This Day In History: February 27

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On February 27, 1844, revolutionary fervor boiled over on the eastern side of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Finally coming into the open after years of covert planning, a group known as La Trinitaria seized the fortress of Puerta del Conde in the city of Santo Domingo, and beginning the Dominican War of Independence.

Much of what is now the Dominican Republic had been de facto autonomous in the early 1800s, with the Spanish occupied by Napoleon's invasion and the Haitians to the west fighting off their French colonizers. Heavily influenced and encouraged by Haiti, which had achieved independence in 1804, Dominicans declared independence as the Republic of Spanish Haiti in 1821. Despite being nominally free, however, the less-wealthy and less-densely populated half of the island came under the control of Haiti and entered into formal union with its neighbor in 1822.

Though Haiti had been only the second European colony in the Americas to achieve independence, and its revolution constituted one of the largest and most important slave revolts in all of history, Dominica suffered under Haitian rule. Though the two were nominally united, the western half of the island was clearly where the political influence lay, and the crippling debts imposed on Haiti by the French and other powers had a profoundly negative effect on the island's economy as a whole. In 1838, three educated and "enlightened" Dominicans named Juan Pablo Duarte, Ramón Matías Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez founded a resistance organization. They named the organization La Trinitaria due to their decision to divide it into three smaller cells, each of which would operate with almost no knowledge of what the other cells were doing. In this highly secretive way, La Trinitaria set about gathering support from the general populace, even managing to covertly convert two regiments of the Haitian army.

Finally, on February 27, 1844, they were forced to make a move. Though Duarte was away on the mainland seeking support from the recently-liberated peoples of Colombia and Venezuela, La Trinitaria received a tip that the Haitian government had been made aware of their activities. Seizing the moment, they gathered roughly 100 men and stormed Puerta del Conde, forcing the Haitian army out of Santo Domingo. Sánchez fired a cannon shot from the fort and raised the blue, red, and white flag of the Dominican Republic, which still flies over the country today.

The Haitians pillaged the countryside as they retreated West, and fighting continued throughout the spring. Over the next few years and even into the next decade, the nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic were periodically at war, each invading the other in response to previous invasions. The storming of the Puerta del Conde, however, represented a turning point in the history of a nation that had long been subjugated, first to the Spanish and then to its Haitian neighbors.