"Dessalines" (1893): A Play by William Edgar Easton

Act I, Scene 1




FLAVIEN. Five o'clock, and the lazy slaves are still abed. It is only of late they have become such sluggards. Indeed, there must be some infernal conspiracy afloat, as the masters, all over the island, are complaining something is amiss. Now, what that something is, cudgels my brain. [Enter PLACIDE.] So, knave, thou art out of bed! 


FLAVIEN. Yes, bed. What wouldst thou have me call it? 

PLACIDE. Out of the graves of the masters, out of the devil if it please thee. 

FLAVIEN. Thou art impertinent, knave Placide; a hundred lashes will be thy portion, should I have cause to teach thee milder manners. 

PLACIDE. And I, good Flavien, had I the chance — Mon Dieu! — I would give thee and every accursed mulatre- 


PLACIDE. Death. 

FLAVIEN. Forget not, slave, I am thy master's, 


FLAVIEN. [Striking him down with handle of whip.] Take that, infernal black! 

PLACIDE. [Arising.] Every blustering coward sees the rise and setting of his sun. [Exit.]

[Enter Slaves singing “Vive La Liberte." Seeing FLAVIEN they cease singing, with the exception of Petou. 

PETOU. Citizens, keep it up! Vive la — [Sees FLAVIEN] — la mort et mille tounerres! 

FLAVIEN. Ump! What means this? 

PETOU. I will tell thee. We have just heard the news. Toussaint is on the road with ten thousand blacks to set us free! We are going to be citizens! 

FLAVIEN. Indeed! Ye will be angels some day, if ye are only true and faithful servants. Above all things, guard against such a spirit as is in the black hulk of your fellow-servant, Placide. This very day did he dare call me — the natural son and overseer of your master — pimp.

SLAVES. Ha! ha! 

FLAVIEN. Ye dare laugh at such an insult to me? 

PIERRE. Good Flavien, is it not true, that on the night of fête des fleurs thou forced the daughter of Mère Antoinette to a liaison with the master?

FLAVIEN. Is she not the property of her master, to do with as he wills? Knaves, what higher ambition should the slave possess than to infect the master's blood with the degradation of his own? What prouder title can your mothers bear, than mother to your master's child. 

PETOU. I wish every master's child were in purgatory. 

FLAVIEN. To thy fields! Why should I deign to parley with your kind. Only this, at sunset, from my own hand, shall Placide receive an hundred lashes. [Exit SLAVES.] It is hard enough to bear the slights of the master and his kin, without having to endure the contempt of his slaves. Three years in Paris have made me a discontented man, and the remainder of my life in Haïti will be a foretaste of hell. Un mulatre, drawn from the carcass of a slave, by the unrighteous process of the master, is a human given to the world unable to bear the ostracism of racial prejudice and capable of every slavish hatred. But this thing cannot, must not, last, for with the intrepid Rigaud our confrêres will gain franchisement. What can we waste upon our sires? I hate them no less than I despise — and in an unnatural manner, toom the mother that gave me birth. 


DESSALINES. Such sentiment become thy kind. 

FLAVIEN. What, Dessalines! Thou here? 

DESSALINES. Ay, dog; I am here—Monsieur Dessalines, the freedman; made so by his own hand and proclamation. Or, if it suit thy quaking spirit better — I am thy master's escaped slave. Take me, if thou darest!

FLAVIEN. Why didst thou return, knave? Where is thy hiding place? 

DESSALINES. Hiding place! My castle is on the mountains, where dwells no will save mine, and no slave dare breathe the air and refuse to be a free man. 

FLAVIEN. Thou art then a Maroon? 

DESSALINES. Ay, one of those self-freed, much-feared fugitives, who love liberty and hate the masters. Who, not satisfied with merely breathing words of hatred, wreak vengeance on them for their wrongs upon the race. Of my bold lances there is not one who has not purged his soul of slavish servitude in the blood of some accursed white! Fear not thy kind last; we are not jackal. 

FLAVIEN. Good Dessalines, thou art in no good humor today. 

DESSALINES. Good Dessalines — good slave! I remember when first I was sent to the master to receive from his lips my first instructions in the art of making self, in all things, subservient to the master's will. On entrance to his presence, in meek and humble tones, I showed my aptitude for the first lesson in slavish servitude. This must have pleased the good man, for next he tried to instill in me that God expected of the slave obedience to the master's will. From sundry books he had at hand he read to me; and all he read impressed me with the thought that the gods from the beginning had ordained one race to serve, the other race to rule. My people were of that race to serve; his people of the race to rule. Desiring to see how far this mockery went, I asked to be taught a prayer whereby I could free my soul from guilt of insolence and hatred to the whites. He directed me to say a prayer, which, after him I repeated, and called on all the saints and angels of his faith to witness I was an obdurate, worthless sinner. Again did he seek to impress me with the thought, I must learn to love the masters. Then threw I my mask aside. I told him I hated the masters and their gods! I told him the African's gods taught revenge for wrongs, hatred for hatred and death for death! On this he threatened me with chastisement, torment and the church's most fruitful curses. He dared to call me a pagan dog! Dost know what then I did? I plucked him by his unholy beard, threw him to the ground and spurned him as I would some snarling, fangless cur.

FLAVIEN. God have mercy on thee! Sacreligious wretch! 


FLAVIEN. Ignorant as thou art, thou must know the enormity of thy offense in the sight of God. 

DESSALINES. Thou, too, art a doler out of superstitious cantan humble worshipper of thy master's household gods. I have none—I know none and owe allegiance only to my kind. A race enslaved, 'tis true, but not all of us are only fit to be in spirit as thy master hath made thee. Teach the slave if he disobey he receives the lash. 'Tis in reason, for thy corporal frame is captive; but to command the mind to worship at an altar where the sacrifice of liberty and manhood occur each day, is as tyrannical as useless. Minds are not made captive with slavery chains, nor are men's souls made for barter and trade. 

FLAVIEN. There is no reason in thy talk!

DESSALINES. Reason does not suit thy kind; if 'twere otherwise what justification could we find to slay thee. 

FLAVIEN. It is safe to bay an unarmed man. 

DESSALINES. [Casting a dagger at Flavien's feet.] I'll share my arms with thee and name thee: The platter-licker of thy master's household. Thou claimst race with those who rule, and I, a full blood African, dare thee to mortal combat! 

FLAVIEN. I have no quarrel with thee. 

DESSALINES. Ay, not with me but with thy father's nerveless slaves. Thy courage is the coward's courage, born of a knowledge of the weakness of thy adversary. 

FLAVIEN. Braggart and insulter, leave this plantation ere I summon help to make thee leave!

DESSALINES. Thy commands would be as idle jests wert thou to utter them. I go; but 'tis my pleasure. 

FLAVIEN. It is thy pleasure to be boastful of thy prowess. 

DESSALINES. It is my pleasure [Chokes Flavien] to throttle thee as I would some necessary fowl! 

FLAVIEN. Help! Help! [Enter SLAVES, stand undetermined.] [DESSALINES casts FLAVIEN aside.] Take yonder ruffian! Why stand ye there like idiots? 

DESSALINES. He has called thee slaves. Look upon him whining like some currish hound — his master's spawn without a necessary resemblance to that master or claim upon the suffrage of yourselves. Look upon him! He half and half, and I full black, and tell me who is master here! 

SLAVES, Thou art!

DESSALINES. What has made me master here? What will make ye masters here? Is his white tainted flesh unvulnerable ? Look upon us! I am as black as the shadows of night, with muscles of iron and a will that never was enslaved! What has he that I have not, save the arrogance of the accursed Caucasian blood? What hath these Franks that we are their household chattel — that we are their beasts? They suffer from the heat more than we, their sight is less keen, the evening dews hasten them to their graves and the noonday's sun finds them under cover. The very fibres of their frames are weak and puny, and, as the gods allotted labor for the part of man, they must depend on us to carry out the law. What fetich have they that sustains their power to rule and ours to serve? We are ten to one their number now in Haiti — perhaps an hundred, it may be. Then is it the strong who rules, or is it the natural sequence of our own inward weakness? Have ye mothers, sisters or laughing babes ye can call your own? 

SLAVES. We are only slaves. 

DESSALINES. Were ye always thus and your sires, too? Or must it follow ye must always be?

SLAVES. So it doth appear. 

DESSALINES. Listen! When but a stripling, in my native land, I was wont to hunt the great king of the jungles, whose roar is like the distant thunder and whose bite is death. One day, with five companions, armed with spears and shields, I penetrated a dense undergrowth and suddenly confronted a lioness and her male. On seeing us they gave forth terrific roars in defiance of our arms and numbers. All unprepared for the meeting, my companions were affrighted and would have fled had I not called on them to halt — as flight meant a fearful death — and charge upon the foe. We charged upon them, and, though they were wounded, they were not disabled and only made more fierce and desperate. Then ensued there such a battle! The spears were torn from our hands! Three of my companions with their entrails protruding from their torn abdomens were still in death upon the ground! The brutes' terrific roar and fearful carnage drove terror to our hearts, and, routed, we ran ingloriously from the scene. What would I teach thee from this tale? The same lesson I have learnt: That wavering is cowardice and desperation makes men brave; that the arms of the oppressors, however great in number, cannot prevail with the desperation of the lion at bay. The masters are wavering like the tall palmetto in the storm's angry blast. Let us but be brave and the shackles now upon your limbs will be turned to anklets of gold and precious stones, taken from the bodies of these Frankish dogs. If ye would be brutes, be lions! 

SLAVES. Wise Dessalines! 

DESSALINES. Ye do me honor, messieurs. 

PETOU. Dieu et mon droit! He calls us sirs! 

DESSALINES. Free men, then! If so, follow me! 

SLAVES. Ay, we would be free! 

PETOU. That rhymes with liberté —let me see — whiskey. 

FLAVIEN, Curses on thee! Thou wilt rue me this day.

DESSALINES. My blessings abide with thee, good Flavien. Au revoir.



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