Haitian boundary marker
(see below for coordinates)
From Clark Moore's memoirs...
While working on community development projects
on the Central Plateau of Haiti, I became aware that this area
was once Spanish territory, while the coastal regions to the
north and west belonged to France. Researching the area's historical
background, I read Samuel Hazard's "Santo Domino Past and
Present with a Glance at Hayti" written in 1873. In the
Appendix, Hazard lists he number and location of each of the
boundary markers as they were described in the original survey.
In the text he mentions that some of these markers (or "pyramids",
as he calls them) were apparently still in existence.
This aroused my curiosity. I wondered whether
some of these markers might still be standing after 200 years.
Comparing the place names describing the boundary found in Hazard's
book with the place names found on modern 1:26,000 topographical
maps, it was interesting to see the number of names that have
survived to the present. A likely spot was selected for a search
between the towns of Saint Raphael, which was Spanish, and the
French town of Dondon - which is approximately 45 kilometres
by road from Cap Haitien, on the north coast of Haiti. A visit
to the area was made by jeep in March of 1979.
Dondon is reached by a road that leaves the coastal
plains and climbs steeply to soon gain an elevation of 500 metres.
The town actually lies within the watershed of the Central Plateau,
with nearby streams flowing into the Bouyaha river. From time
to time the Spanish tried to dislodge the French from this area,
but without success. Since the area is well watered, coffee
and cacao are still major crops, just as they were during colonial
times. Driving toward Saint Raphael, my Haitian guide and I
knew we were getting close when we passed a primary school with
the words "Bassin Caiman" lettered on the wall. I
then reread the boundary description for that area.
"the line descends round the plantation of
Mr Dumar as far as the pyramid 84, erected at the old guardhouse
of the Bassin a Cayman, on the left bank of the river.. On the
right bank, opposite no. 84, is the pyramid no. 85, where the
plenipotentiaries placed the first stone at the foot of the
hill beginning the mountain of Villa Rubia; the line goes now
up to the top where is placed the landmark no. 86, and, descending
by one of the branches to no. 87, it takes the summit on the
plantations of the Baronies de Piis..."
We continued to the bridge that crossed the Bouyaha
river. After inquiring several times about the existence of
"bornes", or markers, without success, we were told
that an old man who lived near the bridge might know. Fortunately
the man was at home and was very responsive to out questions.
He showed us two masonry pillars along the road
on each side of the river. Both pillars had been severely damaged
by road construction equipment in past years. I asked if there
were any identifying markings on the pillars. He replied that
there were plaques on them many years ago, but they had disappeared.
Unable to positively identify the pillars as the "pyramids"
referred to in the boundary description, I asked if he knew
of any other markers. He quickly responded that there was one
on a nearby hill, on the Saint Raphael side of the river.
He apologised that he was unable climb the hill
because of his age, but he explained to his son what we were
looking for. It is amazing the amount of information that is
passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth in
Haiti. In the rural areas of Haiti, where few people are literate,
each local area has an older person who is a storehouse of information.
The son led us up a trail and along a ridge near the summit
of the hill. There, on the south side of the river in a hedge
of thorny shrubs, was a flat piece of local limestone, tilting
at a sharp angle, but still standing. The surface of the stone
on one face was very rough, with no visible markings. By clearing
away some brush on the other side of the stone, one could see
that on the smooth face was carefully chiselled the word "ESPANIA".
Above was the number "87".
The tombstone like marker measured 35cm wide,
56 cm high and was 10 cm thick. It was definitely one of the
221 markers. During the early slave revolts in the French colony
in the 1790's, the Spanish were forced to abandon the Central
Plateau to the emerging Haitian people. From this point on,
the frontier was always further east. Today the present boundary
is as far as 60 kilometres further east.
Perhaps number "86" was on the nearby
summit? After consulting the boundary description, I asked our
local guide and the curious onlookers if there were any other
markers in the area. When there was no positive response, I
explained that the written description stated the placing of
marker "86" was at the summit of the hill. After a
short search, we found it, less than 100m from marker 87. The
marker has "France", and the number, carved on one
side - and "ESPANIA" carved on the other. The people
in the group were very surprised that such a stranger would
find a marker that they themselves didn't know existed - I'm
sure that many of them thought it was magic!
Later, we joined the old man at the bridge, and
happily told him our results. I was now confident that the broken
masonry pillars represented markers "84" and "85".
In one afternoon we were able to locate, with the aid of a boundary
description written in 1873, modern topographical maps, and
the valuable help of the local inhabitants, four boundary markers
placed in that area over two hundred years ago.
In November 1979 a return trip was made to the
same area to search the high ridge to the east where markers
81, 82 and 83 should have been placed. After climbing steeply,
the guide and I located marker 83 beside the trail on a piece
of ground that had just recently been cleared for a garden.
The marker was lying flat and blended with other slabs of native
The long marker had "FRANCE" and "ESPANA"
carved on the sides in smaller, fainter letters than the previous
ones. The number "83" was carved on both faces. We
stood the marker on end and placed rocks around the base to
hold it in an upright position.
An intensive search was made father up the ridge
for the other two markers. With the dry season well underway,
the vegetation was short, making it possible to get a clear
view of the terrain. After checking likely spots, and carefully
looking for markings on possible stones, the search was discontinued.
With erosion very evident on the ridge, we realized that many
of the markers were probably permanently lost.
Several weeks later, an effort was made to stabalize
marker "83" with a cement base. When we arrived at
the site we found the stone broken in half. The farmer on whose
land the marker had been found. was afraid that the stone was
set up to mark the property line, as is commonly done in Haiti.
The owner of the land could not be located, so a temporary marker
was cemented in the same location and an explanation made to
onlookers that we were not trying to change property lines.
The stone was taken to Limbé, where there's
a local museum. An effort will be made to repair the stone.
If a marker is standing it will be respected by the inhabitants,
but once the marker is displaced the stone quickly loses its
A search was made in the western most section
of the boundary in March of 1980. Marker "122" was
located in a mound of earth recently pushed up by a bulldozer
doing road construction. The position was approximately halfway
between St. Michel de l'Atalaye (formerly Spanish) and Ennery
(formerly French). The marker is of limestone with the letters
"ESPANA" and the number "122" carved in
the upper right hand corner. Below, a large symbol "AP"
was lightly carved into the stone. On the other side of the
marker, which was much rougher, "FRANCE" was carved
into the 60 cm high slab. No other markings were visible. The
marker was later returned to its original position in clear
view of the road.
A marker, still standing but with several pieces
broken off, was found along a trail two kilometres north of
marker "122". This marker was used as a Voodoo shrine.
The marker had a knotted rope wound round it, as well as broken
bottles, an old pair of shoes, and wax from candles in front
of it, and the stone was badly damaged. With the broken pieces,
the words ESPANA and FRANCE could be made out, but the number
I was later able to identify the marker as number
120 from photographs of the original boundary survey map. The
19 photographs from the National Library in Madrid, Spain clearly
showed the position and numbers of the markers along the entire
frontier. By using a modern 25,000 topographical map I calculated
the distance between the markers as being 1,650 yards. The scale
used by the colonial map is given in "toises". One
toise was equal to six feet. The photograph of the original
map scaled out to one-eighth inch to 100 toises. The distance
between the markers measured one inch, or 800 tosses on the
photograph. The equivalent in yards was 1,600 yards, which is
very close to the 1,650 yards calculated on the topographical
map. Since markers 119 and 121 were some distance from marker
120, I am reasonably sure that the broken marker was number
120. I was very impressed with the accuracy of the colonial
Several unsuccessful searches were made along
steed ridges that separated the watersheds of the Central Plateau
and land sloping toward the coasts. When people living in the
areas had no knowledge of the markers there was very little
hope of finding them.
In December of 1981 a trip was made to an area
in the southern section of the Central Plateau, near the town
of Las Cahobas. There was a marker carved on a large limestone
rock, over 5 metres high. On it, at eye leve, was carved "FRANCE",
and "193". Many people in the area were aware of its
existence, but not of its significance. An elderly man said
that the other side of the rock had an inscription that had
In February 1982 I was told by a farmer who lived
in the mountains near the ruins of Fort Riviere that marker
71 had been located. The area had been previously visited but
not carefully searched. A meeting was arranged for the next
day at the ruins of the fort.
First the farmer arrived, and then a few moments
later his friend came carrying a flat piece of sandstone that
must have weighed close to 50 pounds. The stone was complete
with the names of both countries and the number "71".
Fortunately the marker was not standing when it was removed
and we were able to relocate the position from a shallow depression
left by the stone. It was decided to bring this marker out since
the original standing position of the marker could not be determined
and it was in a very isolated area.
Using these two men as guides on a search a few
weeks later, we were able to accomplish the single most successful
day of the project. The first stone was a short sandstone marker
with a well carved "G" on the French side and a smaller
"FC" on the Spanish side. According to the colonial
map, a Frenchman by the name of Guillanden held the land in
this area, which would account for the "G" on the
stone. I was unable to determine the meaning of the "FC"
on the Spanish side of the stone.
Farther down the ridge, marker "74"
was located on the trail. Although the stone was tipped at a
sharp angle, it was still solid in its position. The initials
"E" and "F", with the number "74"
identified this smaller sandstone marker. Moving on down the
trail, we reached a point where the ridge levelled out at 650
metre elevation and swung to the west toward Morne Matchurin.
Shortly after turning west, we passed the stone ruins of a building
on top of the ridge. The colonial map showed this structure
belonged to a Frenchman by the name of Gerbier.
A short distance off the ridge, on the Spanish
side, stood marker 77. The rough limestone slab had badly eroded
lettering. The base was in loose soil, so a cement mortar was
poured around the base to help stabilize it. A local inhabitant
led us across a ravine to a marker that had no number. "ESPANA"
could clearly be seen, but only the "FR" on the French
side. Sometime in the past the marker must have been reversed,
since the names faced the wrong direction. According to the
map, this marker would be number "76".
The search continued in a westerly direction,
ending at the base of Morne Matchurin with the discovery of
marker "78". This large, thin slab of limestone stood
64 cm high, 74 cm wide and only 9 cm thick. The surface of the
marker allowed for larger lettering than usual. The large number
of markers placed in this area was due to the fact that the
French had gained the top of the ridge, forcing the boundary
off the natural watershed division.
Later, in April, a final marker was located in
a high pass, slightly over one kilometre southeast of Fort Riviere.
The badly broken marker, with "FRANCE" and the number
"61" was the last marker to be found.
A high concentration of markers between numbers
50 to 90 showed the importance of the area, due to the pressure
of French settlement on the frontier. Throughout the project,
contact was maintained with Albert Mangonese, the Director of
the Institute de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National. This organization
is in charge of all historic sites in Haiti. Mr. Mangones has
been deeply involved with the preservation work being done on
the Citadelle - the Haitian fort, high in the mountains in the
north, which is perhaps the country's most important tourist
attraction. Mr. Mangonese felt it was important to stabilize
as many of the markers as possible, since many of the markers
serve to define political boundaries within the country. He
also wanted to especially preserve those markers near roads,
where people passing through the area could view them.
It is hoped to be able to display some of the
other markers in museums, in a manner that will be meaningful
to the Haitian people.