Books on Haiti and the
Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New
York: The Viking Press, 1967.
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
Caribbean Doscourse (2004)
/ Barbara Harlow.
Resistance Literature (1987)
Josaphat B. Kubayanda.
The Poet's Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime
Myriam J. A.
Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997)
Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.
Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry
David P. Geggus, ed.
The Impact of the
Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.
University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
* * *
of Emperor Dessalines
& the Decline of His Imperial
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
The twelve-year struggle was over. What had
begun as a protest against cruelty, and continued as a fight for
liberty, had ended with independence. The land still shuddered
with the terror that had gripped it and the horrors it had seen.
The white world that sighed with relief when Toussaint was
kidnapped now found itself confronted by an entirely new nation
of Blacks, victors of the greatest slave revolt in history.
Dessalines summoned his generals to les
Gonaïves to renew the oaths they had taken a year before at
L'Arcahaye and to confirm him as governor-general of the state
to which they restored the ancient Carib name of Haiti—the
land of the mountains. On January 1, 1804, they swore "to
each other, to posterity and to the entire universe, to renounce
France for ever and to die rather than live under her
domination" -- and proudly dated their declaration
"the 1st day of the independence of Haiti."
The generals returned to their command—Christophe in the North, Pétion in the West and Geffrard in the
South, while Dessalines occupied himself with drawing up
regulations for uniforms and badges of rank, and ordered a
capital city to be built at Fort Marchand on his favourite
plantation and to be named Dessalines.
There were French soldiers in the former
Spanish part of the island and isolated bands of unsubmitted
brigands in the South— notably one led by Jean-Baptiste
Perrier, who called himself Goman. To deal with them Dessalines
still had need of arms and ammunition and for these he turned to
the British once more.
Captain Cumberland sold him the weapons the
French had surrendered to him at Les Cayes, receiving sugar and
coffee in payment, which he sold in Jamaica and distributed
among his crew as prize money. Captain Loring similarly sold the
5,000 muskets that he had taken from Rochambeau's men at Le Cap,
though Dessalines grumbled that they should have come free under
the terms of the capitulation.
All this was viewed with great misgiving by
Edward Corbet, the agent whom the Governor of Jamaica sent to
try to renew the Maitland-Toussaint agreement with Dessalines.
When Dessalines refused, Corbet protested that the arms the
British were supplying might be turned against their own
compatriots. But it was soon apparent that Dessalines' immediate
victims were to be the remaining French colonists.
Dessalines' Slaughter of French Whites
Many of these, remembering how well
Christophe and Toussaint had treated them after the first French
exodus, remained behind. Dessalines, in breach of his assurances
to the British and the proclamation that he issued before the
fall of Le Cap, and on the pretext that they were aiding the
brigands, began to massacre the whites in all the towns of the
On March 16 Captain Perkins of the Tartar
went ashore at Jérémie to investigate these reports, and the
following day wrote to Admiral Duckworth
I am informed that on the 29th of
last month, which was the day following our departure
from Jérémie, General Dessalines had a muster of
the white inhabitants then remaining in the place which
amounted to almost 450 men, women, and children. When
they had collected together he gave orders for their
property of every description to be taken from them, and
then instantly put to death.
In the course of three days 308 were
murdered, the remainder have been hid away in different
places. the strictest search was made for them and some
few found, when they instantly shared the same fate. I have only heard of seven lives that this monster (for
his cruelties declare him such) Dessalines has spared,
and then through the earnest prayers and entreaties of a
vast number of Black men who possess some feelings of
I assure you that it is horrid to
view the streets in different places stained with the
Blood of these unfortunate people, whose bodies are now
left exposed to view by the river and sea side. In
hauling the seine the evening we came to our anchor
several bodies got entangled in it, in fact such scenes
of cruelty and devastation have been committed as is
impossible to imagine or my pen describe.
On Dessalines' departure from
Jérémie for Port-au-Prince he was followed by 25 mules
loaded with plate and other valuables all Plunder in
Jérémie and I understand it was not equal to what he
collected in Aux Cayes, the greater part of which was
found buried underground.
PS I forgot to mention I am informed
Dessalines stands in great fear of the English and will
be very cautious offering any umbrage.
In this same evil mood Dessalines returned to
Port-au-Prince and continued his terrible revenge.
On General Dessalines' return
[captain Perkins reported to Duckworth in April] he
ordered all the white men then remaining in the town to
be immediately put to death. the order was executed
without the least ceremony -- the Black soldiers being
at liberty to satisfy their inclinations in the most
barbarous manner, they having a thirst for the blood of
these unfortunate people.
Some they shot having tied them from
15 to 20 together. Some they pricked to death with their
bayonets, and others they tortured in such a manner too
horrid to be described. In the span of 8 days no less
than 800 were actually murdered by these assassins and
their bodies thrown into the bogs and marshes to rot
The White women are spared provided
they consent to live with the Black men as their wives,
but should they refuse they would instantly be put to
death or sent to the mountains to work on the
plantations. I have been informed of eleven that were
murdered for not consenting to the embraces of the Black
Brutes -- one a beautiful young lady who after being
forced by Col. Germaine (a Negro) and twenty-five of his
men to satisfy their brutish desires was afterwards
pricked to death with their bayonets. Even the mulatto
women are in danger of their lives and particularly
those who have lived with White men, being promised the
same fate if they do not consent to live with the Black
Perkins believed that fifty white men had
escaped and were still hidden in the town, despite searches by
the troops, and that Dessalines had collected plunder to the
value of a million dollars.
On Monday the 25th March, Dessalines
left Port-au-Prince for Cap-François, there being at
that place 1800 to 200 white people whom he is
determined shall fall a sacrifice to his vengeance; in
fact he thinks nothing of being the executioner himself,
for he ordered a man to be brought to his chamber, and
while in conversation stabbed him with his poinard to
The immense treasure that has been
collected at different places is deposited in the
mountains where they cannot be surprised and where they
are creating strong fortifications and magazines for the
reception of ammunition which is plentifully supplied
them of every description by the Americans.
I am actually told [Captain Perkins
concluded somewhat wistfully] that American schooners
lately arrived at one of their ports with gunpowder
which was sold for four dollars per lb.
Christophe had sent Bunel, Toussaint's former
treasurer, to negotiate in the united states for the purchase of
ships and ammunition. he was firmly convinced that Haiti needed
the help of white men to recover from the effects of continuous
war and to re-establish its agriculture and commerce. on this
point he came into head-on conflict with Dessalines, newly
arrived at the cape and thirsting for more blood, and the two
men quarreled so violently that a report reached Jamaica that
Christophe had taken up arms against the commander-in-chief.
In the end he managed to persuade Dessalines
that no foreigners other than Frenchmen should be harmed and set
guards on their houses. he also pleaded successfully for the
lives of those Frenchmen who had dealt honestly with the Blacks
and those -- notably priests and surgeons -- who had served
them. Nonetheless, nine tenths of the white French population
perished in "the night of horrors" of April 20.
At short intervals [one American
resident wrote] [we] heard the pick-axe thundering at
the door of some devoted neighbour, and soon forcing it.
Piercing shrieks almost immediately ensued and these
were followed by an expressive silence. the next minute
the military party was heard proceeding to some other
house to renew their work of death. . . .
A proclamation was published in the
newspaper, stating that the vengeance due to the crimes
of the French had been sufficiently executed and
inviting all who had escaped the massacre to appear on
the parade, and receive tickets of protection, after
which, it was declared, they might depend on perfect
security. As the massacre had been expected, many
hundreds had contrived to secrete themselves; most of
whom now came forth from their hiding places and
appeared on the parade. But instead of receiving the
promised tickets of protection, they were instantly led
away to the place of execution and shot. . . .
Télémaque [the mayor] who had
supported Leclerc and another officer expressed their
horror at such scenes; and were punished by being
compelled to hang with their own hands, two Frenchmen
then in the fort.
His bloody work concluded, Dessalines
published another declaration, pulsating with his own savage
enthusiasm, condemning Toussaint for his leniency, praising
himself for his ruthlessness:
The day of vengeance has come and the
implacable enemies of the rights of man have received
the fitting punishment for their crimes. . . .
Like the torrent that bursts its
banks and shatters everything in its path, the fury of
your vengeance has dashed down all that resisted its
impetuous career. Perish all tyrants of innocence, all
oppressors of mankind! . . .
We have repaid these cannibals war
for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage. Yes, I
have saved my country, I have avenged America! This
avowal before heaven and earth is my pride and my glory!
What do I care for the opinion of my contemporaries or
of future generations? I have done my duty; I approve of
myself; that suffices me. . . .
Dessalines' Rationale for Decimating
There had been panic as well as the primitive
lust for revenge in his massacring of the whites. He feared that
they would run turn against that was to haunt Haiti for the next
decade. Already the generals had made plans to withstand the
invasion that they expected Bonaparte to launch. This time they
would follow Toussaint's advice to the letter, destroying the
towns, laying waste the plains and the foothills, and retreating
to the mountains where Dessalines had transferred most of the
heavy guns from the coastal batteries and where the mountain
sides within range of the guns were planted with yams and
bananas to provide food for the garrisons.
Tremble, usurping tyrants, scourges
of the New World, our daggers are sharpened, your
punishment is at hand! Sixty thousand armed men,
tempered in war, obedient to my commands, burn to offer
fresh sacrifices to the shades of their murdered
brothers. If any nation is mad or bold enough to attack
me, let it come! . . .
I await them with firm foot and
tranquil eye. Willingly shall I abandon to them the
coast and the sites where towns once existed; but woe to
those who approach too closely to the mountains! Better
would it have been for them to have been swallowed up in
the depths of the sea than torn to pieces at the furious
hands of the children of Haiti! . . .
Once more he affirmed the oath that had been
taken at L'Arcahaye (and ignored in the conciliatory
proclamation before the entry into Le Cap):
Generals, officers, and soldiers,
unlike he who preceded me, ex-general Toussaint
L'Ouverture, I have been faithful to the promise that I
made you when I took arms against tyranny, and as long
as I live I shall keep my oath. never shall a colon or a
European set foot on this soil with the title of master
or owner. That resolution shall henceforth form the
fundamental basis our constitution. . . .
The extravagances of his language struck an
answering note in many hearts. the violent racial consciousness
bred from years of hatred and atrocity was expressed in the
ordinance that all citizens of the new state should be known as Noirs,
irrespective of their shades of colour. In drawing up the Act of
Independence itself, one of the committee, amid wild applause,
had shouted: "To set out this declaration we need the skin
of a white man for parchment, his skull as a inkhorn, his blood
for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!"
Dessalines Becomes Emperor
In July Dessalines learned that the senate in
Paris had offered the title of emperor to Bonaparte. Determined
not to be outranked by a Frenchmen, he drew up a proposal that
he should be nominated Emperor of Haiti and on August 14
circulated it among his generals for their signature. On
September 2 he was formally acclaimed as Jean Jacques the first,
Emperor of Haiti.
The coronation, performed by Father Corneille
Brelle, a Breton missionary who had been one of Toussaint's
chaplains, took place at Le Cap on October 8 -- seven weeks
before Napoléon's at Notre Dame. It was accompanied by much
gunfire and parading of troops and simulated in the principal
towns of other provinces. On New Year's Day, when the first
anniversary of the declaration of independence was celebrated in
the rising new capital of Dessalines (formerly Fort Marchand)
the troops knelt to present arms to the emperor.
One of Dessalines' first actions as
governor-general had been to design new uniforms for his
soldiers. These were now beginning to be issued, two thousand of
them having been supplied by a Baltimore firm. The Americans
were rapidly re-establishing themselves in the market from which
Leclerc had evicted them. they had, according to a complaint
lodged by the French vice-consul in Philadelphia, entertained
Dessalines' officers at a banquet at Les Cayes at the very
moment when Frenchmen were being massacred in the city.
Others had been sending out American Negroes
as recruits of Dessalines army, shiploads of arms and
ammunition and even, it was alleged, six hundred white
specialist armourers and ammunition workers. For all these
services they were paid in coffee, cotton, timber and even --for
Dessalines's hoard of silver was considerable -- in dollars.
The island had been so ravaged -- and the
expectancy of a French return was so strong -- that even the
families of the most influential people were living gypsy
existences, sleeping on camp and clothing. On November 11, 1804,
Christophe's wife sent him a letter from les Gonaïves. She had
gone there after the coronation with her friend, Madame
Dessalines, in readiness for the New Year celebrations, and was
camping on the sea shore
Madame Henry Christophe, to her
It is with true pleasure, my dear
friend, that I avail myself of this favourable
opportunity to inform you that we all enjoy perfect
health, with the exception of Victor [Their younger son,
born March 3, 1804] who is a little restless; I think it
is his teeth; and I hope it will amount to nothing. I
have been without your dear news for several days; if
you knew the satisfaction that I feel when I receive
them, you would send them to me every day.
I beg you to have the laundry-woman
hurry with my linen, for I and the children are on the
point of being without any and you know that it is
difficult to get washing done here. When it is ready,
oblige me by giving orders for it is to be sent to me at
once. The sugar that you told me to expect has not yet
arrived; this delay grieves us very much, since we had
awaited it impatiently, and especially Madame Dessalines,
who is expecting her mirrors by the same boat on which
you loaded the sugar. She and her young ladies charge me
with sending you their best wishes.
Our children join me in wishing you
good health and embracing you from the bottom of our
Your affectionate spouse,
So long as the British navy patrolled from
Jamaica up through the Windward Passage and out into the
Atlantic, Dessalines was safe from a French invasion by sea, but
there still remained several thousand white and coloured troops
in the Spanish part of the islands, commanded by General Ferrand.
In March 1805 Dessalines launched an attack in four columns
across the frontier, three of them under his command in the
south and centre while Christophe advanced from Le Cap along the
northern coast and then down to the city of Santo-Domingo.
The Negroes of this part of the island had
led comparatively easy lives under their indolent Spanish
masters and showed little enthusiasm in welcoming their
ferocious liberator -- though their apathy rapidly dissolved at
the impact of his cruel and unpredictable temper. Burning and
looting his way through increasingly hostile territory,
Dessalines arrived before Santo-Domingo on March 6 and was
joined by Christophe the next day.
It was a week before the army was fully
deployed along both banks of the Ozana river and when Dessalines
finally opened his attack on the city he discovered that it was
well fortified and the French, with their Spanish and coloured
auxiliaries, ready to put up an obstinate resistance. A
forthnight later, the garrison received reinforcements from the
northeast of the island, brought round by sea. Dessalines,
unquiet at leaving the West long unprotected (he had stripped
the garrisons to make up his army of twenty thousand men) called
off the siege and returned to his headquarters in the new
capital at Marchand, setting fire to towns, slaughtering the
unwary, and carrying off livestock as he went.
Christophe went back to le cap, where he
celebrated his patronal festival -- July 15, the feast of saint
Henry the Emperor as well as Saint Swithin -- with parades and
speeches. Dessalines arrived during the evening and stayed for a
fortnight, so that the civic authorities had the opportunity of
repeating the celebrations on July 25 -- appropriately the feast
of both Saint James and saint Christopher.
There were parades in the morning, speeches
in the afternoon, and in the evening a banquet and ball at which
the emperor entertained the principal citizens. Dancing was
Dessalines' passion, second only to bloodletting. He was
accompanied everywhere by his dancing master, but despite much
practice he remained a clumsy performer, exploding in moments of
excitement into wild capering.
Christophe Elevated to Succeed Dessalines
He was pleasing with his reception at Le Cap.
Three days later he appointed Christophe commander-in-chief of
the Haitian army, an honour for which he seemed destined since
the beginning of the year. His name had immediately followed
Dessalines' in the list of signatures of the declaration of
independence; he had commanded the northern column in the attack
on Santo-Domingo despite the presence of Clervaux, who was his
senior; and Clervaux recent death of fever at La Marmelade had
opened the way to his appointment without friction.
Since Dessalines was empowered to name his
successor as emperor, Christophe's appointment gave him in the
public eye the status of heir-apparent. His enemies -- those who
remembered his close cooperation with the French, or had not
forgiven him for murdering Sans-Souci -- were silent or, like
Yayou, Sans-Souci's former lieutenant, were transferred by
Dessalines to the South.
Although Dessalines was not yet in his
fifties, the question of his succession was already exercising
the minds of the senior generals and officials. It was evident
that he was incapable of administering the new nation and,
indeed, when not fighting, showed little interest in anything
The fiasco of the recent expedition to
Santo-Domingo had done a great deal to diminish his credit; his
policy of making his subjects work by beatings, bayonetings and
decimation had not changed; and a large part of the fruits of
this labour was diverted to swelling his personal fortune, which
he squandered on twenty mistresses, each of whom enjoyed a
regular and handsome allowance from the imperial purse.
The brilliant soldier had proved to be a bad
emperor, and it was in many people's minds to get rid of him. To
what extent Christophe led the plotting is not clear. His sense
of discipline and respect for his seniors fought against his
contempt for Dessalines. "That jumping jackass," he
said of him at the ball on July 25, and to see the scorn with
which the onlookers sniggered behind their hands at the
emperor's antics was an affront to his dignity and pride of
Source: Hubert Cole.
Christophe: King of Haiti. New
York: The Viking Press, 1967.
* * * * *
The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804: Or, Side
Lights On the French Revolution
This is a reproduction of a book published before
1923. This book may have occasional imperfections
such as missing or blurred pages, poor pictures,
errant marks, etc. that were either part of the
original artifact, or were introduced by the
scanning process. We believe this work is culturally
important, and despite the imperfections, have
elected to bring it back into print as part of our
continuing commitment to the preservation of printed
works worldwide. We appreciate your understanding of
in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this
The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804. By T. G. Steward.
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1915. 292 pages. $1.25.
Reviewed by J.R. Fauset. The Journal
of Negro History.
Vol. I., No. 1, January. 1916.
In the days when the
internal dissensions of Haiti are again thrusting her into the
limelight such a book as this of Mr. Steward assumes a peculiar
importance. It combines the unusual advantage of being both very
readable and at the same time historically dependable. At the
outset the author gives a brief sketch of the early settlement
of Haiti, followed by a short account of her development along
commercial and racial lines up to the Revolution of 1791. The
story of this upheaval, of course, forms the basis of the book
and is indissolubly connected with the story of Toussaint
L'Overture. To most Americans this hero is known only as the
subject of Wendell Phillips's stirring eulogy. As delineated by
Mr. Steward, he becomes a more human creature, who performs
exploits, that are nothing short of marvelous. Other men who
have seemed to many of us merely names—Rigaud,
Le Clerc, Desalines, and the like--are also fully discussed.
Although most of the book
is naturally concerned with the revolutionary period, the author
brings his account up to date by giving a very brief resumé of
the history of Haiti from 1804 to the present time. This history
is marked by the frequent occurrence of assassinations and
revolutions, but the reader will not allow himself to be
affected by disgust or prejudice at these facts particularly
when he is reminded, as Mr. Steward says, "that the political
history of Haiti does not differ greatly from that of the
majority of South American Republics, nor does it differ widely
even from that of France."
The book lacks a topical
index, somewhat to its own disadvantage, but it contains a map
of Haiti, a rather confusing appendix, a list of the Presidents
of Haiti from 1804 to 1906 and a list of the names and works of
the more noted Haitian authors. The author does not give a
complete bibliography. He simply mentions in the beginning the
names of a few authorities consulted.—J.
* * *
update 6 May 2010