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
The Conspirators against Dessalines
[Christophe] knew that Dessalines disapproved
of his inclusion of both white and mulatto advisors in the group
of administrators that he had formed at Le Cap and with whom he
discussed events in the world outside and the future of his own
troubled country, using their learning and experience to
supplement his own lack of education.
In August he sent a schooner laden with flour
to the principal ports of the West and the South, ostensibly to
barter its cargo for sugar and coffee. But besides flour the
schooner carried one of his confidential agents, Bruno Blanchet,
who had conversations at Jérémie with General Férou, at Les
Cayes with General Geffrard, and, on the return journey, at
Port-au-Prince with General Pétion. The talks were secret, their
purpose obscure -- a tentative sounding of the generals' attitude
towards the emperor.
All of them were suspicious, none went further
than agreeing that he was not entirely satisfied with the existing
government. If Christophe intended recruiting allies in a plot
against Dessalines, the attempt was a failure.
Rumour of Christophe's criticism reached
Dessalines' ears, and in September he ordered his adjutant,
Captain Dupuy, to summon him to Marchand where, he announced, he
intended to kill him as soon as he arrived. This was no
meaningless phrase, he had before now plunged a dagger into a man
while talking to him, and his guards were trained to cut a man
down instantly if the emperor fingered his snuffbox in a certain
Dupuy, having obtained Dessalines' signature to
the order, very courageously scribbled on a scrap of paper
"Reply that you are sick" and folded this into the
letter before handing it to the trooper of the Imperial Guides who
took it to Le Cap. Christophe did as he had been advised, and the
emperor forgot the whole affair, turning his wrath against Pétion
and Geffrard instead.
He recognized Pétion intelligence and
influence with his caste and planned to gain his allegiance by
marrying him to one of his many illegitimate children, a
young woman named Célimène. The proposal put Pétion in a
quandry: he was attached to a woman with whom he was already
living and by whom he had recently had a daughter, and he had been
told that Célimène had already been the mistress of one of
Toussaint's nephews. After much hesitation he asked to be excused
the honour. Dessalines believing that he had rejected Célimène
because she was a Negress never forgave him.
Geffrard he suspected partly because he
commanded the south, traditionally a mulatto stronghold, and
partly because he had shown signs of resentment when Dessalines
had sent him a harsh rebuke by month of a junior officer. He now
became convinced that Pétion and Geffrard were plotting to bring
Rigaud back to displace him, and during the second anniversary
ball at the Imperial Palace at Marchand on January 1, 1806, he
left left the festivities and went to his study, where he summoned
Christophe, Christophe's former lieutenant, General Paul Romain,
and Colonel Pierre Toussaint, governor of the Saint-Marc district.
To them he declared his conviction that Pétion and Geffrard were
planning to proclaim Rigaud ruler of Haiti, in the interests of
France. He proposed that the two mulatto generals should be
murdered that night.
The situation was difficult. Still heated by
his capering at the ball, the emperor was likely to fly into a
rage if crossed; on the other hand, Christophe had no desire to
see him begin a purge which might not stop until thousands had
been smelled out and sacrificed, and which could precipitate an
explosion in which Rigaud and the mulattos might well return to
power. He suggested that the time might not be ripe; that both
generals seemed to have strong backing from the troops and civil
population of their provinces; that it might be advisable, in
order to avoid the possibility of civil war, to keep them under
surveillance and wait for proof.
Romain and Toussaint expressed the same opinion
and Dessalines, after staring at them for several seconds, hurried
out of the room and back to the dance floor, where he resumed his
Both Christophe and Pierre Toussaint sent a
word of warning to Pétion and Geffrard, and the two mulattos
asked for an audience, in which they complained that the emperor
was treating them coldly. When Dessalines poured out his
misgivings about their relationship with Rigaud, they replied that
they had never dreamed of supplanting the emperor. Dessalines at
last assured them that his trust in them was unchanged -- which
was true, since he had none -- and they returned to the West and
South in an atmosphere of uneasy peace, determined to canvas
support among their subordinate officers.
Dessalines played into their hands with a
series of unpopular measures that culminated in a bad-tempered
tour of the South during the course of which he stirred up more
fear and hatred. Geffrard died suddenly in may and word went round
that he had been poisoned by the emperor. Dessalines denied this
-- "when God took Geffrard he was in more of a hurry than I
was" -- but he had Geffrard's papers impounded, seeking
criminal correspondence with Christophe, against whom his distrust
had now turned once more. Captain Dupuy, who conducted the
investigation, assured the emperor that he had found nothing,
whereupon Dessalines lost himself once more in the pleasures of
the dance and the embrace of his mistress of the moment, Euphémie
The period of quiet was brief. he ran out of
money and discovered that it was no longer flowing into the
treasury as freely as before. he summoned to Les Cayes an
accountant whom he had already used to investigate irregularities
in the public finances of the West province and ordered him to
hold a similar inquiry in the South. The news struck terror into
the hearts of the prominent citizens of the region, for almost all
of them had paid their taxes by promissory notes which they had no
intention of honouring.
Dessalines left Les
Cayes on September 8 after ordering the local garrisons to search
every ship coming into their ports and, if they found André
Rigaud, to "chop off his head" on the spot. He was
passing through one of his periods of hysteria, suspecting
everybody, talking interminably of blood and destruction. The
mother of one of the officers of his personal guard having
offended him, he ordered the son to have her beaten in public.
Hearing of a quarrel between two members of his staff he ordered
them to fight a duel to the death; he attended to see that his
orders were carried out and forced them to fire shot after shot
until, after twelve exchanges, one of them fell mortally wounded.
was almost with pleasure that he received news on October 15 he
declared with eager anticipation: "I will have my horse walk
in blood up to his breastplate."
General Vernet, the finance member, in command at Marchand and
sending a warning note to Christophe, he set off with his staff
and personal bodyguard.
Two battalions of the 4th demi-brigade
were to follow him. He reached L'Arcahaye the next day and
ordered three companies to light infantry and three of
grenadiers from the 3rd demi-brigade to set out at once
for Port-au-Prince, nearly thirty miles away.
They were not to enter the town but to halt by
the Saint Martin plantation at the Pont-Rouge, so called because
of its red painted guard rails. It was Dessalines intention to
leave L'Arcahaye in the morning, ride down to Pont-Rouge, where
the infantrymen would be rested from the previous day's march, and
lead them into Port-au-Prince, impressing any potential rebels
among the citizens with this display of force, before continuing
to the South with reinforcements from the Port-au-Prince
What he did not know was that
the revolt had spread up from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince and that
Pétion and other generals of the West Province were already in
league with those of the South.
Equally ignorant were Colonel Thomas Jean and
Major Gédéon, who commanded the six companies of grenadiers and
chasseurs. perhaps because of anxiety not to be overtaken by the
emperor, the march discipline of their men was deplorable; they
hurried along in disorganized batches, the senior officers riding
at the rear to round up the stragglers. As the soldiers trotted
forward, the field hands came to the side of the road and shouted
slogans of liberty, reproaching them for serving the tyrant
At Pont-Rouge they were met by a group of rebel
officers who harangued them and persuaded them not to halt but to
continue into the town.
When Thomas Jean and Gédéon rode up to
Pont-Rouge they suddenly discovered that they were among strange
troops, who arrested them and took them to Pétion. Pétion
invited the two officers to join him. Thomas Jean hesitated and
was at once marched away under close arrest. Gédéon agreed and
was awarded a colonelcy and Thomas Jean's former command. An
officer from the 21st demi-brigade of the same build as Gédéon
-- a plump man -- was given Gédéon's busby and scarlet trousers
and sent to join the troops of the 15th demi-brigade waiting at
(Dessalines, for purposes of morale
and deception, had retained the former numbering of the demi-brigades,
each of which was in principle composed of 1600 men. In fact, the
army was not as large as he pretended -- a piece of information
relayed to London by Robert Sutherland, a British trader in
Port-au-Prince, who was given a contract to supply the army with
buttons and from this was able to calculate that its strength was
not more than twenty thousand.)
By five o'clock
the following morning -- the hour at which Desalines was to leave
L'Arcahaye -- the trap was fully set. it is indicative of the
hatred that he had managed to arouse in his subjects that as he
rode closer to Port-au-Prince and the number of field hands who
had knowledge of the ambush grew greater with every mile, not one
of them offered a word or warning.
distance he saw the troops drawn up for inspection at the Pont
Rouge and in front of them the scarlet-pantalooned, busby-topped
corpulent figure of the officer whom he took to be Gédéon. As he
rode unconcernedly forward, he was astonished to hear an
aide-de-camp, Colonel Leger, who had served for a time with the
15th demi-brigade, suddenly exclaim: "But, Sire, these troops
are from the South!"
said Dessalines. "How could they be?"
behind the bushes at the side of the road were three or four of
the rebel generals. it was one of these who now shouted
"Halt!" and then, to the troops, "Form a
circle!" Men dashed from the undergrowth to block the
Arcahaye road, others pressed in from the sides. Dessalines
screamed, "They have betrayed me!"
the presence of hundreds of mutinous soldiers his fierce courage
did not desert him. Raising his riding crop, he began to slash at
the upturned faces around him.
officers continued shouted "Open fire!" not one of the
men dared to raise his musket. The emperor drew his pistol from
the holster and shot one of the soldiers, then wheeled his horse
to force his way back up the road. only at this moment did one
young soldier summon up enough courage to fire -- not at the
terrible person of the emperor, but at his horse.
animal fell, trapping Dessalines' leg -- and with his cry of
"Help!" to his aides the spell was broken. The dreadful
figure, human at last, lay thrashing defencelessly on the ground.
Within a second it was riddled with bullets. Then the generals
hurled themselves on it with dagger-thrusts and sabre-cuts and
more pistol shots. the soldiers cut off the fingers to steal the
rings and stripped off the clothing for the sake of the gold
The body was dragged for more than a
mile into the city, kicked and slashed and stoned by passers-by,
and left in the place d'Armes to suffer whatever more indignities
came to the minds of the citizens of Port-au-Prince, so suddenly
emboldened in the presence of their emperor whose face was no
He found only one
mourner, a Black woman, long insane, named Défilée, who sat on
the ground beside him weeping until soldiers came to take him to
the city cemetery and bury him without a monument. For a long time
after, she went each day to scatter wild flowers on the grave of
the brave monster who had won Haiti her independence.
Source: Hubert Cole.
Christophe: King of Haiti. New
York: The Viking Press, 1967.
* * *
update 6 May 2010