Early Accounts of Bois Caïman

Deeps > Representing Bois Caïman > Genealogy of Bois Caïman Textual Sources > Early Accounts of Bois Caïman

Antoine Dalmas

is considered to have the earliest account of the Bois Caïman ceremony. He was a surgeon at the Gallifet plantation who survived the insurrection and wrote about it in 1793-94, which was later published in 1814.[1]


Dalmas’ account in French

Antoine Dalmas, Histoire de la revolution de Saint-Domingue (Paris: Meme Frères, 1814), 116-127.


Antoine Metral

in his 1818 account, is assumed to have used Dalmas as his source for Bois Caïman but he is notable in being the first to include the oration of a priestess said to be present at the ceremony.[2]

Image from "Another Side of Haiti"
Image from “Another Side of Haiti”
Antoine Metral, Histoire de l’insurrection des esclaves dans le Nord de Saint-Domingue (Paris, 1818), 15-20.


Civique de Gastine

was a French abolitionist who also utilized Dalmas as his source ,
but added the detail that it was a “dark and stormy night.”[3]
Civique de Gastine Histoire de la Republique d’Haiti ou Saint-Domingue, l’esclavage et les colons (Paris: Plancher, 1819), 104-106.

Herard Dumesle

was a Haitian writer, poet, and senator. He travelled in Le Cap and wrote his version using oral accounts and is considered an original source, separate from Dalmas. He has been charged with adding some classical Greco-Roman theatrics to the Bois Caïman ceremony. He also has the earliest written version of the Bois Caïman speech.[4]

…This God who made the sun, who brings us light from above,

who raises the sea, and who makes the storm rumble,

That God is there, do you understand? Hiding in a cloud,

He watches us, he sees all that the whites do!

The God of the whites pushes them to crime, but he wants us to do good deeds.

But the God who is so good orders us to vengeance;

He will direct our hands, and give us help,

Throw away the image of the God of the whites who thirsts for our tears,

Listen to the liberty that speaks in all our hearts.[5]

Dumesle’s Account

Herard Dumesle, Voyage dans le Nord d’Haiti, ou, Revelation des lieux et des monuments historiques (Les Cayes: Imprimerie du Gouvernement,  1824), 85-90.


Victor Schoelcher

was a French abolitionist whose 1843 account of Bois Caïman is the first to name Boukman in the ceremony.[6]


Shoelcher account (French)

Victor Schoelcher, Colonies etrangeres et Haiti. 2 vols. (Paris, 1843; reprint ed., Point-a-Pitre: Desormeaux, 1973), 99.


Celigny Ardouin

wrote his account of the Bois Caïman ceremony from an elderly man who had been a soldier in the insurgent army. Ardouin’s brother Beaubrun published his work posthumously. Beabrun, like Celigny, was a politician and historian. He is said to have changed Celigny’s phrase “terrible influence” of fetishism to “magical influence.”[7]

Celigny Ardouin

Beaubrun Quoting Celigny (226-230)

Ardouin, B. (Beaubrun). Etudes sur l’histoire d’Haiti: suivies de la vie du general J.-M. Borgella/ par B. Ardouin. Tome 1. Vol. 1. (Paris, 1853), 226-230.


Etienne Charlier

identifies Cecile Fatiman, who was the daughter of an African woman and Corsican man and believed to be a mambo, as participant in the Bois Caïman ceremony. Etienne cites 19th century Haitian family papers.[8]

Cecile Fatima
Charlier’s Account


Etienne Charlier, Aperçu sur la formation historique de la nation haitienne (Port-au-Prince: Presses Libres, 1954), 49.


L’Ordre de Notre Dame

Letters from nuns in le Cap were compiled later but based on original “lettre annuelle de l’Ordre de Notre Dame.” There is reference to Boukman leading the insurgence towards Le Cap with vodou chants.[9]

Notre Dame Cathedral, Cap Haitien

Les Religieuses du Cap

R.P. Cabon, “Les Religieuses du Cap a Saint-Domingue,” in Revue d’histoire de l’Amerique francaise, vol. 3, n 3 (Dec. 1949): 417-19.


[1] Laurent Dubois,  Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 100.
[2] David Patrick Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies, (Bloomington [Ind.]: Indiana University Press, 2002), 89.
[3] Dubois, Avengers, 100.
[4] Dubois, Avengers, 100-101.
[5] Laurent Dubois, and John D. Garrigus, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804: A Brief History with Documents, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 88.
[6] Geggus, Studies, 88.
[7] Schutt-Aine, 91, and Geggus, Studies, 249-50, n. 9. 
[8] Carolyn E. Fick, The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below, (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990), 93.
[9] Fick, Making, 264-265.
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