Painting of Henri Christophe, First King of the Republic of Haiti
(b. October 8, 1767 – d. October 8, 1820).
(b. October 8, 1767 – d. October 8, 1820).
Little is known about Henri Christophe's (English: Henry Christopher ) boyhood. A great number of commentators report that he was born on Grenada island, a small nation in the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles, and was the son of a freeman. His father, also named Christophe, was reportedly transported from West African or Central West Africa to Saint Domingue, the former French colony now known as Haiti.
The Early Adult Life of Henri Christophe
In 1779, Christophe served with the French Forces as a drummer boy with a regiment described as gens de couleur (English: people of color or color people) in the American Revolution. The gens de couleur regiment fought at the Siege of Savannah at what is now the State of Georgia. Nine years later, in 1788, Georgia would become the fourth State admitted into the original thirteen colonies of the United States of America. France had lent troop assistance to the revolutionaries against England during the American Revolution.
After the American Revolution, Christophe returned to Saint Domingue where he is reported to have worked as a billiard-maker, mason, sailor, stable-hand and waiter. He also managed a hotel restaurant in Cap-Français, then the capital of Saint-Domingue, that served the wealthy French slave-holders from the surrounding plantations.
Enslaved Africans at Saint Domingue Defeat France’s Napoleon Bonaparte
Image of Brigadier General Henri Christophe of Haiti
Christophe distinguished himself in the Haitian Revolution. While not as widely known as François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture -- the great military leader that maintained African control over Saint-Domingue from France into 1797 -- Henri Christophe had distinguished himself by 1802 to become L'Ouverture's brigadier general.
Christophe fought alongside L'Ouverture in the north against the French. This included fighting against Spanish, British and French troops, all of whom had a strong interest in suppressing an uprising on the vast slave plantations established by the European colonialists over the Americas and the Caribbean.
By June 1802, L'Ouverture was captured by agents of Napoleon Bonaparte for France. He was deported from the island to France. The revolution continued, however. After 13 years of military battle between the French colony, the Africans would win their independence in the year 1804. January 1, 1804 -- to be exact. The Haitians distinguished themselves in history as the first independent Black republic in the West.
The North-South Civil War in Haiti: Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe
In 1806, Christophe and the Haitian general Alexandre Pétion overthrew Jean Jacques Dessalines. Subsequently, a short civil war broke out between Christophe and Pétion. By February 1807, Haiti was divided between Christophe whom had clear charge over the North, and Alexander Pétion who led the South of the new country.
Christophe was elected president and served in that capacity from 1807 to 1811. On March 26, 1811, Henri proclaimed Haiti a republic nation and himself King, securing the title of Henri I -- first and only king of Haiti. He served as Haiti's king from 1811 to 1820, later becoming president in the last four years of his leadership.
Citadelle Laferrière: The Grand Fortress near Cap-Haïtien
Aerial Image of La Citadelle La Ferriere in Haiti. A legacy of King Henri Christophe I of Haiti was built between 1805 and 1820.
Photo of the Palace of Sans Souci in Haiti, commissioned by Henri Christophe in 1810 and completed in 1813.A trained mason, Christophe is noted for the construction of Sans Souci Palace and the fortress near Cap-Haïtien called Citadelle Laferrière. He also built six notable châteaux and eight palaces in the region. The Citadelle Laferrière is described as one of the great construction wonders of the era. In 1842, a major earthquake destroyed part of the fortress.
By 1820, an insurrection broke out in the northern region of Haiti, where Christophe has retired to during the last four years of his rule. While some commentators allege that Christophe committed suicide, we do know from historical accounts that he suffered an incapacitating stroke right before he shot himself. A military strategists to the end.
Statue of Christophe Henri, King Henri I of Haiti, at Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince
Today, Christophe is revered as a hero among the Haitians and many within the African diaspora. Christophe's statue was raised at Champs de Mars in Port-au-Prince.