Like most people, I've been paying a lot more attention to Haiti in the past few weeks than ever before. I know very little about the place. It comes up just twice in my U.S. history survey course, once in the lecture on New World colonization, and again in a lecture on slave uprisings. For my own knowledge as well as for this blog, I thought I'd try to sketch a religious history of Haiti—one that does not include a national pact with the devil.

The island of Hispaniola, now divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, bore the brunt of early Spanish colonization of the New World. Christopher Columbus explored its northern coast in 1492, and his favorable reports, along with Spain's quest for riches and global dominance, soon brought many more soldiers, priests, and economic adventurers. Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican priest whose father and uncles joined Columbus's second expedition, witnessed the results of this conquest. He titled his wrenching narrative, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542). It begins:

The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. Thus, forty-nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land, the first so claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola… And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these [indigenous] people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable ...
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