Squads of soldiers moved from house to house, killing white families. White women and children were killed last; Dessalines did not specifically mention that the women should be killed, and the soldiers were reportedly somewhat hesitant to do so. In the end, however, they were also put to death at a later stage of the massacre than the adult men. The argument for killing the women was that whites would not truly be eradicated if the white women were spared to give birth to new Frenchmen.
Dessalines told his army that he ordered the mass killing because of past atrocities committed by the Europeans, especially by the former white French authorities Donatien-Marie-Joseph Rochambeau and Charles Leclerc.