Jean-Jacques Dessalines

The surviving character descriptions and images of Jean-Jacques Dessalines differ drastically but most tend to portray him in a negative light. In recent years, however, a more complicated picture is beginning to emerge of Dessalines as a person, a military general, and a political leader. “Best known for his military brilliance and his violence against French planters in the wake of independence,” Laurent Dubois argues, “he deserves as much attention for his rhetorical and ideological interventions as well as his determined and skillful diplomatic negotiations with foreign powers.”[1] Foreign observers were not usually kind in their descriptions of him and they emphasized his alleged ferocity and his illiteracy. Deborah Jenson has recently argued that we need to rethink the claims that Dessalines was born in Saint-Domingue since the earliest first-person accounts all describe him as “Bossale” or “African.”[2] There is still a great deal to be learned about Dessalines and I am hopeful that Madison Smartt Bell’s forthcoming biography will help fill in some of the gaps.

Here, I am attempting to collect as many images of Dessalines as possible (and will arrange them in chronological order) to see if any kind of patter emerges. Please send images or links to images if you have them! (I am sure that there are more than the ones below – I couldn’t find source information for some of the images floating around online).

Dubroca, Leben des J.J. Dessalines, oder, Jacob's des Ersten Kaysers von Hayti (St. Domingo), 1804. (German translation).
Dubroca, Leben des J.J. Dessalines, oder, Jacob’s des Ersten Kaysers von Hayti (St. Domingo), 1804. (German translation).

Dubroca, Het Leven van Jean Jacques Dessalines, Opperhoofd der Opgestane negers van St. Domingo, 1805.
Dubroca, Het Leven van Jean Jacques Dessalines, Opperhoofd der Opgestane negers van St. Domingo, 1805. (Dutch translation).

Dubroca, Vida de J.J. Dessalines, gefe de los negros de Santo Domingo, 1806. (Spanish translation):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

19th century sculpture, unknown artist, The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
19th century sculpture, unknown artist, The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

 

Tabby McIntosh commented below and linked to this amazing sculpture of Dessalines at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich! Thanks!

 

 

Normil Charles, The Statue to Dessalines on the Champ de Mars, Port-au-Prince, 1904. Photograph by Sir Harry Johnston, c. 1908-09. First published in Sir Harry Johnston, The Negro in the New World (London: 1910); reprinted unattributed, Statue of Dessalines, Erected 1904 in Anonymous, "Wards of the United States: Notes on What Our Country is Doing for Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, and Haiti," National Geographic Magazine 30 (August 1916): 173. Photograph available through the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Normil Charles, The Statue to Dessalines on the Champ de Mars, Port-au-Prince, 1904. Photograph by Sir Harry Johnston, c. 1908-09. First published in Sir Harry Johnston, The Negro in the New World (London: 1910); reprinted unattributed, Statue of Dessalines, Erected 1904 in Anonymous, “Wards of the United States: Notes on What Our Country is Doing for Santo Domingo, Nicaragua, and Haiti,” National Geographic Magazine 30 (August 1916): 173. Photograph available through the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lindsay J. Twa’s article “Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between,” reproduced this image of a statue of Dessalines from 1904. It was erected first in Port-au-Prince and then moved to Gonaives. Thanks to Greg Pierrot for commenting below and linking to the image!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIRCA 1945, Jean Jacques Dessalines.
CIRCA 1945, Jean Jacques Dessalines.
CIRCA 1954, Jean Jacques Dessalines.
CIRCA 1954, Jean Jacques Dessalines.

 

Picture 11Greg Pierrot commented below and shared a link to this mural. We haven’t found any information about the artist or the location of the mural in Port-au-Prince – does anyone have any additional information? Thanks, Greg!

An update, courtesy of Greg: the source information for the mural is, according to Lindsay J. Twa: “Anonymous, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), from series: Heros de l’independence d’Haiti (1804-1806), painting in the National Palace, Port-au-Prince. Published through Haitian tourist bureau, special issue: “Tricinquantenaire de l’Indépendance d’Haïti,” Formes et Couleurs 12.1 (1954). W. E. B. Du Bois Collection, Special Collections Fisk University, Nashville.”

clip from Madsen Mompremier, Dessalines Ripping the White from the Flag, 1995.
clip from Madsen Mompremier, Dessalines Ripping the White from the Flag, 1995.

[1] Laurent Dubois, “Dessalines Toro d’Haïti,” The William and Mary Quarterly, (2012) 69(3): 543.
[2] Deborah Jenson, “Sources and Interpretations: Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the African Character of the Haitian Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly, (2012) 69(3):

19 Comments on “Jean-Jacques Dessalines

    • Yes, I saw that one online but since I couldn’t find source information, I didn’t post it. I didn’t know it was a mural – amazing!

  1. Wow! This is amazing! Also frustrating that they don’t have any information about the artist.
    Thank you!

  2. The particular nature of Dessalines portraits produced for the domestic market in the early 1840s: Candler, Brief Notices of Hayti. 1842, p163:

    We visited the store-shop of an artist, to look over his collection of views of the city and port, which we found very hard and meagre; some copied portraits interested us greatly — Petion, Christophe, Dessalines, and others. That of Dessalines, in his scarlet uniform, we should suppose, from his known character, to be true to the original, fierce, ignorant, and cruel — the picture of a chief, who, as the Haytiens say of him, “never spared a man in his anger,” and who was remorseless in all his doings.

    • Thanks, Tabby! This is great! It’s interesting that “fierce, ignorant, and cruel” become physical descriptions!

  3. So as I was roaming around, something struck me that seems particularly obvious in the way you organized images:the statue, the Stewart engraving, the stamps and the mural are fairly clearly all derived from each other. The cocked hat worn like so, the three feathers, the collar and the laurel wreaths on the lapels suggest so much. As far as I can tell, the oldest artifact among them is the statue. It makes me wonder if an earlier image of him did not circulate that somehow is not quite in the record.

  4. Oh, and Lindsay J. Twa in “Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Demon, Demigod, and Everything in Between,” has this information about the mural: “Anonymous, General Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758-1806), from series: Heros de l’independence d’Haiti (1804-1806), painting in the National Palace, Port-au-Prince. Published through Haitian tourist bureau, special issue: “Tricinquantenaire de l’Indépendance d’Haïti,” Formes et Couleurs 12.1 (1954). W. E. B. Du Bois Collection, Special Collections Fisk University, Nashville. ”
    Her article also mentions a Dessalines statue by Normil Charles erected in Port-au-Prince in 1904, and later moved to the Gonaives town hall, which again evokes the same bust of Dessalines (I think you can see even though the photo is taken from afar). The 1953 statue was made after the mural, apparently.
    A link to her article:
    http://www.rc.umd.edu/praxis/circulations/HTML/praxis.2011.twa.html

    • Thanks, Greg! I’ve updated the post! I agree that the late 19th-20th c. images all seem to be similar… Hopefully you’ll be able to find the original image and then the mystery will be solved!

  5. You don’t seem to have the 1870s Louis Rigaud oil paintings attained by the Smithsonian in 1885 and now at the Peabody. Clearly identical to the mural. Thought this was particularly fascinating in terms of the proliferation of reproducible and mutually reinforcing grammar of Dessalines images: ‘at least some of these paintings seem to have possibly begun as images that were transferred to the canvas photo-mechanically and then covered with paint.’

    http://news.yale.edu/2012/11/05/behind-surface-19th-century-haitian-paintings-provide-link-past

    • I’ve never been able to find out very much about Dabouze. However, some of his signed pieces include his address, which was Ave. Stenio Vincent in Jeremie. I think he continued turning these out until well into the 1950s.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: