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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Saint Louis du Nord: a historic rebel town

By Ardain Isma

CSMS Magazine  

Throughout its history, Saint Louis du Nord has always been the town of the intrepid, die hard revolutionaries. Pre-independence era, Saint Louis was a strategic, staging area for the rebels headed by François Capoix ou Capoix La Mort. Nicolas Louis, Capoix’s second in command, held the town as an important buffer from the north, shielding Capoix headquartered in Laveaux-Lapointe. According to historian Thomas Madiou, the decisive battle of February 19, 1802, which took place on the hilltop in and around Fort Trois Pavillons near Port-de-Paix, was actually decided by the audacity of Nicolas Louis and a legendary “bataillon milicien de Saint Louis du Nord” headed by Prudent (Histoire d’Haiti Tome or Volume II page 231.) Madiou does not specify on the explicit character of Prudent, nor does he say whether the latter was a Noir (black) or a mulatto, as it is in the case of Poitevien (mullatto) and Bodin (mulatto).

However, Madiou goes on to say that the fighting, which started at dawn around 6 am, went on unabated throughout the day until dusk began to engulf the area. The French garrison headed by sadistic General Débelle was surrounded, cut-off from its supply line, remained utterly vulnerable and retreated “dans la grande case de l’habitation Payette Petite Place, vaste maison entourée de murs.” (in the vast mansion of Payette Petite Place fenced in by concrete walls). Nicolas Louis and Prudent’s men pounded them throughout the night.

As dawn approaching, the indigenous rebels, in a shrewd guerilla tactic, ceased all fire and confused the French trapped inside the huge mansion. The rebels hunkered down under the thick, green foliage, booby-trapping all areas outside the mansion, except for one escaped corridor purposely left to French soldiers who wanted to flee.  

At sunrise, The French, hearing nothing and thinking the rebels had deserted their posts, began a skittish retreat, crossing Habitation Bion and emerging on the dusty highway leading to Gros-Morne, where they closed ranks and formed two military battalions. Nicolas Louis and the rebels from Saint Louis du Nord, occupying the strategic high ground, pursued the French soldiers while unleashing wave after wave of bullets from both the front and the rear; “et après chaque décharge de la mousquetrie, [ils allaient] les attendre plus loin, au travers des sentiers étroits recouverts d’arbres touffus.” (And after each discharge of bullets, they [the rebels] fast-forwarded their march to go waiting for the [disoriented] French soldiers along the narrow country trails blanketed by thick green foliage.)

Besieged, the French returned fire, but to no specific aim. Madiou goes on to say that “les miliciens de la montagne, dispersés dans les buissons, les abattaient à loisir.” (The militia, scattering around in its mountains hideout, toppled them [the French] at will.) It was a complete rout. A detachment of French and Polish soldiers attempted to reach the south bank of Trois Rivières, the Northwest’s largest river, was obliterated under hails of bullets and the power of the river in full fury, for it had rained the night before.

The French, who did not know the area, were being guided by two Creoles: Cadiac, a white settler from Port-de-Paix and Colin Suberby, a freed black man from Habitation Suberby near the village of Chansolle. According to Madiou, Colin died helping the French crossing the mighty Trois Rivières. Indigenous women and children around Chansolle stoned the French soldiers who ran out of ammunitions and dropped their weapons to flee. The women captured the soldiers and took them to the fort where General Jacques Maurepas, who had been holding on along with 800 rebels,  made them prisoners before he sent them to Toussaint’s forces near Gonaives.   

It was that battle that forced General Leclerc to change tactic in getting the rebels to surrender. Port-de-Paix was eventually pacified, thanks to the capitulation of General Jacques Maurepas, whom Toussaint had great admiration and also whom Toussaint heavily counted on in order to maintain the Northwest Corridor, commonly known as Le Cordon du Nord. So, the French never militarily succeeded in both Port-de-Paix and in Saint Louis du Nord.  

Note: For more on Saint Louis du Nord and on the Northwest in general with regards to the region’s participation during pre and postcolonial eras, one needs to read Madiou’s Volumes I and II. Other historians, like Ardouin, Dorsainvil, Laroche, also made references to the surrendering of Jacques Maurepas. However, not one of them was as meticulous as Madiou.                           

Dr. Ardain Isma is editor-in-chief of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of North Florida (UNF). He is a scholar as well as a novelist. He may be reached at:publisher@csmsmagazine.org

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