Kreyolicious Presents…Haiti History 101: King Henri Christophe (1767-1820)

Written by kreyolicious with 25 Comments


Another edition of Kreyolicious Presents: Haiti History 101…Lesson 25. One of the most admired heroes of Haiti, it was said that King Henri Christophe, a former waiter at a cafe in Cap Haitian, was actually not born in Grenada (some have even said St. Kitts), and came to Haiti as a teenager. The summary of a pamphlet that was done in 1816 (below) stated that he was born in St. Kitts, and his father was from Grenada, so naturally we’ll go with that version! Christophe was not only part of the fight for Haitian independence, but was among the volunteer soldiers who fought at the Battle of Savannah for U.S. Independence in 1779 under Admiral D’Estaing.

After the death of Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti became divided into two sectors, the north (including La Tortue, La Gonâve) being ruled by Christophe, who declared himself president in 1807 with mostly black subjects, and the rest of Haiti ruled by Sabès Alexandre Pétion, with mostly mulattoes as subjects.

Henri Christophe declared himself King Henri I in April of 1811, and gave several of his associates nobility titles. The kingdom, according to Williams Wells Brown in his book The Black Man His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements, consisted of 2 princes, 7 dukes, 22 counts, 35 barons, and 19 chevaliers. Le Cap, previously known as Cap Français, was renamed Cap Henri. Wells Brown described the pomp and circumstance of the crowning of King Henri the First by Corneil Breuil, the Archbishop of Milot with one simple sentence: “His coronation was the most magnificent displayed outside of Europe.”

Louis Pompé-Valentin de Vastey became Baron de Vastey. Vastey had the honor of being King Henri’s official historian, and when Haiti was being slandered and ridiculed overseas (especially by France, which at this point was still hoping to recapture Haiti, and was threatening a naval invasion, assisted with other European powers!), Vastey wrote several eloquent books that effectively counteracted the vicious bashing.


This is the title page of one of the many books that Baron de Vastey would write to defend Haiti. King Henri had his own printing press P. Roux, and even had a newspaper called Royal Gazette.

Henri was in major awe of the British, and though it was said that he could only write his name, he began a kingdom-wide campaign to educate his subjects, and hired teachers from England. He hired educators and other experts from Europe to come to Haiti. Dr. Duncan Steward, Christophe’s personal doctor was from Scotland, and remained with Christophe loyally.

Christophe’s biggest achievement turned out to be a splendorous castle that he built, complete with a fort in Cap Haitian (in case the darling French made their threats to take back Haiti as it was frequently discussed in the court of Louis XIVIL) that came to be known as La Citadèlle Laferrière.

In August of 1820, King Henri suffered a heart attack at mass (he was reportedly an atheist, actually, but that day he decided to pay a church visit). He suffered from paralysis to the point where he couldn’t even climb his own war-horse.

There was a great deal of discontentment in King Henri’s kingdom and outrage over what some perceived as his tyrannical ways, to the point where when he paid his nobles and soldiers (4 pieces of gold each)to fight an uprising in St Marc, they joined with the enemy camp mid-way and begun a march towards Milot to overthrow him. News got to King Henri Christophe, and after saying a last goodbye to his wife Queen Marie-Louise Coidavid, his three sons and two daughters (Françoise-Améthyste and Anne-Athénaë), he locked himself in his royal chambers and shot himself.

In a book written by historian John Relly Beard in 1853 about the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the leaders of Haiti following Toussaint, Beard asserts that upon Christophe’s death, there was some brief speculation that Paul Romain, one of the nobles of the king’s court, would take over the crown, or that Jacques-Victor Henri one of his Christophe’s sons would (as Henri had declared while he was still alive).

But Jean-Pierre Boyer was already marching and rallying forces with him to Au Cap. He rallied the two divided sides of Haiti together and united them.


King Henri Christophe’s Palais de Sans-Souci, at Milot as it looked nearly 60 years after his death in 1888.

According to Beard, Christophe’s wife the Queen Marie-Louise Coidavid (probably fearing that his lifeless body would be mistreated by his enemies; some her fears came true, as the palace was looted) gave instructions for the body to be taken to a forest, but according to that same account, days later the body was found half-devoured by animals. Beard’s account is the first I’ve read with this gruesome account, unless I read this somewhere else and forgotten, but being that it was written about 33 or so years after Christophe’s death, it should be given credence. In any case, King Henri Christophe’s remains were laid to rest inside his beloved Citadelle.

Although, Christophe had had one of Boyer’s brothers executed, he took care of Christophe’s widow, and did not commit any vindictive act towards her, as he told one visiting British visitor to Haiti, because he had promised Wilberforce, their mutual friend (if he even had the intention to do her harm at all). According to a 1963 issue of the Black/Negro Digest, King Henri had actually shipped 6 million dollars in gold to the Bank of England in his wife’s name. She and her daughters would later travel to England, and then to Italy, where the Queen and her daughters spent the rest of their lives.

A bullet to the heart. Thus ended the life of King Henri Christophe. Today, his Citadel Laferrière, is still regarded as one of the wonders of the Ancient World Modern World (thanks reader GroJo), and has retained its importance as a historical artifact, and is the pride of many Haitians. It was declared a World Heritage site in 1982 by the United Nations.

King Henri was the inspiration for the play and movie Emperor Jones by playwright Eugene O’Neil (which was one of the very first acclaimed black movies of the 1930s), and has been the subject of so many books including Black Majesty by John Vandercook written in 1928, and the Cuban novelist Alejandro Carpentier’s The Kingdoms of the World.

Photo: Schomberg Research Center

This has been another episode of Haiti History 101

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25 comments on “Kreyolicious Presents…Haiti History 101: King Henri Christophe (1767-1820)”

  1. “the north (including La Tortue, La Gonâve) being ruled by Christophe, who declared himself president in 1807 with mostly black subjects, and the rest of Haiti ruled by Sabès Alexandre Pétion, with mostly mulattoes as subjects. ” That statement makes no sense, mulattoes are, and were, less than ten percent of the Haitian population. Your statement implies that the republic under Petion was severely underpopulated. It would be more accurate to say that the ruling cliques were mostly black in the north and mostly mulattoes in the south. It would have been even more accurate to say that the south was divided between those who followed Petion and those who followed Rigaud. “Today, his Citadel Laferrière, is still regarded as one of the wonders of the Ancient World ” The Citadel can in no way be considered an ancient world wonder given the fact that it was built during the 19th century of the modern era.

    1. kristof refused the presidency and serving the republic seeing that to be treason to the Dessalinien Ideals….

  2. Did some research on him at some point. About that part: “what some perceived as his tyrannical ways”…Wonder why! The dude would kill and execute anyone for the most basic reason…you make him sound like some angel. Lol.

    1. You also look like an angel? But guess what, that was 1800. See what the north was at that time! Check what it is now?

      1. idol hands are always the devils playground, Henry knew this.no one wanted to work anymore since they were finally free, However a Kingdom can’t rise if all shall do as they please, have to have some order, and that is the problem the new king faced, Still needed to produce an economy, so somebody gotta get in those feilds, He was fair at first, but free people will take liberties specially if they hadn’t been afforded to them the past..

    1. For a visual depiction of THE “WONDER OF THE WORLD,” LA CITADELLE LA FERRIÈRE, that “he (Christophe) built,” watch this short video:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT1mH2ym7aI

      And here’s a dose of TRuth about what you call “‘his’ biggest achievement:

      Comments re YouTube video “La Citadelle La Ferrière”
      Sept. 29, ’14

      This is another revisionist-history video glorifying a monstrous edifice that was ordered to be built on the highest, most difficult and inaccessible place in Haiti by the megalomaniacal, self-declared “king” Henri Christophe. The narrative states admiringly (at the 35 sec mark) that its construction was “part of a system of fortifications designed to keep the newly-independent nation of Haiti SAFE from French attempts to RE-ESTABLISH SLAVERY.” (emphasis added)

      Then finally, this deliberately meretricious video mentions, almost as an afterthought (3:45 mark), that – oh yeah – “Th(is) massive stone structure was built by up to 20,000 ENSLAVED WORKERS between 1805 and 1820…”
      Those slave laborers – men, women and children – were forced to slog up that mountain HAULING bricks, by bricks, by bricks day and night for as long as each could endure the unspeakable conditions Christophe and his cronies imposed on them, including floggings and whippings administered with a shocking indifference to human life. All this in a manner the likes of which had never been seen under the French, with their “Code Noir.” (feel free to do your own research.)

      So, the foundations for an illustriously freed new nation – bound no more by the chains of its imperialist master – were firmly established. (And oh-so-well – portending the future., too.) Hallelujah!

      HAITI – NOW the 21st century’s “Garden of Eden”…!
      /s

  3. Has anyone ever thought that maybe King Henry was Assasinated by the Trusted Dr. Stuart, or others within? Just curious? Cause Stuart vanishes from the story after that, Also Mrs. Christophe and Daughters were removed from the Island by One of Dr. Stuarts associates, Naval officer POPHAM , who in turn comes into a Large sum of money at that time, Has this thought crossed any mind, Why would he kill ONLY himself knowing rebels would storm the Palace and murder his wife and Children! Also worth a thought,,, DR. STuart helped the Family “Escape” however CHristophe’s son somehow gets murdered on this ‘Escape” but the others are left to live…….all be it in another country out of the way. Mrs. Christophe also seems to never be able to get a hold of ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL the riches, Money, Gold Jewels that the king sent to london..before his death…… Something Stinks here…..There is Painting of Dr. Stuart running to the king’s aide after the “self inflicted wound” But why? Why not a Picture of the last Supper in the Palace… with his wife, children, and members of the court…That was said to have happened, The dinner…why not paint that? I can’t imagine the King leaving his family to fend off the rebels themselves! thoughts ANYONE? This has been scratching on my brain for a while…

    1. Hi Mi’Ka. That’s rather an interesting theory, but as many historians that I consulted over the course of my research have portrayed Dr. Stuart (spelled Stewart in most accounts) as a close friend and confidante of King Henri, it would probably be a theory at best. Thanks for sharing!

      1. THanks for your reply Kat!
        Yes I know, but it wouldn’t be the first time a friend stabbed a friend in the back,or (shot them in the chest) And how close were they, or could’ve been Mr. Stewart coming from Scotland and all, Maybe he was sent to gain the trust of the NEW BLACK king for that reason,to get close enough to murder him and vanish with the kingdoms riches, with Popham dont forget……..I just was wondering if there was any hard actual evidence of his suicide, otherwise that too is a just a theory, Put out there by who, (Dr. Stewart?), Maybe Stewart and Popham conviced the king to send the 6 million (or so, they say) to london claiming to help henry escape there since the rebels were planning agaist him, but then never really helping him get there, only the women, maybe the king trusted them as friends, maybe they saw an opportunity that wasn’t there when Haiti was under French Control…
        Als, Dont know why but this sticks out in my head….. it was of Great concern for Dr. Stewart to UN Teach the woman of their (bush medicine) A DOCTOR???
        HuMMMMM.. RED FLAG.. RED FLAG…. Dr.Stewart affraid?.. of Knowledge? ANd Woman and (their ways)?
        Well isn’t he supersticious……. Then there’s the legend of Suicide.
        BUt dont forget with A silver bullet….HHHMMMMM……
        I just need proof of sucide, and then i can rest it.. until then it is just a theory…Lengend… Lie ….cover up….

  4. I travel to the Haiti the town callMelo 4 years ago.. A locate an old man in the mountains explained that King Henri saw a extremely beautiful woman sitting by the Catholic church… he went after her invited her to his chambers she accepted she told him she needed somethings walk then disappeared from him his sight.. He walked in the church then a catholic priest don’t remember the name European anglo saxon .. addressed him rudely King Herni warned him then the catholics priest replaied You are King outside of here but in here Im king… When King Herny raised his hand to slap the Catholic priest he suddenly had a major stroke…. soldiers heard him moaning in the church they pick him up and went to Palace… his physician told his wife he will not recover… King herny right hand man tall mulato african descent after days seeing herny will not get better told Henry he will take rule he was having an affair wil King Henry’s wife for years.. when King herny would entertain himself with women small Palace by the main Palace. Thats when South of Haiti heard of the news of his illness they marched north to take over.. He did shot himself to the heart …Kings henrys wife was being protected by her lover… at least two son’s where killed by King Hernys staff.

  5. I travel to the Haiti the town callMelo 4 years ago.. A locate an old man in the mountains explained that King Henri saw a extremely beautiful woman sitting by the Catholic church… he went after her invited her to his chambers she accepted she told him she needed somethings walk then disappeared from him his sight.. He walked in the church then a catholic priest don’t remember the name European anglo saxon .. addressed him rudely King Herni warned him then the catholics priest replaied You are King outside of here but in here Im king… When King Herny raised his hand to slap the Catholic priest he suddenly had a major stroke…. soldiers heard him moaning in the church they pick him up and went to Palace… his physician told his wife he will not recover… King herny right hand man tall mulato african descent after days seeing herny will not get better told Henry he will take rule he was having an affair wil King Henry’s wife for years.. when King herny would entertain himself with women small Palace by the main Palace. Thats when South of Haiti heard of the news of his illness they marched north to take over.. He did shot himself to the heart …Kings henrys wife was being protected by her lover… the locate told mus that twoof herny son’s where killed by his staff.

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