Gazette Officielle de l'état d'Hayti, 1807-1811
After the assassination of the Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines in October 1806, General Henry Christophe was named provisory president of Haiti. However, shortly afterward, he fled from Port-au-Prince to establish his own republic in the north of Haiti at Cap-Haitïen. The new nation’s newspaper would be edited by one of the country’s earliest historians, the poet and playwright, Juste Chanlatte, and would be called, the Gazette Officielle de l’état d’Hayti. This paper would replace the Dessalinien state’s Gazette politique et commerciale d’Haiti. Both papers were published by the state-sanctioned printer, P. Roux. On March 26, 1811, Henry Christophe established a monarchy and became king over the northern part of the island. It is at this time that we assume the newly baptized northern Kingdom of Hayti renamed its national newspaper the Gazette Royale d’Hayti.
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It is perhaps fitting that the final known known extant issue of La Gazette Officielle begins by recounting the end of a celebration held in honor of the eighth anniversary of Haitian independence. Among those toasted were President Henry Christophe, naturally, along with the abbé Grégoire, referred to as “the friend of humanity,” Father Corneille Brelle, the future Queen, Marie-Louise, and the “Marines of Haiti,” for their “continued success.”
The first part of the celebration of the eighth anniversary of Haitian independence takes over this entire issue. At the end of the narration, we learn that the Haitian citizens are asked to collectively “swear to renounce France forever and to die rather than to live under its domination,” as well as to “shed their blood until the last drop for the liberty and independence of our country.” The oath was “solemnly repeated” by all in attendance, according to the article, until all the voices merged into one, ending with the citizenry lifting their hands up to the sky “to attest to the importance and inviolability” of this ritual.
One of only three issues of La Gazette Officielle from 1811 that appears on this site, these publications record some of the last days of Christophe’s presidency, as he prepared to declare a monarchy in March 1811. Importantly, we observe that the epigraph has once again changed. The citation is now from Voltaire’s 1760 heroic tragedy, Tancrède. The quote reads (which I have translated into English): “Friends! Let there be only one party among us; that of the public good and the safety of all!”
One of the most noteworthy elements of this issue is the change of the long-standing epigraph from Voltaire’s play, Mahomet, to a citation from the celebrated French abolitionist, the abbé Henri Grégoire’s De la Littérature des Nègres (1808). The powerful quote preceding the issue now reads, “The friends of slavery are necessarily the enemies of humanity.” The editor of the Gazette, Juste Chanlatte, was a known admirer of Grégoire’s 1808 celebration of black writing. This is demonstrated by the fact that Chanlatte dedicated his 1810 history of the new nation to Grégoire, even mentioning it in the title of the publication itself: Le Cri de la nature, ou, Hommage haytien au très-vénérable abbé H. Grégoire, auteur d’un ouvrage nouveau, intitulé De la littérature des Nègres, ou, Recherches sur leurs facultés individuelles, leurs qualités morales et leur littérature ; suivies de notices sur la vie et les ouvrages des Négres.
Continuing with its attack on both Antoine Dupré and rival president Alexandre Pétion, this issue quotes Father Corneille Brelle as stating that the country of Haiti has “only one leader,” Henry Christophe, and only one prefect, Brelle himself. This last point was a jab at the curé of the southern republic, P. J. B. Jh Lemaire, who had evidently issued a “pastoral invitation” to the inhabitants of the northern state of Haiti.
Returning to its focus on exposing the so-called crimes of Pétion’s rival government in Port-au-Prince, this issue finishes with an acrostic poem spelling the last name of the poet and dramaturge, Antoine Dupré. Far from being an homage, the poem represents an attack on the character of this poet from the southern republic of Haiti, who is most well known for his celebrated poem, “Hymne à la Liberté” and his two no longer extant plays, Les Jeunes filles and La Mort de général Lamarre.
The issue begins by announcing Napoleon Bonaparte's ex-communication from the Catholic Church, per the orders of Pope Pius VII. Because the pope had himself been captured and jailed by French forces, this papal decree is simultaneously acknowledged to be "powerless," however. In happier news emanating from the State of Hayti itself, the arrival of British Vice-Admiral Thomas Goodall in a frigate called, "L'Haytienne," is reported. Goodall, called a "brave mariner, whose devotion and service to our cause makes him worthy of such a title," evidently attended a celebration at the palace given in his honor.
The answer to the riddle or enigma published in the last issue is revealed here to be “Friendship.” Perhaps, more importantly, however, Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat of the Papal States is announced as a “monstrous usurpation.” Indeed, these actions would lead Bonaparte to be ex-communicated by the Catholic Church. A report on the comings and goings of foreign ships at the port of Cap-Haïtien concludes issue number 46.
This issue begins with an excerpt from L'Ambigu detailing Napoleon Bonaparte's defeat of the Hungarians at Raab in July 1809. These victorious moments in Bonaparte's military career were clearly causing great consternation in England, and the article calls for Russia to soundly defeat the French emperor, who at the time was proclaimed to be "invincible" across Europe. A rhyming enigma concludes the issue, with its answer to be published in the subsequent week's newspaper.
Reporting at the outset the United States's lifting of the embargo against trading with England (excerpted from L'Ambigu), this issue also announces the new administration's desire, led by President James Monroe, to "re-establish with Great Britain a complete and friendly relationship." France's reaction to this entente and news of Austria's ongoing conflict with France round out the issue.
This issue begins with a proclamation issued by President Christophe to those blockaded in Môle Saint-Nicholas as a result of the civil war with the southern republic of Haiti. With this proclamation, Christophe offers amnesty to all the cultivators, citizens, and military officers of any rank, be they men or women, in exchange for an "apology for their mistakes" and their "return to duty." The apostolic prefect of Haiti, Father Corneille Brelle's addresses follows that of Christophe. Brelle, too, encourages those currently under blockade to take advantage of the amnesty offered to them by "the good president Henry Christophe, the good father of Haiti."
This issue consists almost entirely of a lengthy excerpt from L’Ambigu reporting the victory of the Austrians over Napoleon Bonaparte’s forces on 21st and 22nd of May 1809. Called the Battle of Aspern-Essling, the article recalls how Bonaparte attempted to cross the river Danube, near Vienna, after establishing himself on the island of Lobau. Led by the Archduke Charles, the Austrian military swiftly forced Bonaparte and his troops to retreat.
The first article in this issue mentions President Christophe’s recent visit to the construction site of the palace at Sans-Souci. The second article reports on the military successes of General Don Juan Sanchez Ramirez, who led the Spanish opposition to French rule over the eastern side of the island of Quisqueya. Importantly, this war, often referred to as the reconquista of Santo Domingo, which lasted for eight months between November 1808 and July 1809, reestablished Spanish control over the colony. The article notes in great detail Ramirez’s successes against the French army, led by Governor Marie-Louis Ferrand.
The only article in this issue is called, "Le Tivoli Haytien." Tivoli Gardens is a famous amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark and is the second oldest such institution in the world. The Tivoli of Haiti is described here as the place where President Henry Christophe seeks refuge in order to "distract himself from the painful duty of governing humans." According to the article, this place of rest and amusement, "worthy of Bacchus," is located near the northern tip of the capital, Cap-Haïtien, not far from the "craggy rocks" upon which Fort Picolet sits.
The final article of this issue criticizes French attempts to circumvent the usual and customary trade tarifs imposed on goods moving between the colonies and various European metropolitan centers. The newspaper reports that the United States, potentially the “secret enemy” referenced in the article, concluded a treaty with France allowing them to help Bonaparte to get his hands on colonial goods at a much cheaper rate than that imposed on the British, for instance. The writer of the article reports that Great Britain considers this Jeffersonian produced policy to be “political suicide” and perhaps rather audaciously states that “a war lasting a few months might suffice to convince [the U.S.] of their unreasonableness and punish them for their insolence and audacity.”
Continuing to report on the “threatening” movements of Bonaparte, particularly, his designs on the South American colonies of Brazil and Peru, this issue finishes by announcing a new law in Haiti. The law, which was passed on February 29, 1808, states that “any person traveling to the interior of Haiti” will now be required to “hold a passport, or risk arrest.” Primarily aimed at military deserters, the president states that this mandate will mitigate the potential for such “abuse.”
Almost entirely taken up with an excerpt from L’Ambigu commenting on Napoleon Bonaparte’s continuous attempts to expand the French empire, this issue also announces a new law requiring a tax of twenty-four gourdes to be paid for all sugar imported into Haiti from abroad.
The principle article in this issue describes a speech given by President Christophe for the celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of Haitian independence. Christophe spoke to the Haitian people on the first of January about the robust and profitable industry, commerce, and agricultural production of northern Haiti. The president even boasted of continue trade with other countries, bragging just a little bit that, in his words, “you have even seen the citizens of a country whose unjust laws forbid trade with you, hasten, in spite of their Government, to bring us supplies of all kind, and to become for us one of our most important branches of commerce.” After the end of the speeches, Christophe was treated to “unanimous cheers” of “Long live independence! Long live liberty! Long live Henry!”
This issue begins with a commentary on a speech given by Napoleon Bonaparte, excerpted from L'Ambigu. The selection printed here mentions Bonaparte's recent treaty of peace with the Emperor Alexander I of Russia. The writer casts suspicion on the the First Consul of France's motives, however, by suggesting that he duplicitously entered into this "contract" solely "with the intention to subsume the Russian empire into his own." The issue finishes with a rundown of foreign ships entering and leaving the ports of Haiti, demonstrating once again a robust environment of international trade between Haiti and its Atlantic neighbors.
This issue contains only one news article called, "End of the Details of the War with Denmark." The article purports to provide a sense of Great Britain's defense of its actions in Copenhagen and challenges the idea that the Danish could remain neutral in the Napoleonic Wars, which at that time involved all of the major European powers, including Prussia and Russia.
Continuing the tradition of largely reporting international news, this issue contains in large part a resumé of a brief naval conflict (referred to as a "war" in the article) between Denmark and Great Britain, which took place during the Napoleonic Wars between August and September 1807. Often referred to as the Battle of Copenhagen, this British attack of a Danish fleet was an effort to prevent Denmark from co-signing Napoleon's efforts to expand France's empire.
News of the Napoleonic Wars, culled from various European sources, continuously populate the pages of La Gazette Officielle. The way in which Haitians wrote about Napoleon, often referring to him as a “usurper,” underscores their fear of his growing power and influence across the European continent. The northern Haitian government’s support for Great Britain’s attempts to check that power is evident throughout these reportages.
Comprising almost entirely international news from Peltier's L'Ambigu, this issue finishes with the report of a treaty of peace between Russia and Prussia ratified on July 9, 1807.
This is a noteworthy issue, principally, because it contains the first signed poem by Juste Chanlatte, who would go on to produce independent Haiti’s first operas with his L’Entrée du roi dans sa capitale (1818); Néhri (1819), an anagram of Henri; and La Partie de chasse du roi (1820). These operas are especially noteworthy for their use of nineteenth-century Haitian Kreyòl in some of the dialogue. The poem that appears here is called simply, “Couplets,” and is addressed to “Monseigneur, le Président.”
Reporting on President Christophe's November 7th visit to the capital, Cap-Haïtien, after a considerable absence, we learn that Christophe entered the city to cheers, flowers, and cries of "Vive Henry!" Juste Hugonin's letter to the president, addressed "Monseigneur," rounds out the issue, demonstrating the writer's utmost veneration for the "invincible Henry," whom he says the Haitian people will "always bless, cherish, and respect."