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Brothers in Liberty: The Forgotten Story of the Free Black Haitians Who Fought for American Independence by Phillip Thomas Tucker

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The American Revolution affected people around the world. Far from the battlefields and congressional halls, the diversity of the conflict’s participants represented the world of the late 18th century. One group that became directly involved in both the bloodshed and the political debate on the meaning of the Revolution was a group of Haitians, levied under white French officers as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue. Raised in 1779 from the free Black community of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), the Chasseurs served during the French campaigns in the Caribbean and during the Franco-American Siege of Savannah. Phillip Thomas Tucker’s Brothers in Liberty: The Forgotten Story of the Free Black Haitians Who Fought for American Independence offers readers an introduction to the story of the Haitians who comprised the regiment and later used the lessons they learned during the American Revolution to fight for independence back home.

In combat, the Chasseurs were part of a brutal bayonet assault upon the British fortifications the surrounded Savannah and lost many men. Many of those who were wounded were captured at sea on their way to hospitals and were later sold into slavery by the British Navy, as they were considered “prizes.” Fighting on a number of battlefields and at sea, the men of the Chasseurs also faced a volatile and racist colonial system at home. The French system of slavery in their Caribbean possessions was brutal, and several of its champions took leadership positions in the regiment, including its Colonel, who detested abolitionists. Several of the enlisted men of the regiment went on to become key leaders of the Haitian independence movement and anti-slavery rebellions against the French during the years of France’s revolution and Napoleon’s rise to power. Their experience as soldiers in the American Revolution shaped them as soldiers, politicians, and, for some, brothers in liberty with the cause of freedom in their own lands.

Read an excerpt to learn more about the Haitians who joined the Chasseurs in 1779.


This was the kind of dramatic rise of fortunes in free Black society that was hoped for and believed possible by so many young optimistic Chasseurs during the initial excess of patriotic optimism, when the excitement of enlisting and serving in this new unit was at a high during the summer of 1779. In this way, the enterprising Augustin followed in the footsteps of Captain Vincent Olivier, who had played such a key role in the recruitment of the young men of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue.

"Many of [these Chasseurs] were socially prominent" in the insular free Black and mulatto world of Saint-Domingue by virtue of having become successful as landowners and planters, especially in the south, where they owned most of the land and dominated coffee production on the gently sloping hillsides of the mountains. As a result, these soldiers of a darker shade believed they were equal to whites and fully deserving of equal rights because of what they had accomplished in life, as they were about to demonstrate to one and all by their upcoming service in America. 

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In fact, the majority of volunteers in the Chasseurs were men of property, consisting of many "landowners who had abandoned their fortunes in order to serve the King," although the finely uniformed ranks of the Chasseurs were composed of both the lower and upper crust of free Black and mulatto society, and also included slaves who hoped to win their freedom by demonstrating their worth and courage on the battlefield, which made them distinctly eager to confront the hated British and any enemies of their beloved homeland.

Tucker, Phillip Thomas. Brothers in Liberty: The Forgotten Story of the Free Black Haitians Who Fought for American Independence. (Lanham, MD: Stackpole, 2023), 91.


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