Dessalines, Part III

Dessalines, Part III


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.

Dessalines                                                                                                                                Christophe



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

The Conspirators against Dessalines

When the departure of the French from all the towns held by their forces had at length left the black chiefs without an enemy to combat, they began to make immediately preparations to organize a new government conformable to the new order of things.

Dessalines, as the principal chief of the army, maintained his accustomed ascendancy in every movement. He addressed a proclamation to the inhabitants of Cape Francois, conjuring them to banish all fear, as the events of the late war had no relation to the native whites of the country. He assured them that he was ever ready to grant his protection and safeguard to all the colonists, without distinction of color, and that he should ever continue to act in like manner; adding, that the conduct which he had held to ward the inhabitants of Jeremie, Aux Cayes and Port au Prince, was an evidence of his good faith and of his honorable intentions.

He invited all those who were unwilling to abandon their country to remain within its territory, and he promised them his protection. In conclusion he said: “All those who desire to follow the French army are at liberty to do so.” 

On the evening of the day appointed for evacuation of the Cape by the forces of Rochambeau, a proclamation, in the inflated style of the revolution, was issued to the blacks and mulattoes, announcing the independence of St. Domingo, and granting permission to all proprietors who were absent in foreign countries to return and enter upon the possession of their estates, but denouncing vengeance against whomsoever should again speak of slavery in the country. This was signed by Dessalines, Christophe, and Clervaux.

Declaration of Independence

On the first day of the year of 1804 all the principal chiefs of the black army assembled at Gonaives, to make a formal abjuration of France. As they claimed to be the representatives of the people of the country, deputed to express the will of the nation, they framed a declaration of independence, and solemnly swore to renounce all allegiance to France forever, and to perish rather than submit again to her control. 

To manifest that they were earnest in their determination to seize upon the sovereignty of the country, they resolved to change its very name; and it was formally decreed that the island should no longer be called St. Domingo, but Hayti, the name by which it was known among the ancient aboriginals of the country before the discovery of Columbus.

In like manner those names of places in the island which awakened the remembrance of former times, and seemed to perpetuate the memory of French dominion in the country, were exchanged for others more consonant to the new order of things. Cape Francois was to be called Cape Haitien; Fort Dauphin, Fort Libertè; and though Port au Prince had already been re-baptised Port Republican, yet as this had been done by white if not by black revolutionists, it was suffered to retain its ancient name. 

The conclave of black generals framed a new system of government, at the head of which they placed jean-Jacques Dessalines as governor general for life;– and they constituted him a republican autocrat, by conferring upon him the power of making laws, of declaring peace and war, and of nominating his successor.

When these important transactions had been finished the assembly broke up its session, and the anniversary of its proceedings has since that epoch been ever acknowledged as a national holiday — the day of Haytien Independence. 

Enlarging Population by Importation

The first care which occupied the policy of Dessalines in his new government was to repair the waste of population in the country from long succession of war and massacre, by measures taken to multiply the numbers under his rule. For this purpose he refused to wait the slow operation of natural causes, but sought to attain his object by importation instead of reproduction.

From the first commencement of the troubles of the country there had been a constant drain of emigration from the island, and great numbers of Negroes had been taken by their masters to to her islands in the West Indies or to the continent of America. Besides these slaves, who could scarcely be claimed as free citizens of Hayti, a great number of free blacks and mulattoes had emigrated voluntarily to the United States at different epochs of the revolution, and were now residing in various places upon the continent.

To restore these exiles to their country, Dessalines published a proclamation, in which he offered to the commanders of American merchant ships a reward of forty dollars for every black transported by them to the ports of the island. This measure, so full of hopes the infant republic, failed of adding great numbers to its population, as the American merchant could use nothing but persuasion to obtain recruits for the new government; and promises founded upon nothing but the assurances of Dessalines were far from being tempting in the market.

In this dilemma Dessalines directed himself to other means of accomplishing his purpose, which he hoped would be more effectual. Among other commercial advantages which he offered to an English agent residing in Jamaica, with whom he maintained intimate relations, he proposed to open the ports of St. Domingo to vessels engaged in the slave trade, and to grant to the inhabitants of Jamaica the exclusive privilege of selling Negroes in Hayti.

In excuse for this contemplated traffic in his own countrymen, the black chief alleged that the Negroes were purchased for the purpose of employing them as soldiers and not as laborers; and when it was charged upon Dessalines that by this policy he was directly encouraging the slave trade, he replied that whether he adopted or rejected the measure the same number of slaves would be brought from Africa; and that, so far from inflicting upon them any injury, he rescued them from the horrors of a life of servitude in the English islands to make them free citizens in his government.

Military Expedition: Spanish Santo Domingo

To drive the French from their last foothold in St. Domingo, Dessalines next began preparations for an expedition against the city of Santo Domingo, which still remained under the command of Gen. Ferrand. The Spaniards of that place, fearful of black domination, had declared themselves in alliance with the French troops, and yielded a peaceable obedience tot he French general. 

Dessalines resolved to break up this union against him, to subdue the Spaniards, and compel the French to evacuate their last fortress.

As a preliminary step in his design he determined to make a military tour along the coast, to visit the different towns within the French territory, both to give completeness to his measures of internal policy and assure himself that he was to leave no enemies behind him in his march against Santo Domingo. Some days before his departure on his journey through his dominions he addressed a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Spanish territory, in which he reproached them for their perfidy in associating themselves with his enemies, the French;  and he commanded them to return to their duty.

He added, that he was on his way to their capital at the hand of his victorious legions, and if they would submit peaceably to his authority he promised them protection and favor. But at the same time he denounced against them a horrible vengeance if they dared to array themselves against his power.

“But a few moments yet remain,” said his haughty manifesto, “and I shall crush the last remnants of the French under the weight of my power. Spaniards, I only address you from a wish to save you. You will soon live but by my clemency–there is time yet–abjure an error that may be fatal to you–break off all connexion with my enemies, if you would not that your blood should be confounded with theirs. I allow you fifteen days to rally to my standard. You know of what I am capable. Think of your safety. accept the oath which I tender to you to watch over your personal safety, if you profit by this occasion to show yourselves worthy of being numbered among the children of Hayti.”

On the 14th of May Dessalines departed from cape Francois to proceed to Port au Paix, the Mole St. Nicolas and Gonaives. In each of these towns he remained a few days ,and employed himself in establishing order and carrying forward the measures of his administration. After assuring himself of the tranquility of the western part of the island, he placed himself at the head of his army and took up his march into the heart of the Spanish territory. He believed the success of his expedition certain, without taking into consideration the obstacles which were in his way.

His evil reputation as the scourge of his race had already become known throughout the territory he had invaded, and though the inhabitants fled at his approach they refused to yield an obedience to his authority. Nor could he hope for the climate to corporate with him in warring against such an enemy; for the population of the Spanish territory was chiefly composed of natives of the country, and was almost entirely of the African race.

When that territory had been overrun by Toussaint its population was composed of more than a hundred thousand freemen and about fifteen thousand slaves. The latter served their masters rather as favored domestics than as menials governed with the ordinary severity of slave discipline. That were strongly attached to their owners, and they had been taught from generation to cherish sentiments of national hatred toward the inhabitants of the French part of the island.

Dessalines encountered no opposition to his progress until he arrived before the city of Santo Domingo. If the Spanish blacks had not arrayed themselves against him, they had concealed themselves from him, or doggedly refused to cooperate with his army, and he now found the population of Santo Domingo prepared for active resistance to his arms, and in close alliance with the French, to defend the place to the last extremity.

Dessalines closely invested the city on the side of the land, but just as he was commencing his preparations to persevere in his enterprise until he had accomplished his object, another French squadron arrived in the harbour with a reinforcement of troops to the garrison of the place. The French, encouraged and strengthened by this addition tot heir numbers, would have driven the army of Dessalines from before the city, but the black chief foreseeing the difficulties in the way of his success had already determined to raise the siege, and he commenced his retreat without having encountered his enemy in a single battle.

But if Dessalines was disappointed in his hope of subduing the Spanish territory to his authority, he found himself firmly established in his power over the blacks of his own part of the island. The unrestrained sovereignty with which he had been entrusted by his compatriots made him now dissatisfied with the modest nature of his title, and awakened within him an ambitious desire to add to his real absolutism the rank and decorations of a monarch.

New Constitution, New Emperor

Napoleon had just raised himself to the imperial dignity, and Dessalines, possessing an equal extent of power over the blacks of St. Domingo, sought to imitate his great exemplar by assuming a station among princes. This design once formal, its execution was commenced without a moment’s hesitation. And assembly of the representatives of the people was convoked at Port au Prince by Dessalines, who, possessing a direct contract over all the movements of the government, took especial care that these representatives of the people should be taken from the ranks of his most devoted partisans, and that they should constitute an assembly which would interpose no opposition to his will.

After a few days spent in the mockery of deliberation, while all their labors had been already prepared to their hands, these legislators terminated their session by offering to the world a new constitution for the country, though a year had not yet elapsed since the epoch of its independence and the adoption a system of government destined to be perpetual.

The new assembly inscribed the names of its members upon the new constitution, and declared “in the presence of the Supreme Being, in whose sight all men are equal, and who has placed so many creatures upon the earth to manifest his glory and power by the diversity of his works–and in the presence of all nations who has so long and so unjustly regarded the Negroes as a bastard race, that the constitution which they offered to the world was the free expression of their hearts, and the general wish of their constituents.”

By a preliminary declaration they erected the free state of Hayti into a sovereign and independent empire. Slavery was decreed for the fiftieth time to be forever abolished, and the citizens were informed that they were all equal in the estimation of the law. Property was declared inviolable, and the rights of citizenship were pronounced to belong only to those who remain peaceably in the country without making any attempt to emigrate abroad, or to those who made no abuse of those privileges by becoming bankrupts. The possession of property in the island was forbidden to whites of all nations, excluding those only who had been previously adopted as citizens, and some Germans and poles who had incorporated themselves with the blacks of the country.

To banish from the country the term negro, so offensive to the country, of whatever color, were required to assume the generic appellation of blacks [Noirs].

It was furthered declared that he who was not a good father, a good husband, and above all, a good soldier, was unworthy to be called a Haytien citizen. It was not permitted to fathers to disinherit their children, and every person was required by law to exercise some mechanical art.

The empire of Hayti, one and indivisible, was composed of six military divisions, each to be under the commander of a general officer, who was independent of his associates who governed in other districts, as he was responsible tot he head of the state alone. The supreme government was formally conferred upon Jean Jacques Dessalines, the avenger and liberator of his country men, who was to take the title of Emperor and Commander-in-chief of the Army–a dignity which was also conferred upon the empress, his wife; and the persons of both were declared inviolable.

The crown was elective, but the power was conferred upon the reigning emperor to select and appoint his successor, by a nomination which required the sanction of the people to give it validity. The empress and the princes of the imperial blood were to be supported at the expense of the state, and the sons of the emperor were to pass through all the grades of the army. It was not permitted to the emperor to surround his throne with a privileged body, under the denomination of guards of honor, or in any other form, and in case of his violating this prohibition he was declared at war with the nation, and deprived of his dignity, which was then to be conferred upon another.

The emperor was empowered to make the laws to govern the empire, and to promulgate them under his seal; to appoint all the functionaries of the state, and remove them at his will; to hold the purse of the nation; to make peace and war, and in all things to exercise the rights and privileges of an absolute sovereign.

The black monarch was assisted in wielding this mighty authority by a council of state, composed of generals of division and of brigade. The other high functionaries of government were a secretary of state, and two ministers–one for the finances and the interior, and the other for the departments of war and the marine. For the administration of justice throughout the country there was to exist in each commune a justice of the peace, whose judiciary powers extended to all minor offences, and in each arrondissement there was established a high court, to judge in the last resort.

No particular faith in religion was established by law, and toleration was extended to the doctrines and worship of all sects, nor could the supreme head of the state connect the institutions of religion with the operations of his government. All French property in the island was confiscated to the state to constitute national domain.

Marriage was considered as an act purely civil, and the legitimacy of children was determined by a nice scale of distinctions, dependent upon the favor of the father and the rank and consideration of the wife or mistress.

Having framed this new constitution, the assembly, which had been convoked by Dessalines, solemnly committed its preservations to the safeguard of the magistracy, and to the citizens and soldiers of the empire. They recommended it at the same time to their descendants, and to the philanthropists of every country, as a pledge that God in his eternal decrees had permitted them to break their chains, and to constitute themselves a free, civilized, and independent nation.

It is easy to perceive that as Dessalines modelled his ambition upon the previous example of Napoleon, this new constitution of his government is but a parody upon the imperial constitution of France. Some months before this new frame of government was given to the world, Dessalines had already declared himself emperor of Hayti, and thus all the solemn enactments of this new constitution were but a mockery of legislation to serve the wishes of the Negro autocrat.

Dessalines quickly surrounded himself with all the pomp and ceremonial of majesty, and upon the 8th of Oct. 1804, the ceremony of his coronation took place at Port au prince. A temporary amphitheatre had been constructed upon the Place d’Armes of the town, and the troops of the army under Petion were arranged in lines from the palace of the new sovereign to the place of coronation.

At the appointed hour Dessalines and the black empress elect passed from their mansion under the escort of a host of civil and military dignitaries of the empire, the foreign merchants of the place, and a company of grenadiers; and the imperial procession proceeded in stately magnificence through the streets of the town, until it arrived at Place d’Armes. Salutes of artillery, repeated from the forts of the harbor and the vessels in the port, followed the annunciation of the decree that Jean Jacques Dessalines had been elected the emperor of Hayti.

Then the ceremony of coronation took place upon a throne erected in the midst of the amphitheatre, which was surrounded by the great officers of the imperial army. The Pope had been transported from Italy to consecrate Napoleon emperor of the French, and a Capuchin missionary of Cape Francois had been ordered to Port au Prince to dispense the ceremonies of the church to Dessalines.

The holy oil was poured upon his head, and he was consecrated and crowned emperor of Hayti under the title of James the First. The procession next proceeded amidst triple salutes of artillery to the church of Port au prince, where Te Deum was chanted in gratitude for the joyous event, which had given a sovereign to Hayti.

At the court of the black monarch the ceremonial and costumes of imperial France became immediately fashionable; and although there existed no new created nobility as props tot he throne, the grandees of the Negro army, who composed the suite of the emperor as commander -in-chief, were employed as substitutes for them.

Organization of Laborers & Military

Dessalines, now arrived at the summit of his highest ambition, employed himself in perfecting his system of internal administration. The Negroes of the plantations were placed in the same insignificant station in the government as in the time of Toussaint. they were required to labor upon the soil under the surveillance of the military, and as a remuneration for their work they received one third of the harvest produced by their industry. The law required that idleness should be punished with imprisonment alone, but the officers of Dessalines could not satisfy the requisitions of such a master by the slow and ineffectual operation of a lenity like this.

For the whip employed under the ancient regime there had been substituted a massive cane, as an engine of chastisement which inflicted a more extemporaneous punishment, better adapted in its nature and conformity to the severer despotism of the time. the laborers were forbidden under fearful penalties to leave the plantations to which they had been attached, and they could not absent themselves from their labor without a written permission from the officer who commanded the district. 

Most of the plantations were possessed by the government, that is, by Dessalines in person, and these were farmed by the year tot he blacks in authority, who were placed in absolute control over all the Negroes attached to the estate. The annual rent paid to Dessalines, instead of its being proportioned tot he extent or fertility of the land, was in all instances graduated by the number of these citizen-slaves belonging tot he plantations. 

Those mulattoes who were able to obtain satisfactory proofs of heirship to the ancient white proprietors, were placed in possession of the lands belonging to their white progenitors, and those who had descended from the “anciens libres,” or the black or mulattoes who had been free before the revolution, now formed the aristocracy of the country, and still continued to possess their ancient property, and to employ, as stipendiary laborers, those Negroes who had once been their slaves.

The cultivation of the sugar-cane was nearly at an end. the grounds appropriated to that species of agriculture, so long neglected amidst the successive wars and internal convulsions of the country, had now become grown over with rugged thickets, and the mills and other works for the fabrication of sugar were nearly all demolished and in ruins. The chief production of the island had now become that of coffee, but of this there was afforded but a sufficient quantity to load some fifty merchant ships visiting the different ports of the island.

Amidst this failure in the products of cultivation a source of revenue began to be derived from the forests of mahogany and other precious woods, which during the continuance of the richer avails afforded by the cultivation of the sugar-cane had, in the French part of the island, remained totally neglected.

Dessalines seized upon the occasion of his elevation to ascertain the numbers of his subjects in the part of the island which he governed, and after a careful registration it was found that the amount of population was 380,00. Such had been the destructiveness of war, that a vast disproportion was found in the respective numbers of the males and females, and in fact so greatly  did the number of the females exceed that of the males, that almost all the labor upon the soil was now performed by the former. 

The ties of marriage, if felt at all, hung loosely about the population, and from the black emperor tot he general mass of his subjects, there prevailed a universal licentiousness.

The regular army of Dessalines was composed of fifteen thousand men, in which there was included a corps of fifteen hundred cavalry. they were a motley assemblage of ragged blacks, kept in the ranks and performing their limited routine of duty through the awe inspired among them by the rigid severity of the imperial discipline. 

The uniform of the troops had not been changed when the island was erected into an independent power, and the red and blue of the French army still continued to distinguish the soldiers of the Haytien army, even when the French were execrated as a race of monsters, with whom the blacks of St. Domingo should have nothing in common.

Together with the regular army of the empire there existed a numerous corps of national guard, composed of all who were capable of bearing arms; though the services of these were not required but in some dangerous emergency of the state. The national guard and the regular army were called into the field four times every year, and during these seasons of military movement, the government of Dessalines was over a nation of soldiers in arms, as they remained in their encampment for some days, to be instructed in military knowledge and to be reviewed by the great officers of the empire.

While Dessalines was seeking by every means to augment the population under his control, he took every precaution that it should be diminished by emigration. punishments the most rigorous were denounced against those who should attempt to convey from the ports of the island a citizen of the country; and contracts were maintained with English vessels of war cruising in those seas, to arrest and restore to the island those who were endeavoring to effect their escape.

Decimation of the French Colonialists

Although great numbers of the French residents in the island had departed with the troops of that nation in their evacuation of the country, a considerable population of whites had nevertheless remained behind, encouraged by the promises of protection proclaimed by Desssalines. Finding it impossible to effect an escape with their property from the English squadron on the coast, they preferred to remain upon their estates, and to hazard the unknown events of the future, than to leave their homes in penury and destitution and trust to the contingencies of foreign exile.

The extraordinary favor which they had enjoyed under the administration of Toussaint filled them with hope that they would still be permitted to remain unmolested by his present successor, and attachment to their native home and to the interests of property urged them to brave the cold-blooded cruelty of a man, whose merciless character was already proverbial.

It is impossible to suppose the real intentions of Dessalines when he formally offered his protection tot he whites of the country, and dispatched proclamations to invite the return of those who were abroad, if all these professions of amity were not for the single purpose of multiplying the number of his victims. Some months after the evacuation of the country by the French, an incendiary proclamation had been spread abroad, breathing sentiments of eternal hatred to the French, and inflaming the Negroes to avenge the slaughter of their brethren by sacrificing all Frenchmen among them upon the altar of their vengeance.

“The French name,” says this mild document, “still spreads sorrow throughout our land, and recalls to our recollection the cruelties of that savage race: and does there yet remain a Frenchman among us? The victims for fourteen years of our credulity and of our clemency, when shall we at last be weary of breathing the same air with them? What have we in common with these sanguinary men? 

Their cruelty contrasted with our moderation–their color to ours–the extent of ocean which separates us — our climate do destructive to them, all declare plainly that they are not our brethren and never can become such. you who have restored to us our liberty at the expense of your blood, know, that you have done nothing, if you delay giving tot he nations a terrible example of your vengeance.

Let us intimidate those  who would tear from us our liberty, and let us commence with the French. let them tremble as they approach our shores, and let us devote to death every Frenchman who dares to pollute with his presence this land of liberty. peace with our neighbors–but cursed be the name of Frenchmen–eternal hatred to France.

This ferocious manifesto was intended as a preliminary measure in the train of horrible events to follow. In the month of February, 1805, orders were issued for the pursuit and arrest of all those Frenchmen who had been accused of being accomplices in the executions ordered by Rochambeau. Dessalines pretended that more than sixty thousand of his compatriots had been drowned, suffocated, hung or shot, in these massacres.

“We adopt this measure,” said he, “to teach the nations of the world, that nothwithstanding the protection which we grant tot hose who are loyal towards us, nothing shall prevent us from punishing the murderers, who have taken pleasure in bathing their hands in the blood of the sons of Hayti.”

These instigations were not long in producing their appropriate consequences among a population for so many years trained to cruelty, and that hated the French in their absence in the same degree that they feared them when present. On the 28th of April it was ordered by proclamation that all the French residents in the island should be put to death, and this inhuman command of Dessalines was eagerly obeyed by his followers, particularly by the mulattoes, who had to manifest a flaming zeal for their new sovereign, in order to save themselves from falling victims to his sanguinary vengeance.

Acting under the dread surveillance of Dessalines, all the black chiefs were forced to show themselves equally cruel, and mercy of the inferior blacks, who dared not to avow their generosity. Dessalines made a progress through all the towns where there were any French citizens remaining, and while his soldiers were murdering the unfortunate victims of his ferocity, the monster gloated with secret complacency over the scene of carnage like some malignant fiend, glorying in the pangs of misery suffered by those who had fallen a sacrifice to his wickedness.

The massacre was executed with an attention to order which proves how minutely it had been prepared. all proper precautions were taken that no other whites than the French should be included in the proscription. In the town of Cape Francois, where the massacre took place on the night of the 20th of April, the precaution was first taken of sending detachments of soldiers to the houses of the American and English merchants, with strict orders to permit no person to enter them, not even the black generals, without the permission of the master of the house, who had been previously informed of all that was about to happen.

This command was obeyed so punctually, that one of these privileged individuals had the good fortune to preserve the lives of a number of Frenchmen whom he had concealed in his house, and who remained in their asylum until the guilty tragedy was over.

The priests, surgeons, and some necessary artisans were preserved from destruction, consisting in all of one tenth of the French residents. All the rest were massacred without regard to age or sex. the personal security enjoyed by the foreign whites was no safeguard to the horror inspired in them by the scenes of misery which were being enacted without. At every moment of the night the noise was heard of axes, which were employed to burst open the doors of the neighboring houses, of piercing cries followed by a death-like silence, soon however to be changed to a renewal of the same sounds of grief and terror, as the soldiers proceeded from house to house.

When this night of horror and massacre was over the treacherous cruelty of Dessalines was not yet appeased. An imperial proclamation was issued in the morning, alleging that the blacks were sufficiently avenged upon the French, and inviting all who had escaped the assassinations of the previous night to make their appearance upon the Place d”Armes of the town, in order to receive certificates of protection; and it was declared to them that in doing this they might count upon perfect safety to themselves.

Many hundreds of the French had been forewarned of the massacre, and by timely concealment had succeeded in preserving their lives. Completely circumvented by the fiendish cunning of Dessalines, this little remnant of survivors came out of their places of concealment and formed themselves in a body upon the Place d”Armes. But at the moment when they were anxiously expecting their promised certificates of safety, the order was given for their execution. The stream of water which flowed through the town of Cape Francois was fairly tinged with their blood.

Black Reaction to the Massacre of the French

By this ferocious measure the French residents were exterminated throughout the island, for the agents of Dessalines showed little backwardness in a transaction so conformable to their own fierce wishes, and so capable of giving them favor in the eyes of their ruling chief. But amidst this barbarous spirit so universal, a  few redeeming exceptions existed as bright spots in the gloomy character of a savage nation.

A faithful old black, who in the changes of the revolution had by degrees risen to the rank of a colonelcy in the Negro service, resolved to preserve the son of his master from being sacrificed in this extermination of his countrymen. in the honest boldness of his heart he hoped to succeed in softening the nature of Dessalines–and hastening into his presence he besought him to spare the life of the young Frenchman, alleging that as a slave he had experienced nothing but kindness and generosity from his ancient master, and that he wished to repay the debt of gratitude which he owed for such good usage, by rescuing the son of his former benefactor from the  danger that threatened him.

But the great monarch, enraged at this meditated clemency in his officer, sternly ordered him from his presence without replying to his solicitations. the black subaltern was not, however, to be turned from his generous intentions, and taking fifty men from his regiment he seized upon the person of the young white and carried him aboard a vessel lying in the harbor of Jeremie.

Many of the great chiefs in the black army were struck with horror and disgust at this fiendlike cruelty of their emperor. Christophe was shocked at the atrocity of the measure, though such was the ascendancy of Dessalines over him that he dared not display any open opposition tot he will of the monarch. Telamaque and another black officer dared, however, to manifest their abhorrence of these scenes of carnage. For this display of humanity they were ordered by Dessalines to hang with their own hands two Frenchmen who had been discovered in the forth which they commanded.

Dessalines had not troublesome sensibilities of soul to harass his repose for a transaction almost without a parallel in history. He sought not to share the infamy of the action with the subordinate chiefs of his army, but without a pang of remorse he claimed to himself the whole honor of the measure. In another proclamation, given to the world within a few days after the massacre, he boasts of having shown more than ordinary firmness, and affects to put his system of policy in opposition to the lenity of Toussaint, whom he accuses. of not of want of patriotism, at least of want of firmness in his public conduct.

Dessalines was prompted to the share he took in this transaction by an inborn ferociousness of character, but a spirit of personal vengeance doubtlessly had its effect upon the subordinate agents in the massacre. They hated the French for the cruelties of Rochambeau, or with the cowardly spirit of the Negro delighted in taking vengeance upon those who, though now placed within their power, were once their masters or conquerors, and at whose name they trembled.

Although the complete evacuation of the island by the forces of the French and the ceaseless employment of the armies of Napoleon in the wars of Europe had left the Negroes of St. Domingo in the full possession of that island, Dessalines lived in continued dread that the first moment of leisure would be seized by the conqueror of Europe to attempt the subjugation of his new empire. The black chief even alleged in excuse for the massacre which he had just accomplished, that the French residents in the island had been engaged in machinations against the dominion of the blacks, and that several French frigates then lying at St. Jago de Cuba had committed hostilities upon the coast, and seemed threatening a descent upon the island.

Influenced by this perpetual solicitude Dssalines now turned his attention to measures of defence in case the French should again undertake the reduction of the country. It was ordered that at the first appearance of a foreign army ready to land upon the shores of the island, all the towns upon the coast should be burnt to the ground, and the whole population be driven to the fastnesses of the interior.

In accordance with this policy the ports of the island were left without protection, and the guns which had been designed to guard the entrance to the harbours were transported to the mountains of the interior, many of which were crowned with immense fortifications and destined as places of refuge from an invading enemy. To fortify one of these inland retreats, the cannon of the forts in the harbor of Cape Francois had been transported at immense labor, and mounted in their new situation.

Source: J. Brown, M.D. History and Present Condition of St. Domingo. Philadelphia: William Marshall, & Co., 1837

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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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1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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 5 September




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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

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