Hayti, or Haiti (' mountainous country,' otherwise Hispaniola - i.e. 'little Spain' - or Santo Domingo), is, after Cuba, the largest of the West Indian Islands, now divided into the independent states of Hayti and the Dominican Republic (q.v.). Nearly equidistant from Porto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica, it lies between 17° 37' and 20° N. lat., and between 68° 20' and 74° 28' W. long. As in the rest of the Greater Antilles, its greatest length (about 400 miles) is in the direction - from west to east - of the chain of which it forms a part; its greatest breadth is 160 miles. Area, including the islands of Tortuga, Gonaive, etc, 28,820 sq. m., or nearly that of Scotland. The country is mountainous, being traversed longitudinally by northern, central, and southern ridges, terminating in headlands on either coast; but between these ranges are wide and fertile plains. The highest peak is Loma Tina (10,300 feet). The climate is hot and moist in the low lands, the temperature at Port-au-Prince ranging from 67° to 104° F. ; the mean range in the highlands is from 60° to 76° F. Earthquakes are frequent, and occasional hurricanes visit the island. It has excellent harbours. The mountains are clothed with forests of pine and oak, and the island is rich in mahogany, satinwood, rosewood, and other valuable timbers. Cotton, rice, maize, cocoa, ginger, arrowroot, yams, tobacco, and numerous fruits are indigenous ; and the mango, bread-fruit, sugar, coffee, and indigo are also produced; but agriculture is very backward. The minerals are now little worked, though some gold-washing is still carried on. The rivers are not navigable. Both rivers and lakes abound in caymans as well as fish. The agouti is the largest wild mammal.
Hayti was discovered in 1492 by Columbus; and within little more than one generation the aborigines had been swept away by the remorseless cruelties of the Spaniards. Their place was filled with negro slaves, who were introduced as early as 1505. Next, about 1630, came the buccaneers; and, as they were chiefly French, the western portion of Hayti, which was their favourite haunt, was in 1697 ceded to France by the peace of Ryswick. For nearly a hundred years vast reinforcements of Africans were imported ; subsequently the mulattoes grew into an intermediate caste, neither citizens nor bondsmen. In 1791 the mutual antipathies of the three classes - white, black, and mixed - burst forth into a struggle which, before the close of the century, led to the extermination of the Europeans, and the independence of the coloured insurgents. In 1801 France sent out a powerful armament, treacherously seizing and deporting the deliverer of his brethren, Toussaint l'Ouverture. In 1804 Dessalines, aping Napoleon's example, proclaimed himself Emperor of Hayti. Sometimes one state, and sometimes two, the country alternated between despotism and anarchy, between monarchy and republicanism. Its only tranquil period of any duration coincided with the rule (1820-43) of President Boyer, at whose close the Spanish or eastern portion of the island formed itself into the Dominican Republic (q.v.). The western portion of the island remained republican until 1849, when its former president, the negro General Soulouque proclaimed himself emperor as Faustin I. In 1859 a republic was again proclaimed. Few presidents have since been permitted to complete their term of office (seven years), which has usually been cut short by revolutions. Official peculation, judicial murder, and utter corruption of every kind underlie the forms and titles of civilised government; the religion, nominally Catholic, is largely vaudoux or serpent-worship, in which cannibalism is even now a most important element. Instead of progressing, the negro republicans have gone back to the lowest type of African barbarism.
The area of the republic of Hayti is about 9200 sq. m.; the pop. is estimated at about 1,200,000. The capital, Port-au-Prince, has some 70,000 inhabitants. The dialect is a debased French. The chief exports are coffee, cacao, logwood, mahogany, and cotton. See works by St John (1884), Marcuse (German, 1894), Marcelin (French, 1893), Vibert (French, 1895), Jean Owen (1898), Black-man (1899), and Hesketh Prichard (1900).