Children in pens. The overwhelming stink of human waste. Auctions at which human bodies were prodded, compared, and purchased. It was all in a day’s work at the New Orleans, Louisiana slave market, the largest and most lucrative in the pre-Civil War United States. But if it weren’t for a slave rebellion, Louisiana wouldn’t be part of the United States at all.
The Louisiana Purchase was one of history’s greatest bargains, a chance for the United States to buy what promised to be one of France’s largest and wealthiest territories and eliminate a European threat in the process. But the purchase was also fueled by a slave revolt in Haiti—and tragically, it ended up expanding slavery in the United States.
It would have seemed unthinkable for France to cede any of its colonial territory before 1791. The superpower had built a vast network of colonies in the Americas, capitalizing on European tastes for coffee, indigo and other commodities. None of these held a candle, though, to sugar, which dominated French colonial holdings. And St. Domingue, which is now known as Haiti, was one of the great sugar capitals of the world. A full 40 percent of Britain and France’s sugar, and 60 percent of its coffee, was produced in Haiti, and the lucrative market lent itself to a particularly brutal slave trade.