Born Suzanne Bélair,but called Sanité Bélair by her friends, (1781 – October 5, 1802), was a Haitian Freedom fighter and revolutionary, lieutenant in the army of Toussaint Louverture. Sanité and Charles are responsible for leading the slave rebellions in the L’Artibonite region that began in 1791. Born an affranchi, free black, in Verrettes, she married an aide-de-camp to Toussaint L’Ouverture, and later General, Charles Bélair in 1796. She was an active participant in the Haitian Revolution, became a sergeant and later a lieutenant during the conflict with French troops of the Saint-Domingue expedition.
In 1802 she made a name for herself during the battles that took place at the chaîne des Matheux, a mountain range in the Artibonite. For more than two months she took arms alongside her husband against the armies of French general Charles Leclerc, becoming known for her energy on the battlefield. Some accounts by both French and Haitian witnesses and historians claim that Sanité was the one who actually led the troops, and not her husband.
From this battle, Sanité is described by the French as both vindictive and relentless. After the battles in Matheux, the young French secretary of her husband Charles is accused by many of the soldiers of being a spy for the French, but her husband was reluctant to punish him. On their way to the hills of Arcahaie, Thomas Madiou writes, “they had not traveled a space of a hundred toises (a French measurement of length equivalent to two meters) that the citizen Sanite, who shared all the hatred of her husband against the whites, declared loudly that She did not want to give more care to this young man,” (1) and had him exectued.
Chased by Commandant Faustin Répussard’s column of the French army, the Belairs took refuge in the Artibonite region. Répussard launched a surprise attack on Corail-Mirrault, and captured Sanité Bélair. Her husband turned himself over to the French to avoid being separated from her. The Belair couple was then sent to General Leclerc, who condemned them to death six hours after their arrival at what is now Cap-Haïtien, “The commission, considering the military rank of Charles and the sex of Sanité, his wife, condemned the said Belair to be shot, and the said Sanité his wife to be beheaded. Charles Belair was placed before the detachment which was to shoot him, and he listened calmly to the voice of his wife, exhorting him to die as a brave man. At the moment he put his hand on his heart, he fell, hit by several bullets to the head.” Sanité refused to be executed as anything less than a soldier, and demanded that they shoot her or she would break free of her chains and shoot them out of spite . In fact, ” Sanité refused to allow herself to be blindfolded. The executioner, in spite of his efforts, could not bend her against the block. The officer who commanded the detachment was obliged to have her shot. ” (1) Her last words were, “Viv libète, anba esklavaj,” translated to, “Long live liberty, down with slavery!”
Sanite Belair on the 10 Gourdes currency
Sanité Bélair is considered as one of the heroes of the Haitian Revolution. In 2004, she was featured on the 10 gourd banknote of the Haitian gourde for the “Bicentennial of Haiti” Commemorative series. She was the only woman depicted in the series, and the second woman ever (after Catherine Flon) to be depicted on a Haitian banknote.
(1) Thomas Madiou (1803). Histoire d’Haïti: 1799-1803. Editions H. Deschamps.
(2) Antoine-Henri Jomini. (1842). Histoire critique et militaire des guerres de la Révolution. Brussels.