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


Emperor Jean Jacques Dessaline

(1758-1806) - The Saviour




“…Bear in mind that the soil bathed with our sweat must not furnish

our enemies with the smallest aliment. Tear up the roads with shot;

throw corpses and horses into all the fountains; burn and annihilate everything,

in order that those who have come to reduce us to slavery

 may have before their eyes the image of that hell which they deserve.”

Toussaint L’Overture writing to General Dessalines,

Commander-in-chief of the army of the West. Feb. 8, 1802


United We Stand
Divided We Fall

Haitian freedom fighters were furious at the treachery which the French showed Toussaint after they had signed The Peace Treaty. With Toussaint’s mission accomplished, Haitians warriors met to elect Toussaint’s lieutenant Jean Jacques Dessalines as commander-in-chief. There were other notable army Haitian army officers like Marie-Jeanne, Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe and maroons like Lamour de Rance, they had all been trained by Toussaint and together under the leadership of Dessalines would reignite the vison of 1791, to bring freedom to all enslaved peoples in Haiti! Indeed the tree of liberty had sprung up once again from the roots. Leclerc could not contain the Haitian forces.


Napoléon’s legacy in the Caribbean is one of great violence, genocide and destruction. In November 1802, Leclerc died from yellow fever. Napoleon Bonaparte, fed up with the way the war was going in Haiti sent for a more dangerous general. Rochambeau, France’s supreme commander general and brother in-law to Napolean. With him also came Generals Pageot and Lavalette, the best of his troops to kill as he would say “the monkeys”. General Donatien Rochambeau was known for his savagery, a slave holder who had spent many years in Haiti. If the natives had thought that they had seen the worse of the French character, they had seen nothing yet. The French had decided that the only way to win the war agaisnt Haitians was through genocide.Rochambeau was infamous for his use of human eating dogs - the bloodhounds - trained in Cuba. The animals were sent to Haiti without food rations with expressed orders from Napoleon that they be fed exclusively Black flesh.In themountains the bloodhounds would sniff out maroon fighters. When caught, Rochambeau had them thrown into burning pits and boiling caldrons. When hetook prisoners, he put them through the most excruciating tortures and the most horrible deaths. The only match for his ferocious and sanguinary spirit was Dessaline’s. 


But some Haitians were not frightened by such inhuman acts. Strengthened by a firm knowledge of self and their spirituality they fought to reclaim the sovereignty they were born with! In one case, when dogs were set upon a Haitian to eat him alive, the young boy encouraged the dogs to eat him and feast on his flesh. He did not cry once, but died in peaceful acceptance of his fate. In another case, three Haitian men were about to be hanged. One of the men began crying. His wife upon seeing this chastised him and taking the rope and placing it around her neck, she said, “let me show you how to die with dignity.” She died before the people without making a sound or shedding a tear. The French soldiers became even more terrified of the people they had to fight.   



(above image) Lieutenant

On October 5th, 1802; pregnant Lieutenant Sanite Bélair and her husband,General Charles Bélair were executed by the French army. When she was captured, her husband turned himself over as well to avoid being separated from her. Both were sentenced to death, she watched her husbands execution, where he asked her to die bravely, and went to her own execution as calmly as he, refusing to wear a blindfold. Her legacy however is that of a fearless warrior. 

If destiny ushered some to this world with duty Dessaline’s was entrusted with one. Physically he was robust and when he reached the age of manhood, there was no doubt Dessaline’s had something to offer his people. He was the one who put could an end to the French rule in Haiti.

Dessaline’s was 100% dedicated to Toussaint Lovertureand Boukman Dutty. He received all of his formal military training from Toussaint. He distinguished himself by his fearlessness, energy and bravery. He was an instinctive fighter, a military genius, known for his quick temper, yet cool disposition. If as a solider you were not brave and you could not face death Dessaline’s would not have you in his regiment.Whenever they were about to go onto the battlefield, he would gather his men and say: “I do not have prisoners”. He was far too elusive and clever a man to be caught by the enemy.


    "His (Rochambeau) arrival at Jacmel was signalized by a horrible crime:

 by his orders, about 100 natives, who were only suspected  of having little zeal for France, were thrown into the hold of a man-of-war,

 the hatchways of which were tightly closed;

the men were then suffocated by the fumes of the ignited sulphur, their corpses being afterward thrown into the sea.”




When both Toussaint and Dessaline’s made strategies they always took into consideration the role that nature would play for example, would it be stormy, sunny, or raining so that they could take advantage of whatever help nature would offer. They did not make strategies based on their own thoughts alone.

As the war raged, on March 2nd 1802, 12,000 French troops encircled 500 Africans in a fort. The French said that the fight would be over within a few minutes. With Dessaline’s at the helm the Africans held them off until March 26th. 300 Africans came out alive; they say the other 200 dead African fighters had smiles on their faces.


A further 10,000 French troops arrived. Under Rochambeau’s leadership, the French forces made gains in early 1803. Heartened by the successful reimposition of slavery in Guadeloupe, Napoleon sent a further 15,000 troops. The fighting was extremely brutal. French troops committed many atrocities in their attempt to bring the island under control and restore slavery. In response, African freedom-fighters killed many whites who had remained in Saint Domingue. Under the fearless leadership of Dessalines, the French are pushed back to Le Cap in October. French soldiers die in droves from the fighting and from yellow fever. With the realisation that a new outbreak of war in Europe would prevent Napoleon from sending further reinforcements to Saint Domingue to relieve the besieged and starving troops, Rochambeau begged for a 10-day truce to allow the evacuation of Le Cap.


                     Letter written by Dessalines

“I promise you I will give you independence,

today we are celebrating one independence,

military independence, all the other independence

have yet to be conquered.”

Emperor Jean Jacques Dessaline’s, March 1802









Next: Independence 1804 [click here]