- Richard Watts
Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born to Congolese parents on a plantation in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known prior to independence). He was given the name of the plantation owner, Duclos, before adopting the name of the freed black landowner, Dessalines, who purchased his services as a slave. Unlike his future comrade-in-arms, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines was treated harshly as a slave and joined the ranks of maroons (runaway slaves) at a young age. In 1792 he became a partisan of the slave uprising led by Boukman, a slave of Jamaican origin, and impressed his compatriots with his courage. Yet Dessalines committed acts of cruelty that frightened some in the rebellion. His capacity for violence would contribute in equal measure to his precipitous rise and fall.
Following the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1793 Toussaint Louverture allied himself with the French Dessalines joined him eventually becoming Toussaint ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.