Poland and Haiti: Polish legions in the Haitian war of independence (c. 1802-1804)
Located in the Department of Grande Anse and not too far from the Haitian Capital named Port-au-Prince, Cazale (also spelled Cazales/Casale) is a small agricultural village in Haiti. One thing distinctly unique about Cazale is its connection to Poland.
In the year 1802 Napoleon added a legion of around 5200-5500 Poles to the forces sent to the French colony of Saint-Domingue in order to fight off the slave rebellion. However, the Poles were told that there was a revolt in Saint-Domingue, only upon arrival discovering that what was actually going on in the colony was the slaves fighting for their freedom.
At that time, there was a similar war going on in Poland. In 1772, 1793 and 1795 the empires of Russia, Prussia (Germany) and Austria were subsequently invading Poland [see: Partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth], making it disappear from the maps for over a century. Many Poles, in hope to unite and regain independence in some way, made an alliance with France and joined Napoleon’s army as distinct Polish units. However, these Polish units were later used by Napoleon in various other fronts, bribed by the promise of helping out their old territories in the due course.
The Polish unit that arrived in the colony suffered from a climate shock. The general combat casualties and tropical diseases, including yellow fever, reduced the Polish contingent to only a few hundred survivors in the span of less than 2 years. They initially participated in the fights as promised to Napoleon, dispersed between different outposts, but after learning about the actual situation on the island, many remaining Polish soldiers eventually decided to leave the French army and join the slave rebellion, most likely understanding the slaves who also wanted just the freedom and independence. Poles were noted to participate in Haiti’s final 1804 battles that resulted in France’s retreat from the island. Only three categories of white people were spared during the last phases of war: Polish soldiers who left the French army, group of German settlers invited to Haiti before the revolution, and a group of medical doctors and professionals.
After declaration of Haiti’s Independence, around 240 of remaining Poles also acquired Haitian citizenship and were allowed to settle in Cazale, La Vallee de Jacmel, Fond des Blancs, La Baleine, Port Salut and St. Jean du Sud. In Cazale, people calling themselves Polish Haitians can be found even nowadays.
1. “Battle at San Domingo” by the Polish painter January Suchodolski (1797-1875)
2. Visit of the Pope John Paul II in Port-au-Prince, March 1983. Inhabitants of the “Polish village” are holding an image of the Our Lady of Częstochowa, one the holiest paintings of the Polish Catholic Church. [source]
3-8. Inhabitants of the so-called “Polish village” in Haiti photographed by Światosław Wojtkowiak: “200 years away from home”.
Artur Boruc, Łukasz Fabiański, Łukasz Skorupski, Wojciech Szczęsny, Kamil Glik, Artur Jędrzejczyk, Paweł Olkowski, Łukasz Piszczek, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Maciej Wilusz, Grzegorz Wojtkowiak, Paweł Dawidowicz, Kamil Grosicki, Mateusz Klich, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty, Krzysztof Mączyński, Maciej Rybus, Waldemar Sobota, Filip Starzyński, Paweł Wszołek, Michał Żyro, Jakub Błaszczykowski, Robert Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik, Łukasz Teodorczyk