Romaine-la-Prophétesse (Romaine Rivière), was a late eighteenth-century warrior of the early stages of the Haitian Revolution. He was born in the Kingdom of Kongo. His military and religious leadership suggest strong Kongolese influences. The most reliable contemporary source describes him as a “free black,” although most scholarly accounts generally, and perhaps uncritically, identify him as a griffe, which in the French plantation colony of Saint Domingue (1697–1804) designated someone who was three-fourths black and one-fourth white. It is more certain that at the time of the Haitian Revolution’s outbreak in 1791, he was a landowner who was married with two children.
Romaine rose to prominence as an insurgent leader in the Southern part of the colony around the same time that slave uprisings in Bois Caiman, led by Boukman Dutty and Cecile Fatiman. By September 1791 Romaine had established a base camp in the mountains near Leogane in the rural hamlet of Trou-Coffy. There he occupied a Catholic shrine, administered the sacraments, and inspired his troops to raids of legendary violence on plantations, which he led on horseback with his trademark “magic” rooster tied to his horse’s saddle. Calling himself “the godson of the Virgin Mary,” he would say mass in the Trou-Coffy shrine beneath an inverted cross with a saber in his hand. At the height of these syncretic communal rituals, Roman the Prophetess (as his name translates literally from the French) would find written messages from the Virgin Mary in the tabernacle, which would instruct him to liberate slaves and declare to them that the king had set them free.
Romaine’s military activity ranged from Jacmel to Leogane, covering an impressive expanse of mountains and plains. His troops took part, for instance, in the massive November 1791 assault on Jacmel, in which a total of thirteen thousand slaves (up to four thousands of whom could have been under Romaine’s direct command) conquered the city. But his greatest conquest was the port city of Leogane, which he ruled for several months. At least one successful act of nautical piracy had allowed Romaine’s forces to attack this city in October 1791 from both sea and land. The conquest of Leogane also relied on an informal alliance that Romaine had made with the city’s mulatto elite; they would later come to regret this alliance, however, because of Romaine’s increasing religious and royalist fanaticism (one source indicates that his ultimate objective was to rule the entire island of Saint-Domingue as its king). Firmly in control of the city by later that
year, on New Year’s Eve 1791 Romaine summoned all the white and mulatto residents and prisoners to a meeting, where he made them sign a treaty that recognized him as the “commander of all assembled citizens” in Leogane.
Romaine-la-Prophétesse is commonly referred to as a Vodou priest, although this title is perhaps anachronistic, because he rose to prominence at precisely the time when Vodou was just emerging as a religion. Other issues pertaining to his identity are likewise shrouded in mystery. Why, for instance, did he choose to refer to himself at one and the same time as the Virgin Mary’s godson and as a prophetess? Extant letters written or dictated by Romaine and addressed to a French abbot of Les Amis des Noirs in Paris indicate that he was literate and thus deliberately chose a feminine title for himself. Whatever his true identity, it is clear that Romaine-la- Prophétesse had as great an impact as any of the more celebrated religiously inspired Maroon raiders during the early phase of the Haitian Revolution.
Fick, Carolyn E.. The Making of Haiti: The Saint-Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990.
Rey, Terry. “The Virgin Mary and Revolution in Saint-Domingue: The Charisma of Romaine-la- Prophétesse.” Journal of Historical Sociology 11, no. 3 (1998): 341–369.