Jean-Jacques Dessalines - Great Man of History

Jean-Jacques Dessalines - Great Man of History

 

Sept 1758- Oct 1806

  

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the 1805 constitution. Under Dessalines, Haiti became the first country in the Americas to permanently abolish slavery. Initially regarded as governor-general, Dessalines was later named Emperor Jacques I of Haiti (1804–1806) by the Generals of the Haitian Revolution Army. He is the founding father of Haiti.

Dessalines served as an officer in the French army, when the colony was fending off Spanish and British incursions. Later he rose to become a commander in the revolt against France. As Toussaint Louverture's principal lieutenant, he led many successful engagements, including the Battle of Crête-à-Pierrot. 

After the capture of Toussaint Louverture in 1802, Dessalines became the leader of the revolution. He defeated a French army at the Battle of Vertières in 1803. Declaring Haiti an independent nation in 1804, Dessalines was chosen by a council of generals to assume the office of governor-general. He ordered the 1804 Haiti massacre of French settlers in Haiti, resulting in the deaths of between 3,000 and 5,000 people, but declared that all other whites such as the Polish Haitians could remain in the new country. In September 1804, he was proclaimed emperor by the Generals of the Haitian Revolution Army and ruled in that capacity until being assassinated in 1806.

The Revolution

In 1791, along with thousands of other enslaved persons, Jean-Jacques Dessalines joined the slave rebellion of the northern plains led by Jean François Papillon and Georges Biassou. This rebellion was the first action of what would become the Haitian Revolution. Dessalines became a lieutenant in Papillon's army and followed him to Santo Domingo, where he enlisted to serve Spain's military forces against the French colony of Saint-Domingue.

It was then that Dessalines met the rising military commander Toussaint Bréda (later known as Toussaint Louverture), a mature man also born into slavery, who was fighting with Spanish forces on Hispaniola. These men wanted above all to defeat slavery. In 1794, Toussaint Louverture switched allegiances to the French. He fought for the French Republic against both the Spanish and British. Dessalines followed, becoming a chief lieutenant to Toussaint Louverture and rising to the rank of brigadier general by 1799.

Dessalines commanded many successful engagements, including the captures of JacmelPetit-GoâveMiragoâne and Anse-à-Veau. In 1801, Dessalines quickly ended an insurrection in the north led by Louverture's own nephew, General Moyse. Dessalines gained a reputation for his "take no prisoners" policy, and for burning homes and entire villages to the ground.

The rebellious slaves were able to restore most of Saint-Domingue to France, with Louverture in control and finally appointed by the French as governor general of the colony. Louverture wanted Saint-Domingue to have more autonomy. He directed the creation of a new constitution to establish that, as well as rules for how the colony would operate under freedom. He also named himself governor-for-life.

The French responded by dispatching an expeditionary force to restore French rule to the island, an army and ships led by General Charles Leclerc. Louverture and Dessalines fought against the invading French forces, with Dessalines defeating them at the battle for which he is most famous, Crête-à-Pierrot.

During the 11 March 1802 battle, Dessalines and his 1,300 men defended a small fort against 18,000 attackers. To motivate his troops at the start of the battle, he waved a lit torch near an open powder keg and declared that he would blow the fort up should the French break through. The defenders inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking army, but after a 20-day siege they were forced to abandon the fort due to a shortage of food and munitions. Nonetheless, the rebels were able to force their way through the enemy lines and into the Cahos Mountains, with their army still largely intact.

The French soldiers under Leclerc were accompanied by mulatto troops led by Alexandre Pétion and André Rigaud from Saint-Domingue. Pétion and Rigaud, both sons of wealthy with white fathers, had opposed Louverture's leadership. They had tried to establish separate independence in the South of Saint-Domingue, an area where wealthy mulattos were concentrated in plantations. Toussaint Louverture's forces had defeated them three years earlier. between the light

Pétion switched sides in October 1802, to oppose the French. By November 1802, Dessalines had become the leader of the alliance between the light skinned free coloreds{mulatto}Led by Alexandre Pétion, and the black slaves. 

The brutal tactics of Rochambeau, helped to distabalize rebel forces.Dessalines, the leader of the Revolution after Toussaint's capture on 7 June 1802, commanded the rebel forces against the French army. His forces achieved a series of victories against the French, culminating in the last major battle of the revolution, the Battle of Vertières. On 18 November 1803, black and mulatto forces under Dessalines and Pétion attacked the fort of Vertières, held by Rochambeau, near Cap-Haitien in the north. Rochambeau and his troops surrendered the next day. On 4 December 1803, the French colonial army of Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered its last remaining territory to Dessalines' forces. This officially ended the only slave rebellion in world history which successfully resulted in establishing an independent nation.

In the process, Dessalines became arguably the most successful military commander in the struggle against Napoleonic France. Dessalines then promulgated the Declaration of Independence in 1804, and declared himself emperor.


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