Two months after his defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s colonial forces, Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaims the independence of Saint-Domingue, renaming it Haiti after its original Arawak name.
In 1791, a slave revolt erupted on the French colony, and Toussaint Louverture, a formerly enslaved man, took control of the rebels. Gifted with natural military genius, Toussaint organized an effective guerrilla war against the island’s colonial population. He found able generals in two other formerly enslaved men, Dessalines and Henri Christophe, and in 1795 he made peace with revolutionary France following its abolishment of slavery. Toussaint became governor-general of the colony and in 1801 conquered the Spanish portion of island, freeing the enslaved peoples there.
In January 1802, an invasion force ordered by Napoleon landed on Saint-Domingue, and after several months of furious fighting, Toussaint agreed to a cease-fire. He retired to his plantation but in 1803 was arrested and taken to a dungeon in the French Alps, where he was tortured and died in April.
Soon after Toussaint’s arrest, Napoleon announced his intention to reintroduce slavery on Haiti, and Dessalines led a new revolt against French rule. With the aid of the British, the rebels scored a major victory against the French force there, and on November 9, 1803, colonial authorities surrendered. In 1804, General Dessalines assumed dictatorial power, and Haiti became the second independent nation in the Americas. Later that year, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I. He was killed putting down a revolt two years later.