General Richepance’s expedition
As an expedition of 20,000 men under General Leclerc was sent to reconquer Saint-Domingue, 3,600 of Richepance’s soldiers set sail to re-establish the mainland French authority over insurgent Guadeloupe. On 5 May 1801, they arrived in port and occupied the main positions without difficulty.
The resistance of Louis Delgrès
Only the “free-born man of colour”, colonel Delgrès, and a handful of deserters were not present: they had reached Basse-Terre from where their leader issued an abolitionist proclamation “to the whole universe” and called for a “mass uprising”. He soon had more than a 1,000 combatants.
Richepance decided to crush the rebellion in an unprecedentedly brutal military operation from 10 to 28 May. The insurgents who did not die in battle were tried and sentenced by a military commission – 250 death sentences were issued.
Surrounded at Matouba and unwilling to hand himself over to the mainland French troops, Delgrès blew himself up with about 300 of his companions.
Richepance had lost about 40 per cent of his men, either in battle or through illness, and he had not put down the revolt. Several centres of resistance continued to operate for several months. They were put down with great violence: prisoners were systematically massacred and, for a hundred of them, the general-in-chief resurrected the torture of the wheel and burning at the stake! In accordance with Bonaparte’s secret orders, slavery was re-established, and about 5,000 blacks were expelled from the island to be placed in other colonies. Richepance could not be held solely responsible for these dark episodes, and for good reason: he died of fever on 3 September 1802. Rear Admiral Lacrosse completed the task.
Bonaparte did not give any orders for the massacre, and only later did he know what had actually happened. But he did not publicly disown his subordinates. For him, the Guadeloupe operation was part of the return of order to the colonies. On 8 May 1803, a new captain general, Ernouf, was appointed to Guadeloupe. He managed to restore relative calm until the island was taken by the British in January 1810.
10 December 2020 (Eng. trans 14 April 2021)
More episodes of “Napoleon, the dark side”:
► The human cost of the Napoleonic wars (< 3 min. read)
► Napoleon and the colonies (< 3 min. read)
► Napoleon’s re-establishement of slavery (< 2 min. read)
► Napoleon and Santo Domingo (Haïti and Santo Domingo) (< 4 min. read)
► Napoleon and Guadeloupe (< 2 min. read)
► Did Napoleon enact “genocide” in the French colonies? (< 3 min. read)
► Napoleon and women (< 4 min. read)