—To the English he is by no means
inimical, and, in possession of many of the blessings of humanity, he
courts the acceptance of the world.

He is a perfect black, at present about fifty-five years of age—of a
venerable appearance, but possessed of uncommon discernment. Of great
suavity of manners, he was not at all concerned in the perpetration of
the massacres, or in the conflagration.

He is stiled the _General en Chef_, and is always attended by four
Aids-de-Camp. He wears as a uniform, a kind of blue spencer, with a
large red cape falling over his shoulders, and red cuffs, with eight
rows of lace on his arms, and a pair of large gold epaulettes thrown
back on his shoulders; a scarlet waistcoat, pantaloons and half-boots; a
round hat with a red feather and national cockade; and an extreme large
sword is suspended from his side. He receives a voluntary respect from
every description of his countrymen, which is more than returned by the
affability of his behaviour, and the goodness of his heart. Of his
civilities to myself, I have sufficient reason to be proud.

I met him frequently, during my stay in his _dominions_, and had no
occasion of complaint, even from human errors.

After the vessel in which I arrived had undergone a thorough repair, at
the Cape, we cleared out of the harbour, and I once more set sail,
flushed with hopes of a speedy arrival at St. Thomas’s; but—

          —“Heav’n from all creatures hides the book of fate.”

On the third day after we left the Cape, our unfortunate vessel sprung a
leak, and we were obliged to put into Fort Dauphine, now called Fort
Egalite, about forty miles from the Cape.

In this situation, the master of the vessel, as well as myself,
apprehended no danger or impropriety in our going on shore; and,
hoisting Danish colours, we came to anchor under a small fort. I
unthinkingly landed with the master, and in less than half an hour was
arrested by four Blacks, and a Mulatto Officer of great ferocity. They
returned with me instantly on board, and placed two centinels over me. I
was informed that suspicions had arisen of my being a spy, and that my
trial would be prompt and decisive. On the morrow I was to be tried _and

Under these apprehensions I was to pass the night, and to prepare for my
appearance before certainly the _blackest!_ tribunal that ever sat in
judgment. I, however, confined my reflections to the best means of
destroying my baggage, including my military appointments; which I
happily effected by putting trunks and all out of the cabin window in
the dead of the night, with a weight attached sufficient to sink them.

The silence of the night, interrupted only by the murmurs of the
ocean—the clamours of the guard, and the distant sounds from the shore,
induced a stronger degree of melancholy than I, perhaps, ever
experienced.——A confused idea of my fate, with the _shame_ rather than
the terrors of an ignominious death, revolving in my mind, deprived me
of the possibility of rest, or the smallest preparation for the event so
soon and so harshly announced.

In the morning I was taken before a black general, named Muro, whose
appearance augured well, for he bore the principal mythological
characteristics of justice—he was _blind of an eye_. He interrogated me,
and insisted I was not an American, but an English spy reconnoitering
the coast. He informed me, that on the morrow I should be tried by a
General Court Martial—and dismissed me.

I was then conducted to a dark prison, with the usual concomitants of
wretchedness, and treated as one who meditated some dire plot against
the happiness of their country. I had no bed, nor other provision but
some coarse dry fish which I could not eat. Next morning, at ten
o’clock, I was regularly brought before a military court, composed of
twelve general officers.—All I could plead in my behalf would not avail
me, not having the proper passports, or American certificates; in fact,
my trial _was prompt and decisive_—I was condemned to suffer DEATH on
the next day!

The master of the vessel, poor Frazer, with great dignity of character
and the most affectionate solicitude, exerted the utmost of his little
power by protesting against the judgment, and insisting I was an
American—but it was without effect, and I was remanded to my cell,
loaded with chains, and consigned to misery, till the sentence of the
Court should be transmitted to TOUSSAINT, without whose sanction it
could not be executed.

For fourteen days I lay suspended between life and death, without any
other consolation than the kindness of my gaoler, whose taciturnity
extended to inform me, every night, I should be _hanged_ on the next
day. To afford me repose, I was furnished with dried sugar-canes, and
was ill supplied nightly with coarse flesh and water—the cheering
delusions of hope no longer lightened my imagination, and I abandoned
all human projects for ever.[4]

At the expiration of that period, the answer of TOUSSAINT arrived; but,
instead of confirming my sentence, that truly great man, although I have
since been convinced _he had ascertained the fact_ of my being a British
Officer, disdained to triumph over an individual whom misfortune had
thrown in his way. He ordered me to be released and suffered to proceed
on my voyage, with the greatest magnanimity adding, “You must never
return to this island, _without the proper passports!_”

To describe my feelings on such an unexpected reverse, would be
difficult and useless. Restored to myself once more, I did not long
remain on a part of the island where my sufferings would have tended to
efface the agreeable impression I had received at Cape François; but
cheerfully bidding adieu to this interesting soil, sailed for St.
Thomas’s on the next day, and very soon reached my long desired
destination, the island of Martinique.

On my arrival, I met with a reception marked with the usual kindness and
urbanity of the commander in chief, General Cuyler, who ordered me the
usual remuneration for the loss of my baggage. I am also informed that I
was honored with a congratulatory letter from his Royal Highness the
Duke of York, which from some unaccountable accident I did not receive.

Much would remain to be said, were I to obey a natural impulse; but the
pen, though often a deadly weapon, is one I am but little accustomed to,
I shall therefore lay it down, at least for the present, with the
confidence that if I have contributed but little advantage, I have
effected as little injury.


Footnote 1:

  My eldest sister, now Princess of Monaca, was married to the late
  Lieutenant General Doyle.

Footnote 2:

  In this arduous situation I had the happiness to effect two orders,
  which, as they exhibit the hardships of that period, I subjoin:—Being
  commanded by my ever-regretted Colonel to bring up the cloathing of
  the troops, I found it only to be effected by cutting my way with
  three boats through the ice for twenty miles. We, however, succeeded,
  happily, and saved to Government at least ten thousand pounds.

  Another night, during the retreat, twenty-one of our waggons, with
  sick and wounded men, arrived very late at a town called Zwoll, where
  my corps was quartered, but were refused admittance by the Dutch
  guard, who kept the gate. It was a dreadful night, and many absolutely
  died from the cold of the men under the command of Colonel Drummond of
  the Guards. I was ordered to compel their admission, and effected it;
  but not till after many threats, and I had left them three minutes
  only to consider, before I should attack them, which in such a cause,
  and at such a time, must have been done with energy.

Footnote 3:

  Notwithstanding it has been of late years the fashion to consider the
  character of a planter as derogatory to humanity, and incapable of
  being blended with any of those qualities that ameliorate the
  condition of the species, every opportunity which I have been afforded
  of judging has tended to convince me of the contrary. Nothing indeed
  can be more cruel than to single out any description of persons for
  public reprobation, as best suits the purpose of the fanatic or the
  partizan; and nothing is more fatal to the cause of truth than an
  implicit reliance on the vague reports of their enthusiasm, which must
  inevitably preclude the possibility of acquiring correct information,
  or adhering to facts if produced to their notice.—If the young and the
  thoughtless squander the accumulations of their ancestors, it is
  certainly no evidence of general voluptuousness.—If there be
  circumstances exceptionable in the conduct of the Slave Trade, does it
  follow that the planter is a merciless executioner? certainly not—it
  would be hostile to his interest, and inexpedient in his situation.—As
  merchants and as men, many are highly and extensively esteemed and
  regarded; and instances of affection and regret in the slaves they
  have been described to torture, are neither infrequent nor unrecorded.

Footnote 4:

  I cannot omit here to pay the tribute of gratitude to a poor unknown
  Female of Colour, whose pity, more extensive than her power, would
  have alleviated the horrors of my situation. She came occasionally in
  the night to the window of my cell, which looked into a court to which
  she found access by an avenue that was unguarded. She brought me food,
  and wine or spirits, the remains of which, to prevent enquiry, she was
  anxious should be destroyed. The humane sympathy expressed by her in
  these nocturnal offerings to misery, have repeatedly brought to my
  remembrance the eulogium of Lediard on a sex ever prone to tender
  offices. In compliment to my humble benefactor I quote the passage,
  and heartily subscribe to the sentiments:—

  “I have,” says he, “always remarked that women, in all countries, are
  civil, obliging, tender, and humane: that they are ever inclined to be
  gay and cheerful, timorous and modest; and that they do not hesitate,
  like men, to perform a kind or generous action.—Not haughty, nor
  arrogant, not supercilious, they are full of courtesy, and fond of
  society—more liable in general to err than man, but in general, also,
  more virtuous, and performing more good actions than he. To a woman,
  whether civilized or savage, I never addressed myself in the language
  of decency and friendship—without receiving a decent and friendly
  answer—with man it has often been otherwise.

  “In wandering over the barren plains of inhospitable Denmark, through
  honest Sweden, and frozen Lapland, rude and churlish Finland,
  unprincipled Russia, and the wide-spread regions of the wandering
  Tartar,—if hungry, dry, cold, wet, or sick, the women have ever been
  friendly to me, and uniformly so; and to add to this virtue, (so
  worthy of the appellation of benevolence,) these actions have been
  performed in so free and so kind a manner, that if I was thirsty, I
  drank the sweetest draught, and if hungry, I ate the coarse meal with
  a double relish.”

[Illustration: FINIS]

        Printed at the office of R. B. Scott, 27, Clements lane.


                           TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

Punctuation has been normalized.

Variations in spelling and hyphenation, as well as some instances
of obsolete spelling (such as “cloathing,” “centinel,” etc.) were

The following typographical or printers’ errors have been corrected:

     Page 9: “Touissant” changed to “Toussaint”
     Page 9: “familiary” changed to “familiarity”
     Page 18: “mulattœs” harmonized to “mulattos”
     Page 21: “acknowlege” changed to “acknowledge”
     Page 21: “sa” changed to “as”
     Page 22: suspended from (removed duplicate “from”)
     Page 23: “Fort Egaiite” changed to “Fort Egalite”
     Page 24: danger or impropriety in (removed duplicate “in” )
     End of Book:  Footnote 3: “a planters” changed to “a planter;”
                                “voluptiousness” changed to

Italicized words and phrases are presented by surrounding the text with
_underscores_; bold text is symbolized by using =equal signs=.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Memoir of Transactions That Took Place in St. Domingo, in the Spring of 1799 - Affording an Idea of the Present State of that Country, - the Real Character of Its Black Governor, Toussaint - L'ouverture, and the Safety of our West-India Islands, - from Attack or Revolt" ***

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