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The city of Port-au-Prince is located at the heart of the Gulf of Gonâve. The area had been part of the Spanish empire before being transferred to the French in 1697. The western part of the island of Hispaniola never reached its economic potential and had been progressively left on its own by the Spanish authorities. The Spaniards relinquished sovereignty over the territory and handed it over to France through the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick.
The French had begun to colonize the island even before it was officially under their possession. The Mentor of the Assassin Brotherhood, François Mackandal, was active in Saint-Domingue during the early part of the eighteenth century. In Saint-Domingue, Mackandal taught his pupils Baptiste and Agaté the rudimentary principles of the Assassin Brotherhood.
In the early 1700s, the territory now known as Port-au-Prince was a remote region. The area, which was called L'Hôpital at the time, substantially developed after 1749. The emerging city suffered from major earthquakes in 1751 and 1770 that destroyed large parts of its territory. However, these crises did not prevent Port-au-Prince from replacing Cap-Haïtien, originally named Cap François, and later Cap Français, as the capital of the French colony of Saint-Domingue.