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 limestone.

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 meaning.

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 was missing.

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 map.

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 weathered away.

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.

 

marker number
location
inscription
  latitude longitude  
61
19.4725 72.1569444 France
70 19.4863889 73.1725 France / Espagna
71 19.4866667 72.1786111 France / Espagna
intermediate marker 19.4894444 72.1786111 G (French side) FC (Spanish side)
74 19.4908333 72.1794444 Espagna
76 19.4941667 72.1847222 France / Espagna
77 19.4944444 72.1855556 France / Espagna
78 19.4947222 72.1908333 France / Espagna
83 19.5 72.2138889 France / Espagna
84 19.4916667 72.2180556 No inscription - masonry pillar
85 19.4894444 72.2158333 No inscription - masonry pillar
86 19.4877778 72.2152778 France / Espagna
87 19.4872222 72.2152778 Espagna
120 19.4402778 72.4166667 France / Espagna
122 19.4263889 72.4222222 France / Espagna
193 18.7791667 71.955 France