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Struggle For Freedom > Toussaint L'Ouverture > Jean Jacques Dessalines > Independence 1804  > Empress Felicite > King Christophe >  
                                                                                                     History of Haiti (Ayiti, Hayti)


 

Empress Marie Claire Heureuse

Félicité Bonheur Dessaline’s

(1758-1868) The Pillar Behind The Throne

 

                                      


Empress Felicite and her husband Jean Jacques Dessalines.

They are the first Africans to be crowned Emperor and Empress in the West.

This is remarkable given that slavery was rampant throughout the America's at this period.


Great women emerged out of the Haitian revolution. One such woman was the wife of the founder of Haiti – Emperor Jean Jacques Dessaline’s. Marie Claire Heureuse Félicité Bonheur Dessaline’s was the First Lady of Haiti and indeed the first African Empress to rule a country in the Western Hemisphere. She was a woman who was born into slavery in 1758 in Dominica.

 

The empress was a woman of rare beauty, educated, talented and refined. Her humanity caused her to restrain her husband, upon many occasions, from acts of cruelty. Though formally uneducated, Dessaline’s was not ignorant even of the classics, for he kept three secretaries, who,took turns, to read to him.

 

Marie Claire Heureuse Félicité Bonheur Dessaline’s took care of the sick soldiers, of the prisoners of the Revolutionary War. Such was her power and sense of justice that even the French stopped their canon firing while she ministered to the dying, the wounded on both sides of the battle. It has been said that this Haitian woman was the first Red Cross. She had tremendous influence over her husband the most feared man of his time, a warrior, a great thinker and humanist. Félicité marched to the front alongside her husband during the War of Independence. True to her nature as a peace-loving woman her husband was not allowed to bring weapons into their home.                                                        

 

Empress Félicité worked in the fields of education and health as a nurse, tending to the needs of the poor. Older than Dessaline’s it was she who instilled in him the rudiments of reading and writing. She was made Empress Félicité of Haiti upon the creation of the monarchy of Haiti, and crowned with her husband at the Church of Champ-de-Mars on 8th October 1804.               

 

Haitians recall that she was kind, so gentle, merciful and natural, with an elegant and cordial manner; so beautiful that even the murderers of her husband bowed down to her.

 

The empress was a woman of rare beauty, educated, talented and refined. Her humanity caused her to restrain her husband, upon many occasions, from acts of cruelty. Though formally uneducated, Dessaline’s was not ignorant even of the classics, for he kept three secretaries, who, took turns to read to him.

                                                

 

The leaders of the revolution were very close to each other. The founding fathers sought to rebuild the family structure, which had been destroyed in slavery. They made a close knit family structure, for example, Toussaint’s wife, represented Dessaline’s mother and Toussaint himself represented the father of the wife of Dessaline’s. Toussaint officiated the marriage of Dessaline’s and Félicité. When Christophe had a baby Dessaline’s baptised the child and became the godfather. They rebuilt the family showing Haitians the importance of family ties.


Empress and Emperor Dessaline’s had four daughters and three sons together, including a pair of twins. She passed away in 1868, at the ripe old age of 110 years.


Haitians fondly remember her today during independence celebrations on January 1st, when the nation comes together to taste her famous independence pumpkin soup (Jomou); one of many healthy recipes that she left as part of her legacy. She had organised the distribution of the soup in all major intersections of a newly liberated Haiti. She is also remembered on October 8th the day that she and Jean Jacques Dessaline’s were crowned Emperor and Empress of Haiti.



 

                    



                  


                               

                    


Members of Fondation Felicite in Haiti honours the life of Empress Fèlcitè every January 1st by serving her famous Jamou soup (known for its healing properties) to the hungry.




 

            

 
The final resting place of Empress Marie Claire Heureuse
Félicité Bonheur Dessaline's
 
 

 

 

Next: Meet King Henri Christophe [click here]