Born a Slave, Died A King
And Helped Fight for American Liberty in Between
Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to accompany my husband on a business trip to Savannah, GA. There in the middle of a tree-lined square in the city's historic district, I came across this memorial statue and a story I'd never heard before.
It was dark when I came upon it. But I could easily read the words carved in the stone of the memorial. They recounted how a group of mixed race men and boys sailed from what is now Haiti, to the colony of Georgia to join the American revolution. fight the rebel militia fight the British. Called the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Dominigue, these soldiers took part in the rebel mitia's effort to oust the British in Siege of Savannah.
I came back in better light for more pictures. I was especially curious about the young drummer and the boy he represents, 12-year-old Henri Cristophe.
Born a slave on the Island of Grenada, how did Henri come to be at the Siege of Savannah?
There is some debate about the circumstances of Cristophe's birth, but it's commonly believed that he was born a slave in Grenada. Young Henri escaped from his master and stowed away on a ship bound for the island Saint-Domingue (Haiti).
There he ended up serving a French naval officer, part of a French contingent that sailed for Georgia to aid the continental troops fighting for independence from the British.
The Siege of Savannah was a horrible rout for the French and continental militia, turning into the second deadliest battle of the Revolutionary War.
Christophe escaped the battle with his life and some historians believe he then bought his freedom. Though he never learned to read and write he had a bent for leadership, and joined Black General Toussaint Louverture in wresting Haiti from the the colonial control of the French, English and Spanish.
Over the years, Christophe gained political clout and seized power, eventually declaring himself King of Independent Haiti. Despite his long commitment to ending slavery, he became a domineering King.
Haiti did prosper under his leadership, as Christophe helped developed a stable currency and strong trade. But the high-spirited boy who ran away from his master, had the chutzpah to marry his boss's daughter and the backbone to bargain with Napoleon Bonaparte's emissaries--died by his own hand when rebels seized his power.
In the end, Henri Christophe is not easy to categorize, which may be a good thing. I think we tend to categorize our leaders too easily.
The Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Dominigue was the largest group of soldiers of African descent to fight in the American Revolution. It serves to reminds us of the spectrum of people who sacrificed to birth our country.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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