Howard University > Howard University Health Sciences in Haiti 2012

Fort-Liberté: Cradle of Haiti’s Freedom Now a Symbol of Nation’s Poverty


The Howard University medical team, the National Organization for the Advancement of Haiti and the Haitian American Alliance concentrated their efforts in Fort-Liberté. Fort-Liberté is the administrative capital of Haiti's northeast region and is one of the oldest cities in the country.

Haiti's independence was proclaimed there on November 29, 1803, making it the first Caribbean nation to claim its freedom and the first country to throw off the shackles of African slavery. It is located on the north coast of the island near its border with the Dominican Republic and is the home for about 12,000 residents. It is one of the poorest urban areas in one of the world's poorest nations. The area around Fort-Liberté was originally inhabited by Indians and later by Spanish colonists, who founded the city of Bayaja in 1578 but abandoned it in 1605.

The site was reoccupied by the French in 1732 as Fort-Dauphin. It was captured by Spanish forces in 1794 and then restored to the French in 1801 shortly before the declaration of independence in 1803. The city has undergone a succession of name changes: Bayaja (1578), Fort-Dauphin (1732), Fort St. Joseph (1804), Fort-Royal (1811) and finally Fort-Liberté (1820).

Residents, like most all of Haiti, speak Haitian Creole. The more educated also speak French. The most common religious affiliations are Roman Catholic and Haitian Vodou.

In the colonial era, it was a major plantation area, and today it remains an important coffee-producing area. Its pine forests are heavily exploited for charcoal. In addition, several colonial-era forts, mostly in ruins, are situated here.

Fort-Liberté is a natural harbor. It is strategically located in the center of the bay facing the Atlantic Ocean. It was used as a naval base by the French, with four forts that guarded the bay. Two of the larger forts are Fort Lachatre and Fort Labourque.  They were captured by Toussaint L’ouvertoure, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, in 1793.

The bay was the site of Caribbean's largest sisal plantation until nylon was invented. Sisal was used to make marine rope.  The U.S. Navy was one of the largest purchasers of rope from the Fort-Liberté area.  From the time of colonization, the economy of the island has been essentially agriculture centric.

Trade and economy of the city and its precincts at present are coffee, cacao, honey, logwood and pineapple.

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