Race and Culture, Religion, Uncategorized

The Many Oaths of Jean-Jacques Dessaline

I doubt anyone here knows of Jean-Jacques Dessaline.

He was the first president of Haiti after the former slave-island had defeated the army of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, who had invaded the island with an army of 40,000 battle-hardened French regulars. They came to retake the island after a slave revolt had ended slavery and established a kind-of democracy under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, a genuinely good man.

General Dessaline, on the other hand, was not.

When the French fleet arrived, knowing they could not defeat the French in open combat, Dessaline and another general, Christophe, set about a guerilla war campaign in the mountains, scorched earth, thinking a jungle campaign that carried into the wet season would kill off the French Army with malaria.

Well, it did, 32,000 casualties of the 40,000 troops sent there, including Bonaparte’s brother-in-law. Toussaint (the good man) was captured and sent to France to die in a prison of pneumonia, for the audacity of comparing himself to Napoleon. Then, when the surviving French departed, Dessaline set loose his army to kill every remaining white man, woman and child on the island. History doesn’t mention the number of “blacks” who also died in this holocaust, but Dessaline, a Creole of mixed blood (they had a ranking system of mixed-blood in Haiti…still do), hated full-blooded Africans almost as much as he did whites.

The backstory affecting American History:

This is little discussed now, but was much discussed back when I was still alive in the late 1940s.

Louisiana, the territory that Thomas Jefferson purchased from Napoleon in 1803, was originally French since Marquette and LaSalle claimed it for Louis XIV in the 1670s. Being broke, as every French ruler before, and after, Louis sold Louisiana to Spain in 1763. Then in 1801 Napoleon secretly bought it back. Not even England knew. Nor the Dutch.

Napoleon’s purpose in trying to reacquire Haiti was to establish a staging area close to America, so as to launch armies from Haiti, to New Orleans, and thence throughout the very weak American states, only from the west and Mississippi River instead of east coast American ports.

Because Generals Dessaline and Christophe turned the French plan at its launching point, at great cost, Bonaparte put a bargain basement price tag on millions of square miles of the Mississippi River (and Missouri River) drainage systems, for 15 million dollars. That’s 828,000 square miles, or 18 cents per square mile.

All because an anti-slavery black mass murdering cutthroat had outwitted a pro-slavery white mass murdering empire builder on a little island in the Caribbean.

“De Lawd, He sho’ do work in mysterious ways.”

“Senye a ap travay nan fason misterye” (Creole)


Cutthroatery aside, historiographers of that period were also aware of Jean-Jacque Dessaline’s colorful use, or misuse, of the Lord’s name. The very good historian, and novelist, a Tory American from Maine, Kenneth Roberts, wrote a trilogy of American Revolution novels 1929-1933, called the Arundel Stories, about a small town in Maine and its association with General Benedict Arnold before he switched sides. His Northwest Passage was about Rogers’ Rangers in the French and Indian War, a classic. I read them all 30-40 years ago. His criticism of the petty politics of the Continental Congress was very believable.

Robert’s last novel, 1947, was Lydia Bailey which detailed both the French invasion of Haiti (above) and the First Barbary War in Libya in 1804. I’m including here the several “oaths” ascribed to Dessaline by Roberts. You might find them blasphemous, or just a little funny, used the same way an Englishman might say “By Queen Bess’ knickers!” or “Godfrey Daniels!”

You decide.

God’s stepmother!

Sacred Mother-in-law of God!

Holy aunt of Christ!

Christ’s sister-in-law!

Jesus and Mary Christ!

Mother and father, and all the brothers and sisters of Jesus!

Stepmother of Christ!

Christ and His 13 black apostles!

God’s grandmother!

Christ’s undershirt!

Great grandchildren of Christ.

Christ’s Fifth cousin!

Grandmother of Jesus!

Christ’s pastry cook!

Christ’s female cousins!


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