The True Hero of Haiti

In Haiti you have to be careful which founding father you admire. The average Haitian will think first of Toussaint Louverture when talking about their island’s revolt against France in the late 18th century, and about the original idea of a full-fledged Black republic: Toussaint the stable, the intense, the military genius, courageous, careful. But for others, the real hero of the revolution is Jean-Jacques Dessalines, or Papa Dessalines, who is said to have connived with the French to remove Toussaint from power.

Once France had exiled Toussaint, Dessalines turned on the French, rejecting their ‘peace’ and authority. He prosecuted the revolution to its bloody end, but without the restraint that Toussaint had often demanded from his fighters. Koupe tet, boule kay was Dessalines’s slogan: cut off their heads and burn down their houses. It was Dessalines who finally routed Napoleon, forcing the French to abandon their richest West Indian colony and, by extension, Louisiana. Yet the story of Toussaint Louverture is the one that has captured the world’s imagination, because from the top of the Black military structure he put his thoughts, plans and demands down on paper, unlike Dessalines.

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