A Country Fit for a King?
Henri Christophe was a former slave who became the first King of Haiti. He was also a key leader in the Haitian Revolution which allowed Haiti, the first free black Republic, to gain independence from France.
Despite never attending school, and remaining illiterate his whole life, Christophe sought to build Haiti into a strong country using the smarts, skills, and charisma that he had.
He was not a man without flaws, as you will discover. Yet he is a superb example of an influential leader who believed in the potential of Haiti, even when others would have likely given up.
- There is disagreement over Christophe’s boyhood, but some historians believe that he was born on Grenada island as the son of a free man. We do know that he was enslaved in Haiti, starting in his teens.
- Served as a leader in the war for Haitian independence and later served as President. He later self-proclaimed himself King of northern Haiti, and reigned from 1811 until 1820.
- In 1793, the spirit of the French Revolution spread to Haiti. Christophe served as Chief Lieutenant for Toussaint L’Ouverture fighting the French, British, and Spaniards alongside him.
- When L’Ouverture was imprisoned in France, Christophe rejoined the resistance, led by Dessalines. He supported Dessalines when he became emperor in 1804.
- After Dessalines‘ assassination, Christophe held sway in the north and was appointed president of the still young republic in 1806. In 1811, he assumed the title of king.
- While Alexandre Pétion ruled southern Haiti as the “Republic of Haiti,” in northern Haiti, Christophe set up his own domain and ruled as King Henry I. He created a hereditary nobility comprising of 4 princes, 8 dukes, 22 counts, 37 barons, and 14 knights.
- Christophe established an elaborate dress code and court ceremony and built himself 8 palaces and 6 chateaus.
- During his reign Christophe distributed plantations to military chiefs, restored peasants to their former occupations, and built the Haitian economy.
- Christophe built the famous Citadelle Laferrière, as a fortress south of his capital at Cap-Haïtien. While it is a famous landmark in Haiti, it was built by a corvée. Christophe imposed that forced labor system upon peasants who could not otherwise contribute levies that his kingdom required.
- During his reign, Christophe introduced a monetary system based on gourds (predecessor to Haiti’s gourde currency), created a system of nobility, declared Catholicism the state religion, and established schools and hospitals, including a basic school of medicine.
For further reading on Henri Christophe, please check out these links: