Francois Mackandal was a charismatic and skilled leader of a slave revolt in Haiti in the 18th century. Mackandal was probably of West African or Congolese origin brought to St Domingue as a slave at the age of 12. It is believed that he was sold to Lenormand plantation. He lost his left hand and part of his left arm while a slave; how this happened is often disputed. Some sources claim his arm was crushed in an accident with a sugar press and then was cast out from
the plantation. Other historians claim that he fled the plantation after being sentenced to 50 lashes (which would kill most people) but the plantation owners where loath to admit a slave had the skill and brains to escape his white captors. Mark Davis, based on carefully filtered oral history, suggest that Mackandal was well educated before he was a slave, and could both read and write Arabic fluently, possibly due to contact with Arab slavers and traders in the Congo and West Africa. He is believed to be intelligent and well versed in herbalism.
12 years after fleeing the plantation, Mackandal united a group of Maroons in the remote mountain areas of Haiti to fight the French. The Maroons where a mixture of the surviving native and escaped black slaves. The native population the Tainos had been nearly exterminated by first Spanish and then French colonization, introduced diseases and slavery. The Maroons combined both Native American wilderness skills with Africa agriculture and skills brought by the escaped slaves of many nations. Mackandal used slaves still working on the plantations as intelligence network while his Maroon forces would raid and burn plantations. He and his freedom fighters used local plants to produce poison which was then given to slaves to poison their masters. This was an excellent terror weapon and the French authorities feared that many Land owners would leave Haiti because of the risk of poisoning, it is estimated that Mackandal’s forces killed over 6,000 during the 6 years of insurrection.
On 20th January 1758 Mackandal was sentenced to be burnt at the stake, a common punishment for slaves, following his betrayal by a female slave who was tortured after capture. Mackandal was renowned for escaping capture and many stories surround his death, some say that he escaped as the robs binding him to the stake were loose due to the stump of his left hand, other stories are of a mythical nature claiming that his soul escaped the flames and his spirit still wanders Haiti. Many of these had root in the fact that Francois was a vodou priest and often prophesied that one day the slaves would win their freedom and claimed that his was immortal. Mackandal in many ways sowed the seeds for the later success of Toussaint Louverture who was to lead the first successful revolt of against European imperialists.
Suzanne “Sanité” Bélair