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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Jean Jacques Dessalines

DESSALINES, Jean Jacques, Haitian emperor, born ill Guinea, Africa, ill 1758; died in Haiti, 17 October 1806. He was brought, when young, to Cape Francais (now Cape Haitien), where a French planter purchased him, whose name he subsequently assumed. In 1791 he left his master and joined the insurgent army under Biasson. In the servile war that followed he distinguished himself, and became adjutant general of Jean Francois, the Negro commander. Later he sided with Toussaint L'Ouverture when the latter left his Spanish allies and joined the French. In the campaign that fob lowed, having attained the rank of lieutenant general, he led the forces against the mulatto chief Rigaud. His success, with the promptness and energy evinced in this movement, recommended him to Toussaint, who afterward invariably sent him where the utmost severity was considered necessary. His name spread terror wherever he went, and thousands of mulattoes were slaughtered, drowned, or shot by his orders. At the same time he led a most dissolute life, and enriched himself by extensive robberies perpetrated in the guise of legal confiscations. In 1802 he conducted a guerilla war against General Leclere, who had been sent to Haiti by Napoleon. His obstinate defense of St. Mare against General Bonder was characteristic. When unable to hold the town any longer, he burned it, setting fire to his own palace, and butchered all the white inhabitants of the place, and also those he met with on his retreat. Later he submitted to General Leclerc, after the affair at Crete a Pierrot. Peace having been established, he was made governor of the southern portion of the island, with the rank of general. Here he plunged into the deepest debauchery, but affected much zeal for the French. He treated the vanquished Negroes with the same cruelty that he had shown to the whites, and when Toussaint's nephew h rose against the Frenc , Dessalines cruelly murdered him in cold blood, with 300 of his followers. His loyalty to the French, however, was of short duration, for afterward, when yellow fever attacked the French army, numbering among its victims General Leclerc. Dessalines became commander-in-chief of the Negro forces. General Rochambeau succeeded to the command of the French, and at once adopted retaliatory measures against their insurgents. He tortured to death the Negro general, Maurepas, with his entire family. A terrible retribution was determined upon. Dessalines erected 500 gibbets, and hanged half a regiment of French that he had captured by a bold countermarch. A war of extermination followed, and in December 1803, aided by an English squadron, the French were compelled to evacuate the island. On 1 Jan.. 1804, he was appointed governor general of Haiti for life. For a few months he ruled in a spirit of moderation, and put into force several wise and just measures toward a healthy reorganization of the commonwealth ; but his brutal nature prevailed over his judgment, and shortly afterward he ordered a general massacre of the white residents, who had remained under a promise of protection. In April 1804, he made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the Spanish portion of the island, and after his return became more frantic than ever. He had himself crowned as emperor of Haiti on 8 October 1804, in imitation of Napoleon, under title of" Jean Jacques I.," and proclaimed a new constitution, which concentrated all real power in his own hands. Subsequently his extravagance deranged the finances, his dissoluteness corrupted the morals of all classes, his cruelty increased, and he put to death every one against whom he was suspicious. His despotism soon caused an insurrection, and in 1806, while endeavoring to repress it, he fell into an ambuscade, and was assassinated by two of his officers, Christopher and Petion, of whom the former became president of Haiti. In a slender and hideous frame Dessalines united the wildest passions of the ferocious savage with extraordinary shrewdness, an undeniable keenness of judgment, and a clear statesmanlike knowledge of the men and things with whom he had to deal. However abominable his character may appear, it is nevertheless true that he understood the means of accomplishing the independence of Haiti better than even Toussaint himself. He left Haiti a ruined and desolate, though independent, state. See "Vie de J. J. Dessalines," by Louis Dubroca.

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