Welcome to today’s edition of Haiti History 101, with Adjunct Professor Kreyolicious in the podium. Today’s subject? The Battle of Vertieres, which took place in the 19th Century.
Are you interested in knowing more about the Haitian Revolution? Of course, you are! Well, read on!
So, what’s Vertieres…and why was it a big deal?
1. Vertieres was the last link to France’s domination in Saint-Domingue (colonial Haiti).
In 1802, France dispatched veteran military man the Viscount Rochambeau to Saint-Domingue to squash the local army, headed by former slaves and freed slaves. Gradually, the rebels drew France’s troops out of the region. Vertieres was the last region not yet lost by France. But, according to Nicole Jean-Louis, it didn’t remain a French stronghold for long. Writing in the book History and Culture of Haiti: Journey Through Visual Art, Jean-Louis asserts that Vertiere’s location in the northern part of Haiti made it an especially attractive territory for both France and the rebels. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s Revolutionary leader, attacked Vertieres on November 18, 1803. A massive rainfall, followed by a series of thunderstorms, caused a submersion in the battlefield. Rochambeau pulled back. Dessalines declared victory, and the following day, Rochambeau sent a representative to negotiate his departure from Saint-Domingue.
2. The Battle of Vertieres is recognized by many historians as the Haitian Revolution’s most significant battle.
It’s to the Haitian Revolution what Gettysburg and the Battle of Franklin was in the U.S. Civil War and what Battle of Yorktown was in the U.S. Revolutionary War. Mary Bonk in her book Worldmark Yearbook states that Haiti’s edition of Veteran’s Day/Armed Forces Day is also celebrated on that date.
3. Some of Haiti’s historical leaders gained their reputation on that day.
Among these historical leaders was a man named Francois Cappoix (some sources I read spell his name Capoix as well), also nicknamed Cappoix-la-Mort (Cappoix of Death). Historian Jacques Nicolas Leger attests that Cappoix’s horse was shot, and even as he was hurled down on the ground, he kept on fighting and urging the soldiers with him to march on, and fight on. Rochambeau was so impressed by Cappoix’s bravery and his determination, that he ordered a cease-fire so that he could personally congratulate Capoix, after which the battle resumed. Well! The next day, as part of France’s surrender, Cappoix was sent a brand new horse by France. Well, must have been nice!
Cappoix was reportedly murdered at the orders of future king Henri Christophe three years later after these historical events. I’ll add allegedly mezanmi because that’s what the historians say. I don’t want to slander these historical figures. But that’s the story!
Besides Cappoix (ahem, also spelled Capoix, and even Capois), there was another soldier named Augustin Clervaux (also spelled Clervau, and Clerveaux in some records), who had the historical distinction of firing out the first shot in the battle. Interestingly enough, Clerveaux was among the half-white, half-black military officers (called mulattoes) who had been dispatched as part of the squadrons to restore Saint-Domingue to France. The historian Laurent Dubois contends that like fellow military officer and mulatto Alexandre Petion, Clerveaux abandoned Rochambeau and joined the island’s rebels against France.
4. Like other battles of the Haitian Revolution, Haiti’s women soldiers were very active during this battle.
In addition to being supporting team members, Haiti’s women also served as nurses for the French soldiers. As part of the agreement that Dessalines and Rochambeau made (the surrender pact), according to Leger, French soldiers who were not in condition to embark the boat to leave for France, were to be nursed in the hospitals on the island until they could depart for France.
5. The battle’s significance is celebrated in modern times too.
Did you know that several of Haiti’s presidents did reenactments of the battle to commemorate it? According to historian and writer Michael Deibert in the book Notes From the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti, in 1954 Paul Eugene Magloire, who held the presidency that year, did an on-site reenactment, complete with cannons and soldiers.
There you have it folks! The story on the Battle of Vertieres…what it was, what took place, and why it was important.
This has been yet another episode of Haiti History 101, brought to you by your fave chick Kreyolicious. CLICK HERE to read other episodes in this series.