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Haitian leaders declare independence

This Day in World History

November 29, 1803

Haitian leaders declare independence

On November 29, 1803, Haitian leaders Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, and a General Clerveaux joined together to sign a preliminary proclamation of independence for St. Domingo, the former French colony that soon after took the name Haiti. The proclamation came just ten days after French forces under the Vicomte de Rochambeau had surrendered to the Haitian rebels.

The Haitian revolt had been launched in 1798 by Toussaint Louverture, a former slave whose original goal had not been independence. By 1802, though, the Haitian rebels had grander designs—fueled in part by concerns that the French would restore slavery and spurred further by the death of Toussaint under French arrest. On November 19, 1803, they won a decisive victory over French forces at the Battle of Vertieres. Ten days later, at their headquarters at Fort Dauphin, the rebel leaders issued their proclamation of independence, given “in the name of the black people, and men of color of St. Domingo.” The proclamation went on, “Restored to our primitive dignity, we have asserted our rights; we swear never to yield them to any power on earth.” The secretary who recorded the document sent a copy to a Philadelphia newspaper, and it was published widely in the United States..

The Haitian leaders issued a more formal document, the Act of Independence, on January 1, 1804. In this act, the signers pledged their support to independence, explained the significance of the act, and named Dessalines leader of the new nation. At this time, the rebels adopted the name Haiti, derived from Hispaniola’s indigenous Taino people, as the name of their nation. Haiti became just the second independent nation in the Americas—and the first nation formed by a successful slave revolt.

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