Behold Haiti History 101 pupils…the story of the Last Emperor of Haiti…
Faustin Soulouque was actually one of the last Haitian head of states to have been born a slave. He originated from the city of Petit Goave, and was one of the fighting soldiers of the slave uprising of 1791 and of the Haitian Revolution of 1804. When president Jean-Baptiste Riché died, historians maintain that Soulouque became the favorite of the Haitian elite, to take over because he seemed to be (at least in appearance) a knucklehead who could be easily controlled, and shortly before the Spring of 1842 he was made president.
Seven years later, he was crowned Faustin I. According to several history books that detail that period of Haiti’s history though, it was more like an order (as in President Faustin threatened another one of his infamous mulatto elite massacres, and legislators fearing for their lives, came equipped with emperor crowning swag to appease him). Volumes 5 and 6 of John Saunders and Westland Marston’s The National magazine (published in 1859) stated the kingdom consisted of 4 princes, 59 dukes, 90 earls, 30 lady knights (but no male knights), 250 barons, and 2 marchionesses.
William Chambers, a traveling historian from the 19th Century would in 1860 write in Volume 31 of his famous journal about the emperor:
“The new president was a man of about sixty or sixty-two, but who did not look above forty, was remarkable for his timidity, but timidity of a particular kind. He had an unconquerable fear of magic and of ridicule; and to this weakness must be attributed to this bloodshed to which he has waded from the presidential chair to the imperial throne.”
According to the book A Continent Of Islands: Searching For The Caribbean Destiny by Mark Kurlansky: “He organized a private militia, the Zinglins, and proceeded to arrest, kill, and burn out anyone who opposed him, especially mulattoes.” The Emperor and his forces, fearing that Spain was going to gain control of the other side of Hispaniola, also tried to regain control of the Dominican Republic, three times during his tenure, but failed all three times. During his reign, the United States took over Navassa Island, an island that was part of Haiti where they had discovered phosphate deposits, and initially Emperor Faustin rallied his forces to fight this, but retreated because France and Spain were backing his opponent for the island.
This is what Haiti was looking like on the day of Faustin the First’s glorious coronation. It is apparent that the cream of Haitian society was there that day in their best get-ups. The well-decorated carriages lined up the streets. Oh, what elegance! What beauty.
And the actual coronation…
These two men Prince Mainville Joseph and Prince Jean Joseph were nobles in Emperor Faustin’s royal court.
All hail the queen Adélina Lévêque Soulouque, or as she was known to her subjects. Her Imperial Empress Adélina, Empress of Haiti. This is a portrait of her, as she looked in 1853.
Here is Adélina in full royal regalia.
This gorgeous beauty is Olive, Faustin the 1st’s daughter, and princess of the royal court (or shall we say adoptive daughter? She was actually his wife’s daughter from a previous relationship). With her glorious pearls, and stylish hat, she looks rather chic. She was known as the Her Serene Highness, until she became the wife of Count Lubin of Pétionville, and upgraded to the title of Countess. Emperor Faustin and the Empress had a daughter Clélia, who was barely a teen at the time of his coronation.
Historians have maintained that Soulouque was a running private joke among the elite Haitians. Here is a newspaper comic at the time, poking fun at him (this one is from Europe, however, as the Haitian newspapers—including Le Moniteur, one of Haiti’s foremost newspapers at the time—were heavily censored by the emperor, would never dare to do such a thing). Some history books about Haiti have hinted that the Emperor was probably illiterate.
This elegant gentleman was none other than Faustin the First’s brother Jean Joseph, the Duke of Port-de-Paix. This portrait was obviously done years before the one above, in which he is side by side with Prince Mainville Joseph, for in this one here, he looks younger, more debonair. He must have made a lot of heart palpitate in his day. Oh, the handsomeness! And is that a pierced left ear I see? Paran Ayisyen nou wè?
Fabre Géffrard, the Duke of Tabara (seen above), rose against the Emperor, causing him to run for cover along with his family in Kingston, Jamaica (where ironically Géffrard himself would seek refuge when he too was disposed later) aboard the British boat Melbourne. According to the Saunders and Marston account cited above, upon arriving in Kingston, the emperor had to face other Haitians in Kingston, who had gone to Jamaica to flee him, and was threatened with violence by them.
Some records claim that he died in Kingston, Jamaica. But, according to Haitian historian Jacques Nicolas Léger in his book Haiti, her History and her Detractors, Emperor Faustin actually died in Petit-Goave in August of 1867, having had returned to Haiti at some point.
A portrait of Soulouque done in 1914, decades after his death. I do try to be as color-blind as possible, but clearly there is a huge contrast between the sketch above done decades after his death, and the portrait done during his lifetime. This one makes him look lighter (or it could be the lighting from the painter’s brush strokes!). But in 1914, Haiti was going through an internal identity crisis, so that kind of explains it all. Let’s not forget that around 1914, men like Jean Price-Mars were trying to emphasize the ties to Africa, while others were wanting to tighten the bonds with Europe and France, this photo bearing blatant evidence of the latter.
Image Credit: The Schomberg Research Center, NY