The Author

A Life of Words

Grégory Pierrot (University of Connecticut-Stamford)



Juste Chanlatte was the son of Pierre Rémy Chanlatte, a “mestif libre” from Port-au-Prince, and Charlotte Simone Haran, a “carteronne libre” from Léogane. Rémy Chanlatte was a merchant and soon to be a négociant (wholesale trader) in Port-au-Prince. Both hailed from well-to-do free colored families. They were married on November 19, 1768, less than a month after the birth of their first daughter Magdeleine.[1] Magdeleine’s birthdate makes it unlikely that Juste Chanlatte would have been born that same year or two years prior, as has often been claimed. Juste was most likely born in 1770 or 1771, and his birth certificate lost in the destruction wrought by the earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince on June 3, 1770.[2] The baptism of a “Chantal, Juste” is listed in an index of acts performed in the year 1770 at the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer.[3] Though uncommon in Saint Domingue records,  this misspelling of Chanlatte’s name occurs in at least one other official French record, and suggests this may indeed be Chanlatte.[4]

Rémy Chanlatte sent Juste to metropolitan France to get the education denied him in colonial Saint Domingue, like many of his free colored peers. Joseph Saint Rémy asserts that Chanlatte was “educated in Paris,” a point corroborated by contemporaries of his also educated in the metropole.[5] It is unclear exactly when Juste Chanlatte left for France or returned to Saint Domingue, but he was in Port-au-Prince by April 25, 1789, when he became godfather to his sixteen-month-old brother, Juste Frédéric.[6]

When the Revolution Comes

News of the French Revolution first reached the island in the fall of 1789, and the Western corridor where Chanlatte resided became a hotbed of white supremacist activity. A colonial assembly was constituted at Saint Marc expressly to deny free people of color civil rights, and against metropolitan rule. In the aftermath of Vincent Ogé’s short-lived, failed armed uprising in the fall 1790, free-coloreds in the Western corridor mobilized. Among their officers was Juste Chanlatte’s uncle Antoine, a veteran of the colored militia who had also fought in the American Revolution.[7] Rémy and Juste also joined the struggle. In September 1791, Juste thus co-signed a letter as “major general” of the gens de couleur, warning the municipal authorities of Arcahaye that they were “far from desiring war, but ready to undertake it.”[8] Juste’s captain was Jacques Cameau, his future father-in-law. In October 1791, Juste was elected as representative for the free coloreds of Arcahaye to meet whites and draft the Damiens plantation peace treaty.[9] The agreement was short-lived. In the string of battles and massacres that followed, free men of color reorganized their troops into a free colored army of the West in whose artillery Chanlatte served under Pétion.

In November 1791, as the army was preparing to set siege to Port-au-Prince, Chanlatte—according to Beaubrun Ardouin—authored the Appel des hommes de couleur de l’Ouest” that summoned free people of color to “rally under our common standard” and “die or avenge God, nature, the law and humanity, so long outraged in these horrible climes.” [10]  The gens de couleur prevailed militarily, taking over Port-au-Prince and forcing the white population to grant them representation in Western civil authorities. In the aftermath of the April 4, 1792 decision by which the French Assemblée recognized civil rights for the gens de couleur, Rémy Chanlatte was named municipal officer at Port-au-Prince. When Republican commissioner Polverel was welcomed in the city by the segregated white and free-colored gardes nationales around the same time, it was major general Juste Chanlatte of Arcahaye who was sent to announce the visit of his commander Bauvais to the municipal council.[11]

In 1793, following the defeat of royalist governor Galbaud at the hands of the Republican coalition led by Commissioner Sonthonax, thousands of royalist and white refugees fled the island. Sonthonax’s gens de couleur allies controlled all of the Western corridor, but with France now at war with both Spain and England, the slave armies of the North found support from the Spanish side of the island in their war against the French. On 28 May 1793, Juste Chanlatte married “Henriette Cameau… legitimate and minor daughter of Jacques Cameau, planter and captain for the district of Boucassin and of citizen Henriette Marteau.”[12] Less than a week later, Juste’s mother Charlotte died and was buried under the hospices of abbé Guillaume Lecun, apostolic vicar at Port-au-Prince.[13]

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“Mariage de Juste Chanlatte et Henriette Cameau,” ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Mariage, Arcahaye, 28 May 1793. (section 1)
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“Mariage de Juste Chanlatte et Henriette Cameau,” ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Mariage, Arcahaye, 28 May 1793. (section 2)


British Occupation

By May of 1794, reinforced British troops with support from local planters had taken over most of the coastal cities in the South and West. Saint Rémy asserts that in the immediate aftermath of Sonthonax’s abolition of slavery in August 1793, Juste Chanlatte joined a coalition based in Saint Marc that declared manumissions null and void and opposed against the authority of the Commissioners of the Republic. Saint-Rémy claims that Chanlatte was the co-author of the declaration quite ironically entitled “Resistance to Oppression.”[14] Saint-Rémy’s claim is at least partially supported by Garran’s report.[15] Juste Chanlatte apparently stayed put as the British took over Arcahaye, where he owned land, in December 1793, and in June 1794 Port-au-Prince, where he lived and worked. The details of how Chanlatte fared during the British occupation are unclear, and we do not know if he took part in any of the anti-British insurrectionary movements that sprouted regularly in the region where he lived. Arcahaye was the fiefdom of free man of color Jean-Baptiste Lapointe, under whose rule “the plantation regime remained largely intact;” it is fair to imagine Chanlatte was among those planters who benefitted from his regime.[16]

Chanlatte faced adversity in his family life: in July of 1795, Henriette gave birth to the couple’s first child, Marie Olive, who died two weeks later.[17] Two years later, on February 7, 1797, Juste and Henriette had another child, Joseph Benoni, baptized in April.[18] He was not present at the ceremony. Saint-Rémy claims that Chanlatte fled to the United States with the help of white négociants from Port-au-Prince after the English evacuated the cities of the Artibonite region.[19] Saint-Rémy dates Chanlatte’s departure to 1797, but the British evacuated Port-au-Prince, Saint-Marc and Arcahaye in May 1798, and the planters who had actively collaborated with them in the West—Jean-Baptiste Lapointe foremost among them—were allowed by Louverture to leave at the same time to settle in Jamaica or the United States.[20]

Chanlatte may well have been close to the British occupiers, but the record hints at a different kind of trouble: on November 23, 1797, nineteen-year-old Louise Prunier gave birth out of wedlock in Cayes to a young girl she named Geneviève Honorine.[21]  The child was entered in the official record over a year later, on December 26, 1798[22] in Port-au-Prince and in the presence of her “natural father… citizen Juste Chanlatte, substitute to the commissioner of the Directoire to this department’s civil tribunal.”[23] Whatever connection Chanlatte may have had with the British did not preclude him from rejoining Republican authorities.

Juste and Henriette obtained a divorce some time in 1799. It could have been granted in Chanlatte’s absence. What became of Henriette and Joseph after the divorce is unclear, as is the fate of Louise Prunier. Geneviève Honorine, Juste and Louise’s daughter, married an American merchant and former soldier in Bolivar’s expedition in the 1820s, the Bostonian Samuel Huntington, whose business with his brother was settled in Jacmel. Geneviève still lived there with her children a year after Huntington died in 1831.[24]

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“Geneviève Honorine Chanlatte,” ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Naissance, Port-au-Prince, 6 Nivose year VII (26 December 1798)


Exile and Homecoming

The political context of 1799, with the onset of the War of Knives in June of that year, is a possible factor in Chanlatte’s momentary exile. The civil war raged around Arcahaye, and bloody retaliation against combatants and non-combatants alike was routine. Juste and his brother François Desrivières left for the United States some time in or after 1799. They appear to have lived for a time in Baltimore.[25] Eventually, Juste’s younger brother sailed to France, at least in part to perfect his education.[26] Juste apparently stayed behind: in September 1803, he wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson, in which he expressed regret for not being able to live in the United States.[27] Chanlatte returned to Saint Domingue shortly after the declaration of independence, following the 14 January 1804 decree facilitating the return of exiled Haitians.[28]

He soon joined the highest circles of power as one of Dessalines’ secretaries and close advisors, along with Louis Boisrond-Tonnerre and Etienne Mentor. He infamously called the population to kill all the white French inhabitants remaining on the island. Several authors argue that he personally took part in the massacres.[29] In the aftermath of the massacres, Chanlatte penned “A Mes Concitoyens,” a rousing defense of “the great event.”[30] Acting first as Secretary of the Emperor and later Secretary of State, Chanlatte played an essential role in composing the Constitution of 1805 and drafting new laws. The June 1st 1805 law on divorce he authored helped him marry Françoise Marie Elizabeth Castaing, formerly the wife of fellow General Guy-Joseph Bonnet. [31] Françoise and Chanlatte were married soon after she divorced Bonnet.

Alexandre Pétion, Henry Christophe and a cabal of high-ranking officers revolted against Dessalines and assassinated him on October 17, 1806. Chanlatte was one of Dessalines’ “irreducible” supporters, maintaining loyalty to the emperor even after news of his death reached him.[32] In the chaos following the collapse of the Empire, Chanlatte reached out to Henry Christophe, eventually seeking his protection in the Northern city of Cap. There he and Françoise seemingly had twin daughters in 1807.[33]


At the Court of the Northern King

Chanlatte’s first contribution as a writer in the North was a devastating satirical pamphlet published in Cap in 1807 entitled Réflexions sur le prétendu Sénat du Port-au-Prince, in which he challenged the legitimacy of the Southern Senate and savaged its foremost members each in turn. He soon began publishing articles in the Gazette Officielle de l’état d’Hayti for which he acted as editor and regular contributor from its inception in 1807 to 1816, when he was replaced by Pompée-Valentin Vastey.[34]  Chanlatte was instrumental in the turn to monarchy, notably in helping choose the phoenix as symbol of the kingdom.[35] However, it is as Christophe’s publicist and principal literary author that he played his major role: Chanlatte’s Le Cri de la Nature (1810) was Haiti’s second history of the Revolution after Boisrond-Tonnerre’s Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire d’Haïti (1804). Chanlatte also wrote poems, songs and plays celebrating Henry and a variety of state occasions. He was made Comte de Rosiers when Henry created a Haitian nobility.

Françoise performed Chanlatte’s compositions for the royal court, including at the king’s coronation in June 1811.[36]  The Chanlattes and other members of Henry’s court formed the Théâtre Royal, “amateurs… playing for their Majesties’ pleasure and for the perfection of Art” on a regular basis.[37] Juste notably wrote and performed at the court L’Entrée du Roi en sa capitale, en janvier 1818, a one-act opéra comique in the spirit of Grétry’s popular ancien régime productions. He also authored La partie de chasse du Roi (1820), a rewriting of Collé’s La partie de chasse d’Henri IV (1774). Chanlatte authored a single epic drama, Néhri (1819). According to Hérard Dumesle, he was also the author of L’Haïtiade, an epic poem dedicated to the history of the island-nation eventually published by Gragnon-Lacoste in 1878.[38]

Henry Christophe died on October 8, 1820, his kingdom collapsing immediately afterwards. Chanlatte was spared in the violent backlash against Henry’s court that followed: two weeks after Henry’s death, he delivered a welcoming address to President Jean-Pierre Boyer on his arrival in Cap Haitien.[39] He also authored an outlandish portrait of Henry describing Henry as a “disgrace for humankind” that was widely reproduced in American newspapers.[40] He retained his rank as General and became chief editor of reunited Haiti’s main newspaper, Le Télégraphe, in which he notably published an “Ode à l’indépendance” put to music by Cassian, who had scored his Christophean opera-comiques before.[41]


Arms of Juste Chanlatte, Comte de Rosiers, Kingdom of Haiti


End Days

Chanlatte spent his final years in a comfortable position in the higher ranks of the Republic of Haiti: he was among the officials who raised toasts during the ceremonies for the recognition of Haiti’s independence by France in 1825.[42] His relations with French diplomats were not without problems: a year later he was at the center of a small polemic, publishing an open letter in La Feuille du Commerce critiquing the tone used by Baron Maler, Consul for France in a public announcement. Maler’s outraged response swayed Boyer into publishing an official rebuke to Chanlatte in Le Télégraphe on December 31, 1826.[43] In August 1827, Chanlatte published “A mes concitoyens sur l’affaire Blanchet”–a dispute between former colonist and lawyer Blanchet and Boyer’s government that grew into a national quarrel in France—a 15-page pamphlet that appears to have been his last contribution to Haitian public discourse and print culture.[44]

When he died on October 1st, 1828 at the presumed age of 58—or 60, according to his death certificate—Chanlatte was retired from affairs of the state and receiving a pension from the Republic. He was praised in verse by Edmond Laroche in an issue of Le Télégraphe that also featured a letter claiming that Chanlatte left “memories engraved in every heart, and public opinion [was] well pronounced in his favor.”[45]



[1] See records for Juste Chanlatte and Henriette Cameau’s wedding. ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Arcahaye, Mariage, 28 May 1793. ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Port-au-Prince, Mariage, 19 November 1768.

[2] Chanlatte was married to Henriette Cameau on 28 May 1793. The marriage certificate lists him as a legal minor. By the law of 20 September 1792 this means he was under 21 years of age. ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Mariage, Arcahaye, 28 May 1793. About the earthquake, see Moreau de Saint Méry, Description topographique, physique, civile, politique et historique de la partie française de l’isle de Saint Domingue, vol.2 (Philadelphie, 1797-8), 418-20. Joseph Saint-Rémy mentions that “archives for 1770 were scattered in the earthquake that occurred that same year,” Pétion et Haïti: étude monographique et historique, vol.1 (Paris, 1854), 24n1.

[3] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Port-au-Prince, 1770-71, entry 22.

[4] Juste’s uncle, officer Antoine Chanlatte, was called “citoyen Chantale” in documents from the Ministry of the Navy and the Colonies. See Bernard Gainot, Les officiers de couleur dans les armées de la République et de l’Empire (1792-1815) (Paris: Karthala, 2007), 81.

[5] Saint-Rémy, Pétion et Haïti, vol.4, 47. See also “Education sous les colons, et sous la république française,” Feuille du Commerce, petites affiches et annonces du Port-au-Prince, 13 January 1833, 2-3; 2.

[6] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Baptism, Port-au-Prince, 25 April 1789.

[7] Bernard Gainot, Les officiers de couleur dans les armées de la République et de l’Empire (Paris: Karthala, 2007), 78.

[8] Lettre des gens de couleur de Boucassin, du 14 septembre 1791,” in Réponse d’un ami des Noirs à la lettre de M***, habitant de Saint-Domingue (1791), 74-75. It is signed ” Cameau, capitaine general,” and “Chaulotte fils, major general,” quite clearly Chanlatte. In Réponse d’un ami des Noirs à la letter de M***, habitant de Saint-Domingue (1791), 74-75

[9] Saint-Rémy, Pétion, vol.1, 113; Beaubrun Ardouin, Études sur l’histoire d’Haïti, v.1, (Paris: Dézobry et Magdeleine, 1853-1860), 213-4.

[10] Ardouin, ibid., 314-5.

[11]  Ardouin, Études, vol.2, 64; 67.

[12] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Mariage, Arcahaye, 28 May 1793. My translation.

[13] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Décès, Port-au-Prince, 4 June 1793.

[14] Saint-Rémy, Pétion, vol.1, 222-3.

[15] Ardouin, Études, vol.2, 308. Jean-Philippe Garran, Rapport sur les troubles de Saint-Domingue vol.4, 185. Although Garran confuses Juste and Antoine Chanlatte, the letter hostile to Commissioners he mentions appears to be the same document Saint-Rémy claims was co-authored by Juste Chanlatte. He was undoubtedly among the signatories.

[16] David Geggus, Slavery, War, and Revolution: The British Occupation of Saint-Domingue, 1793-1798 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), 240.

[17] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Baptême, Port-au-Prince, 10 September 1795; ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Enterrement, Port-au-Prince, 27 September 1795.

[18] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Baptême, Port-au-Prince, 26 April 1797

[19] Saint-Rémy, Pétion, vol. 4, 26. Saint-Rémy specifically names François Ango–a lawyer who sat on Major-General Whyte’s Conseil Privé and served as chief of police in Port-au-Prince during the English occupation–and a Ducoudray, négociant in Port-au-Prince, as having saved Chanlatte’s life during Toussaint’s regime. Ibid., 37.

[20] Ardouin, Études, vol.3, 419.

[21] 3 Frimaire year VI of the Republican calendar.

[22] 6 Nivose year 7.

[23] ANOM IREL, Saint Domingue, État Civil, Naissance, Port-au-Prince, 6 Nivose year VII (26 December 1798).

[24] Rev. E.B. Huntington, A genealogical memoir of the Huntington Family in this country (Stamford, CT: 1863), 252-3; Télégraphe 25 novembre 1832, 4.

[25] See Baltimore Federal Gazette, “Liste des Lettres qui restent à la Post Office de Baltimore” 16 to 27 June 1801.

[26] “Passeport de François Désire (sic) Chanlatte,” 12 Fructidor An IX (30 August 1801), 4 M 678/9, Archives départementales de la Gironde. The abbreviation on the form –“Dres”–undoubtedly points to Chanlatte’s uncommon middle name, misinterpreted as “Désire.”

[27] “To Thomas Jefferson from Juste Chanlatte, 13 September 1803,” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 41, 11 July–15 November 1803, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014, pp. 379–380. Also here.

[28] Ardouin, Études vol. 6, 50, 190.

[29] Gaspard Théodore Mollien, Haïti ou Saint Domingue vol. II (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006), 28-9. Saint-Rémy, Pétion, vol. 4, 37. Ardouin, Études vol.5, 449-50.

[30] Chris Bongie mentions that a copy of the pamphlet can be found in the British National Archives (CO/137/113/38-40). It is also reproduced as one document from the papers of Dominique Le Maire, a Dunkerque settler in Saint Domingue, in Bulletin/Union Faulconnier, société historique de Dunkerque et de la Flandre Maritime 4 (30 September 1901): 505-507.

[31] Bonnet, 96; Ardouin, Études vol.6, 168fn1.

[32] Gaétan Mentor, Histoire d’un crime politique: le general Etienne Victor Mentor (Haiti, 1999), 125-131.

[33] It appears the Chanlattes may have had twin daughters, one of whom, Célie Flore, died at 14 years of age in July 1821. A baptismal record from 1826 lists the other twin, Marie Claire, as mother of Pierre François, as well as Juste Chanlatte and Marie Françoise Elizabeth Castaing as grandparents (and none other than President Boyer as the godfather). Transcript available at the Association Généalogique Haïtienne.

[34] On Vastey, see Marlene L. Daut, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

[35] Clive Cheesman, Armorial, 18.

[36] Julien Prévost, comte de Limonade, Relation des Glorieux évènemens qui ont porté leurs majestés royales sur le trône d’Hayti, suivie de l’histoire du couronnement et du sacre du roi Henry Ier, et de la reine Marie-Louise (Cap-Henry: P. Roux, 1811), 189-195.

[37] Almanach royal d’Hayti pour l’année 1816 (Cap Henry: P. Roux, 1817), 123.

[38] Hérard Dumesle, Voyages dans le nord d’Haïti, ou Révélations des lieux et des monuments historiques (Cayes: Imprimeries du gouvernement, 1824), 268. L’Haïtiade, poème épique en huit chants, Gragnon-Lacoste ed. (Paris: Durand et Pedone-Lauriel, 1878).

[39] Discours prononcé par le général Juste Chanlatte, au nom des principaux officiers du Cap Haïtien et adressé au Président d’Haïti, dans la salle d’audience du palais national de cette ville (Cayes: Imprimerie National du Gouvernement, 1820).

[40] See “Henry Christophe,” Salem Gazette, April 8, 1821.

[41]Ode à l’indépendance,” Le Télégraphe, 30 December 1821.

[42] See Jean-Baptiste Guilain Wallez, Précis historique des négociations entre la France et Saint-Domingue (Paris: Ponthieu, 1826), 469.

[43] See Thomas Madiou, Histoire d’Haïti: de 1827 à 1843 vol. VII (Reprint; Port-au-Prince: Henri Deschamps, 1988), 13-16.

[44] On the “affaire Blanchet,” see Y.K. Kwon, “When Parisian liberals spoke for Haiti: French anti-slavery discourses on Haiti during the Restoration, 1814-1830,” Atlantic Studies 8.3 (2011): 317-341, notably p.328.

[45]Intérieur,Le Télégraphe, 19 October 1828.