Jean-Jacques Dessalines: 1758-1806 - Hero or tyrant?

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Michel Nau_

Jean-Jacques Dessalines: 1758-1806 - Hero or tyrant?

Post by Michel Nau_ » Fri Sep 22, 2006 8:54 am

Map kenbe avek mwen neg ki gen kouraj!!!
Tout lot neg ki pe mouri lib e ki pito mouri kom esklav te met vire do yo koumnye la, nou pa besouyen pe, se desisyon pa youn, viv avek li e mouri avek li!!
!! Bam talon nou e al fe rout nou!!
Neg ki vle mouri lib olye ke yo retounin kom esklav, te met aproche bo kotem.
Nou tout ansamb nap mouri pou libete.
Nou tout ansamb, an nou rele:
Libete ou La mo !!!
Libete ou la mo!!!
Youn lot bagay anko anvan komanse denye batay sa, Fok nou pa kite okinn blan antre andan fo sa !!
Si nap pedi batay sa e ke blan France yo ap antre andan fo a map fout sote nou tout avek tout blan yo !!
There is no going back yo !!!!
Let's go!!!!

October 17 marks the anniversary of the death of nation founder, Dessalines. On that date, almost 200 years ago in 1806, Jean Jacques Dessalines, emperor, father of the Independence would be savagely assassinated. A scant two years before, glorified by the illustrious victories of the Independence, the man was revered as a semi-god, sworn complete obedience, and named governor-for-life. But on that date, he was so hated by all, so despised, so detested that it was seen fit that he died the most horrible and humiliating of deaths. Fearless soldier, formidable general, great strategist, master tactician, visionary, yet ruthless leader, and unforgiving commander, Dessalines remains one of the most revered yet enigmatic characters in Haiti's history.

Even his actual birthplace is a source of controversy. Some sources claimed that he was born in Guinea, West Africa and came to the colony as a young man. However, those sources are so tainted of spite and aversion that their trustworthiness suffer greatly(1). Most trustworthy sources, including Thomas Madiou (2) and Beaubrun Ardouin affirm that he saw light in the North of nowadays-Haiti on a plantation in an area called Cormiers, (today, Cormier), in the hills near the town of Grande Rivière du Nord 25 kms from Cap-Haitien.

That plantation belonged to a french man named Duclos. The young born was given the first name of Jacques. Hence, he will be called Jacques Duclos, as the practice was that slaves took their master's last name. Of Dessalines' mother or father, no one knows for sure, as slaves did not get birth certificates. The only known parent of his is a certain aunt named Victoria Montou, that he called affectionately Toya. During the war, old Victoria Montou fought against the French in the Cahos mountains of the Artibonite region . She would remain in the house of the emperor until her death, June 12, 1805.

Duclos was an especially cruel master. Slaves on his plantation were treated with the utmost severity. Dessalines was strong, courageous, hard working, but very rebellious. He was severely punished for his frequent lapses and his rebellious nature. Dessalines would bear many physical scars reminding him of those days. But foremost, he would keep a vivid memory of those days.The horrors of servitude will sow in him the seeds of a great hatred and distrust towards his masters and later on an implacable resolve to fight servitude and colonialism.

When Jacques attained the age of 30 or so, he would be sold off on the market. He would be bought by a free black man named Dessalines. That man himself had gotten that name from a french engineer named Des Salines with whom he was attached in the past. Hence Jacques Duclos would become Jean Jacques Dessalines. Dessalines's new master was a carpenter and roof maker. He taught his new pupil that trade and treated him with care. For about three years, Dessalines would stay in the service of that master. He would be well treated and repaid his master with courageous work. He was nevertheless at times "antisocial". Of his character his master said: "Il était bon ouvrier, mais mauvais chien" (He was a good worker but was not docile as a dog). After the Independence, the governor-for-life would take his old master in his house and made the highest rank employee at his personal service.

In 1791, though, he would join the slave revolt that would ultimately lead to independence. He followed the example given by the Boukman, Jean François and Biassou, early band leaders. He became a lieutenant in the Army of Jean François. He followed Jean François when he lent his services to the Royal majesty of Spain (3). There, he met Toussaint Bréda later called Louverture (contraction of L'Ouverture: The Opening) who was climbing the ranks and gaining notoriety for his successive brilliant victories against forces far superior to his. When the French Republic proclaimed freedom for all slaves, Dessalines followed Toussaint who rallied to the French flag in order to fight the armies of the Spanish and British crowns.

In a span of five years, Toussaint would utilize brilliant political savvy to play all forces in the colony against each other and eliminate one by one the enemies of Liberty. He had managed to protect freedom for all in the colony, improved the condition of the masses while restoring prosperity ot the colony. By 1801, Toussaint would become the most powerful man of any color in the colony of St-Domingue. As Toussaint's vigorous right arm, Dessalines gained prominence in earning many victories for him. He distinguished himself by his blind obedience and his efficiency: Troops led by Dessalines were the best organized, had the highest morale and were the bravest in combat. They respected and feared their thundering commander whose orders were blindly excuted. These armies were no longer a band of marroons, not a band of disorganized men with machetes, pitchforks and sticks. Toussaint, Dessalines and many others became quite versed in western military strategy and tactics that they supplemented with cunning, originality breaking the mold of conventional combat and knowledge of the terrain. The troops were about as organized as any of the European armies of the time, with infantries, cavalry, and artillery. What they lacked in flashy uniforms, weaponry and standard warfare methodology, they made up for with courage, ingenuity, and bravery.

At the onset of the Civil War (1799-1800) that would oppose Toussaint, and Andre Rigaud, leader of the mostly mulatto faction calling from the South, Dessalines had risen to the ranks of brigadier general. Dessalines won victory after hard fought victory for Toussaint. He solidified the defenses of the Western Department while at the same taking a heavily fortified Jacmel, Petit Goave, Miragoane and Anse a Veau. For his bravery and distinction, Toussaint made him général de division (Army Corps general), and bestowed upon him the greatest distinctions. In 1801, he was chosen to terminate the insurrection of general Moyse, Toussaint's own nephew (4), in the North. He put down his popular uprising in a matter of a few weeks.

By 1801, Toussaint Louverture's power became ultimate. He named himself governor-for-life, and promulgated a constitution without the approval of France. He elevated his black lieutenents to the highest echelons of the colonial army. He made Dessalines commandant of the western department that included the city of Port-Republicain (now, Port-au-Prince). Toussaint had acccumulated so much power and acted with such despotism that in the end he alienated the sympathies of the colonial population. He had lost the support of the masses since the Moyse Affair, and yet never managed to reassure the French Government of his loyalty. First Consul and future emperor Bonaparte estimated that French control on St.Domingue was slipping away and that Citizen Toussaint had gone too far. He decided to send a formidable expeditionary force to bring Toussaint in line and, as a secret mission, to restore slavery in the colony.

The expedition commanded by capitaine-general Victor Emmanuel Leclerc, Bonaparte's own brother-in-law, was 21,000 men strong. Those men were veterans of the greatest victories of the French Republic and were commanded by some of the best generals and admirals in service at the moment. Among those we shall note generals Rochambeau, Boudet, Duga, Hardy, Kerveseau, Desfourneaux, Pamphile de Lacroix, admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, and rear admiral Latouche-Treville. By 1803, total french troops sent at St.Domingue would amount to 55,132 (Thomas Madiou: Histoire D'Haiti Tome III, page 136). Of those troops, less than 1,200 would ever see France again!

The expeditionary force arrived at the colony in late January of the year 1802. At seeing the french troops, many rejoiced that Toussaint would finallly be chastised. Very few understood that in the end, those forces were sent to re-enslave black men and bring color distinction. THe Bulk of the population turned their backs on Toussaint, while most of the colonial army joined the ranks of Leclerc without hardly firing a shot (remember that this was still a French colony, and therefore that the colonial army was before all a French army). Among the ones who fought for Toussaint, Dessalines, as well as Henri Christophe, Maurepas and Lamartiniere.

A month after the campaign began, the forces of Toussaint were losing on all fronts even though they were inflicting heavy casualties on Leclerc's Army. Dessalines, having lost Port-au-Prince, was being beaten into retreat northward towards Toussaint in the Artibonite, while Christophe beaten in the North was now back to back with Toussaint near Gonaives. Meanwhile the brave Maurepas was cut off from Toussaint. [Go Back]

4- General Moyse, Toussaint's nephew became tired of the way Toussaint was protecting France's interests and led a band of peasants into revolt against the governor. As it is, Toussaint was not yet resolved to break totally from France. He imagined at the time some form of protectorate with himself representing the authority of France and at the same time guaranteeing liberty and civil rights for his class. Moyse's insurrection was not only a challenge to his power, but also a litmus test of his allegiance. He chose to sacrifice Moyse to Peace and to the greater good, thereby showing to the French government that he was still their governor. Alas, that decision stroke a decisive blow to Toussaint's power while it did nothing to reassure France of his good intentions. [Go Back]

5- Dessalines and a couple of aides had already left the fort to go after a cache of weapons he had in the mountains, and also to try to incite the laborers of the region to join them.

Michel Nau_

Post by Michel Nau_ » Fri Sep 22, 2006 10:17 am

Dessalines, a man with a vision, and a motivational speaker who brought slaves, black masters, affranchis, mulatoes together for a common cause, freedom and, self-governing country, Haiti.
A ruthless ruler others say!
A Black Caesar!!
So what!
Rayi chyen, men di dan l blan!
If it's what it takes to have the job done, so be it!!

If Dessalines was alive today, what would be his thoughts, about our leaders, and the presence of foreign troops on Haitian soil?

Michel

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