Death to the French

Hello, and welcome to Revolutions.

The Declaration of Independence, proclaimed by Jean-Jacques Dessalines on New Year’s Day 1804, which I hope everybody listened to, was much more a call to arms than a traditional declaration of political independence. And with the declaration composed in French, it is clear that Dessalines wanted the French to know what he was about to do and why he was about to do it. That declaration said, “Let them tremble when they approach our coast, if not from the memory of the cruelties they perpetrated here, then from the terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty.” 

And this was not just a threat. This was a promise. A very terrible promise. 

Dessalines wasted no time making good on his terrible promise because there were still French born men, women, and children on the island. By early February, Dessalines and his entourage had established a headquarters in Port-au-Prince, and the name was, at this point officially and forever changed back from Port Republican, which it had been officially called since 1793. In Port-au-Prince, Dessalines convened a commission to investigate atrocities committed by the French. Mostly, this was focused on specific acts committed during the recent occupation by Leclerc and Rochambeau. But it was also interested in compiling a general list of crimes going back into the days of the old slave regime. None of this was with an eye to identifying guilty individuals or their specific victims. This was about establishing the collective guilt of the white French citizens and soldiers of Saint Domingue. Dessalines wanted a huge list of crimes he could point to in order to justify what he was about to go do, which was commit genocide. 

In very short order, just a few weeks, Dessalines had what he wanted, and he sent out the first batch of orders to garrison commanders in Léogâne, Jacmel, and Les Cayes kill the whites, round them up, put them in custody, and then kill them all. But this being a pretty heavy order, the garrison commanders were not eager to hop too. Most of those senior commanders in the south were colored, and while they had no love for the whites collectively on an individual or family level, there were numerous ties of kinship and friendship out there. So while they obeyed orders and started rounding up the whites in their districts, if they came across somebody they knew, well, I won’t chase you if you slip out the back door. And beyond personal connections, there’s a pretty huge gulf between not liking the whites, hating the whites, and then methodically arresting and killing unarmed civilians, including women and children. But with Dessalines on his way to inspect their progress, there were limits to how far the foot dragging could go. So, for example, in Les Cayes, we know that a couple of hundred whites did escape, but those who were unfortunate enough to remain in custody were then systematically murdered. It’s hard to know how many whites were left in Les Cayes after the withdrawal of the French, but at least as many died as got away, and from that point on, the white population of Les Cayes was no more. 

Now, when Dessalines himself got to Les Cayes in late February, he was disappointed by reports of leniency and stalling, and so he took precautions to make sure things would run smoother from here on out. First, Dessalines himself would stick around to supervise, and then, second, he was now going to mostly use nonlocal soldiers to undertake the operation to prevent anybody from like happening across an old playmate and letting them go. Dessalines and his death squad then moved on to Jérémie on February 28, accompanied by a mule train carrying the confiscated property of all the dead whites, because that is obviously a huge part of all this. When Dessalines got to Jérémie, he had all the whites rounded up in the center of town. Then he divided them by profession, moving doctors and any merchant with strong ties to American shipping off to one side and putting the rest in prison. Once they were all locked up, Dessalines then promised to spare anyone who paid a certain protection fee. But this was just a trick to get his intended victims to go dig up any valuables that they may have stashed. Once he was satisfied, he had rung as much cash out of all of them as possible, Dessalines and ordered everyone, including those who had paid protection money, out to the edge of town, where they were methodically bayoneted and decapitated. Apparently, the executioners did not use guns to avoid alerting towns with an earshot of what was happening. When the killing was done, Dessalines learned that a few coloreds had hidden away a few whites. And so Dessalines announced a general amnesty. And when those in hiding came out, he had them arrested and killed, forcing the prominent coloreds to do the killing so they couldn’t later say that they had no blood on their hands. There were about 450 whites left in Jérémie after the withdrawal of the French, and now there were almost none. 

The example of Jérémie then became standard operating procedure for Dessalines’s death squads as they moved through the colony. East along the southern peninsula and then coming up around through Port-au-Prince. They would roll into town, round up the whites, identify anybody worth sparing, demand payment from the rest for clemency, and then kill everyone anyway. Women wore a particularly heavy burden in all this. Once in custody, they were usually raped by Dessalines’s soldiers, and then, after watching their husbands and sons die, be told that they would be spared only if they married a black or colored officer, which is how the black and colored officers would acquire legal title to the lands held by the dead white men. And sometimes not even that was enough. And after being forced to endure all this pain and humiliation, Dessalines would just order all the women killed, too. 

On March 18, Dessalines reached Port-au-Prince, where one of the larger massacres took place. About 800 killed, with only 50 spared. And then he moved up the coast to Arcahaie and Saint-Marc and Gonaïves, killing every white they found. 

But though this was all unfolding with brutal efficiency, we do need to point out a couple of things. First, this was not a popular thing Dessalines was doing. It’s one thing to go in and hack your enemy to death in the heat of battle, or right after storming a town, but not this. Not rounding up civilians and methodically executing them. And so wherever Dessalines went, he came with urgent proclamations, reminding people of the horror done by the French to make everyone okay with this roving genocide that most people were really not okay with. 

Second, there did emerge from all this pretty clear evidence that this was not just about exterminating the white race. This was specifically about the white French. Any white American or British citizen, for example, were always identified and shuffled off to one side and Dessalines went out of his way to tell the Americans, “This has nothing to do with you. I love Americans. We need to keep working together. This is about the French.” Dessalines also spared any Polish soldiers left in the colony. About 5000 Poles had come over to Haiti over 1802-1803. And a ton of them had promptly defected to the indigenous army. Now, only about 1200 survived, but of those, almost 500 would permanently settle in Haiti as Haitian citizens. But if you fell into that category of anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty, you were doomed.

From Gonaïves, Dessalines then moved on to the final stop, Le Cap itself. Now, it too had been renamed after independence with the name that it now bears, going from Le Cap-Français to Le Cap-Haitien. But I’m just going to keep calling it Le Cap. 

Henri Christophe had been put back in charge of the city after the expulsion of the French, and though he had executed a few select whites over the past month or so, that had been mostly about acquiring their property rather than participating in mass murder. But when Dessalines arrived on April 18, that all changed. Over the next few days, thousands were put to death. Depending on what numbers you believe about how many white French were left in the city, the death town is a low of about 1700 and a high of about 3000. Depending on various conjectures and guesswork, in total, somewhere between 3000 and 5000 white French were executed in just about eight weeks. In the summer of 1791, the white population of Saint Domingue had been about 30,000. By the summer of 1804, the white population of independent Haiti was essentially zero. 

The final climax of the genocidal massacres of 1804 was a proclamation issued by Dessalines on April 28 that in many ways marks the end of the Haitian Revolution and the beginning of just the history of independent Haiti. The massacre of the whites represents the last bloody episode in a drama that had been filled with bloody episodes ever since everyone had gone into revolt against everyone else back in 1791. 

Dessalines began by saying, “Finally, the hour of vengeance has struck, and the implacable enemies of the rights of man have received the punishment their crimes deserved.” And then he said, “Yes, we have rendered unto these true cannibals. War for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage. Yes, I have saved my country. I have avenged America.” 

Now this takes us all the way back to Mercier’s little science fiction fantasy, “The year 2440”, that we talked about way back in Episode 4.2 with that time traveler coming across the statue of the avenger of the New World. Dessalines is now claiming that mantle. And while Dessalines has a lot of statues in Haiti, I don’t think there are any statues of Dessalines in France. 

But this is not all Dessalines had to say. He also said that the bond between the blacks and coloreds was now permanent and that “Blacks and coloreds, you whom the refined duplicity of the Europeans sought so long to divide, who today make up but one family, have no doubt that your perfect reconciliation needed to be sealed with the blood of our executioners.” Which I’m not 100% sure that anybody believed that. The coloreds were not super into any of this and they were already resenting the hell out of Dessalines for making them participate. 

But Dessalines also then laid down the permanent expulsion of the French by announcing that “Never will any colonists or Europeans set foot on this land as a master or proprietor. This resolution will henceforth be the foundation of our Constitution.” And indeed it would be. The Constitution of 1805 was premised on rights and citizenship for the blacks. European whites were not allowed, and it would not be until the American occupation that began in 1915 that white foreigners would be allowed to once again own property in Haiti. So, yes, the proclamation of April 28 does kind of mark the end of the Haitian Revolution. This had all started with the old big whites agitating for home rule and free trade to benefit a small click of wealthy white planters and merchants. And now the whites have not just lost everything, there aren’t even any whites left to have anything. 

In terms of what had been wrought by the revolution, the sad truth is that it was mainly deaf and destruction. As we discussed at the beginning of the series, the population of Saint Domingue on the eve of the revolution was about 30,000 whites, 30,000 colors and 500,000 blacks. So about 560,000 total. A census taken in 1804 revealed the heavy loss of life. There were only about 380,000 people left. Fighting and fleeing had ripped 180,000 souls, roughly one third of the population out of the former colony. The vast majority of those dead were blacks fighting their way out of chains. But you can also bank on somewhere north of 10,000 whites, and probably even more coloreds dying too, as the coloreds were far more active in the military. And none of that counts the dead from the various invading armies, the Spanish and the British and the French, who had all tried and failed to take the colony. 

But beyond the human toll, the material devastation was so vast that it’s nearly impossible to calculate. Obviously, in 1791, Saint Domingue was the most lucrative patch of land on earth. 14 years later, it is a shell of its former self. This is not to lament the death of brutal slave plantations, but it wasn’t just the boiling vats and refining equipment that had been destroyed. The roads, which were never great, were all in a terrible state of disrepair, trashed and broken up by various armies marching to and fro, and just never being repaired. The great plains of the West Province only worked because of extensive irrigation networks that were all now busted up and dry. Every city in the colony had been strafed by bullets and cannonballs and as often as not, the arson’s torch. Port-au-Prince, had almost entirely burned to the ground back in 1791, and since then had been subject to a nearly continuous run of sieges. Le Cap had burned down twice: once in June 1793, and then again in February 1802. And that’s to say nothing of all the other arsons that had accompanied the arrival of the Leclerc Expedition. In terms of basic infrastructure, free and independent Haiti did not have a solid foundation to build on. 

And then, of course, there was what this all meant for Haiti’s relationship with the outside world. Before the revolution, Saint Domingue was, first, France’s most lucrative colony by far, and second, a highly profitable trading partner for both the British and even more importantly, the Americans. But this was almost black market thanks to the French exclusive, which is why both the British and Americans made breaking the French exclusive a diplomatic priority. So on the eve of the revolution, the French colony of Saint Domingue was a central focus of three world governments, all vying for its riches. Independent Haiti, meanwhile, is never going to be anyone’s top priority. And indeed, she is about to sink to full pariah status. Right away, for example, no other government in the world recognized Haiti’s independence. They did not recognize Haiti as a sovereign power. Now, at least initially. I think this was mostly because nobody thought independent Haiti was anything but a temporary aberration. Most everyone back in France saw the loss of the colony as short term and it would be recovered later. Most of the old big white establishment, both creole planters and absentee French owners, believed that inevitable, that they would one day be able to return and reclaim their property. And as we’ll see next week, this belief persisted for decades after Haitian independence became a permanent reality. 

But while it’s easy to understand the French not recognizing Haiti, what about the United States and their claim to fame of being the first post colonial, independent country in the Western Hemisphere? You would think that there would be some impetus to recognizing the second post colonial, independent country in the Western Hemisphere, but no dice. Thanks to both domestic and international political considerations, the Jefferson administration refused to recognize Haiti. On the domestic front, the rise of Jefferson’s democratic Republicans meant that the voice of the southern planters started to drown out the voice of the northeastern merchants. And if there’s one thing southern planters are never going to support, it’s recognizing a bunch of slave rebels as their equals. And even those northern merchants were not as hot on Haiti as they used to be. There was still money to be made, but it wasn’t the infinite bounty that it had once been. So, yes, the merchants wanted to keep trading, but their voice was not going to overwhelm Jefferson’s diplomatic calculations. 

And then, of course, even more decisive than all of that domestic stuff were those diplomatic calculations. Jefferson wanted to build on his acquisition of Louisiana by acquiring West Florida from the Spanish. That’s the part of Florida that’s not the peninsula. Acquiring West Florida would secure American control over the entire Mississippi River delta. And as he headed towards his second term, Jefferson made Florida one of his top priorities. But since Spain was now a junior partner in Napoleon’s about to be declared French Empire, getting Spain to cede West Florida would only come with French pressure and approval. Since recognizing Haiti would be a major stick to the eye of the French, Jefferson and his Secretary of State James Madison quickly decided that they could not afford to pick up that stick. 

But though they did not offer political recognition, Jefferson and Madison did want to maintain US Merchant access to the island. And perhaps even more importantly, they wanted to maintain the principle that neutral American traders should be allowed to go wherever they wanted. So they told the French, “We do not dispute your sovereign claim. We do not recognize Haitian independence, but our merchants are going to keep trading with them.” And Madison did his best to couch all this as being in France’s best interests. I mean, when you come back, you want to find Saint Domingue still has a functioning economy, right? And even more importantly, you don’t want economic isolation to force the Haitians to fall completely into the orbit of the British, right? I mean, the British might just come in and annex the colony right out from under you. 

But though the British were interested in controlling access to Saint Domingue, they did not have any ambitions to actually take over the colony for themselves. Remember, they had run a five year long occupation that was different from the Leclerc Expedition only in size and scope. Everyone back in London remembered how costly it had been to try to take the colony and how ultimately futile it had turned out to be. So the British were settling on a policy of denying French access to Haiti without bothering to recognize their declared independence. And I think it’s safe to say that all three principal foreign actors, the United States, Britain, and France, (four, if you include Spain) figured that Haitian independence was temporary and that all territorial claims would be worked out at whatever final congress of nations ended this latest war, not realizing that this war was going to go on nonstop for the next decade. 

This all brings us back around to Dessalines’s purge of the white French, because once word of the massacre started leaking out to the British and Americans, any chance that they might have recognized Haiti pretty much went out the window, which means that, in the words of Talleyrand, the massacre of the whites might have been worse than a crime. It might have been a mistake. 

In his April the 28th proclamation, Dessalines dared the world to judge him for the massacres that he had just perpetrated to secure a white free future for Haiti. He said, “It is my pride and glory that I admit to it in the face of both mortals and the gods. It matters not how the people of today or of the future will judge me. I have done my duty. I have kept my self esteem, and that is enough for me.” 

So with that in mind, let’s be the judge of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. So it goes without saying that the genocidal massacres perpetrated in the spring of 1804 were a crime, but they also seem to be a huge mistake. The massacres confirmed every single hysterical fear proponents of slavery mustered when they talked about how you can’t let the blacks out of their chains, they will murder us all. And Dessalines had just proved their point in graphic detail. And this was all in contrast, old General Toussaint, who had always been a man the British and Americans could work with. This Dessalines character, on the other hand, seems like a bloodthirsty savage. And so the narrative that built up was that the horror of the massacres of early 1804 turned the Americans and the British away from Haiti and helped cement its future economic and political isolation. 

Then, inside the colony, the massacres both accomplished what Dessalines wanted, but also helped sow the seeds of his own destruction. On a practical level, Dessalines did have every reason to believe that the French would try to come back and that any remaining white inhabitants might be little more than fifth columnists. The racist slavery mentality that had come along with the Leclerc Expedition made it clear what French objectives were and would always be, and so justified from a political and military standpoint, the purge of the whites. But in taking this drastic step, Dessalines put a lot of people on notice, particularly in the colored community, that he was not someone you could ever turn your back on. And so, as the massacre unfolded throughout the colony, many coloreds took the opportunity to try to flee. Once the whites were gone, isn’t Dessalines just going to turn the bayonets on anyone born of a white or related to a white? That’s not a very far leap. And many of the senior colored leaders were also privately seething that Dessalines had forced them to participate in his crimes. 

So what is our historical judgment of Dessalines’s genocidal massacres? They were obviously a heinous crime, but they also appear to have been a mistake that helped isolate Haiti politically and undermined support for Dessalines domestically. 

With the crime committed and the mistake made, Dessalines then set to consolidating power in the summer of 1804, and what he did was essentially recreate the old Louverturian state minus the whites. Export based plantation economics was going to be the only way forward. So even with the final triumph of a black general who happened to be an ex field slave, all the strict labor codes were kept in place, as were prohibitions on breaking up the states and selling them in smaller lots. So for the mass of rural cultivators out there, things were still just like they had always been. And in this sense, the only real revolutionary difference between 1791 and 1804 was that now blacks and coloreds formed the planter aristocracy rather than whites. 

And just as with the Louverturian state, Dessalines premised his new regime on military rule, for all the same reasons and justifications Toussaint had employed. The military is the only thing standing between the black population and re-enslavement. And besides, who else is going to run things? During Dessalines’s reign, the population of Haiti was essentially living to prop up the military, which he kept at 20,000 strong. And while it did not appear that a new french invasion was imminent, it was clearly inevitable. And so Dessalines spent a lot of time and resources preparing for that inevitable invasion. The experience of the Leclerc Expedition led him to systematize the strategy that had unfolded haphazardly after the arrival of the French in 1802. Dessalines understood that the Haitian army would not be able to hold the port cities against a full invasion supported by a modern European navy, and that it was silly to even try. So he actually dismantled most of the coastal fortification and hauled all the guns and ammunition and material up into the mountains. There, he set everyone to work building a network of forts that would serve as the impenetrable refuge of the army if and when the French never came back. The French would never be able to dislodge the Haitian army from these forts, and all they’d have to do is sit around and wait for our avenging climate to do its work. 

Now, at the time, this all seemed like a justifiable use of labor and resources, but in the end, these forts would not actually be used until the Americans showed up 100 years later, and even then, only very briefly. For the population of Haiti in 1804, they served as nothing more than a drain on labor and resources, and the military became not their protectors, but their oppressors. 

Now, one of the main reasons Dessalines continued to fear reinvasion was that while he had redubbed Saint Domingue Haiti, the old spanish side of the island, Santo Domingo, was still Santo Domingo and still held by the French. An old general named Ferrand had taken over the garrisons at Santo Domingo, and along with troops that had escaped Saint Domingue in the last days of the French occupation and those that had been planted in Santo Domingo the whole time, he now had about 700 men under his command. And as long as he held the east coast of Hispaniola, the French would always be able to land a theoretical reinvasion force without incident. To say nothing of the fact that Ferrand was issuing letters of mark to anyone who wanted one, creating the core of a private tier fleet that would soon be harassing anyone importing to or exporting from Haiti. And Dessalines made an aborted attempt in May 1804, just after the massacres, to capture the city of Santiago with a relatively small expeditionary force. But he captured and then lost, and then captured, and then lost the city and ultimately was forced to retreat and bide his time. 

By the fall of 1804, word had trickled back over to Haiti that back in France, First Consul Bonaparte had rechristened himself Emperor Napoleon I. Possibly to keep up, Dessalines went ahead and held a ceremony in early October 1804 transforming Governor-for-Life Dessalines into Emperor Jacques I of Haiti. With his power and authority now further entrenched, Emperor Jacques made a far more concerted play to capture all of Hispaniola. On February 25, 1805, Emperor Jacques and his Chief Lieutenant Christophe launched a major invasion of the Spanish side of the island, with the emperor leading a column right through the central mountains and Christophe flanking him along the north coast. Their advance was crazy fast, and by March 6, they were at the gates of the city of Santo Domingo. But they had moved so fast that the heavy guns could not keep up. So the Haitian army had to settle in until the guns arrived, with Alexandre Pétion leading the construction of the siege lines. And despite having just 700 regular army soldiers and maybe 2000 militiamen, the walls of Santo Domingo were high enough and strong enough, the Haitian attacks were easily repulsed. Now, this was all going to change when, on March 26, the guns did show up. But then, the very next day, an even more dramatic arrival upended everything. A small French naval force just so happened to sail into Santo Domingo’s harbor. Now, both because they were sitting ducks for the French guns and because it was possible that this was just the tip of another invasion iceberg, Emperor Jacques pulled up stakes and retreated back to Haiti. 

The future leaders of Haiti would continue to covet control of the whole island, but it would not be until 1822 that Jean-Pierre Boyer finally pulled it off. Just as the Haitian army was marching towards Santo Domingo, the US government was taking its first step towards the economic isolation of Haiti. The French were pressuring the Americans to stop trading with the rebel slaves, and so the Jefferson administration tried to placate the French by passing a law prohibiting arm sales. In November 1804, Congress took up the debate of a bill that ultimately placed heavy restrictions on ships capable of transporting arms traveling to any port in the Western Hemisphere. This bill, called the Clearance Act, was signed into law by Jefferson on March 3, 1805, but it would not be enough to placate the French. Not that petty colonial concerns were really filling much of Napoleon’s attention these days, what with the conquest of Europe to attend to. 

Now, by this point also, it seems that Alexandre Pétion and a small group of officers were already putting together a small conspiracy that would eventually overthrow Emperor Jacques I, a conspiracy that found even more willing adherence when they read the Constitution of 1805, which was unveiled on May 20, 1805. This constitution was like Toussaint’s, a framework for an authoritarian military dictatorship. All power was vested in the emperor, who would be assisted by a small council of state composed of senior generals. The country would be divided into six districts commanded by generals who would be answerable only to the emperor. The constitution also fulfilled Dessalines’s promise that the future of Haiti would be anti white. Article 12 declared, “No white man, regardless of his nationality, may set foot in this territory as a master or landowner, nor will he be able to acquire any property”. But that said, Article 13 then went on to specifically make exemptions for Germans and Poles who had been naturalized by the government. And then Article 14 laid down the principle that because all distinctions of color amongst children of the same family must necessarily stop, Haitians will henceforth only be known generically as blacks. Given the future racial tensions that defined Haitian politics, this was easier to declare than actually embrace. 

But unfortunately for Emperor Jacques specifically and the rest of Haiti generally, they would never be allowed to be the masters of their own destiny, and events beyond the shores of Hispaniola would dictate their history always. 1805 turned out to be an insanely critical year in the Napoleonic Wars, culminating at the end of the year with two battles that would define the nature of the conflict for the next decade. In October, the British smashed the French navy at Trafalgar. And then in December, Napoleon obliterated all comers at Austerlitz. So the French now own the land and the British the seas. 

But now that they own the seas, the British turned decisively against the idea of neutral shipping. They became much rougher in their handling of Americans stopped on the high seas, and then they started in on what became one of America’s great pet peeves in the early 1800s: impressment. This is basically the British claiming that various American sailors are actually British deserters and then forcing them back into British service. Now to be fair, many of these guys were deserters, but it still really annoyed the Americans, and public opinion began to swing away from the British and towards the French. And still hoping to get the French to tell the Spanish to give him Florida, President Jefferson decided to abandon Haiti to its fate. 

At the end of December 1805, Congress began debate on a full economic embargo of Haiti. With the Federalists having been thrashed into oblivion, there was no one left in the Senate to oppose the measure. It cleared the House 93-26 and the Senate 21-7. On February 28, 1806, Jefferson signed into law the act to suspend the commercial intercourse between the United States and certain parts of the island of Santo Domingo. It was meant to last one year, but it would last a lot longer than that. 

So the British were now the only economic link that Haiti had to the rest of the world, and the British were not super interested in helping them out. Mostly, the British now saw the collapse of Haiti as good news, because it boded well for the future economic prospects of Jamaica, who could take over their old sugar business and then strangling the French economically was now a key part of the trade war over the continental system that was fast heating up back in Europe. Haiti needed to export produce to live, and now they had no one to export to. 

None of this did anything but make Emperor Jacques even more unpopular than he already was. His despotic tendencies did not seem to come with any enlightened touch. And in mid 1806, he was announcing that various land titles held by prominent leaders across Haiti were invalid and he would just seize their property. Meanwhile, cultivators were still laboring under restrictive labor codes, except that with economic strangulation setting in, there were very few profits now to make this anything but de facto slavery. And then that same lack of profits was making it impossible for Emperor Jacques to pay his soldiers, who were now also coming to dislike their chief. Discontentment with his regime was now almost uniform, especially down on the Southern Peninsula, the old stronghold of André Rigaud and the men of color. General Pétion and his compatriots were now just waiting for the right moment to strike. But they were careful in their planning, and so made secret contact with Henri Christophe to sound him out. Dessalines and Christophe had been allies for a long time, but that did not make them friends, and Christophe indicated that he would not be ill disposed to the plot. 

In the fall of 1806, Emperor Jacques went on an inspection tour of the South Province. And while down there in Pétion’s backyard, Pétion made his move. Garrison commanders crossed the Peninsula, declared themselves in revolt. The Emperor rushed back towards Port-au-Prince to mobilize a response, but he never made it. At the small town of Pont Rouge, just outside Port-au-Prince Emperor Jacques I was surprised by a company of soldiers and unceremoniously gunned down. According to the story, his body was then torn to pieces by an angry mob. But all the pieces were then gathered back up by a woman, a longtime camp follower of Dessalines going back to the days of the slave revolt. 

When Dessalines died, he was not a popular guy, hence the unceremonious execution and tearing apart of his body. But in due course, Dessalines would become the most prominent and exalted figure of the Haitian Revolution, the man who had finally brought freedom and independence to a nation of black ex slaves. 

The death of Jean-Jacques Dessalines marks the end of our narrative on the Haitian Revolution. A revolution, as I just said, that began with some big white planters thinking that they were on the verge of self rule in free markets, that they would be the richest kings of the New World, and instead, their slaves had run them right the hell out of town. While fending off and or fighting with the armies of Spain, Britain and France. The Haitian Revolution had unleashed some of the most radically revolutionary forces in history: freedom and equality. It had also seen some of the most atrocious atrocities committed. And in the end, the practical realities of freedom and equality would never live up to the promise. But it is time now for us to move on. 

Next week, I will do my best to wrap things up by plotting a course through the next 200 years of Haitian history, so that you can walk away from all this with some understanding of whatever happened to the avengers of the New World.

Return to The Haitian Revolution >>

Leave a Reply