Dessalines’ Death: What Really Happened At Pont Rouge?

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Michel Nau_

Dessalines' Death: What Really Happened At Pont Rouge?

Post by Michel Nau_ » Fri Sep 22, 2006 9:47 am

The Conspirators against Dessalines

Christophe knew that Dessalines disapproved of his inclusion of both white and mulatto advisors in the group of administrators that he had formed at Le Cap and with whom he discussed events in the world outside and the future of his own troubled country, using their learning and experience to supplement his own lack of education.

In August he sent a schooner laden with flour to the principal ports of the West and the South, ostensibly to barter its cargo for sugar and coffee. But besides flour the schooner carried one of his confidential agents, Bruno Blanchet, who had conversations at Jérémie with General Férou, at Les Cayes with General Geffrard, and, on the return journey, at Port-au-Prince with General Pétion. The talks were secret, their purpose obscure -- a tentative sounding of the generals' attitude towards the emperor.

All of them were suspicious, none went further than agreeing that he was not entirely satisfied with the existing government. If Christophe intended recruiting allies in a plot against Dessalines, the attempt was a failure.

Rumour of Christophe's criticism reached Dessalines' ears, and in September he ordered his adjutant, Captain Dupuy, to summon him to Marchand where, he announced, he intended to kill him as soon as he arrived. This was no meaningless phrase, he had before now plunged a dagger into a man while talking to him, and his guards were trained to cut a man down instantly if the emperor fingered his snuffbox in a certain way.
Dupuy, having obtained Dessalines' signature to the order, very courageously scribbled on a scrap of paper "Reply that you are sick" and folded this into the letter before handing it to the trooper of the Imperial Guides who took it to Le Cap. Christophe did as he had been advised, and the emperor forgot the whole affair, turning his wrath against Pétion and Geffrard instead.

He recognized Pétion intelligence and influence with his caste and planned to gain his allegiance by marrying him to one of his many illegitimate children, a young woman named Célimène. The proposal put Pétion in a quandry: he was attached to a woman with whom he was already living and by whom he had recently had a daughter, and he had been told that Célimène had already been the mistress of one of Toussaint's nephews.
After much hesitation he asked to be excused the honour. Dessalines believing that he had rejected Célimène because she was a Negress never forgave him.

Geffrard he suspected partly because he commanded the south, traditionally a mulatto stronghold, and partly because he had shown signs of resentment when Dessalines had sent him a harsh rebuke by month of a junior officer. He now became convinced that Pétion and Geffrard were plotting to bring Rigaud back to displace him, and during the second anniversary ball at the Imperial Palace at Marchand on January 1, 1806, he left left the festivities and went to his study, where he summoned Christophe, Christophe's former lieutenant, General Paul Romain, and Colonel Pierre Toussaint, governor of the Saint-Marc district.
To them he declared his conviction that Pétion and Geffrard were planning to proclaim Rigaud ruler of Haiti, in the interests of France. He proposed that the two mulatto generals should be murdered that night.

The situation was difficult. Still heated by his capering at the ball, the emperor was likely to fly into a rage if crossed; on the other hand, Christophe had no desire to see him begin a purge which might not stop until thousands had been smelled out and sacrificed, and which could precipitate an explosion in which Rigaud and the mulattos might well return to power. He suggested that the time might not be ripe; that both generals seemed to have strong backing from the troops and civil population of their provinces; that it might be advisable, in order to avoid the possibility of civil war, to keep them under surveillance and wait for proof.
Romain and Toussaint expressed the same opinion and Dessalines, after staring at them for several seconds, hurried out of the room and back to the dance floor, where he resumed his cavortings.

Both Christophe and Pierre Toussaint sent a word of warning to Pétion and Geffrard, and the two mulattos asked for an audience, in which they complained that the emperor was treating them coldly.
When Dessalines poured out his misgivings about their relationship with Rigaud, they replied that they had never dreamed of supplanting the emperor. Dessalines at last assured them that his trust in them was unchanged -- which was true, since he had none -- and they returned to the West and South in an atmosphere of uneasy peace, determined to canvas support among their subordinate officers.

Dessalines played into their hands with a series of unpopular measures that culminated in a bad-tempered tour of the South during the course of which he stirred up more fear and hatred. Geffrard died suddenly in may and word went round that he had been poisoned by the emperor.

Dessalines denied this -- "when God took Geffrard he was in more of a hurry than I was" -- but he had Geffrard's papers impounded, seeking criminal correspondence with Christophe, against whom his distrust had now turned once more. Captain Dupuy, who conducted the investigation, assured the emperor that he had found nothing, whereupon Dessalines lost himself once more in the pleasures of the dance and the embrace of his mistress of the moment, Euphémie Daguilh.

The period of quiet was brief. he ran out of money and discovered that it was no longer flowing into the treasury as freely as before. he summoned to Les Cayes an accountant whom he had already used to investigate irregularities in the public finances of the West province and ordered him to hold a similar inquiry in the South.
The news struck terror into the hearts of the prominent citizens of the region, for almost all of them had paid their taxes by promissory notes which they had no intention of honouring.

Dessalines left Les Cayes on September 8 after ordering the local garrisons to search every ship coming into their ports and, if they found André Rigaud, to "chop off his head" on the spot. He was passing through one of his periods of hysteria, suspecting everybody, talking interminably of blood and destruction.
The mother of one of the officers of his personal guard having offended him, he ordered the son to have her beaten in public. Hearing of a quarrel between two members of his staff he ordered them to fight a duel to the death; he attended to see that his orders were carried out and forced them to fire shot after shot until, after twelve exchanges, one of them fell mortally wounded.
It was almost with pleasure that he received news on October 15 he declared with eager anticipation: "I will have my horse walk in blood up to his breastplate."
Leaving General Vernet, the finance member, in command at Marchand and sending a warning note to Christophe, he set off with his staff and personal bodyguard.

Two battalions of the 4th demi-brigade were to follow him. He reached L'Arcahaye the next day and ordered three companies to light infantry and three of grenadiers from the 3rd demi-brigade to set out at once for Port-au-Prince, nearly thirty miles away.

They were not to enter the town but to halt by the Saint Martin plantation at the Pont-Rouge, so called because of its red painted guard rails.
It was Dessalines intention to leave L'Arcahaye in the morning, ride down to Pont-Rouge, where the infantrymen would be rested from the previous day's march, and lead them into Port-au-Prince, impressing any potential rebels among the citizens with this display of force, before continuing to the South with reinforcements from the Port-au-Prince garrison.

What he did not know was that the revolt had spread up from Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince and that Pétion and other generals of the West Province were already in league with those of the South.
Equally ignorant were Colonel Thomas Jean and Major Gédéon, who commanded the six companies of grenadiers and chasseurs. Perhaps because of anxiety not to be overtaken by the emperor, the march discipline of their men was deplorable; they hurried along in disorganized batches, the senior officers riding at the rear to round up the stragglers.
As the soldiers trotted forward, the field hands came to the side of the road and shouted slogans of liberty, reproaching them for serving the tyrant Dessalines.

At Pont-Rouge they were met by a group of rebel officers who harangued them and persuaded them not to halt but to continue into the town.
When Thomas Jean and Gédéon rode up to Pont-Rouge they suddenly discovered that they were among strange troops, who arrested them and took them to Pétion. Pétion invited the two officers to join him. Thomas Jean hesitated and was at once marched away under close arrest. Gédéon agreed and was awarded a colonelcy and Thomas Jean's former command. An officer from the 21st demi-brigade of the same build as Gédéon -- a plump man -- was given Gédéon's busby and scarlet trousers and sent to join the troops of the 15th demi-brigade waiting at Pont-Rouge.

(Dessalines, for purposes of morale and deception, had retained the former numbering of the demi-brigades, each of which was in principle composed of 1600 men. In fact, the army was not as large as he pretended -- a piece of information relayed to London by Robert Sutherland, a British trader in Port-au-Prince, who was given a contract to supply the army with buttons and from this was able to calculate that its strength was not more than twenty thousand.)

By five o'clock the following morning -- the hour at which Desalines was to leave L'Arcahaye -- the trap was fully set. it is indicative of the hatred that he had managed to arouse in his subjects that as he rode closer to Port-au-Prince and the number of field hands who had knowledge of the ambush grew greater with every mile, not one of them offered a word or warning.
From a distance he saw the troops drawn up for inspection at the Pont Rouge and in front of them the scarlet-pantalooned, busby-topped corpulent figure of the officer whom he took to be Gédéon.
As he rode unconcernedly forward, he was astonished to hear an aide-de-camp, Colonel Leger, who had served for a time with the 15th demi-brigade, suddenly exclaim:
"But, Sire, these troops are from the South!"

"Impossible!" said Dessalines. "How could they be?"

Concealed behind the bushes at the side of the road were three or four of the rebel generals. it was one of these who now shouted "Halt!" and then, to the troops, "Form a circle!" Men dashed from the undergrowth to block the Arcahaye road, others pressed in from the sides.

Dessalines screamed, "They have betrayed me!"

In the presence of hundreds of mutinous soldiers his fierce courage did not desert him. Raising his riding crop, he began to slash at the upturned faces around him.
Though their officers continued shouted "Open fire!" not one of the men dared to raise his musket. The emperor drew his pistol from the holster and shot one of the soldiers, then wheeled his horse to force his way back up the road. only at this moment did one young soldier summon up enough courage to fire -- not at the terrible person of the emperor, but at his horse.

The animal fell, trapping Dessalines' leg -- and with his cry of "Help!" to his aides the spell was broken. The dreadful figure, human at last, lay thrashing defencelessly on the ground. Within a second it was riddled with bullets. Then the generals hurled themselves on it with dagger-thrusts and sabre-cuts and more pistol shots. the soldiers cut off the fingers to steal the rings and stripped off the clothing for the sake of the gold lace.
The body was dragged for more than a mile into the city, kicked and slashed and stoned by passers-by, and left in the place d'Armes to suffer whatever more indignities came to the minds of the citizens of Port-au-Prince, so suddenly emboldened in the presence of their emperor whose face was no longer recognizable.

He found only one mourner, a Black woman, long insane, named Défilée, who sat on the ground beside him weeping until soldiers came to take him to the city cemetery and bury him without a monument.

For a long time after, she went each day to scatter wild flowers on the grave of the brave monster who had won Haiti her independence.

Source: Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967

Michel Nau_

Post by Michel Nau_ » Fri Sep 22, 2006 10:52 am

All of them were suspicious!!!
Haitian politics, c'est du déjà vue!!
Le même pays,
les mêmes citoyens,
la même politique de rale ko w, se tou pam konnyen la.

Ti neg ak fe komplo ak blan e bay manti kont fre neg paray yo.
Politicians and extremist activists are like diapers, we need to change them for the same reason, they are full of sh!!!t.

Sak bay kou blye !!
Sak pran kou pote mak e sonje !!
Se nan chemin jennin ke yo kenbe chwal malin
Le 4 je kontre manti kaba!!
Nap di de ki prevyen !
Jou sa nap mande Bondye ki sam fe nap peye !!


Michel

Empress Verite

Dessalines

Post by Empress Verite » Sun Oct 01, 2006 2:43 am

Sak Pase Michel?

Thank you for posting this. I have read a bunch of literature about him. I should say that as a Rasta his name has special significance for me because it literally means to take the salt out. That's a good way to help the body heal and deal with diseases like hypertension. I never revered him probably because I am not from the North West. But I have been around folks from Gonaives for whom he is a hero. I have serious problems with those kinds of leaders myself. They seem so picked or plucked by the establishment. It was kinda like MLK or something. That particular person was a charismatic speaker like Aristide but the movement was bigger than just one individual person or man. When we claim him to be the father of the Haitian independence what are we saying really. What about the troops and the marroons who will forever remain invisible in the pages of "his"tory? Those are my ancestors and I am proud of their faith and fight in the struggle too.

Also, I really believe that he was killed because the Southern mixed race leaders primarily Petion never wanted to follow a black semi-literate ex-slave and one who declared himself emperor at that too! I learned since I was in Haiti that Petion had killed him and it was easy to believe because that's how those people are. They're haters and it's funny how now some will appropriate Dessalines and commodify him to validate their revolutionary aims. It's kinda like the way Malcom X has been commodified and appropriated by silly middle class kids.

I had also read in the Black Jacobins that he had eaten a manje monte or poisoned food prior to the attack. Perhaps that disturbed him and confused his senses.

Finally, I have met some folks who claim to be his descendants. I am happy that they are related to such a well known individual. Unfortunately, those people don't like me or my kind. They belong to the Black Afrocentric middle class (like the Noirist Gerard Latortue) and they look down on poor people and those without means. In fact, they would rather make alliances with the light or near white folks regardless of class background. In their view, they have class capital they just need to bleach their skin through intermarriage and the production of mixed children.

So, I mourn Dessaline's death and the violent way in which he was killed. However, I reserve the right to say that I don't think that he would have liked me or my kind and for that matter neither would Toussaint. The black folks from the North West have serious issues with poor black folks who have no connections to whites. And I am one of them

Thanks for the reading.

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Post by admin » Sun Oct 01, 2006 1:08 pm

[quote]That particular person was a charismatic speaker like Aristide but the movement was bigger than just one individual person or man.[/quote]
Empress, I agree with you that Haiti's revolutionary movement was bigger than just one individual person. No hesitation about that! It started well before Dessalines. It started with the first black men and women who resisted their capture and enslavement on the shores of Africa and through the torturous transatlantic passage. Millions more Africans died than Jews in the Holocaust and Russians at the hands of Bonaparte, Stalin, and Hitler. But the great African genocide that established the modern economic order has been downplayed, relatively to other apalling genocides. Yes, the movement started with that spirit of resistance. It continued with "Les Marrons Inconnus" (unnamed or unknown maroons, that is escaped slaves) who joined with the relatively few Indians who survived extermination at the end of the armies of Christian civilization. Dessalines is not referred to as "The Father of Our Nation" because he started anything. He is reverently called that, because he had the incredible will to give focus to the fragmented revolutionary movement and lead it, relentlessly, to one particular objective: the end of slavery, and the coming of a new day where no white man would rule over any black man in Ayiti. What we have done with that legacy is a different matter, but the radical influence and determination of Dessalines in bringing this about is amply documented.

Dessalines forged a powerful alliance with Petion, and so united blacks and mulattoes, slaves and affranchis, in a coalition of men and women who would destroy anything "white" standing in the way of their freedom (but one should also remember that he richly rewarded the Polish faction of the Napoleonic army who defected and subjected themselves to Dessalines's command to defeat the White French Special Mission Re-Enslavement Armies of Napoleon, Leclerc, Rochambeau and their enthusiastic supporters).

I had not even heard before the claim that Dessalines was "a charismatic speaker" like Aristide. I think that this might be an unintended slur to the memory of the man. Dessalines was above all a do-er, not a speak-er.

By the way, much too much has been made of Aristide's oratory abilities, though I used to be mesmerized by his fiery speeches as a parish priest at St. Jean Boco Church, due to their incredibly audacious tone of confrontation facing the murderous Duvalierists and their equally murderous Haitian Army and U.S. Government enablers. But purely as a apeaker, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was someone who made me cringe in my seat more than he ever enthused me. I hated it when he spoke of fake love and fake marriage between the the Army and the people. I hated it when he pretended to speak in eight languages or more. I hated it when he opted to speak in paraboles instead of telling his followers the plain truths as he saw them. I hated all that doublespeak and triplespeak. A good speaker makes his points in all simplicity, and that was not the hallmark of Aristide. But I did admire his audacity and extreme will to rid the nation of Duvalierism. What we have done with that legacy is a different matter, but the radical influence and determination of Aristide in bringing this about is also amply documented.

It is absolutely no wonder why Dessalines has been so much hated throughout History, mostly by White people but by White-influenced colored folks as well, because he was uniquely identified as the man most responsible for upsetting the social order of his time. It is also no wonder that Aristide has been so much hated in modern times too, because he attempted to upset the social order of his day, as a priest and in the early years of his political leadership. What happened in the time that followed those early years is much more debatable, at least in my personal point of view. But I would not take the comparison between Aristide and Dessalines much further, because that would lead us to too many pitfalls and fallacies. Aristide is not Dessalines and Dessalines is not Aristide. But they have shared the unique characteristic of generating "irrational hatred" as well as "blind allegiance with no dissent allowed".

Which one of the two was the better speaker? I do not know, but I certainly hope that Dessalines was.

[quote]Also, I really believe that he was killed because the Southern mixed race leaders primarily Petion never wanted to follow a black semi-literate ex-slave and one who declared himself emperor at that too! I learned since I was in Haiti that Petion had killed him and it was easy to believe because that's how those people are. They're haters...[/quote]
Well, just because it is easy to believe does not necessarily make it true. It may be too easy for the average Haitian to believe that Petion ordered the assassination of Dessalines, but I had rather be offered the hard historical evidence. The fact of the matter is that many Haitian leaders, black as charcoal and light as albino, hated Dessalines, not for having led them to independence, but for his uses and misuses of power. Which one of them delivered the fatal blow? Who was THE intellectual leader of the coup? I think that on this 200th anniversary of Dessalines's assassination, we should at least reflect on this and search for the historical truth instead of believing the first person who tells us that Henri Christophe did this or Petion did that, without the least amount of evidence to back up their assertions. You should always remember that many people have invested in sowing divisiveness among us, Haitians of all complexions. Let's put a stop to it. If it is said that X killed Y, let's find out if it were truly X that killed Y, not just because we have heard it from so and so. Furthermore, if X killed Y, it does not logically follow that the complexion of X killed the complexion of Y. Let's stop spreading the hate, folks. Otherwise, we will be doing the work of our own worst enemies.

[quote]Finally, I have met some folks who claim to be his descendants.[/quote]
Hey, I could claim to be the descendant of Jesus Christ or the brothers of Jesus. Can you prove otherwise? I could also claim to be the direct descendant of Toussaint or Caonabo, or to be a distant cousin of Alex Hailey, Martin Luther King or Malcom X. Could anyone of you prove that I am wrong? The way that men spread their spermatozoids all around them, in every willing receptacle (if not through rape, unfortunately), who in the world knows who is and who is not related to any other person????? Being a descendant of Toussaint or Dessalines is of no particular relevance to me, and I may just be one of those descendants. In fact, mathematically, I think that the odds of anyone among us being a direct descendant of Dessalines is pretty significant. So what does all of that mean?

[quote]Unfortunately, those people don't like me or my kind. They belong to the Black Afrocentric middle class (like the Noirist Gerard Latortue) and they look down on poor people and those without means. In fact, they would rather make alliances with the light or near white folks regardless of class background. In their view, they have class capital they just need to bleach their skin through intermarriage and the production of mixed children.[/quote]
Empress, please resist the generalizations. They are not fact based and will induce you in error. I guarantee you.

[quote]So, I mourn Dessaline's death and the violent way in which he was killed. However, I reserve the right to say that I don't think that he would have liked me or my kind and for that matter neither would Toussaint.[/quote]
Empress, I think that there is the distinct possibility that you may be perfectly wrong in those feelings.


Let's honor the memory of our ancestors for what they have bequeathed to us, not for their failings. It's up to us to build on their legacy and achieve a better world than the one we were born in, several generations later.

Michel Nau_

Post by Michel Nau_ » Mon Oct 02, 2006 1:13 pm

Empress Verite wrote:[quote]Also, I really believe that he was killed because the Southern mixed race leaders primarily Petion never wanted to follow a black semi-literate ex-slave and one who declared himself emperor at that too! I learned since I was in Haiti that Petion had killed him and it was easy to believe because that's how those people are. They're haters... [/quote]

I agree with Guy who wrote: [quote]Dessalines forged a powerful alliance with Petion, and so united blacks and mulattoes, slaves and affranchis, in a coalition of men and women [/quote]
Amongst the 23 signatories of the Declaration of Haiti Independence, 19 of them were mulattoes. "Dessalines had earned those men's respect not just because he was a hard commander, but because he fought with more bravery and fearlessness than any, and has been able to convince all sectors that Leclerc was there to bring back slavery and restore cast distinctions".

We haven't been able to find a leader that has the charisma of this man.

Guy wrote:[quote]It is absolutely no wonder why Dessalines has been so much hated throughout History, mostly by White people but by White-influenced colored folks as well, because he was uniquely identified as the man most responsible for upsetting the social order of his time.[/quote]
This is a very strong statement Guy, so deep that it goes to the core of the American Civilization, and had a trickle down effect up to these days, and many years to come.
But let's stay local here Guy. Dessalines was well respected by his peers, but he was hated by the petit soldiers because of his management style.
Dessalines was as revered by his soldiers as he was feared.
And this affair of “Koupe tet Brile kay” was misinterpreted by a lot of historians those days.
They literally painted him as a butcher.
When in fact, it was just an expression at that time that means in our days “a zero tolerance style”.
Dessalines was tough not only on white people who were still living in the country, but also on black who started being lazy after our independence.
One morning, he noticed some men nonchalantly grouped around cannon.
He asked Magny:
"what are those men doing over there?"
Magny responded”
That's a cannon, general sir, that we are moving to this opening overlooking the town". "
Such slowness! It will be noon and those men would not be finished"
With that, he started showing some impatience and reached for his cane.
In no time, as if by magic, the piece had reached its destination.
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 executed.
These armies were no longer a band of marroons, not a band of disorganized men with machetes, pitchforks and sticks.
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.


Guy wrote: [quote]In fact, mathematically, I think that the odds of anyone among us being a direct descendant of Dessalines is pretty significant. So what does all of that mean? [/quote]
That's true!! For more than 500 years, we have been living in a small island. One needs to do some geological research, and could see that almost all Haitians are connected.
Si nou pran youn ti tan pou nou pale avek youn ak lot san joure, san gade ras ak koule, Pitit anndan, pitit deho, nou tout se menm nan!!

My ancestors fought during the independence war, and worked under Dessalines and Petion administrations. One of them married Marie Claire Heureuse who later became Empress when she married Jean Jacques Dessalines.

Mwen pa plis Ayisyen pase peson. Nou tout se menm.

Ann Pale San Joure!!!!!

Michel

Michel Nau_

Post by Michel Nau_ » Mon Oct 02, 2006 4:47 pm

Correction:
I just received an email telling me that one of my ancestors did not marry Marie Claire Heureuse, but both were born in the same city of Leogane.

Sorry about that!!

Michel

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Post by admin » Mon Oct 02, 2006 5:16 pm

But perhaps they were romantically linked prior to her marriage to the Emperor? In this case, watch out, man! Dessalines may not have known about this until now. The wrath of the Emperor is legendary, and you may be made to pay for the indiscretions of your ancestor.

Children will suffer for the sins of their fathers. This has been the way of the Biblical God since Adam and Eve's original sin. May Dessalines be more merciful to you.

Sorry for the digression... Let's go back to the serious side of this topic.


NEG LEOGAN!! VEYE YO!

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