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

Henri Christophe – The Executor

October 6, 1767 - October 8, 1820


Beginning with the slave uprising of 1791, Christophe distinguished himself in the Haitian Revolution and quickly rose to be an officer. He fought for years with Toussaint L’Ouverture in the north, helping defeat the Spanish, British and finally French national troops. By 1802 he was a general under Toussaint L’Ouverture.


Christophe originally from Grenda, came from the town of Jacmel in Haiti. He was the type of man that loved to travel. Christophe could not be fooled, for he studied the weaknesses of his enemies having worked, lived, and travelled amongst them. At the age of sixteen he bought his own freedom, he had an eye for business and as a young man would engage in many business endevaours such as purchasing property including an hotel. This would serve him well in the future when he would one day become the King of Haiti.


With Dessaline’s mission accomplished the torch of leadership was passed to Henri Christophe. He executed all the plans that his predecessor, Dessaline’s had laid out. However with the death of Dessaline’s power struggles began to strain the country. Political instability and distrust ensued, Christophe was ruling as king in the north, Petion who murdered Dessaline’s, ruled as president at Port au Prince, Rigaud in the south, and a semi-brigand, Goman, in the extreme southwest. Soon rulership was narrowed down to two persons who had both fought alongside Dessaline’s. In 1807 Alexandre Petion (1770-1818) ruled as president over the Republic of southern Haiti, whilst Henri Christophe ruled as King over northern Haiti respectively. From the outset both leaders were ideologically opposed to each other. Petion believed in French culture, whilst Christophe wanted to continue the vision of Boukman, Dessaline’s and the majority of the people. And also most paramount, to continue the relationship between the leadership and the people.





A church in Cap Haiten built by Christophe. 

 It was whilst attending a service here that he became infirm.

Haitian historical enemies also still kept a watchful eye on the country. Britain now began to intrigue for a protectorate over the island and the Spanish end of the island threatened attack. These difficulties were overcome, but at a cost of great internal strain.


The main person to emerge and carry on the vision of the people was Henri Christophe. In 1811, Christophe created the Haitian currency called the gourd currency. He established cordial relationships with the leading powers of the day. For example he was inspired by the arts, music and construction of Italy. For finances he had his own coins minted in Britain (see image below).






As part of his legacy King Henri I built over 300 castles and fortresses. He built his San Souci Palace (fashioned after that of Frederick the Great, of Prussia) and his Citadelle La Ferriere, near Cap Haitien. He also built the famous citadel within eleven years, which could house over 20,000 people and withstand a siege for over a year. His Royal Dohoments, personal bodyguards numbered 4,000. They were recruited in Africa, thus only loyal to him. Like his predecessor Dessaline’s, Christophe modelled the Haitian constitution after African culture.




The famous Citadele built by King Henri Christophe

Not only that, but he established key institutions. Under his leadership good laws were enacted. It is said that he put into place the first social security system in the Americas. For example he established a law that said: if one worked for an employee for over twenty years, and became infirm or sick, then the employer was duty bound to give the employee the means to survive until death. He was met with stiff opposition from employers and the newspapers. They believed that he was instituting a new type of slavery - putting employers into slavery. He also said that any woman who gave birth to a fatherless child, then the state would take on the responsibility of the father. If you were a man who had a baby and the mother passed away, then the state would be the mother of the child. He built over 700 schools and created a law to say that all children have to go to school. Should any child be found on the street during school time, they would be taken home. Parents would be given a stern warning that should the child be seen again loitering on the street during school time, the government would step in and take the child away.



Palace Sans Soucci was built by King Henri for his wife, Queen Marie-Louise. Several earthquake have destroyd much of the palace

Under Christophe’s leadership, hospitals were built. As a lover of education he created the school of astronomy, the school of mathematics, the school of music and the school of languages. He once said, “the language that you have been enslaved into is not the right language for freedom.” The schools taught several languages. Christophe had a vision that one day Haitians would choose a language befitting their cultural setting. He is remembered as a great constructor, a man of vision and pride. It is said, Christophe wrote the independence of Haiti in stone.


He was married to Queen Marie-Louise. Together they had 4 children.  Like Empress Félicité, his wife encouraged the Kings sense of justice and fairness.


Taken with sickness and infirmity at the infirm of age fifty-three, the King thought himself unfit to rule the country. He said that Haiti deserved better. After careful planning and ensuring that all of Haiti's debt's and business contracts were completed, on October 8th 1820, King Henri took his life with a silver bullet. His wife had asked to be with him, but he was adamant that he would take his life alone. King Henri Christophe was a man of great vision and an excellent business man, and many skills. He was also loyal to Dessalines and ensured that the plans of the Emperor were fully executed. It was King Henri I that has shown Haiti the best government ever, its greatest moment of prosperity.


This is a short version of the story of the people of Haiti. Many thanks to Dr Clive Harris and Professor Bayyinah Bello who's works on Haiti has enabled us to compile this short history series.



If you would like to learn more about Haitian history [click here]