Biography of Jean Jacques Dessalines (ca. 1758-1806)

Revolutionary and Haitian politician, born about 1758 in West Africa and died in 1806. Of Haiti proclaimed himself emperor in 1804, since he retained until his death.

Taken as a slave to the French portion of Santo Domingo, he began working as a bracero in one of the large farms of a white settler, from whom it took its name. In 1791 he left the plantation, after killing its owner, to join the rebellion of slaves sublevada under the ideological influence of the French Revolution. The situation in the colony had become unbearable because of the great differences between social groups. A clearing in the forest of the Cayman met with two hundred slaves, led by the slave originally from Jamaica Bruckman, and who after a Voodoo ceremony, ordered to start a rebellion against their masters. The Group carried out a series of attacks on the properties of the white settlers, the mulatto Freedmen and the French authorities. Dessalines was soon his great tactical and military capacity. In 1793 he was forced into exile in the Spanish part of the island, from where he returned when approved the decree that granted freedom to all who help the French Republic to expel the Spanish and British island. The actions of Dessalines were fundamental for the defeat of the first in 1795 and 1798 seconds. For these actions his group had joined the black leader Toussaint Louverture, who appointed him as his Lieutenant.

To turn off the rebellion Toussaint was proclaimed Governor general of the colony by the French Government, and Dessalines received the grade of general of Brigade and the command of the Gonaïves district, but despite this the rebel leaders proclaimed the independence of the colony in 1801. The men of Toussaint and Dessalines controlled almost the entire colony, but the French responded with the shipment of 22,000 soldiers under the command of general Charles Leclerc, with a mission to restore the French sovereignty. Dessalines continued the struggle against the French and the white settlers, but it was encircled in the Fort of the Crete-à-Pierrot by French soldiers. When his victory was imminent, E'lecrerc offered an amnesty to rebels who abandon weapons, Dessalines accepted the proposal and left Toussaint, who continued the fight to be taken prisoner. Napoleon announced his intention to restore slavery, this decision, together with the increase of repression against Blacks and mulattos who had fought against the French in 1803, resulted in Dessalines to return to take up arms.

The support of the English, who were at war with France, was instrumental in defeating the French troops, which had been decimated by an epidemic of yellow fever. October 11 Dessalines troops entered Port-au-Prince, and on 19 November was conquered the last bastion of the French resistance, the strength of Cap Haitien, which was led by the Viscount of Rochambeau. Dessalines declared independence from the French colony on January 1, 1804, returned to its indigenous name, Haiti, and proclaimed as independent Republic. It was named by his followers for life Governor. Haiti became thus the first country of independent of black America. Their first actions were aimed at the consolidation of independence and to prevent the return of the French: raised an economic and administrative re-organization of the country; increased the number of soldiers; He projected an agrarian reform, and confiscated all his properties to whites. The confiscated plantations were declared public possessions. Every citizen should be Trooper or farmer, and forced the latter to be assigned to a property.

In October 1804 proclaimed himself in Gonaives for life Emperor of Haiti, with the name of Jean Jacques I, e a dictatorial regime. Dessalines declared war on whites into their territory and swore exterminated them, forcing the majority of the settlers to take refuge in the United States. In retaliation for atrocities committed by E'lecrerc during the war, he decreed the death of 3,000 whites, who still remained in Haiti. The French occupied the eastern part of the island, which by the Treaty of Basel, in 1795, Spain had ceded to France. The Emperor failed in all their attempts to conquer the colony of Santo Domingo. In 1805 he approved a Constitution that established a military Government. It is advocated equality before the law, non-retroactivity of the same and that all the cults would be respected. Prohibiting that whites would have properties, as it reflected article 12 that prohibiting any white, anyone who was their nationality, set foot in Haiti if they had any title to property. Article 20 of the Constitution ranked Dessalines as Avenger and Libertador.

He declared that marriage was a purely civil ceremony that had to be authorized by the Government. To put an end to the differences between blacks and mulattoes, sometimes settled with weapons, established that all Haitians would be called black. However, despite having abolished slavery, the conditions for workers on the plantations were very hard, in some cases chains and physical strength were still using. Mulattos, who were the owners of large plantations, tried to knock Dessalines and setting in place the General Alexander know Petion. This is allied with one of the lieutenants of the Emperor Henri Christophe, who was against the atrocities of the regime. The troops of both military Dessalines caught in an ambush in Sacmel on October 17, 1806, in which killed him, his body was ripped apart and the pieces thrown in a ditch.


FRANCO, j. L.: History of the Haitian revolution. (Havana: Academy of Sciences, 1966).

NICHOLLS, D.: From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti. (London: 1979).

PATTEE, r., Jean-Jacques Dessalines, founder of Haiti. (Madrid: 1936).

Life of J.J. Dessalines. (Mexico: Miguel Ángel Porrúa, 1983).