Vincent Ogé was a remarkable figure in the history of Haiti, who played a pivotal role in the struggle for equality and freedom during the turbulent times of the late 18th century. His valiant efforts, though ultimately unsuccessful, laid the foundation for the Haitian Revolution and the birth of the first independent black republic.
Born in 1757, Vincent Ogé was the son of a Frenchman and a woman of African descent, making him a member of the free biracial class in Saint-Domingue, the French colony that later became Haiti. Raised in a family of plantation owners, Ogé was sent to Bordeaux, France at the age of eleven to apprentice as a goldsmith. After spending seven years in France, he returned to Saint-Domingue and settled in Cap-Français, where he became a successful coffee merchant and a partial owner of his family’s plantation, which made him one of the wealthiest merchants of African descent in the city.
The year 1788 marked a turning point in Ogé’s life. Deeply in debt and seeking new opportunities, he relocated to Port-au-Prince with trade goods and several slaves. Around this time, he traveled to France once more, and it was during this visit that the French Revolution erupted. Inspired by the revolutionary ideals, Ogé embraced the cause and saw it as an opportunity to advocate for the rights of the free people of color in his homeland.
In August 1789, Ogé approached a group of absentee white planters to propose the abolition of discriminatory laws against free people of color in Saint-Domingue. When his proposals were met with rejection, he joined forces with a group of like-minded free people of color. This group demanded representation for mulatto people from the colonies in the National Constituent Assembly in France, which was fighting for revolutionary reforms.
Taking an active role in the unfolding revolution, Ogé enlisted as an officer in the Paris militia and joined the abolitionist Society of the Friends of the Blacks. In collaboration with Julien Raimond, another advocate for the rights of free people of color, Ogé presented arguments to the National Constituent Assembly, urging for black representation and full voting rights in Saint-Domingue.
The efforts of Ogé and Raimond bore fruit in March 1790, when the National Constituent Assembly approved a law granting full voting rights to free people of color in the French colonies. Encouraged by this development, Ogé returned to Saint-Domingue, hoping to see the law’s implementation.
However, upon his arrival, Ogé was met with the refusal of the colonial government, led by Governor Philibert François Rouxel de Blanchelande and the assembly, to grant free people of color the rights stipulated in the new law. Frustrated and determined, Ogé conspired with Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, a non-commissioned officer in the colonial militia, to take more drastic measures.
In October 1790, Ogé and approximately 300 free men of color gathered outside Cap-Français, armed with a desire to challenge the oppressive colonial authorities. Their aim was to secure equal rights and representation within the French system, as promised by the law passed in France. However, their rebellion faced significant challenges from the start, being poorly armed and outnumbered.
Initially, Ogé’s forces managed to hold their ground and repel the first force sent against them. However, the colonial government responded with a second attack led by one Colonel Cambefort, who brought 1,500 men, including French Royal Army soldiers. Outnumbered and deserted by some of their own, Ogé and Chavannes were unable to withstand the onslaught. In the face of defeat, they managed to escape and sought refuge in the nearby Spanish colony of Santo Domingo.
Their sanctuary, however, was short-lived. In November 1790, Ogé and 23 rebels, including Chavannes, were captured by the Spanish colonial authorities in Hinche. Despite receiving guarantees of safety, the Spanish handed them over to their French counterparts. The rebels were then marched to Cap-Français, where they were imprisoned.
In February 1791, Vincent Ogé faced a trial before the colonial government in Cap-Français. Upon being found guilty, he received a death sentence. On the 6th of February, in the presence of Governor Blanchelande and other colonial politicians, Ogé was subjected to a gruesome execution known as “breaking on the wheel.” This method involved stripping him naked, binding him to a large wooden wheel, and then delivering fatal blows with a hammer until his life was extinguished.
Following his death, Ogé’s head was decapitated from his lifeless body. The severed head was then impaled on a pike and displayed publicly. This macabre exhibition aimed to instill fear and exert dominance over the populace, sending a chilling message to anyone considering resistance.
The execution of Vincent Ogé sent shockwaves throughout Saint-Domingue, symbolizing the French colonial authorities’ ruthless determination to suppress any form of dissent or aspiration for equality. However, Ogé’s sacrifice would not be in vain. His tragic death fueled the flames of resistance and inspired others to take up arms against the oppressive regime. The spirit of rebellion ignited by Ogé would later contribute to the larger struggle for freedom and justice, ultimately leading to the Haitian Revolution and the establishment of Haiti as the first independent black republic in 1804.