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October 17: Remembering Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Jean-Jacques Dessalines' Monument in Port-au-Prince

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian slave indigenous army and the bravest character of his kind during the war of Haiti's independence. He was born in 1758 near Grande-Rivière-du-Nord, a small village located on the Northen part of Haiti not far from Cap-Haitien.


He lived on the plantation of "Vye kay" at a white colonist house, Henri Duclos, owner of a coffee-plantation, until he was bought very young by a free black man named Dessalines, who will give him his name and teach him to be a carpenter.


Dessalines lived a very difficult life. He was a rebellious slave and his body was covered with scars left by iron rods. He often rose against the inequality that rages in Saint-Domingue and appeared to be a true military engineer.


In 1791, after joining the insurgent slaves against the French authority of Saint Domingue, with Boukman and Biassou, he was promoted at the rank of senior officer among the soldiers bribed by Spain. But in 1794, after the abolition of slavery, he joined the French and distinguished himself in the war against the British. General under the command of Toussaint Louverture he was recognized by his energy and his courage, but also by a relentless cruelty. During the campaign against the general André Rigaud (1799-1800), who commanded an insurrection of men of color, he was so devoted and ferocious that he caught the attention of Toussaint Louverture.


Between May 15 to May 18, 1803, at the congress of Arcahaie, Dessalines took advantage to be the unit of commander. On November 19, commanding the indigenous army, he forced Rochambeau to surrender "Le Cap" today's Cap-Haitien. Rochambeau had any other choice then to quickly order the evacuation of the island.

During the same year, after the departure of the French, Dessalines soon began the massacre of the white population except for the priests, doctors, technicians and some of the blacks.

Pont-Rouge monument in Port-au-Prince

He gave back to Saint-Domingue its Indian name Haiti (Ayiti) and, in 1804, with the support of England, he proclaimed the independence of the new Republic.


On January 1, 1804, early in the morning, an official ceremony took place on the "Place d'Armes," in front of today's Cathedral of Cap-Haitien. Dessalines recalled in a vehement speech in Creole, all the touments that the indigenous people had endured under the French domination. At the end, he exclaimed enthusiastically: “Let us swear to fight up to our last sigh for the Independence of our Country.” As a result, a new nation was born, Haiti, the first independent black republic in the world.


Dessalines needed to centralize most of the lands in order to make them more profitable. However, the great property, private or public, was not in favor of all the Blacks who wanted a land reform, in accordance with the Emperor's promises.


The Mulattos who had considerably the land power and commercial interests, felt directly threatened by a tight regulation, which imposed the verification of the deeds, and the confiscation of many estates illegally occupied under the colonial administration, while other measures limited foreign trade which was essential for Haiti's sugar- and coffee-based export economy.


In 1805, Dessalines failed to expel the remainder of the French army from the ancient Spanish colony. In 1806, the Mulattos revolted in the South: they accused Dessalines of wanting to persecute them over and over. On October 14, 1806, an insurrection took place in the plain of "Les Cayes." Dessalines will die on October 17, 1806 in a ambush which was plotted by the insurgents in "Pont-Rouge", at the entrance of Port-au-Prince.


On October 17, 1806, early in the morning, Dessalines left Arcahaie followed by its staff, the 4th squad, which had been sent to Montrouis to dress up. The emperor, ensuring that there was nothing extraordinary in town, continued his way without any suspicion. At nine o'clock, only steps away from Pont-Rouge, Dessalines escorted with chief general Boisrond Tonnerre, was confident enough to see in the middle of Pont-Rouge what he took for Gédéon and other soldiers. At the same time, he heard an order to prepare arms and the cries: “Halt, emperor! Halt, emperor!”


Dessalines just figured out he was trapped, and with the impetuosity he always had, he sprung with his horse in the middle of the bayonets shouting to the soldiers if they didn't recognize him. Sergeant Duverger from the 15th squad ordered to soldier Garat to shoot. The emperor who was missed at first hurled his horse at full speed. A second shot was fired and struck Dessalines this time. The emperor asked to one of his colonel Charlotin Marcadieu for help. Marcadieu came to his rescue but was brutally hit in the head by a sword. Both Charlotin Marcadieu along with Jean-Jacques Dessalines were killed and the officers who were at the tragic scene fled, except for one of the emperor's adviser who finally exclaimed: “The tyrant is killed! Long live freedom! Long live equality! ”


Thus perished the founder of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, known as Jacques I. A tomb was carefully erected on the pit of Dessalines by Mrs. Inginac with this brief inscription: "Here lies Dessalines, deceased at age 48." The national anthem of Haiti, La Dessalinienne, is in his honor.


Last update 10/13/2016


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