Who is Marie-Jeanne?
Not much is known about Marie-Jeanne Lamartinière, not even when she was born or died. The formerly enslaved mulatto is known primarily for being a soldier during the Haitian Revolution and fighting beside her husband Louis Daure Lamartinière, especially at the siege of Crete a Pierrot. Several eye witness accounts claim seeing Marie Jeanne leading the charge at Crete a Pierrot. This was not uncommon in the armies of Haiti, and several women rose to military prominence. The most famous are Victoria Montou, Sanité Belair (Lieutenant in Dessalines’ army when she was executed by the French), Pierrette Jolibois (Lieutenant of the Royal Third Battalion), and Guillaumette Charlot ( First Battalion of Artibonite).
The Highlight of Life as a Hero
One account of Marie-Jeanne goes, “Crête-à-Pierrot besieged by a French army of over 12,000 men. Dressed in a suit like a Mamluk, she wore a shoulder gun and a cutlass attached to a steel belt. A kind of cap which imprisoned her opulent hair, overflowed. In the rain of projectiles, Marie-Jeanne stretched from one end to the other of the walls, sometimes distributing cartridges, sometimes helping to load the guns. And when the action became more intense, she bravely rushed to the forefront of soldiers and played the rifle with a furious enthusiasm. ” (1)
Another account of her goes, “Could they have, these brave, bend a moment when the courageous voice of a woman urged them to bury themselves under the ruins of the fort? Marie-Jeanne, woman of color, native of Port-Republican [now Port-au-Prince, Haiti] , stunningly beautiful, leaving the concerns of gender, came every assault that gave the French face death under the ramparts. A steel belt, to which hung a sword, surrounded her size and her hands armed with a rifle boldly sent the murderous lead in the French ranks. She had tied her fate to that of Lamartinière and always fighting with him. ” (2)
Marie-Jeanne wasn’t only an inspiration for the men fighting beside her, but also for the French soldiers fighting against her. How could they, the army of Napoleon and the strongest fighting force on Earth, lose to a slave woman such an underwhelming amount of men?! “… By far, the French watched their work of destruction when, stunned, they saw on the walls of the fort, a woman who excited the fighters. It was Marie-Jeanne, the wife of Lamartinière. Sword in hand, rifle in hand, she shared all the dangers of the heroic defenders of Crete a Pierrot. “
After her Death
After the death of her husband on November 2, 1802, she falls ill and retires to the sugar plantation her husband left her in Leogane. While there Dessalines visits her to pay his respects to her husband and thank her for her service. After her recovery, she becomes Dessalines’ personal bodyguard and head of his security detail. Other accounts say that she was only his mistress and the position of bodyguard was given to her so as not to illicit suspicion from his wife, but what remains true is that the only assassination attempt on Dessalines that succeeded was the one time she was not guarding him on October 17, 1806.
After Dessalines’ murder, she retires once again, and for good. She later marries a close friend of her dead husband and a man that served with her at the siege of Crete a Pierrot, Jean-Louis Larose.
(1) Windsor Bellegarde, quoted in Dantès Bellegarde (1953). Histoire du Peuple Haïtien. pp. 223.
(2) Thomas Madiou (1847). Histoire d’Haiti, Volume II: 1799-1803. pp.273.
(3) Justin Chrysostome Dorsainvil (1934). Histoire d’Haiti – Cours supérieur. pp.114