The Slave Who Declared Himself King of Haiti

He built the Citadel of Laferrière. It is the largest fortress ever built in the West. The slave who declared himself king of Haiti had been ruling for nine years. But on that day in 1820, it was all over. A rebellion threatened him, and he decided to shoot himself.

Henri Christophe, the slave who declared himself king of Haiti.
Henri Christophe, the slave who declared himself king of Haiti.
Soldier on the rise

Henri Christophe called himself Henri I, the “destroyer of tyranny”. His suicide was followed by one of the biggest revolts in Haiti. The country was then divided in two. A republic in the south, ruled by Alexandre Pétion. And a monarchy in the north, ruled by Christophe.

The king of Haiti was not Haitian by birth. It is believed that he was born in 1767 on a Caribbean island. The young slave came to the colony of Saint-Domingue, where he bought his freedom. In 1791, he joined the insurrection against French power.

That soldier ended up owning his own slaves and building one of the most lavish and unusual kingdoms. He had six castles, eight palaces and the Citadel Laferrière erected. It took 15 years, 20,000 workers and 2,000 lives to build it. In its construction, cement was mixed with quicklime, molasses and cows’ blood.

He created a coin of his own with his effigy crowned with olive in the style of Caesar. He named the capital of his kingdom Cape Henry. He appointed princes, dukes, barons and knights. He also promoted an unusual system of education. One of the most comprehensive that existed during the first half of the 19th century in Latin America. As if that were not enough, he established a legal code, with his name. It governed almost every aspect of life in the kingdom.

And he also promoted a system of quasi-slave labor. And he imposed regulations on the peasants that in a few years made him an extremely unpopular leader. The king became increasingly lonely and isolated in his palace. A stroke in August 1820 left him hemiplegic and resentful. He was a shadow of himself, although he was only 53 years old.

Laferrière's Citadel is one of the delirious works of the king of Haiti.
The Citadel of Laferrière is one of the delirious works of the king of Haiti.
Eccentric to death

The corpse of the slave who declared himself king of Haiti was carried into the bowels of the Citadelle that same October 8. Cap-Haïtien was burning with revolt. A finger was cut off, which the queen kept as a relic. It is believed that she took it with her to her exile in Italy.

They sunk her body in mortar. They had prepared a hole at the base of the fortress. So that no one could ever desecrate his corpse. The king of Haiti slowly sank and, little by little, turned to stone.

He became one with his Citadel, the megalomaniac dream of his empire. This dark mass persists, despite the times and the earthquakes. And it still watches over Cap Haitien from the mountain of the Bishop’s Cap.

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