Jean-Jacques Dessalines

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Portrait of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines statue.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines (Kreyòl: Jan Jak Desalin) (September 20, 1758 Habitation Cormier 1, Grande-Rivière-du-Nord - October 17, 1806 Pont-Rouge, Haiti) was born as a slave and later became a leader of the Haitian Revolution and an Emperor of Haiti (18041806 under the name of H.I.M. Jacques I, Emperor of Haiti). He was crowned with his wife 2 at the Church of Champ-de-Mars on October 8, 1804.

Revolutionary and First Ruler of Independent Haiti

Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
Dessalines fought with Toussaint Louverture against the British and French. After turning against Toussaint and joining Leclerc, Dessalines eventually became the leader of the revolution. A fierce warrior, his motto was "Koupe tet, boule kay" - "Cut off the head, burn down the house." (Wilentz) Dessalines declared Saint-Domingue's independence on January 1, 1804, and became the Black republic's first leader: the self-declared Emperor of Haiti (1804–1806 under the name of Jacques I; French: Jacques, Empereur Ier d'Haïti). For an English translation of the Independence declaration see: Act of Independence.

"A handsome, 'red-skinned' Negro from Senegal 1, fearless in the field and unscrupulous off it." (Parkinson, p. 67)

"In a battle near Cape François, Rochambeau took five hundred black prisoners, and put them all to death the same day. Dessalines, hearing of this, brought five hundred white prisoners in sight of the French, and hung them up, so that the cruel monster could see the result of his own barbarous example. (Wells-Brown p. 112)

"Nearly all historians have set him down as a bloodthirsty monster, who delighted in the sufferings of his fellow-creatures. They do not rightly consider the circumstances that surrounded him, and the foe that he had to deal with." (Wells-Brown p. 111)

"Insofar as we can talk intelligibly about a caste system in post-colonial Haiti, Dessalines was it's adversary." (Nicholls, p. 39)

Jean-Jacques Dessalines letter to Thomas Jefferson, 1803.
On declaring independence, Dessalines is reported to have created the Haitian flag by tearing out the white out of the French tricolor. The Haitian national anthem La Dessalinienne is named in Dessalines honor.

Dessalines is widely regarded by Haitians as one of the outstanding heroes in the struggle against slavery and colonialism, in this spirit he is also affectionately called: 'Papa Desalin' (lit. Father Dessalines). He was the Governor-General of Saint-Domingue from November 30, 1803 to December 31, 1803, the day before the Haitian Declaration of Independence. In contrast many non Haitian observers have focused on Dessalines treatment of French colonialists and less on his achievements in the freedom struggle.

Dessalines Marriage and children

Note 2: Dessalines was married to Marie-Claire Heureuse Félicité (1758 Léogâne - August 8, 1858), they had four daughters and three sons together, including a pair of twins. She was buried in St. Marc.
Jean-Jacques Dessalines had also six children from other relationships.

The Haitian Constitution of 1805

After becoming the ruler of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines promulgated the Haitian Constitution of 1805 on May 20 of that year. This constitution included the following important provisions:

  • Freedom of Religion (Under Toussaint Catholicism had been declared the official state religion);
  • All citizens of Haiti, regardless of skin color, to be known as "Black" – including the Poles and Germans (This was an attempt to eliminate the multi-tiered racial hierarchy which had developed in Haiti, with full-blooded Europeans at the top, various levels of light to brown skin in the middle, and dark skinned "Kongo", referring tho the region of Africa where most of the slaves had arrived from, from Africa at the bottom).

Dessalines Death

Pont-Rouge, site of Dessalines assassination
A conspiracy to overthrow Dessalines included Henry Christophe and Alexandre Pétion, who both succeeded him. Dessalines was assassinated north of Port-au-Prince at Pont Larnage, (now known as Pont-Rouge) on October 17, 1806 en route to battle the rebels.

Défilée, a woman, took the mutilated body of Jean-Jacques Dessalines to bury him.

The Tomb of Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Former Dessalines tomb at the Cimetière Intérieur.
On Dessalines tomb, in Port-au-Prince near the Palais National (Seat of Government), the inscription states: "At the first canon shot, giving the alarm, cities disappear and the nation stands up". (Péralte)

Note 1: Various sources give different birthplaces and/or dates for Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but respected Haitian historians such as Madiou come to the conclusion that Dessalines was born in the North of Haiti

See Also

Documents and Letters

From Toussaint Louverture

French Documents

Haitian Documents


  • Parkinson, Wenda (1978). This Gilded African. London: Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-2187-4
  • Nicholls, David (1996). From Dessalines to Duvalier. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-2239-0
  • Wilentz, Amy. (February 15, 2004) Haiti's Man of the People Lost His Way New York Times Week in Review,
  • Wells Brown, William (1863). The Black Man, His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH. Online Publication
  • Jean-Jacques Dessalines. (2005, December 8). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:28, December 9, 2005 [1].
  • Péralte, Charlemagne Masséna. (1918) Bandits or Patriots?: Documents of Charlemagne Péralte - (Address to the Haitian People 1918). National Archives. Transl. Elena and Kirill Razlogova.

External links