Jean-Jacques Dessalines, [pronounced zhahn zhahk day sa LEEN,] (1758-1806) is one of Haiti’s national heroes. He helped free the country from French rule and became its first chief of state.
Dessalines was born a slave in Grande-Riviere-du-Nord, Haiti. In his early life, he served as an officer in the French army. In 1791, Dessalines became a part of the freedom movement that lead to the total abolition of slavery in Haiti in 1793.
After fighting under General Toussaint L’Ouverture against British and Spanish soldiers attempting to take the Haitian colony from France, Dessalines fought again under Toussaint to expel the French from Haiti. In 1802, when the French arrested Toussaint, Dessalines became the revolution’s leader. The French, under General Rochambeau (successor of LeClerc who had died of malaria earlier) were finally defeated at the famed Battle of Vertieres on November 18th, 1803.
Notably, it is Dessalines’ victory over Rochambeau in Vertieres that forced Napoleon to abandon his bid for the control of Louisiana and eventually, the rest of the ‘New World’. In 1804, Dessalines declared the colony the independent country of Haiti and assumed the title of governor general for life. In 1806, he was murdered by political rivals. Source: http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~dhsa/dessa_bio.html