The rule of Dessalines was a sanguinary, but, on the whole, a salutary one. He began his government by a treacherous massacre of nearly all the French who remained in the island trusting to his false promises of protection. All other Europeans, however, except the French, were treated with respect. Dessalines encouraged the importation of Africans into Hayti, saying that since they were torn from their country, it was certainly better that they should be employed to recruit the strength of a rising nation of blacks, than to serve the whites of all countries as slaves.
On the 8th of October, 1804, Dessalines exchanged his plain title of governor-general for the more pompous one of emperor. He was solemnly inaugurated under the name of James I., emperor of Hayti; and the ceremony of his coronation was accompanied by the proclamation of a new constitution, the main provisions of which were exceedingly judicious. All Haytian subjects, of whatever color, were to be called blacks, entire religious toleration was decreed, schools were established, public worship encouraged, and measures adopted similar to those which Toussaint had employed for creating and fostering an industrial spirit among the negroes. As a preparation for any future war, the interior of the island was extensively planted with yams, bananas, and other articles of food, and many forts built in advantageous situations. Under these regulations the island again began to show symptoms of prosperity.
Dessalines was a man in many respects fitted to be the first sovereign of a people rising out of barbarism. Born the slave of a negro mechanic, he was quite illiterate, but had great natural abilities, united to a very ferocious temper. His wife was one of the most beautiful and best educated negro women in Hayti. A pleasant trait of his character is his seeking out his old master after he became emperor, and making him his butler. It was, he said, exactly the situation the old man wished to fill, as it afforded him the means of being always drunk. Dessalines himself drank nothing but water. For two years this negro continued to govern the island; but at length his ferocity provoked his mulatto subjects to form a conspiracy against him, and on the 17th of October, 1806, he was assassinated by the soldiers of Petion, who was his third in command.
William O. Blake, The History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Ancient and Modern. The Forms of Slavery that Prevailed in Ancient Nationas, particularly in Greece and Rome. The African Slave Trade and the Political History of Slavery in the United States. Compiled from Authentic Materials. (1857)
Image: Dubroca (1757 – ca. 1835), Portrait of Jean-Jacques Dessalines wearing a cocked hat with cockade holding the severed head of a European woman. In the background is a military encampment and severed hand. Vida de J. J. Dessalines, gefe de los Negros de Santo Domingo (1806). Source: John Carter Brown Archive of Early American Images.