Because of its association with the ACS, many African Americans opposed
Liberian emigration. Other sites were proposed - Central America, the Caribbean
islands, the Niger Valley, Canada, and Haiti. For a short while, Haiti proved
the most popular of these alternatives.
The first black republic and the second country to gain independence,
under the leadership of François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture,
Haiti had served as a place of asylum for runaways and free men and women over
the years. This fact, plus its proximity to the United States and its history
of self-liberation and Christianity, made the island attractive to black
proponents of emigration. They stressed that since it was so close, emigrants
would not be abandoning their enslaved brothers and sisters. White advocates
saw Haiti as another site to which undesirable free blacks could be deported.
In 1824, the New York Colonization Society received a commitment from
Jean-Pierre Boyer to pay the passage of U.S. emigrants.
Boyer also promised to support them for their first four months and to grant
them land. The same year, African-American leaders, including wealthy
James Forten and Bishop Richard Allen, formed the Haytian
Emigration Society of Coloured People. They arranged for the transportation of
several hundred people, not only to Haiti but also to Santo Domingo, the
Spanish-speaking western part of the island of Hispaniola that had been
conquered by Haiti in 1822.
New efforts to settle African Americans in Haiti were launched in the
mid-nineteenth century. Emperor Faustin Soulouque and James Theodore Holly
entered into discussions in 1855 on the settling of African Americans in the
island state. After Soulouque was deposed, the new President, Nicolas Fabre Geffrard, appointed his own representative, James Redpath, a white American
reporter, as General Agent. His mission was to attract immigrants to the
One of Redpath's agents was Holly, who emerged as the leading advocate
of Haitian emigration. He believed that African Americans could profoundly
influence the development of the Haitian Republic:
Our brethren of Hayti, who stand in the vanguard of the race, have
already made a name, and a fame for us, that is as imperishable as the world's
history. . . .It becomes then an important question for the negro race in
America . . .to contribute to the continued advancement of this negro
nationality of the New World until its glory and renown shall overspread the
whole earth, and redeem and regenerate by its influence in the future, the
benighted Fatherland of the race in Africa.
In the early 1860s, partly as a result of Holly's relentless
proselytizing, African American interest in colonization increased. Haiti's
president, Fabre Geffrard, hoping to ease the island's labor shortage, promoted
policies that encouraged immigration but were not as generous as those offered
in the 1820s.
In March 1861, Holly sailed to Haiti with 111 migrants from Connecticut
and Canada. During the course of the year, several other journeys brought 800
more to the island. Most were unprepared for life in a different
environment. Many complained about the climate and the language barrier, and
expressed contempt for Vodou and Catholicism. Haitians were often suspicious of
the immigrants, whom they described as lazy and uncooperative. Most immigrants,
who came from American cities, did not want to work on farms and sold the land
they had received for free in order to settle in the urban centers, where they
could not find work. In addition, the government's subsidy policy depleted the
country's already minimal treasury by funding emigrants who often left after
their four months were over. The majority of the Americans returned home, but
others kept on arriving.
President Abraham Lincoln had for some years advocated the removal of
freed slaves as a partial solution to the nation's "race problem." In 1863, he
supported the transportation of 453 men and women - most were former bondspeople
from Virginia - to L'Ile-à-Vache, an island off the Haitian coast. The
experiment failed due to inadequate planning and poor leadership. In less than
a year, the survivors were returned to the United States.
Many Americans, black and white, were opposed to Haitian immigration.
Their attacks were not as strong as those against Liberia, mainly because it
was a movement initiated, for the most part, by African Americans. In fact, the
1854 National Emigration Convention actually endorsed Haitian immigration. But
the opponents of Haiti were numerous. Frederick Douglass, who was opposed to
emigration but had finally encouraged the Haitian movement, later abandoned the
Widespread migration to Haiti never materialized. Estimates of the
number of African Americans who made the trip range from eight thousand to
thirteen thousand, but most returned to the United States. Unlike the situation
in Liberia, the island's fairly large but mostly transient African-American
community left no lasting evidence of its presence.