François Mackandal was a Haitian Maroon leader and herbalist/vodou priest who was apprehended and burned alive by French colonial authorities for collaborating with Maroons to murder slave owners in Saint Domingue.
Francois Mackandal was born around 1730 in West africa most likely in the modern day nations of Senegal, Mali, or Guinea. According to sources, Mackandal was kidnapped from his village at the age of 12 and transported to the French colony of Saint Domingues, in the area of modern-day Haiti, where he was sold to a plantation owner and forced to work on a sugar cane plantation alongside other enslaved Africans. On one occasion, while working, his hand became entangled in a sugarcane press and was crushed between the rollers. Following the accident, Mackandal was put in charge of herding cattle, apparently with little or no supervision.
The Saint-Domingue colony which was dependent on slave farms that produced commodities like sugar and coffee for export was regarded as one of the harshest, considering the high levels of violence and mortality. The plantation owners were notoriously brutal, frequently using whips to punish their slaves, resulting in an unprecedented level of violence. This, along with generations of inequality and brutality, drove Francois Mackandal to flee his plantation and join a maroon community, where he was elevated to the position of leader.
Mackandal, as a maroon leader, united the various Maroon bands and established a network of secret organizations linked with slaves still on plantations. Mackandal used his houngan knowledge of plants to create poisons from island herbs, which he distributed to slaves, who added it to the meals and refreshments they served the French plantation owners and planters. Poisoning plantation owners, animals, and even other enslaved people who were too content with French rule to aid their cause.
Macandal, who referred to himself as “The Black Messiah” and believed he had been sent by God to liberate black people from their enslavers, also launched nighttime raids with his bands on plantations to steal supplies, kill slave owners, and free slaves who desired to be released.
Fearing that Mackandal would drive all whites out of the colony if left unchecked, the French intensified efforts to capture him. Eventually they apprehended an ally of Mackandal and tortured him into divulging information that led to Makandal’s capture in 1758.
Mackandal was tried, found guilty, tied at the stake, and set ablaze in front of thousands of slaves from across the colony in Port-au-central Prince’s square.
Sources say he managed to free himself after the fire was lit by wriggling free from the bonds holding him but was re-captured, retied, and thrown into the blazing fire, where he was consumed.
François Mackandal’s death did not deter individuals from defying laws and rebelling as the French had hoped, instead it served as a major source of inspiration for future rebels, paving the way for the first successful slave revolt in history and Haiti’s eventual independence in 1804.