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#3478: 1825 History of Dessalines from American Missionary Register

>From Bob Corbett:

I recently acquired this fascinating history of the rule of Jean Jacques
Dessalines in Haiti.  It is an 1825 periodical called the American
Missionary Register.  I present it here in full, but it can be found
on my web site at:




                   VOL. VI, NO. 10

                    Pages 292-297

[Bob Corbett notes:] I was only able to acquire this one issue. In it 
there is a series which is unsigned but says it is to be a history of 
Haiti. This segment is on Jean Jacques Dessalines.

   Declaration of Independence. -- Dessalines appointed Governor-general 
for life, with the power to enact laws, to make peace and war, and to
                                                    nominate his successor.

On the first day of the year 1804, soon after the evacuation of the 
island by the French, the generals and chiefs of the army, in the name, 
of the people of Hayti
signed a formal declaration of independence, and took a solemn oath to 
renounce France forever, pledging themselves to each other, to their 
posterity, and to the
universe, to die rather than submit again to her dominion. At the time, 
they appointed Jean Jacques Dessalines governor-general for life with 
power to enact laws, to
make peace and war, and to nominate his successor.

         Negroes from the United States invited to Hayti.

One of the first acts of Dessalines was to encourage the return of 
negroes and mulattoes from the United States of America. In the early 
commotions, many wealthy
planters had quitted the island and gone to the continent, taking with 
them a number of their slaves, whom the want of funds to support their 
former establishment
had afterward obliged them to abandon: others had voluntarily emigrated 
thither at different periods, and many of both classes were now in 
circumstances of
distress, without the means of returning to their country. Dessalines 
published a proclamation, offering to the captains of American vessels 
the sum of forty dollars
for each individual native or black man of colour, whom they should 
convey back to Hayti. The general character of Dessalines will hardly 
permit this measure to be
considered as the result of pure humanity. It seems to have originated in 
a wish to recruit his army, and to restore his exhausted male population. 

          Proclamation of Dessalines against the French.

Through on the evacuation of Cape Francois, the French inhabitants had 
leave and opportunity to depart with their armed countrymen, the 
insecurity of any attempt
to remove their money and other moveable effects, determined almost all 
of them to remain behind. Seeing the British squadron cruising off the 
harbour, and
knowing that whatever property they should embark would be captured and 
condemned as prize, they thought it better to stay, trusting to the faith 
and mercy of
Dessalines, than to depart without the means of subsistence. Former 
experience of the mildness and humanity of the blacks, inspired a hope of 
forgiveness and good
treatment, notwithstanding the remembrance of recent circumstances, which 
might seem to preclude all expectation of mercy from that insulted and 
injured people. 

The astonishing forbearance Toussaint, and of all who had served under 
him, encouraged a persuasion that their humanity, was not to be wearied 
out by any
provocation. All the white inhabitants who had been carried off as 
hostages by Christophe, on his retreat from Cape Francois, had returned 
in safety, when the
peace was made with le Clerc: and it was known that, during the whole 
time of their absence, they had been well treated by Toussaint and his 
followers; though the
French, during that period, were refusing quarter to the negroes in the 
field, and murdering in cold blood all whom they took prisoners. But 
Toussaint was now no
more and Dessalines was of a very different disposition. 

Whatever were the secret intentions of this sanguinary chief, when he was 
promising protection and security to these unfortunate people, but few 
weeks elapsed
before he evidently contemplated their destruction. Just after his 
appointment to the office of governor for life, he published a most 
inflammatory proclamation,
stating the enormous crimes of the French, and urging his countrymen to 

"It is not enough," says he. "to have driven from our country the 
barbarians who for ages have stained it with blood: it is not enough to 
have repressed the successive
factions which, by turns, sported with a phantom of liberty which France 
placed before their eyes. It is become necessary to ensure, by a last act 
of national
authority, the permanent empire of liberty in the country which has given 
us birth. It is necessary to deprive all inhuman government which has 
hitherto held our
minds in a state of most humiliating torpor, of every hope of enslaving 
us again. Those generals who have conducted your struggles against 
tyranny have not yet
done. The French name still darkens our plains: ever thing reminds us of 
the cruelties of that barbarous people. Our laws, our customs, our towns, 
every thing bears
the impression of France. -- What do- I say? There still remain Frenchmen 
in our island. Victims for fourteen years of our own credulity and 
conquered not by French armies, but by the artful eloquence of the 
proclamations of their agents! When shall we be tired of breathing the 
same air with them? What
have we in common with that bloody-minded people? Their cruelties 
compared to our moderation -- their colour to ours -- the extension of 
seas which separate us
- our avenging climate - all plainly tell us they are not our brethren; 
that they never will become so; and it they find an asylum among us, they 
will still be the
instigators of troubles and divisions. Citizens, men, women, young and 
old, cast round your eyes on every part of this island; seek there your 
wives, your husbands,
your brothers, your sisters, what did I say? seek your children -- your 
children at the breast, what is become of them? Instead of those 
interesting victims, the
affrighted eye sees only the assassins -- tigers still covered with their 
blood, and whose frightful presence upbraids you with your sensibility, 
and your slowness to
avenge them. Why do you delay to appease their names? Do you hope that 
your remains can rest in peace by the side of your fathers, unless you 
shall have made
tyranny to disappear? Will you descend into their tombs without having 
avenged them? Their bones would repulse yours. And ye, invaluable men, 
intrepid generals,
who, insensible to private sufferings, have given new life to liberty by 
lavishing your blood; know, that you have done nothing unless you give to 
the nations a
terrible, though just example, of the vengeance that ought to be 
exercised by a brave people who have recovered their liberty and are 
determined to maintain it. Let
us intimidate those who would dare to attempt depriving us of it again: 
let us begin the French; let them shudder at approaching our shores, if 
not on account of the
cruelties they have committed, at least at the terrible resolution we are 
about to make -- To devote to death whatever native of France dares to 
soil with his
sacrilegious footstep this land of liberty." 

              Cruelty of Dessalines. -- Massacre of the French. 

In the month of February, Dessalines issued another proclamation, but so 
strongly were the people, and the army in general, disposed to moderation 
and clemency,
that all his instigations, sufficient as they seem to have excited a 
popular massacre, wholly failed of producing that effect. -- Having for 
some time laboured in vain to
make the people at large the instruments of his sanguinary purpose, he at 
length determined to accomplish it by a military execution. The various 
towns where any
French inhabitants remained, were successively visited by him, and those 
unhappy people, with certain exceptions, were put to /the sword, under 
his personal
orders and inspection, by the troops whom he appointed to this horrible 

The work of blood was perpetrated most systematically, in exact obedience 
to the cruel mandate of the chief. Precautions were adopted to prevent 
any other
foreigners from being involved in the fate of the French. In Cape 
Francois, where the tragedy took place on the night of the 20th of April, 
lest from mistake or some
other cause any of the American merchants should be molested, a strong 
guard was sent in the evening to each of their houses, with orders not to 
suffer any
individual to enter, not even one of the black generals, without the 
consent of the master, who was apprized of these orders that he might be 
under no
apprehensions for his own safety. These orders were so punctually obeyed, 
that one of those privileged individuals who had given shelter to some 
Frenchmen was
able to protect them to the last. 

The French priests, and surgeons, and others who during the war had 
manifested humanity to the negroes, were spared, to the amount of about 
one-tenth part of
the whole number. The massacre, in other respects, was indiscriminate. 
Neither age nor sex was regarded. The personal security enjoyed by the 
Americans did not
prevent them form feeling it a night of horrors. At short intervals they 
heard the pick-axe thundering at the door of some devoted neighbor, and 
soon forcing it,
piercing shrieks almost immediately ensued, and these were followed by an 
expressive silence. The next minute the military party were heard 
proceeding to some
other house to renew their work of death. 

There was one act in this tragedy which stamps the conduct of Dessalines 
with the character of most flagitious perfidy, as well as cruelty. A 
proclamation was
published in the newspaper, stating that the vengeance due to the crimes 
of the French had been sufficiently executed, and inviting all who had 
escaped the massacre
to appear on the parade and receive tickets of protection, after which, 
it was declared, they might depend on perfect security. As the massacre 
had been expected,
many hundreds had contrived to secrete themselves; most of whom now came 
forth from their hiding-places, and appeared on the parade. But instead 
of receiving
the promised ticket's of protection, they were instantly led away to the 
place of execution and shot. The rivulet which runs through the town of 
Cape Francois was
literally red with their blood. 

The vindictive, measures of the chief were far from being generally 
applauded, even by his brethren in arms. The disapprobation of Christophe 
was well known,
though a regard to his own safety restrained him from any open 
opposition. Telemaque, and another officer, expressed their horror at 
such scenes, and were
punished by being compelled to hang, with their own hands, two Frenchmen 
then in the fort. The military execution, with all its enormity, must be 
imputed to
Dessalines alone. In an address "to the inhabitants of Hayti," with the 
publication of which he concluded the month of April, he ostentatiously 
claimed the procedure
as his own, gloried in his superiority to the vulgar feelings which would 
have opposed such severity, and evidently laboured to reconcile his 
followers to his
sanguinary conduct by insisting upon its justice and necessity; at the 
same time affecting to contrast his system with that of the mild and 
humane Toussaint, charging
him with a want of firmness at least, if not of faithfulness, and warning 
his own successors against following the same conciliatory plan. 

   Dessalines invades the Spanish part of the Island -- but without success. 

A small detachment of French troops still retained possession of the city 
of St. Domingo; add the Spanish inhabitants of the eastern part of the 
island, who, until
evacuation of Cape Francois, had acknowledged the new government, had 
since, under the influence of their priests, withdrawn their promised 
obedience, and
espoused the cause of the French. The first objects which engaged the 
attention of Dessalines, after the massacre in the month of April, were 
the subjugation of the
Spaniards, and the expulsion of the French from the last of their strong 
holds. He determined also on proceeding all round the coast, to examine 
every station, and
enforce, where it should be necessary, all the regulations he had 

On the 14th of May, Dessalines set out from Cape Francois, by the way of 
the Mole, Port Paix, and Gonaives, employing himself at the different 
places in repairing
the injuries of war, and settling every thing that required his 
interference and authority. After going through the western and northern 
provinces, he proceeded on his
march to the Spanish part of the island, with a confidence of success 
which no circumstances warranted his entertaining. His recent cruelty, 
notwithstanding the
attempt in his proclamation to prevent its being turned to his prejudice 
with these Spaniards, could not but have inspired them with horror; and 
they were not, like
Europeans, inferior from the influence of the climate. They were chiefly 
descendants of negroes, and a mixture of the African race, and their 
numbers, according to
the best accounts, at the time of Toussaint's conquest of their country, 
were above a hundred thousand free persons, and about fifteen thousand 
slaves. The species
of slavery there was so mild that the subjects of it were generally and 
strongly attached to their masters; and both masters and slaves inherited 
a national prejudice
against all the inhabitants of the other part of the island. 

Dessalines laid siege to the city of St. Domingo, which appears to have 
made a more vigorous resistance than he anticipated. He would probably 
halve persevered
in the attempt, but the arrival of a French squadron with a reinforcement 
of troops leaving him little hope of a speedy conquest, he raised the 
siege, and matched
back again without having accomplished either of the objects of his 

      Dessalines takes the title of Emperor.

The return of Dessalines from his expedition to the Spanish part of the 
island was soon followed by his exchange of the title of governor for 
that of emperor; and on
the 8th of October, he was crowned with of great pomp. The imperial 
dignity, and its investment in the person of Dessalines were further 
recognized and confirmed
by a new constitution for the island, which was promulgated on the 8 of 
May, in the following year.

            Outline of the Constitution

[Corbett notes: Full text of the Constitution of 1805 is available
on my web site at:]


[Missionary story continues:]

The preamble of this constitution, which purported to have been framed by 
twenty-three men, who professed to have been legally appointed by the 
people as their
representatives, decreed the erection of the empire of Hayti into a free, 
sovereign and independent state; the abolition of slavery forever; the 
equality of ranks; the
equal operation of laws; the inviolability of property; the loss of 
citizenship by emigration; and the suspension of' it by bankruptcy; the 
exclusion of all white men, of
whatever nation, from acquiring property of any kind, excepting only such 
whites as had been naturalized, and their children. 

The empire of Hayti, one and indivisible, was divided into six military 
divisions, with a general over each, who was to be 'independent of the 
others, and to
correspond with the head of the government. The government was vested in 
a first magistrate, to be called Emperor and Commander-in-chief of the 
Army: and
JEAN JACQUES DESSALINES, "the avenger and deliverer of his 
fellow-citizens," was appointed to this office. "The title of Majesty" 
was conferred upon him, as
well as upon "his august spouse, the Empress." Their persons were 
declared inviolable, and the crown elective; but the emperor was 
empowered to nominate his
successor, for whom a suitable provision was to be made. An annual income 
was to be assigned to the empress for life; and " to the children 
acknowledged by his
majesty;" and his sons were to pass successively from rank to rank in the 
army. The emperor was to make, seal, and promulgate the laws; to appoint 
and remove at
his pleasure all public functionaries; to direct the receipt and 
expenditure of the state, together with the coinage; to make peace or 
war; to form treaties; to distribute
at pleasure, the armed force; and to have the sole power of absolving 
criminals or commuting their punishment. The generals of division and 
brigade were to
compose the council of state. 

No predominant religion was admitted. Freedom of worship was tolerated. 
The state was not to provide for the maintenance of any religious 

     Condition of the people, agriculture, population, etc.

The condition and treatment of the cultivators were the same as under the 
system of Toussaint. They worked for wages which were fixed at one-fourth 
the produce.
Provisions of all kinds were abundant. There were no whips, not even for 
punishment. Idleness was treated as a crime, but was, only punished by 
They worked in general very regularly and contentedly, about two-thirds 
as-much as in the days of slavery. lt was expected that they should work 
on the estates to
which they had been formerly attached; but if they had any plausible 
reason for changing, the commissary, or commanding officer of the 
district, gave them leave.
Most of the estates were in the hands of the government, as confiscated, 
but were let at an annual rent.

The sugar plantations having been mostly destroyed, and the necessary 
works, and buildings for its manufacture not having been rebuilt, very 
little sugar was made.
The chief produce was, coffee; the crop of 1805 exceeded thirty millions 
of pounds, which would load about fifty ordinary ships. There was also in 
the island a
considerable quantity of mahogany and other valuable timber.

In a census, taken in 1805, of the inhabitants of the part of the island 
under the government of Dessalines, the returns were about 380,000; of 
these the adult mates
constituted a very small proportion. The slaughter had fallen chiefly 
upon them. The majority of cultivators were women. Marriage, solemnized 
according to the rites
of the Roman church, was almost universal and its duties were in general 
well observed. 

There was a sufficient number of priests, not only from the French clergy 
who remained and were spared in the massacre, but from a considerable 
supply of
Spanish ecclesiastics, who had been brought, or induced to migrate, from 
the other divisions of the island, to render the celebration of religion 
very general. On all
public days, as well as Sundays, prayers or mass began and ended the 
solemnities of the day. Whether from policy or any better motive, 
Dessalines protected the
clergy, and paid a decorous attention to the exterior forms of the 
church. All children were, brought to the font; and such religion as 
popery amounts to was an
object of public and general interest. 

Considerable attention was paid to the subject of education. Schools were 
established in almost every disquiet. Seeing the ascendancy of those who 
had been
educated the negroes were exceedingly anxious for the instruction of 
their children; and the young Haytians were very generally taught to read 
and write. 

   Plan of defense against invasion.

The plan for defending their liberty and lives in the event of another 
invasion, had been deliberately settled by Dessalines and the other. 
chiefs, and the requisite
preparations were made for carrying it into execution. On the first 
appearance of an invasion force,. the towns which were all on the coast 
were to be destroyed
and the negro army to retreat to forts built in very strong positions in 
the interior of the country. The position's they had chosen were well 
selected and strongly
fortified. The artillery of the Cape, which consisted chiefly of brass 
cannon, and was in great abundance, had been removed to these hill forts, 
where great
magazines of ammunition were also collected. The sides of the hills, and 
ravines, connecting them, were all cleared and planted with bananas, 
plantains, yams, and
other native provisions, which flourish so much and were so quickly 
reproduced, that they calculated on the garrison's being subsisted 
without foraging beyond the
reach of their guns. Many of the hills were of a conical form, with an 
agreeable ascent, on the summit of which the forts were constructed, so 
as to sweep the sides
to the utmost range of cannon-shot, and as they believed, to make it 
impossible for an enemy to cut off their communication with these native 
magazines. These
positions were also well supplied with water.

       Character and Death of Dessalines. 

Dessalines, at the time of the insurrection in 1791, was slave to a 
negro, who lived to see him become his sovereign. He was short in 
stature, but strongly made; of
great activity and undaunted courage. His military talents were thought 
superior to those of Toussaint; but in general capacity he was very 
inferior to that ill-fated
chief. He commanded great respect, but it was chiefly by the terror he 
inspired. He could not read, but he employed a reader and used to sit in 
a most attentive
attitude to bear the papers that were read to him. He was distinguished 
by some strange caprices, evidently the effect of personal vanity. He was 
fond of
embroidery and other ornaments, and dressed often with much magnificence, 
at least according to his own taste: yet sometimes he would exhibit him- 
self publicly in
the meanest clothes he could find. But what was still more singular and 
ridiculous, he had a great ambition to become an accomplished dancer, and 
actually carried
about with him a dancing-master in his suite, to give him lessons at 
leisure hours. Nor was it possible to pay him a more acceptable 
compliment than to tell him that
he danced well, though, different from the negroes in general, he was 
very awkward at that exercise. 

He had daughters by a former wife, but no son. His last wife-had been the 
favourite mistress of a rich planter, at whose expense she had been well 
educated. She
was one of the most handsome and accomplished negresses in the West 
Indies; her disposition was highly amiable, and she used her utmost 
endeavours to soften
the natural ferocity of her husband, though unhappily with little 

His cruelties were not confined to the whites. Suspicions and jealousies 
constituted a sufficient inducement to him to deprive of life many of his 
own subjects and
officers, without even the formality of a trial: and every attempt thus 
to terminate danger and suspicion, tending, in the natural order of 
things, only to increase them,
his conduct was at length distinguished by all the caprices and 
atrocities of tyranny. These crimes inevitably suggested projects for 
their counteraction. He was
conspired against by his army, and arrested most unexpectedly at the 
head-quarters, on the 17th of October, 1806, when, in struggling to 
escape, he received a
blow which terminated his tyranny and his life. 

                          [The piece ends here in this issue, but 
indicates it would continue in the next edition.]

Compliments of Bob Corbett