Jean Jacques Dessalines, was born in a sugarcane plantation in the Grande Riviere du Nord from enslaved African parents whose country of birth place are still unknown. The only early family members he had that history has kept, is his aunt whom he called Mantou and, two brothers: Louis and Joseph. At age 30 he escaped and joined the Haitian revolution although illiterate he quickly learned to read and the art of Combat. He was so great he was introduced to another Great African warrior Toussaint L’Ouverture where he became his second in command.
Jean Jacques Dessalines was a fearless soldier, a formidable general, great strategist, master tactician, ruthless leader and unforgiving commander. Dessalines quickly gained great reputation for the many successful engagements he commanded, but he acquired most of his reputation for the “Take no prisoners policy” he came up with. This policy consisted of burning entire plantations to the ground and cutting the head of all the French. To make sure that all French were killed, he ordered the summary execution of all Europeans, the only exceptions were women, children, priests, teachers and doctors. ” Haiti must be cleansed of every French taint” he said.
Dessalines was one, if not, the most ferocious leader in Haiti’s history, he was to the extreme; he had a Warriors heart and spirit. Nearly all european historians have labeled him as a blood thirsty monster who delighted in the sufferings of Europeans. In a bloody battle near Cap-Français, (now Cap Haitien), Rochambeau, a French General, took 500 hundred blacks and executed them all the same day, each with a gunshot in the head; Dessalines hearing of this, captured one thousand white French soldiers, brought them to within the sight of the French and hung them all up. Pamphile de la Croix, in a letter sent to France, said: “Dessalines is one of the most ferocious human beings ever born…” Dessalines made his victims endured the most excruciating tortures and the most horrible deaths.
He used to bury his victims alive, impaling them upright on bayonets; his own specialty which came to be known simply as Baionettes; and shooting the more fortunate. While there is absolutely no deny of the ferocity of Dessalines, a ferocity which even Toussaint L’Ouverture didn’t like at all. Toussaint once said to Dessalines: ” I said to prune the tree, not to uproot it.” Toussaint was alway in favor of peaceful settlement of disputes, always doing his best to prevent bloodshed. Toussaint, although ordered the killings sometimes, wanted to keep his hand, reputation and conscious clean. After the capture and deportation of Toussaint L’Ouverture by the French General Leclerc on May 5th, 1802; Dessalines assumed the post of Commander in Chief of the Haitian Army.
The shift of power was immediately felt by both the French and the Haitian soldiers. He deemed that the war was now a revolution for total independence rather than colonization with emancipation, like Toussaint wanted. No more diplomacy. “Liberty or death; to renounce forever to France, and to die rather than to live under its domination.”