Georges Biassou Monument St. Augustine, Florida

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

general-biassouHonoring our Nations first Black General – When Jorge Biassou (1741-1801) arrived in St. Augustine in 1796, he was already a legend in his own time. He was the most fiery leader in the Haitian slave revolt against the French. He became a decorated Spanish general, yet did not speak Spanish and was virtually banned from Hispaniola and Havana. He was Florida’s only black caudillo (a militant political leader), and came with his own Haitian entourage. He flaunted pagan religious practices, but was buried with full Catholic honors. A hero, a family man, a threat, and a spectacle; this ex-slave demanded respect. Jorge Biassou was born “Georges,” on the island of Hispaniola. He was the son of slaves in the world’s most lucrative colony, French Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). The plantation owners there were notoriously brutal, producing a standard for violence that still lingers there today. In 1791, thousands of abused slaves rose up and poured out their fury on the “great whites.” Biassou, now fifty years old, joined them and quickly assumed the rebel leadership with Jean Francois. Biassou commanded 40,000 ex-slaves as they burned plantations and murdered whites. Along the way, he fueled his own and his followers’ national spirit through religious practices of their African ancestors.

In four years of warfare, Biassou developed a reputation that became fodder for legends. Historian Thomas Madiou dramatized tales of the revolution fifty years later, writing that Biassou’s war tent was “filled with kittens of all shades, with snakes, with dead men’s bones, and other African fetishes. At night huge campfires were lit with naked women dancing around them, chanting words understood only on the coast of Africa. When the excitement reached its climax, Biassou would appear with his [priests] to proclaim in the name of God that every slave killed in battle would re-awaken in his homeland of Africa”.

PROPOSED MONUMENT

The City of St. Augustine’s Visitor Information Center grounds soon could feature at least one new monument: a statue depicting the nation’s first black general. St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles said the city has accepted an offer from the North Miami-based Haitian-American Historical Society to supply a statue of Jorge Biassou. “Colin Powell was not the first black general,” society Chairman Daniel Fils-Aime said. “That was Jorge Biassou, the Haitian general put in by the Spanish. He was in charge of 4,000 soldiers in St. Augustine.” Fils-Aime said the society wanted the statue “in order to honor him.” Biassou was a leader of the Slave Revolt in Haiti that later led to the abolition of the country’s slavery and its independence, Fils-Aime said. The society hopes to install the statue on July 14, the day of his death at the hands of Seminole Indians. Read More…