I recently had a conversation with Dr. Richard Rabinowitz, founder and president of the American History Workshop, about the Haitian coat of arms. We were discussing when it was first created; I checked my records and I couldn’t find any use of it before 1818 (since my original post, I’ve found another document with Henry Christophe’s coat of arms from 1816 – see below). Many sources cite Alexandre Pétion as the creator of the design that features a palm tree topped with a phrygian cap and surrounded by blue and red flags, canons, anchors, and other objects. Laurent Dubois also notes that Pétion included the motto “Unity is our strength” in his version of the coat of arms – the current motto on the flag is “L’Union Fait La Force.” Paul Clammer (@paulclammer) commented on twitter that the Musée du Panthéon Nationale Haïtien (MUPANAH) has a drum from Pétion with the coat of arms painted on the side. I haven’t been able to find a good image of it, though.
A recent article by Philippe Girard (also published in his recent book The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon), however, provides convincing evidence that the coat of arms was used in Saint Domingue before the Haitian Declaration of Independence on 1 January 1804. “Versions of the Haitian coat of arms,” Girard argues, “actually appeared as early as 1790, and its main components are easily recognizable as standard Western allegories of liberty.” “The rest of the coat of arms” he continues, “is nearly identical to the letterhead of the French general Pierre Quantin, who was Dessalines’ direct superior before his defection, so ironically Haiti’s coat of arms most likely originated with a French general who had come with the Leclerc expedition.” Girard also mentioned in an email to me that “we already find the lady liberty/cap/pike motif in coins minted by Toussaint Louverture after he took over Santo Domingo in 1802.” He referenced: Charles Benzaken, “Saint-Domingue: From French Colony to Independent Haiti—A Numismatic Iconography,” in Dorigny, The Abolitions of Slavery, 217-224.
This is the image that Girard is referring to (I am very grateful to Philippe for sharing the image with me!):
The early state correspondence and proclamations that I have found don’t have an image or coat of arms as the letterhead. For example, these three from Dessalines at the National Library of Jamaica:
Since my initial post, Philippe Girard emailed me images of two seals under Henry Christophe! He notes that the first from 1810 “is reminiscent of the traditional coat of arms (with fasces and a pike in the middle instead of a lady liberty or a palm tree).”
“The second [seal from Christophe] is clearly modeled on the British crown, except that I suspect a little Vodou flourish on the necklace… my guess is that you have two trends: the French/Republican tradition (Louverture, Leclerc, Pétion, the early Christophe) and the Anglophile/royalist tradition (King Henry).”
I recently remembered that this coat of arms also appears on the Gazette Royale D’Hayti. Here it is:
@KayTiKal shared this image from Medieval & Modern Coin Search Engine with me on twitter! It is an 1817 Haitian coin (the year before Pétion died) with Pétion’s profile on one side and the coat of arms on the other.
The earliest version of the coat of arms that I have found during my research is from 1818 on the letterhead of Jean-Pierre Boyer. So far I have two different versions of the coat of arms under Boyer. The first image below is the one used before 1826 and the second is the one that I see beginning in 1826.
This is an example of the first version of the coat of arms (the word “liberdad” appears because the proclamation was printed in both French and Spanish):
Rather than some version of “Unity is Strength,” this version has the words “Liberty” and “Equality.” Liberty and Equality replaced “Liberté ou la Mort” in the early independence period.
This is the second coat of arms that Boyer used beginning in 1826:
I found another interesting image used on a letter from Boyer’s Secretary of State, Jean C. Imbert. If you mash up this image with Boyer’s coat of arms, the result looks very similar to the 1802 letterhead found by Girard.
If anyone has any other images of early versions of the coat of arms that they’d be willing to share, I’d be grateful!
After my initial post, Erin Zavitz (@erinzavitz) sent me three additional images from the 1840s and 50s! She included this note about the images:
“The images all come from the Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes, 524 PO/B/17. These two are from the 1843 revolutionary government. They remain consistent from 1843 until 1848 (possibly early 1849 too before Faustin Soulouque names himself emperor). The larger appears on proclamations and adresse and the smaller on arrêté and décret.”
“The final image is a new coat designed for Faustin I. He changed the coat to match his imperial style. It comes from 1852.”
Thanks for sending these, Erin! The first image is clearly the same as Boyer’s second version of the coat of arms which suggests that it was in place between 1826 and 1849. It might not have been the only version available, though, since Zavitz’s research highlights that different images might have been used for different texts.
This version is from the Code de procedure civile d’Haïti of 1860, available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)
This version is from James Redpath’s A Guide to Hayti from 1860, available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)
This version is from the official letterhead of Florvil Hyppolite, President of Haiti 1889-1896, available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)
In clicking through older posts, I noticed this 1903 coat of arms from Zavitz’s post 100 Years Later. Erin writes that this issue of Le Soir, from December 31, 1903, was the final installment of a countdown to the centennial celebration of Haiti’s independence. The cover of Le Soir has a tiny coat of arms under the heading.
This version comes from the 1938 Bulletin des lois et actes, available on the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC)
This version is from the 1946 Haitian Constitution, available on the Digital Library of Caribbean (dLOC)
 For example: Laurent Dubois, Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2012), 58; Nancy Toussaint, Haiti, A Different Image: Her Beauty, Her Sorrow, Her History, Her Culture, 121; “Coat of arms of Haiti,” Wikipedia.org, accessed 15 September 2013.
 Dubois, 58.
 Philippe Girard, “Birth of a Nation: The Creation of the Haitian Flag and Haiti’s French Revolutionary Heritage,” Journal of Haitian Studies 15:1-2 (Spring-Fall 2009), 135-150; Philippe Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian War of Independence, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011), 263.
 Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon, 263.
I think the coat of arms reflects many visual elements that were popular during the french revolutionary period (phrygian cap etc.) and that were used in various countries until the 1st quarter of the 19th century. I think the coat of arms of some Central american countries also reflects that. Haitians “tropicalized” this imagery by adding the Royal Palm tree as well as the anchors, maybe to stress the fact that the country is an island ?
Hi! I have a belt buckle for a uniform, has the Haiti motto, but I’m not familiar with the crest… Can I send a pic?