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

  

January 1st 1804

 Declaration of Independence

                         

 

Citizens, it is not enough to have expelled from your country

 the barbarians who have stained it with blood. It is necessary to

ensure the empire of freedom in the country, which has given us birth.

 Finally, it is necessary to live independent, or die. Independence or Death.

 Let these sacred words rally us.

 

Emperor Jean Jacques Dessaline’s, Speech given on 1 January 1804

 

 

On January 1, 1804, at the place whence Toussaint had been treacherously seized and sent to France, the military leaders declared the independence of the country. In the process, the Haitians destroyed two attempted French invasions, a Spanish and an English invasion. After thirteen years of freedom fighting, Jean-Jacques Dessaline’s emerged before the people of Haiti, dressed in red and gold and declared the independence of Saint Dominique on January 1st 1804. He and the people of Haiti, 800,000 of them took control of the country and bought about the first successful revolution in the world, to entirely overthrow an oppressor and take charge of the country. He changed the name of the country to the name given to it by the original inhabitants -Ayiti (Hayti in Haitian); meaning, the land, which forces you to rise to your better self. On January 1, 1804, at the place whence Toussaint had been treacherously seized and sent to France, the military leaders declared the independence of the country. In the process, the Haitians destroyed two attempted French invasions, a Spanish and an English invasion. After thirteen years of freedom fighting, Jean-Jacques Dessaline’s emerged before the people of Haiti, dressed in red and gold and declared the independence of Saint Dominique on January 1st 1804. He and the people of Haiti, 800,000 of them took control of the country and bought about the first successful revolution in the world, to entirely overthrow an oppressor and take charge of the country. He changed the name of the country to the name given to it by the original inhabitants - Ayiti (Hayti in Haitian); meaning, the land which forces you to rise to your better self.


 

  “Dessalines on January 1 1804 said -

Everybody that is a Ayitian whether your

eyes are blue, your hair blonde, I don’t care

under what sky you were born, if your Ayitian

you are Black, because Black means those

 who subscribe to the principles of liberty, equality and justice”.

 

Professor Bayyinah Bello, State University of Haiti

 

 

The above quote shows the new spirit of government that the founding fathers of Haitian democracy wanted to create.

 

A few Europeans fought on the side of the Ayitians in the war, having defected from the French army. With this new spirit and vision of Ayitian leadership Dessaline’s realising that the war was over, and that Haitians had won the war, now wanted those non-Africans who wished to remain and live in Ayiti, to do so under the spirit of nationhood founded upon African principles of governance. Ayiti's new leader was saying that whether you were Black, mixed race or White you had the right to remain and serve your country, once you abided by the will of the majority. Freedom was the race, either you were for or against freedom.

 

 

                                                                          

 

A study of the constitution created under Dessaline's leadership further shows us the values and principles that were important to the people of Ayiti in 1804:  

 

No person is worth of being a Ayitian who is not a good father, good son,

a good husband, and especially a good soldier.

 

Fathers and mothers are not permitted to disinherit their children.

 

Every Citizen must possess a mechanic art.

 

The crown is elective not hereditary.

 

Every successor deviating from the dispositions of the preceding article,

or from the principles consecrated in the present constitution shall be

considered and declared in a state of warfare against the society...

 

The Emperor shall never form any enterprise (sic) with the views of making conquests,

nor to disturb the peace and interior administration of foreign colonies.

 

Dessaline’s was made governor-general for life. After the victory, Dessaline’s tried thousands of Frenchmen for high crimes against the people of Ayiti. On 22 February 1804, Dessaline’s gave the relevant orders to dispense justice by death.

 

On October 8th 1804, the Empire of Ayiti was created. After serving a short time as president in 1807 the first Black republic in the West was created. Jean Jacques Dessaline’s was crowned the first Emperor of Ayiti along with his wife, Empress Marie Claire Heureuse Félicité Bonheur Dessaline’s.

 

One important aspect of the revolution was the cultural liberation of all enslaved Africans across the Caribbean. This means that physical liberation alone would not guarantee 100% freedom. The Emperor taught the people that once the war was over the next step would be cultural liberation. That was to rid oneself of all foreign culture imposed on them. That foreign culture, Dessaline’s noted stifled one’s ability to reason clearly and to express one’s self according to one’s own world view. It took away one’s ability to seek guidance from one’s own soul, and one’s own systems of knowledge etc. He went on to say, to the people of Haiti, “you think you are free but look our hills, seas, rivers and mountains are also named after the French”. Therefore he changed the name the French gave to the island "St Dominique" to Haytias a first step towards the cultural revolution.     

                            


                                                                                                 

          

                                                                                    Dessaline left two spellings for Haiti, the Arawk spelling Ayiti or Hayti.

                                                                                                  In the Arawak language Ayiti means the land that

                                                                                                              forces you to rise to your better self

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hayti  - The land that forces you to rise to your better self

 

Emperor Dessaline decided to give all the plantations and estates over to those who had been enslaved. Also he offered the peasants land. He created a new constitution modelled after Africa values.

 

Dessaline’s was not only a military fighter for he also understood the nitty gritty of state - craft. First he ordered a commission to study the island each square mile. They had to tell him what was there, how many people, what kind of people, how much can it support etc, and then he intended to make a plan for the country. The population of Haiti had been very much thinned by the ravages of war. Within days of the creation of the Republic of Haiti, the Emperor published a decree announcing his intention to devote part of the nation’s meagre post-war budget to securing the emancipation of formerly enslaved Africans. Captains of American slave ships were offered a bounty of 40 dollars as payment for any African bought into Haiti.

 


 

 


Red and Black flag of Ayiti, adopted under

Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1805

vertical to represent the people standing

up to determine their future. 

Red symbolising the victory and black the people.

The Ayitian flag today symbolises the people lying dow

with a big white square over them.

 

 

Dessaline’s had an impact on the early formation of Haiti. Under his leadership many towns ravaged by war were rebuilt. Commerce was revived and people traded all sorts of wares, and Haiti began to gradually pick up economically. He encouraged artists to pick inspiration from their African culture to be reflected in the arts. The example of European civilisation as demonstrated in Africa and the Caribbean had not been what the new African leaders of Haiti wanted to emulate. They would draw from their African heritage and worldview to recreate models of African governance in the West.


Unfortunately, some, in particular the mixed raced population of Haiti began to object to the strict rules imposed by Dessaline’s. They did not want to be ruled by African customs and laws. Dessaline’s started to suppress their revolt. In the fourth assassination attempt on Dessaline’s life he was without his female security. The Emperor was murdered by political rivals in an ambush - October 18, 1807 at Pont-Rouge (near Port-au-Prince). When Dessaline’s was assassinated, the people’s hopes were also killed because he represented the one who could protect the people and bring to fruition the people’s hopes and dreams.

 

 


“He (Dessaline’s) was a man of great personal bravery

and succeeded in maintaining the independence of Hayti,

which had already cost the Frenchmen fifty thousand lives.”


W. E. B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois)

 

 

Next: Meet the wife of Emperor Jean Jacques Dessalines [click here].