Happy Haitian Flag Day / Fèt Drapo – May 18, 2023

Le Flambeau Foundation , Inc., May 2023

May 18, 2023 is the 220th year of Haitian Flag Day/ Fèt Drapo.  This day is celebrated in Haiti and in many U.S. cities with large populations of Haitian Americans. Haitian Flag Day celebrates the creation of the Flag of Haiti during the Haitian revolution.  The day is celebrated each year on the 18th of May, which is the anniversary of the flag’s adoption in 1803.

Historical Background

During the 1700s in the French West Indies colony of St. Domingue (later renamed Haiti),  French families owned large sugar plantations and brought in more than one half million slaves from Africa to work the fields.  In 1789 a revolution broke out in France and the ideals of liberty and equality expressed by the revolutionaries quickly spread to the colonial plantation owners and merchants.

The most successful slave uprising in history began in August 1791. A former Creole slave, Toussaint Louverture, was a leading figure in the revolution. The French captured Toussaint in 1802 and sent him to France, where he died in prison in 1803. Two other Haitian leaders took up the fight: Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe.  Independence was later achieved on January 1, 1804.

Why “Flag Day”?

When Dessalines and other leaders decided to march on what is now Port-au-Prince, they wanted to carry a flag that would represent their troops. On May 18, 1803, they pieced together a design for the official flag. Since then, May 18 has been known as Haitian Flag Day.

The design of the new flag began with the French flag made up of blue, white, and red bands. The white band was removed to indicate that the French no longer controlled the colony. A woman named Catherine Flon sewed the new flag together, using vertical bands of blue and red cloth. Blue represented blacks and mixed-race people, and red symbolized their blood.  The coat of arms in the flag of Haiti shows six draped flags, three on each side, and in the center lays a palm tree with a liberty cap of red and blue. These figures are resting on a green lawn and surrounded by cannons, cannonballs and other items such as a drum, a bugle and ship anchors. These weapons signify the willingness and the ability of the people to fight for their country and its freedom. Below is also a scroll with Haiti’s motto – L’ Union Fait La Force or Union is Strength – inscribed.

Over the years the nation’s flag has been modified several times, but Flag Day itself has remained the same as the day the nation’s flag was first sewn together. May 18th is a major national holiday in Haiti.


Additional sources of information –

Honor the Past.  Invest in our Future.

To learn more about activities and resources during Haitian Heritage Month (click here).