Jean Jacques Dessalines' Last Ride
Jean Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian Revolution to victory at the Battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803, resulting in the first and only successful slave revolution. On January 1, 1804, he boldly declared, “Liberty or Death,” and proclaimed Ayiti’s independence creating the first Black Republic and the only government run by former slaves in human history.
He has been villainized by many for saying, “Leave nothing white behind you,” but it must be recognized and remembered that this was in response to Napoleon’s order to kill every black man, woman, and child over the age of 10. Napoleon’s goal was to “uproot the seed of the revolution” once and for all, What must be understood is it is impossible to uproot the seed of liberty planted in the spirit of humanity.
Dessalines was a man willing to do whatever it took to overcome the universal struggle for freedom and ensure that there would never be another human enslaved in the newly formed Republic of Haiti. In truth, his goal was not to kill every white person but to expel by whatever means necessary the remaining French settlers and collaborators. Many white people who supported the Haitian revolution, such as the Polish, remained in the country unharmed. He took this one step further and radically declared every citizen to be black in Haiti’s first constitution, making blackness no longer the standard for oppression and bondage, but the basis of liberty and equality.
After securing Haiti’s independence, he was declared Governor-General, and later named Emperor, Jacques I of Haiti. The new country was under great pressure, unrecognized by the great powers of the time, and prevented from the exportation of goods. Dessalines’ response was to rule with an iron fist and institute a system of forced labor sadly not much different from slavery. Yet, in 1806, he made his heart for the people clear when he declared, “Je veux que les biens de la nation soient équitablement partagés.”
Unfortunately, the ruling class, mostly mixed-race people, had become the “new Masters” and were unwilling to relinquish their power or share their prosperity and the call for “equitable distribution” led to Dessalines’ untimely demise. On October 17, 1806, he was violently murdered and dismembered by his own Generals, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion.
This was the first coup in Haitian history, followed by many more coups, in the centuries to come. Ultimately, what led to the assassination of Dessalines, is at the heart of the Haitian struggle today – a global culture which in spite of many social advances still resists the actualization of a stable and prosperous Black Republic, the continued international exploitation and geo-political control of Haiti’s resources, and a greedy elite (the 5%).
As we commemorate the death of one of the great leaders of the Haitian Revolution, let us remember these words, “We have dared to be free. Let us be so by ourselves and for ourselves,” and unify to empower the people of Haiti, as they continue their fight for liberty and equality for all.
1804REPUBLIC® is more than simply a clothing company; it is a brand working to be a vanguard for social justice. Our mission is to inform and empower the global community to continue the fight for economic freedom and educational equality for all humanity – from every walk of life no matter the hue of their skin.
Featured artwork courtesy of Philippe Attie
Also in DID YOU KNOW?
Haitian artist and professor of Sculpture at the National School of Arts (ENARTS), Caymitte Woodly (Filipo), chose to use his talent and immortalize George Floyd, whose death has awakened the world to the rampant existence of police brutality and a broken and unjust system, by creating a sculpture of him – a timeless reminder of “a man who once lived, but has died under police brutality.”
No matter how many times “the establishment” cuts down the trunk of the tree, the eternal roots of Liberty, Equality, and Solidarity will spring forth in the hearts and wills of humanity until this system has been broken and Social and Racial Justice are achieved. We have called for Reform time and time again – our voices seeming to echo across the void of Injustice. Without Reform, we are left with only one solution- Revolution!
Featured artwork courtesy of Caymitte Woodly (Filipo)