Haitian History | Haiti 1804 - 2004
Jean Jacques Dessalines
c.1758-1806, emperor of Haiti (1804-6), born a slave. A shrewd general, he served under Toussaint L'Ouverture in the wars that liberated Haiti. His barbaric cruelty against the mulattoes whom Toussaint was unable to control led to a bitter struggle with the mulatto leaders André Rigaud and Alexandre Pétion. In 1802 Dessalines fought brilliantly against the French, whose forces were led by Gen. Charles Leclerc, earning the nickname of the Tiger. After the decimation of the French army by yellow fever and the capture of Toussaint, he revolted and overwhelmed the invaders in 1803. Independence was declared Jan. 1, 1804, at Gonaïves and Dessalines was chosen governor for life. Later, attempting to emulate Napoleon, he had himself crowned emperor as Jacques I in an ostentatious ceremony. In attempting to reorganize the nation's shattered economy, the ambitious emperor instituted drastic measures, such as forced labor, and accompanied them with despotic and cruel acts. He was subsequently ambushed and killed; Henri Christophe succeeded him in power.