Rare plan of the community of Les Hayes in southern Haiti, showing the city and surrounding community. The level of detail on the map is remarkable, with many individual buildings shown and locations denoted. This map first appeared in Nicolas Ponce's Recueil de vues des lieux principaux de la colonie françoise de Saint-Domingue. The level of topographic and geographic detail is impressive.
Even more remarkable is the date of the map, made as it was just after the American Revolution and just before the French and Haitian Revolutions. Located in an area formerly frequented by buccaneers, in 1770 the French authorities founded Port-au-Prince to serve as the new capital of their most important colony. Saint-Domingue was France's wealthiest overseas holding, but that wealth was made off the labor and lives of African slaves working sugar and coffee plantations. On August 21, 1791, led by former slave Touissant L'Overture, the slaves rose up against their colonial masters, having been inspired by the early days of the French Revolution and its "Declaration of the Rights of Man."
A complex revolution involving many stakeholders, the Haitian struggle would continue for over a decade. It outlasted the French Revolution, ending with the defeat of troops sent by Napoleon at the Battle of Vertieres on November 18, 1803. On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the first black republic in the world and the second independent country in the western hemisphere.
Les Cayes saw repeated revolts during the Revolution, in particular in 1793 when all the white settlers were killed.
René Phélipeau was a French military engineer whose career followed the revolutions around the Atlantic. Trained as a surveyor, he was charged with surveying Saint-Domingue's major cities and towns in the 1780s, just before the outbreak of war. Prior to that assignment, he had served in Georgia during the American Revolution.
Phélipeau collaborated with the engraver Nicolas Ponce, which is why several of his Saint-Domingue maps appear in Recueil de vues des lieux principaux de la colonie françoise de Saint-Domingue, engraved by Ponce and printed in Paris, 1791, which was intended to accompany Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l'isle Saint-Domingue, by Médéric Louis Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry, printed in two volumes, in Philadelphia, in 1797-1798. The Port-au-Prince map in the Recueil was dated 1785, while the John Carter Brown Library has an uncolored copy dated 1790.
We note four institutional holdings of this map listed in OCLC.