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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Jean-Jacques Dessalines (c.1758-1806), born into slavery and scarred by whip lashings, joined a maroon colony and rose to prominence during the Haitian Revolution. In 1800 he dealt a decisive blow to Toussaint L'Ouverture's opponents in the South led by General André Rigaud, a proponent of revolutionary republicanism. Dessalines's victory over the republicans forced much of Rigaud's army and many of his civilian supporters into exile in France and Cuba. Eventually, a number of Rigaud's exiled troops migrated from Cuba to Louisiana, where they fought under Haitian émigré Captain Joseph Savary in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. In Saint Domingue, Dessalines assumed leadership of the revolution after Toussaint's 1802 capture by the French army. The following year, he drove as many as thirty thousand refugees to Cuba alone. On January 1, 1804, Dessalines declared the new nation's independence and adopted the original pre-Columbian Arawak name of Haiti, meaning "mountainous land."

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