Jean-Jacques Dessalines is regarded by Haitians as their preeminent founding father, and the day he was assassinated in 1806 is a public holiday in Haiti.
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Dessalines was born on a plantation not far from Port-au-Prince and was later sold to a free black man, from whom he adopted the last name Dessalines. In 1791, he joined the independence struggle of Haiti against their French colonial rulers, and he soon became one of the most accomplished leaders of the war. The Haitian Revolution was the first successful slave revolt in world history, and Dessalines played a pivotal role in making it such.
Ultimately, Dessalines became “emperor” of Haiti for his final two years, before he was assassinated in a coup. But it is his struggle against slavery and colonialism that Haitians wish to remember on Death of Dessalines Day every 17 October.
Death of Dessalines is celebrated in grand style in Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti. You can expect all manner of patriotic events, but the historical re-enactments of portions of Dessalines’ life are particularly stirring and interesting.
Haitian culture and history will be on display on Death of Dessalines more than at almost any other time of year, so tourists will have much to see and do to create lasting memories of their time spent in Haiti.