The Haitian Revolution was one of the greatest military and cultural battles to take place in the history of man. The tiny island of Haiti defeated France, England, and Spain to gain its independence in 1804. Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Dutty Boukman are the well-known leaders of the revolution. But like any successful military campaign, those leaders were supported by an army. I am telling you the story of a little-known hero and integral person of the Haitian Revolution, seamstress, and nurse, Katherine Flon. Not much information is known about her early life, but we know she was born in the Haitian city of Arcahaie in the late seventeen hundreds. Information exists about Katherine being the goddaughter of Jean-Jaques Dessalines, it also says she served as his assistant during the Haitian Revolution. As a young girl, she was introduced to the art of sewing and found very quickly she had a gift. She was also introduced to nursing, which became her profession and a valuable skill during the revolution.
As Katherine grew into a woman, she continued to develop her skills as a seamstress and practice nursing. She would open a sewing workshop in the city of Arcahaie to teach young girls how to sew so they could support themselves. The Haitian Revolution began on August 21, 1791, and Katherine’s family was one of the many families to flee their homes seeking refuge from the revolution. Katherine made the difficult choice to not join her family and stay behind to help with the revolution. The majority of Katherine’s service in the revolution was in the capacity of a nurse attending to the wounds of soldiers. She was able to nurse her fellow revolutionaries in a non-combat zone, keeping kept her and others safe. By 1803, Jean-Jaques Dessalines was leading the Haitian army against France, England, and Spain, and an official flag for Haiti was not created yet. Dessalines ripped the white stripe out of a French flag after a battle as a symbol of Haiti no longer being connected to France, sending a message to France’s General Burnet.
After Dessalines ripped the white stripe out of the French flag, he told his general, General Clerveau to oversee a team of people who could create the flag for Haiti led by Katherine. Katherine quickly put together her team and their ideas began flowing immediately. The original Haitian flag sewn by Katherine was the vertical red and blue stripes sewn together after Dessalines ripped out the white stripe. That day was May 18, 1803, which is now commemorated as Haitian Flag Day. Now Haiti had its flag, and would soon win its independence on January 1, 1804. The Haitian flag has had many changes to its design. In 1805, the vertical red and blue stripes were now horizontal. In 1806, the National Haitian Coat of Arms was added to the horizontal red and blue stripes. 1811, the flag was a red and black vertical stripe with the coat of arms, and there were three more changes until the current flag was settled upon, the horizontal red and blue stripes with the coat of arms. Katherine Flon, like many other women of the Haitian Revolution, is relatively unknown outside of the island of Haiti. Some historians try to relegate Katherine to just a myth because not much of her story is known, but Haitian historians admire her and she is a key historical figure. The Haitian government decided to place her likeness on the Haitian bill of ten gourdes in the year 2000. To the nurse and seamstress that sacrificed her own safety and freedom to help her people gain their freedom, and even created the original Haitian flag. Katherine Flon, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
Click here to support the On the Shoulders of Giants book series.
Bello, Bayyinah. (2019). Sheroes of the Haitian Revolution. Thorobred Books, LLC.
Click Here to join our mailing list