Sanité Bélair (born Suzanne Bélair), was a Haitian freedom fighter and revolutionary during the Haitian Revolution. Sanité, whom Dessalines described as “a tigress,” is formally recognized by the Haitian Government as a National Heroine of Haiti. In 2004, she was featured on the 10 gourde 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.
It is believed that, Sanité Bélair was born in 1781, in what is now known as “L’Artibonite.” Sanité was born Afranchi (free person of color). The Affranchis (many of whom were mixed-race) of Saint Domingues had many restrictions, but were allowed to receive some education and own land. In 1796, at the age of 15 she married Charles Belair, nephew and lieutenant, then general under the leader of the Haitian revolution Toussaint Louverture.
Sanité became a sergeant and later a lieutenant during the conflict with French troops of the Saint-Domingue expedition. Her exact reason for joining the revolutionary army was never explicitly stated but it is understood that she wanted to help Haiti claim its independence. Together, she and her husband are responsible for the uprising of almost the entire enslaved population of L’Artibonite, against their enslavers.
According to C.L.R. James in The Black Jacobins, after the death of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Dessalines invited Charles Bélair to a meeting. Sanité went with her husband. Dessaline arrested them both and sent them to the French general, Leclerc. Another account, however, states that Dessalines did not personally capture the Bélairs, but after their capture he wrote Leclerc that he had “undeniable evidence that Charles Bélair was the leader of the latest insurrection,” and asked that “Charles and his wife be punished.” However, Faustin Répussard of the French army wrote the following account to his General:
Following the orders of General Jablonowski I went to the bourg of the small river to report to Dessalines. The next day my national guards were formed into two columns and we walked to […] Simmonette not far from the Grande fond and I was put in charge of the right column. I then went towards the corai maugerwhere I surprised Diaqoi, Belair’s brother in law, hidden in a ravine. After questioning him to no avail I went in to the woods with my national guard and after a short search I found Madame Charles Belair hidden behind a patch of high grass and I made her come out from behind it and carried on with her to find Belair who I had been told was entranched with some brigands but seeing his wife prisoner he gave himself away.
On October 5th 1802, they both received the death sentence; Sanité was sentenced to death by decapitation, and Charles by firing squad. She refused to die by decapitation and demanded to be executed just like her husband, whom she had witnessed being executed by firing squad.
Reportedly, she walked to her death with bravery and defiance, refusing to wear a blindfold. She shouted to the people “Viv Libète anba esklavaj!”(“Liberty, no to slavery!”), who of course were forced to watch the scene, in an attempt to dispel the revolution idea. Their deaths, however did not deterred the revolutionaries, who continued fighting.
The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James