by Paul Clammer
How did a man born enslaved on a plantation triumph over Napoleon’s invading troops and become king of the first free black nation in the Americas? This is the forgotten, remarkable story of Henry Christophe.
Christophe fought as a child soldier in the American War of Independence, before serving in the Haitian Revolution as one of Toussaint Louverture’s top generals. Following Haitian independence, Christophe crowned himself King Henry I. His attempts to build a modern black state won the support of leading British abolitionists—but his ambition helped to plunge his country into civil war.
Christophe saw himself as an Enlightenment ruler, and his kingdom produced great literary works, epic fortresses and opulent palaces. He was a proud anti-imperialist and fought off French plots against him. Yet the Haitian people chafed under his authoritarian rule. Today, all that remains is Christophe’s mountaintop Citadelle, Haiti’s sole World Heritage site—a monument to a revolutionary black monarchy, in a world of empire and slavery.