Dessalines Day in Haiti Date in the current year: September 20, 2024

Dessalines Day in Haiti Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the creator and first ruler of the Empire of Haiti, is so respected by his nation that there are two public holidays dedicated to him: Dessalines Day (September 20) and the death anniversary of Dessalines (October 17).

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who ruled Haiti as Emperor Jacques I from 1804 to 1806, is considered one of the most prominent figures in the history of Haiti. Haitians often refer to him as the father of the nation. Although he was by no means a perfect ruler, Dessalines was the person who led Haiti to its independence from France and permanently abolished slavery.

Dessalines was born on September 20, 1758 on a sugar plantation near Grande-Rivière-du-Nord. His birth last name was Duclos, which his father had adopted from his owner. At the age of about 30, Jean-Jacques Duclos was purchased by a free man of color and was assigned a new last name, Dessalines.

In 1791, Dessalines became one of thousands of slaves who joined the slave rebellion in Plaine-du-Nord led by George Biassou and Jean-François Papillon. The rebellion was the event that kick-started the Haitian Revolution and eventually led to the independence of Haiti and establishment of the First Haitian Empire.

During the rebellion, Dessalines met Toussaint Louverture, a rising military commander who was fighting alongside the Spanish against the French, and joined him in his fight. The primary goal of Louverture and Dessalines was to end slavery, so when France abolished slavery following the French Revolution, they switched sides and began to fight for the French Republic.

In 1802, Dessalines switched sides again and rejoined the fight against France for Haitian independence, quickly becoming the leader of the revolution. After over a year of fighting, the French colonial army admitted defeat, making the Haitian Revolution the only slave rebellion to result in the establishment of an independent nation.

On January 1, 1804, Dessalines officially declared the independence of Haiti and named himself Governor-General-for-life. On September 1804, his generals proclaimed Dessalines Emperor Jacques I. The 1805 Haitian Constitution named him emperor for life.

As emperor, Dessalines took quite drastic measures to preserve the country’s independence. He ordered the massacre of the remaining white population of Haiti, which resulted in the deaths of several thousand people, and enforced a harsh labor regimen on plantations in order to support the economy after the abolition of slavery.

As a result, several members of the emperor’s administration grew disillusioned with Dessallines and conspired to overthrow him. On October 17, 1806, Dessalines was assassinated near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Shortly after his death, the country split in two: a kingdom in the north and a republic in the south.

For a long time, the only public holiday honoring Dessalines was his death anniversary (Mort de Dessalines). However, in 2020, President Jovenel Moïse issued a decree declaring September 20 – Dessalines’s birth anniversary – a new public holiday named Dessalines Day (Jour de Dessalines). So now Haitians commemorate the late emperor twice in the span of less then a month.

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Dessalines Day in Haiti, public holidays, holidays in Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haitian Revolution