Year
1803
Month Day
January 01

Haitian independence proclaimed

Two months after his defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte’s colonial forces, Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaims the independence of Saint-Domingue, renaming it Haiti after its original Arawak name.

In 1791, a slave revolt erupted on the French colony, and Toussaint-Louverture, a former slave, took control of the rebels. Gifted with natural military genius, Toussaint organized an effective guerrilla war against the island’s colonial population. He found able generals in two other former slaves, Dessalines and Henri Christophe, and in 1795 he made peace with revolutionary France following its abolishment of slavery. Toussaint became governor-general of the colony and in 1801 conquered the Spanish portion of island, freeing the slaves there.

In January 1802, an invasion force ordered by Napoleon landed on Saint-Domingue, and after several months of furious fighting, Toussaint agreed to a cease-fire. He retired to his plantation but in 1803 was arrested and taken to a dungeon in the French Alps, where he was tortured and died in April.

Soon after Toussaint’s arrest, Napoleon announced his intention to reintroduce slavery on Haiti, and Dessalines led a new revolt against French rule. With the aid of the British, the rebels scored a major victory against the French force there, and on November 9, 1803, colonial authorities surrendered. In 1804, General Dessalines assumed dictatorial power, and Haiti became the second independent nation in the Americas. Later that year, Dessalines proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I. He was killed putting down a revolt two years later.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The North American Free Trade Agreement comes into effect

On January 1, 1994, one of the largest and most significant trade pacts in world history comes into effect. The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico removed most of the trade barriers between the three countries, but it has been ...read more

The Julian calendar takes effect for the first time on New Year’s Day

In 45 B.C., New Year’s Day is celebrated on January 1 for the first time in history as the Julian calendar takes effect. Soon after becoming Roman dictator, Julius Caesar decided that the traditional Roman calendar was in dire need of reform. Introduced around the seventh century ...read more

Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation. Attempting to stitch together a nation mired in a bloody civil war, Abraham Lincoln made a last-ditch, but carefully calculated, decision regarding the institution of slavery in America. By the end of 1862, ...read more

A Nebraska farmer files the first homestead claim

A farmer named Daniel Freeman submits the first claim under the new Homestead Act for a property near Beatrice, Nebraska. Signed into law in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, the Homestead Act essentially legalized the long-standing American practice of squatting on the vast ...read more

Johnny Cash plays San Quentin State Prison

“Folsom Prison Blues” gave Johnny Cash his first top-10 country hit in 1956, and his live concert performance at Folsom—dramatized memorably in the film Walk The Line—gave his flagging career a critical jump-start in 1968. But the prison with which Johnny Cash was most closely ...read more

Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is published

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is published. The book, by 20-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is frequently called the world’s first science fiction novel. In Shelley’s tale, a scientist animates a creature constructed from dismembered corpses. The gentle, ...read more

A preview of "The Birth of a Nation" is shown to audiences

On January 1, 1915, audiences file into the Loring Opera House at 3745 7th Street in Riverside, California, for a special sneak preview of D.W. Griffith’s first full-length feature film, The Clansman. Later renamed The Birth of a Nation, the controversial Civil War epic would ...read more

The real-life murder behind "Looking For Mr. Goodbar"

Roseann Quinn, a 27-year-old New Yorker, visits Tweed’s Bar on the Upper West Side and is picked up by her soon-to-be killer. The incident inspires the cautionary novel and subsequent movie Looking For Mr. Goodbar. For many, Quinn’s murder represented the dark side of the sexual ...read more

Mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line

On January 1, 1781, 1,500 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Line–all 11 regiments under General Anthony Wayne’s command–insist that their three-year enlistments are expired, kill three officers in a drunken rage and abandon the Continental Army’s winter camp at Morristown, New ...read more

United Nations created

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issue a declaration, signed by representatives of 26 countries, called the “United Nations.” The signatories of the declaration vowed to create an international postwar peacekeeping organization. On ...read more

Several Japanese soldiers surrender after learning Pacific War has ended

An American soldier accepts the surrender of about 20 Japanese soldiers who only discovered that the war was over by reading it in the newspaper. On the island of Corregidor, located at the mouth of Manila Bay, a lone soldier on detail for the American Graves Registration was ...read more

Batista forced out by Castro-led revolution

On January 1, 1959, facing a popular revolution spearheaded by Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista flees the island nation. Amid celebration and chaos in the Cuban capitol of Havana, the U.S. debated how best to deal with the radical Castro and ...read more