Dessalines Day

Observed annually on October 17th, Dessalines Day is a national holiday in Haiti. This holiday commemorates the life and legacy of Jean-Jacques Dessalines on the anniversary of his assassination—an event that took place in 1806.

Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the Haitian constitution of 1805. In 1804, the city of Marchand was renamed Dessalines in his honor, and many men on the island changed their last names from slave names to Jean-Jacques in his honor. In the 20th century, this holiday was created to honor his legacy and has been observed ever since.

The History of Dessalines Day

The rebellion against French authority in Haiti began in 1791 and is considered not only the largest slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere in history but also the most successful one.

The leader of this revolution was Toussaint Louverture, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines would emerge as his lieutenant. Napoleon sent French troops to restore French authority to the colony, and Louverture was captured in 1802. In 1803, Louverture died in a French prison.

Dessalines took over the leadership of the revolution and ended up defeating the French troops at the Battle of Vertières on November 18, 1803. This resulted in France withdrawing over 7,000 troops from the island. On January 1, 1804, Dessalines declared the colony’s independence as a free republic. He then renamed it Haiti—its original indigenous name.

Observing Dessalines Day

In villages, towns, and cities all over Haiti, people take part in parades and festivals dedicated to Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Sometimes this day is also a day of protest, particularly when Haitians are unhappy with the current leadership. People also use the hashtag #DessalinesDay on social media to spread the word about this holiday.

Where is it celebrated?
Haiti (National/legal holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
October 17 Thursday
Next year (2025)
October 17 Friday
Last year (2023)
October 17 Tuesday