ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes





What people fought for us? What people wanted to gather the fruits of our labor?

And what dishonorable absurdity to conquer in order to be enslaved. Enslaved?…

Let us leave this description for the French; they have conquered but are no longer free.




Books on Haiti and the Caribbean

Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Doscourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet’s Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)


Myriam J. A. Chancy. Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997)

Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.  Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)

David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.  University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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The Rise of Emperor Dessalines

& the Decline of His Imperial Tyranny


Part I

January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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 South.

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 Humanity.

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 away.

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 officers.

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 his heart.

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 Whites

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 dear spouse,

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 heart.

Your affectionate spouse, 

Madame Christophe

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 but dissipation. 

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 race.

Source: Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

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The Haitian Revolution, 1791 to 1804: Or, Side Lights On the French Revolution

By Theophilus Gould Steward

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 the imperfections in the preservation process, and hope you enjoy this valuable book.—

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. R. Fauset.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 6 May 2010




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Related files: Boukman and His Comrades  The Rise of Emperor Dessalines (Part I)  The Rise of Emperor Dessalines  (Part II)   The Rise and Decline of Emperor Dessalines