Welcome to yet another session of Haiti History 101.
Take a seat, and get a snack because this is going to be a special edition, two sessions for the price of one! Today our visiting professor is none other than Charles Dupuy, a renowned Haitian historian who has written Le Coin de L’Histoire [History Corner] Volume I and Volume 2 .
Have you heard of Dessalines? He’s one of Haiti’s founding fathers, if you didn’t know. He was assassinated in 1806. According to Dupuy, throughout history, Haitians have debated as to who killed him and with what motive. But then there are other mysteries or semi-mysteries that Mr. Dupuy is going to settle—or try his best to settle—once and for all!
Come on pupils of Haiti History 101, listen in to the visiting professor. Let’s start with…
Mystery# 1: Who really killed Dessalines?
According to your book, a soldier with the last name Garat was the first one to shoot Jean-Jacques Dessalines on Pont Rouge. He only managed to shoot at Dessalines’ horse. Then a Delaunay, and afterwards a Vaval took aim with his pistol. But it’s really the general Yayou, who fatally stabbed him?
Dupuy: The account of the events of Dessalines’ death that I recount in my book—like all other historians, for that matter—I owe to Thomas Madiou. Madiou gives us a detailed account of the macabre scene where the Emperor died at Pont Rouge. Some wanted to “correct” the facts and have concocted a version quite fancy—that Dessalines was assassinated by Pétion himself during a gala, a grand banquet hosted by the conspirators in Port-au-Prince. What I especially wanted to highlight in the part I entitled “Who killed Dessalines?” is that blacks such as Yayou, Gideon, Mentor or Vaval participated in the conspiracy and stabbed him in the back while mulattoes like Delpèche or Charlotin Marcadieux, Boisrond Tonnere died trying to defend him. Pétion was part of the conspiracy to eliminate the Emperor, as Gerin as Chanlatte …but also [Henri] Christophe, the commander-in-chief of the army, was well aware of the plot. Conclusion: Blacks and mulattoes killed Dessalines, blacks and mulattoes were sacrificed in an attempt to save him. We cannot bear the burden of crime to one class of men; we are all guilty.
Mystery# 2: Dessalines had a daughter named Célimène, who Dessalines wanted to marry off to Alexandre Sabès Pétion. Keep in mind that these were the early days of Haiti, and although Dessalines had declared himself emperor, there was this inner dissension going on, and Pétion, attest some historians, was secretly part of Dessalines’ disgruntled partisans. Miss Dessalines had already set her eyes on someone else. Could a marriage between Pétion and Dessalines’ daughter have saved Emperor Dessalines’ life?
Speaking of Dessalines, could a marriage between Dessalines’ daughter Célimène and Alexandre Pétion have prevented the eventual assassination?
Dupuy: The question of whether the marriage of Petion and Célimène could save the emperor is purely hypothetical and no one knows the answer. Certainly, Dessalines wanted to solidify the union of classes—blacks and mulattoes—by offering his daughter to Pétion, but he was aware of her relationship with the young and handsome Captain Chancy, a nephew of Toussaint Louverture. One must ask why Dessalines refused to accept the union of his daughter with the man she had given her heart to. Incidentally, Madame Dessalines died in Gonaives at the ripe old age of one hundred years in the arms of the daughter Célimène had by Captain Chancy. We could make a connection with the marriage of Nicole Duvalier and a mulatto of Port-de-Paix, Luc-Albert Foucard. Duvalier was quite proud to proclaim that he had succeeded where Dessalines had failed by marrying his daughter to a mulatto. But this question that pertains more to sociology then history.
Mystery# 3: Jean-Baptiste Conzé joined forces with the U.S. Marines in 1918 to ambush Charlemagne Peralte, leader of the resistance group called the Cacos. Charlemagne Peralte got killed, but what of our dear little buddy Mr. Conzé?
What became of Jean-Baptiste Conzé after he took part in the plot in the slaying of Charlemagne Peralte?
Dupuy: We know that Conzé was honored by the Legislative Chamber; he received the reward for the capture of Charlemagne Péralte and finally he was granted a high ranking in the Garde d’Haiti—future Armed Forces of Haiti. Conzé spent the end of his life writing his memoirs, to explain and give his point of view of the events. The new generations have not bothered nor had the time to listen to his story and we know what history has made of his name. As for Charlemagne, he’s become a contemporary hero: a perfect model to follow, the knight without fear and without reproach, the ideal man, pure and spotless.
The poet Ida Faubert is known by many as the daughter of President Lysius Salomon. But you beg to differ?
Dupuy: Ida Faubert is a girl that Solomon had with his stepdaughter—the daughter of his wife. At the time, the Haitian public pretended not to understand, though everyone knew that the little girl in the arms of Mrs. Salomon was both her granddaughter and the daughter of her husband. The latter [stepdaughter], born Pothier, was also the one who took care of Salomon in Paris during his last illness. I was there not too long ago, and had the opportunity to visit the tomb of Salomon at Cemetery Neuilly in Paris. It is still adorned with flowers by descendants of Salomon. Ida Faubert died in Paris in 1969.
Mystery# 5: Traces of Haiti’s indigenous peoples the Arawak natives…lurk somewhere in Haiti?
Historically, it was said that the Taino natives were completely wiped out by Christopher Columbus and his men. Some historians have always maintained that some of the Tainos ran away to the mountains and caves of Haiti. There’s been sightings of communities in Haiti who are descendants of those indigenous peoples. You cite an area in Haiti called Louhou. What do we know of that community and other places like it?
Dupuy: I devoted an article to what was to be the last Indian village in Haiti. One of my friends visited it in 1940 and I am convinced that they are indeed Indians—our Arawaks—who lived in this small village. But most important to me, and most distressing, alas, it is clear that the Haitian today could care less about his Indian heritage. Even if he eats the “cassava”, the Indian cassava cake, even if he drinks the “mabi”—the traditional Indian beer, even if he lives a “Joupa” which is the reproduction of the dwelling Indians, even if it carries the blood of the Indians in his veins, the contemporary Haitian doesn’t consider himself the heir of any Arawaks. He sees himself more as a pure African and rejects all Indian aspects whether genetic or cultural that make up his daily life. This is an injustice that should be repaired one day.
Mystery# 6: So there was an experimental farm in Haiti in the 1950s? Really? Where?
At one point there was an experimental farm in Haiti in an area there called Grand-Pre. Can you tell us more about it?
Dupuy: The theft of plants from Grand-Pré is a matter of industrial, or if you prefer, agricultural espionage—of which we were the unfortunate victims. When we refuse to take care of our business, that is usually the fate reserved. Readers will find all the details of this murky affair in the first volume of my book under the title: “Burglary at the Experimental Farm of Grand-Pré.” One might think that this is a story without importance, yet social and economic consequences are incalculable.
Mystery# 7: Pierre Nord Alexis was a Haitian president up until 1908, but had he been related to one of Haiti’s monarchs?
Was Nord Aléxis really the son of King Henri Christophe with an alleged mistress?
Dupuy: Nord Alexis was not the son of Christophe, but was rather his grandson. He was the son of one of the daughters—illegitimate [daughters]– of Christophe’s and a dignitary of the kingdom named Nord Alexis. The future president was born, presumably, in 1916 and was listed as a page at the Palace of Sans-Souci. Nord Alexis deserves all our respect because he is the only one of our heads of state who declared war on the corrupt, a thankless war. He considered the case for Consolidation, making him the only one of our presidents to have put in jail corrupt officials. Historians have never forgiven him for this. He has been depicted as the “great beast”, who came from the boon docks to fight the good old tradition of head of state corruption and looting of state coffers—which generations of public servants had been accustomed to. If the country is poor today, it’s because it has been mismanaged; if it is poor, it’s because it was looted by those who were responsible for its management.
The consolidation of debts?
Dupuy: Exactly. The Government of Tiresias Simon Sam, the predecessor of Nord Alexis decided to “consolidate” the public debt. It was a great opportunity for fraud among senior government officials. Nord Alexis judged them all in a sensational trial that is known as the “trial of consolidation.” Convicts—including future presidents Tancred Auguste, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, Cincinnatus Leconte and Sam—would later be known as “consolidators.” The lawsuit filed by Nord Alexis against corrupt officials and the crooked earned him—although paradoxically—the distinction of being a bad president by a sector of the public.
Mystery# 8: At some point after her husband’s death, in spite of being under the protection of President Fabre Nicolas Geffrard, Haiti’s former queen Marie-Louise left her native land for Italy—in search of a gold fortune her husband King Henri Christophe had stashed away in Europe, or did she? .
There’s been reports that Queen Marie-Louise died in abject poverty in Pisa, Italy, whereas other sources say the exact opposite. Can you please clear the air?
Dupuy: Queen Marie-Louise did not die poor. She died in a castle—I should say a mansion in Italy. She could not go live in France because she would probably have been arrested by the French authorities, as she was the wife of a general [Henri Christophe]—-a rebel general [sought by the] authorities [in] Paris.
Mystery# 9: What became of Queen Marie-Louise and her considerable wealth after her death?
King Henri Christophe’s wife and queen Marie-Louise Coidavid purchased a chateau in Italy in the 1830s. She outlived all her children, so in whose hands did this chateau land?
Dupuy: No one knows what happened to the assets of the Queen Marie-Louise. She probably had bequeathed it to the religious order who cared for her and to charity. The remains of the queen are also in the chapel of the Ursuline convent in Pisa. Marie-Louise was a black queen and royals of that race were not common in Europe at the time. She went to visit the Pope in the Vatican and was a sight to see for many—in particular for Chateaubriand who devoted some sections of his book Mémoires d’outre-tombe to the beauty of the Haitian princesses.
Mystery# 10. In 1949, an army colonel made some allegations about the public and private life of Dumarsais Estimé, a man who was president of Haiti from 1946 to 1950. Was there any veracity to those allegations?
In a Life magazine article dated March of 1949, a colonel by the name of Astrel Roland interviewed by the writer Edith Efron claims that Dumarsais Estimé had a mistress in Paris and four kids by her. Is there any truth to this?
Dupuy: Colonel Roland was at a thankless war with President Estimé, whom he detested. He said on Dominican radio that Estimé was a liar and a hypocrite, that he could not look people in the eyes, and of course, that he [Estimé] was a pervert, a lecherous man who kept mistresses, one of whom lived in Paris—at the expense of the State—with four of his children. He claimed that president Borno had Estimé fired from the Lycée Pétion school because of his immoral conduct. By the way, did you know that Estimé was one of [François] Duvalier’s teachers at the Lycée Pétion [school]? This proves that the Haitian political world is very small and all the actors or almost [all]—met at one time or another. To return to Colonel Roland and his accusations, no one knows what was true or false in his claims, but let’s just say that it is not altogether impossible that what he said was true.
Mystery# 11: Faustin Soulouque was declared emperor in 1849. Less than a decade later, he was disposed of, and had to run for cover to Kingston. The historian Jacques Nicolas Leger in the book Haiti and Its Detractors stated that Soulouque returned to Haiti during a general amnesty years later, but he makes no mention of the rest of his family.
Former emperor Faustin Soulouque returned to Haiti, and more specifically to Petit Goave from his exile in Jamaica. But what of Princess Olive, Empress Adélina and Clélie?
Dupuy: We know that Soulouque paid—very expensively—for his suite aboard [the steamer] Melbourne to Jamaica. We also know that the Prince Mainville, a nephew of Soulouque’s, returned shortly after to enter the service of the President Geffrard Soulouque’s successor. Princess Olive or Olivette, Soulouque’s adopted daughter, returned to Haiti a week or two after boarding the Melbourne. Soulouque himself returned to the country during the presidency of Salnave in July 1867. He was to die shortly after in his birth home at Dalmet near L’Anse-à-Veau. About Empress Adelina, I do not know where or when she died. However, I hope to know one day.
Mystery# 12: Henri Christophe was born in Grenada, but was another Haitian head of state from another place other than Haiti?
Maureen Duvalier, a well-known singer in the Bahamas, claims that François Duvalier was Bahamian. What do you say to that?
Dupuy: On foreign origins of Duvalier, there is no doubt that his grandfather Florestal Duvalier came from Martinique. Others say the Turk and Cacos Islands or the Bahamas, or elsewhere. Moreover, it did not really matter. What is certain is that Duvalier was the only one with this name in Haiti. We know of no other Duvalier. Precisely on this point, Duvalier’s nationality was Haitian without a doubt. His mother was a Haitian—a lady Abraham—and he was born in Port-au-Prince, so he definitely was Haitian. If Duvalier, on the date of his entry to the National Palace, presented the priest who had baptized him fifty years earlier, it was because he wanted to prove that contrary to some opinions, and in spite of the considerable foreign origin of his grandfather and his father, that he himself was irrefutably of Haitian nationality.
Mystery# 13: Cinccinatus Leconte, was president of Haiti from August 1911 to August 1912, but did he really die in an explosion or by other means?
Historically, it is believed that Cincinnatus Leconte died in an explosion in the Palais National. But Zora Neale Hurston who visited Haiti in the late 1930s interviewed several people who said the contrary, that in fact Leconte was actually whisked away by plotters and killed a great distance from the palace, and that in fact his body was chopped up in little pieces. What do you say to that?
Dupuy: The tragic death of President Cincinnatus Leconte after the explosion of the National Palace gave rise to rumors of assassination as soon as the news was known in the country. There’s not a shortage of assumptions of this conspiracy theory he had been abducted, killed, and to hide their crime, the murderers would have detonated the Palace. There are others, some more strange than others. Some of them accuse the Arabs, Dominican political enemies—practically everyone. What credit should be given to these speculations? Are you saying there was an investigation after the tragedy, as journalists were interested in the case from the beginning and nothing suggests that there was actually a plot. At least there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt. Leconte practically lived on a powder keg, and that accidents are indeed possible. What this shows us, however, is that Leconte was a very popular president; he had gained the sympathy of the general public and above all his rigorous administration of the finances of the State had given satisfaction to taxpayers. Leconte was a direct descendant of Dessalines; he was handsome; he was a wealthy businessmen. He had made a conquest of the [heart of the] Haitian people…His untimely death was considered a curse and a calamity, an irreparable loss.
Mystery# 14: Caonabo the Taino chief, and husband to Anacona, led a resistance against Christopher Columbus and his men. But what really happened to him?
Made prisoner by the Spaniards, Caonabo supposedly drowned with the sinking of the ship that was to have carried him to Spain. But according to other historians, the ship itself made it to Spain—without him! What are your thoughts on this?
Dupuy: Caonabo, according to what we are taught by the history books, had disappeared at sea during a shipwreck. That the ship could have arrived at its destination with Caonabo having died during the crossing personally seems very strange and I must admit that this is the first time I’ve heard of [this version]. Yet another mystery that will never be solved.
Now, this concludes yet another edition of Haiti History 101. Be sure to come to class next time, and come early, rather than late!