Dessalines Day is commemorated on October 17 every year. In Haiti, the anniversary of Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ death is celebrated with parties, parades, and historic reenactments of his life. It’s a day to remember one of the founding fathers of Haiti who played a pivotal role in the Haitian Revolution, leading to its independence in 1804.
History of Dessalines Day
Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born on a slave plantation in Grande Rivière du Nord, Saint Domingue on September 20, 1758. For years he worked in the sugarcane fields until he joined the slave rebellion led by Jean François Papillon and Georges Biassou in 1791. He became a lieutenant and enlisted to serve Spain’s military forces against the French colony of Saint-Domingue. He met Toussaint Louverture, a military commander who was also born a slave. After the French declared the end of slavery in 1794, they both sided with the French. Fighting both the Spanish and the British who sought to gain control of the profitable colony of Saint Domingue, Dessalines rose to brigadier general by 1799. Louverture established himself as governor-general of Saint Domingue.
In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a French expedition led by General Charles Leclerc to take back the colony. Dessalines successfully defeated the French, though Louverture was overthrown. When Bonaparte moved to reintroduce slavery in 1803, Dessalines together with other black and mixed-race leaders rose in rebellion. Declaring himself as governor-general on January 1, 1804, he expelled the French from Saint Domingue. He proclaimed the independence of the island of Hispaniola and renamed it Haiti. In September of the same year, he was crowned emperor on October 6.
He constituted severe economic and military policies toward the people. He also ordered white inhabitants’ land confiscated and decreed they were unable to own property. He launched a brutal campaign to execute all-white residents on the island. There were between 3,000 and 5,000 victims of all ages. The country’s mulatto elites resisted his autocratic rule and he was assassinated in 1806.
Dessalines Day timeline
Hispaniola, the first European settlement in the western hemisphere, is established in what would become the Dominican Republic.
The Imperial Constitution is released, naming him emperor for life with the power to name his successor.
He is assassinated on the way to quell a revolt under mulatto leader Alexandre Sabès Pétion.
King Charles X agrees to grant Haiti independence, provided they pay 150 million francs in compensation to France.
Nearly 150 years after its independence, Haiti makes the final payment to France.
Dessalines Day FAQs
Where did Dessalines get his name?
His father adopted their surname Duclos from his owner. Dessalines changed his name when he was bought by a free man of color who assigned his last name to Dessalines.
Who colonized Haiti first?
Initially, it was claimed by Spain, which later turned over the western third of the island to France. Before gaining independence, Haiti was known as Saint-Domingue, a French colony.
How old is Haiti?
One of the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere, it’s also the world’s oldest black republic established in 1804. They were recognized by France on April 17, 1825.
How to Observe Dessalines Day
Eat joumou soup
Only French colonial masters were able to enjoy this pumpkin soup, once prepared by slaves. Dessalines was the first ruler of an independent Haiti, so today it’s possible to savor the taste of freedom with joumou soup.
Join a parade
Parades are just one of the many patriotic events that you can take part in. Look for Dessalines Day activities in your area and show your support by joining in.
Remember both his victories and cruelties
His ruling methods were severe, but it can’t be denied that he had the independence of Haiti in mind all along. Create awareness about his achievements by posting them online.
5 Fun Facts About Haiti
There’s a UNESCO-recognized soup
Joumou Soup is cited by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Voodoo is an official religion
It’s an important part of their culture and the only country that recognizes voodoo this way.
This law doesn’t require you to be a resident, so you can visit to get an offshore divorce.
The biggest solar-powered hospital
The Hospital Universitaire De Mirebalais was built after the 2010 earthquake.
There’s only one public university
The University of Haiti is considered one of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
Why Dessalines Day is Important
It reminds Haitians of their history
Citizens who cherish their country’s history are bound to not take the rights and liberties they have at present for granted. We love celebrating the history of a great nation.
It gives people hope
Your past doesn’t have to determine your future. This day celebrates one man’s humble beginnings to his transformation as a central figure in banishing slavery in his country.
It was a time of ‘firsts’
Haiti was the first country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery as well as become the first black republic. Celebrate a day of “firsts” with us!
Dessalines Day dates