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Toussaint Louverture

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Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture
A painting of Louverture in a military uniform holding a document
Painting of Toussaint Louverture
Born 20 May 1743
Saint-Domingue (later Haiti)
Died 7 April 1803(1803-04-07) (aged 59)
Fort-de-Joux, France
Other names Toussaint L'Ouverture, Toussaint Bréda
Movement Haitian Revolution
Religion Roman Catholic
Military career
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
French Revolutionary Army
Haitian Army
Rank General
Battles/wars Haitian Revolution

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (French pronunciation: ​; 20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Toussaint-Louverture, Toussaint Bréda, and nicknamed the "Napoléon Noir" (Black Napoleon),[1][2] was the leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti.[3] The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World.[4]

Toussaint Louverture began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue; he was by then a free black man. Initially allied with the Spaniards of neighboring Santo Domingo, Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. Throughout his years in power, he worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue. He restored the plantation system using paid labour, negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States, and maintained a large and well-disciplined army.[5]

In 1801 he promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony, with himself as governor for life. In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803. The Haitian Revolution continued under his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence in early 1804. The French had lost two-thirds of forces sent to the island in an attempt to suppress the revolution; most died of yellow fever.[5]


  • Early life 1
    • Education 1.1
    • Marriage and children 1.2
    • Slavery, freedom and working life 1.3
    • Religion and spirituality 1.4
  • Haitian Revolution 2
    • The Rebellion: 1791–1794 2.1
    • Alliance with the French: 1794–1796 2.2
    • The Third Commission: 1796–97 2.3
    • Treaties with Britain and the United States: 1798 2.4
    • Expansion of territory: 1799–1801 2.5
    • The Constitution of 1801 2.6
    • Leclerc's campaign 2.7
    • Arrest and imprisonment 2.8
  • Memorials 3
  • Cultural references 4
  • Notes 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7

Early life

General Toussaint Louverture, pictured here on a Haitian banknote

Little is known for certain about Toussaint Louverture's early life, as there are contradictory accounts and evidence about this period. The earliest records of his life are his recorded remarks and the reminiscences of his second legitimate son Isaac Louverture.[6] Most histories identify Toussaint's father as Gaou Guinou, a younger son of the King of Allada (also spelled Arrada), a West African historical kingdom located in modern-day Benin, who had been captured in war and sold into slavery. His mother Pauline was Gaou Guinou's second wife. The couple had several children, of whom Toussaint was the eldest son.[7] Pierre Baptiste is usually considered to have been his godfather.[8]

Toussaint is thought to have been born on the plantation of Bréda at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue, which was owned by the Comte de Noé and later managed by Bayon de Libertat.[9] His date of birth is uncertain, but his name suggests he was born on All Saints Day. He was probably about 50 at the start of the revolution in 1791.[10] Various sources have given birth dates between 1739 and 1746. Because of the lack of written records, Toussaint himself may not have known his exact birth date.[11] In childhood, he earned the nickname Fatras Baton, suggesting he was small and weak, though he was to become known for his stamina and riding prowess.[12] An alternative explanation of Toussaint's origins is that he arrived at Bréda with a new overseer (Bayon de Libertat) who took up his duties in 1772.[13]


Toussaint is believed to have been well educated by his godfather Pierre Baptiste. Historians have speculated as to Toussaint's intellectual background. His extant letters demonstrate a command of French in addition to Creole patois; he was familiar with Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher who had lived as a slave; and his public speeches as well as his life's work, according to his biographers, show a familiarity with Machiavelli.[14] Some cite Abbé Raynal, who wrote against slavery, as a possible influence:[15] The wording of proclamation issued by then rebel slave leader Toussaint on August 29, 1793, which may have been the first time he publicly used the moniker "Louverture", seems to refer to an anti-slavery passage in Abbé Raynal's "A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies."[16]

He may also have attained some education from Jesuit missionaries. His medical knowledge is attributed to familiarity with African herbal-medical techniques as well those techniques commonly found in Jesuit-administered hospitals.[17] A few legal documents signed on Toussaint's behalf between 1778 and 1781 raise the possibility that he could not write at that time.[18] Throughout his military and political career, he made use of secretaries for most of his correspondence. A few surviving documents in his own hand confirm that he could write, though his spelling in the French language was "strictly phonetic."[19]

Marriage and children

19th century engraving of L'Ouverture

In 1782, Toussaint married Suzanne Simone Baptiste Louverture, who is thought to have been his cousin or his godfather's daughter.[20] Towards the end of his life, he told General Cafarelli that he had fathered 16 children, of whom 11 had predeceased him.[21] Not all his children can be identified for certain, but his three legitimate sons are well known.[21] The eldest, Placide, was probably adopted by Toussaint and is generally thought to be Suzanne's first child with a mulatto, Seraphim Le Clerc.[21] The two sons born of his marriage with Suzanne were Isaac and Saint-Jean.[21]

Slavery, freedom and working life

I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.[22]

Until recently, historians believed that Toussaint had been a slave until the start of the revolution.[23] The discovery of a marriage certificate dated 1777 shows that he was freed in 1776 at the age of 33. This find retrospectively clarified a letter of 1797, in which he said he had been free for twenty years.[24] It seems he still maintained an important role on the Breda plantation until the outbreak of the revolution, presumably as a salaried employee.[25] He had initially been responsible for the livestock,[26] but by 1791, his responsibilities most likely included acting as coachman to the overseer, de Libertat, and as a slave-driver, charged with organising the work force.[27]

As a free man, Toussaint began to accumulate wealth and property. Surviving legal documents show him renting a small coffee plantation worked by a dozen of his slaves.[28] He would later say that by the start of the revolution, he had acquired a reasonable fortune, and was the owner of a number of properties and slaves at Ennery.[29]

Religion and spirituality

Throughout his life, Toussaint was known as a devout Roman Catholic.[30] Although Vodou was generally practiced on Saint-Domingue in combination with Catholicism, little is known for certain if Toussaint had any connection with it. Officially as ruler of Saint-Domingue, he discouraged it.[31]

Historians have suggested that he was a member of high degree of the Masonic Lodge of Saint-Domingue, mostly based on a Masonic symbol he used in his signature. The membership of several free blacks and white men close to him has been confirmed.[32]

Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) was a slave revolt in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which culminated in the elimination of slavery there and established the Republic of Haiti. It was the only slave revolt which led to the founding of a state and is generally considered the most successful slave rebellion ever to have occurred in the Americas.

The Rebellion: 1791–1794

Toussaint Louverture, as depicted in an 1802 French engraving

Beginning in 1789,

  • Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography by J. R. Beard, 1863
  • A section of Bob Corbett's on-line course on the history of Haïti that deals with Toussaint's rise to power.
  • The Louverture Project
  • Toussaint at the Internet Movie Database
  • "Égalité for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution". Noland Walker. PBS documentary. 2009.
  • Spencer Napoleonica Collection at Newberry Library
  • Black Spartacus by Anthony Maddalena (Thee Black Swan Theatre Company); a radio play in four parts which tells the story of Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian Slave Uprising of 1791–1803
  • Paul Foot on Toussaint Louverture (lecture from 1991)
  • Elliott, Charles Wyllys. St. Domingo, its revolution and its hero, Toussaint Louverture, New York, J. A. Dix, 1855. Manioc

External links

  • Beard, J. R., The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Negro Patriot of Hayti (1853). ISBN 1-58742-010-4
  • Beard, J. R., Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography (1863). Out of print, but published online. Consists of the earlier "Life", supplemented by an autobiography of Toussaint written by himself.
  • Bell, Madison Smartt. "Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography", New York: Pantheon, 2007 (Vintage Books, 2008). ISBN 1-4000-7935-7
  • de Cauna, Jacques. "Toussaint L'Ouverture et l'indépendance d'Haïti. Témoignages pour une commémoration", Paris, Ed. Karthala, 2004
  • Cesaire, Aimé, Toussaint L'Ouverture (Présence africaine, Paris, 1981). ISBN 2-7087-0397-8
  • Davis, David Brion. "He changed the New World." Review of M.S. Bell's "Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography", The New York Review of Books, 31 May 2007, pp. 54–58.
  • Dubois, Laurent and John D. Garrigus. Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789–1804: A Brief History with Documents (St. Martin's Press,2006). ISBN 0-312-41501-X
  • DuPuy, Alex. Haiti in the World Economy: Class, Race, and Underdevelopment since 1700 (West View Press, 1989). ISBN 0-8133-7348-4
  • Foix, Alain. "Toussaint L'Ouverture", Paris, Ed. Gallimard, 2007
  • Foix, Alain . "Noir de Toussaint L'Ouverture à Barack Obama", Paris, Ed. Galaade, 2008
  • Girard, Philippe. "Black Talleyrand: Toussaint L'Ouverture’s Secret Diplomacy with England and the United States," William and Mary Quarterly 66:1 (Jan. 2009), 87–124.
  • Girard, Philippe. "Napoléon Bonaparte and the Emancipation Issue in Saint-Domingue, 1799–1803," French Historical Studies 32:4 (Fall 2009), 587–618.
  • Girard, Philippe R. (2011), The Slaves who Defeated Napoléon: Toussaint L'Ouvertureand the Haitian War of Independence, 1801–1804, The University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817317325.
  • Girard, Philippe. "Jean-Jacques Dessalines and the Atlantic System: A Reappraisal," William and Mary Quarterly (July 2012).
  • Graham, Harry. "The Napoleon of San Domingo," The Dublin Review, Vol. CLIII, July/October 1913.
  • Heinl, Robert and Nancy Heinl – Written in Blood: The story of the Haitian people, 1492–1971 (Houghton Mifflin, 1978). ISBN 0-395-26305-0
  • Hunt, Alfred N., Haiti's Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean (Louisiana State University Press, 1988). ISBN 0-8071-3197-0
  • James, C.L.R. Toussaint L'Ouverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in history: A Play in Three Acts, 1934. (Duke University Press, 2013).
  • James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Vintage Books, 1963. (Penguin Books, 2001) ISBN 0-14-029981-5
  • Johnson, Ronald Angelo, Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2014.
  • Joseph, Celucien L., Race, Religion, and The Haitian Revolution: Essays on Faith, Freedom, and Decolonization (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012)
  • Joseph, Celucien L., From Toussaint to Price-Mars: Rhetoric, Race, and Religion in Haitian Thought (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
  • Korngold, Ralph, Citizen Toussaint (1944, Greenwood Press, reissued 1979). ISBN 0-313-20794-1
  • de Lacroix, F. J. Pamphile, La révolution d'Haïti (1819, reprinted 1995).
  • Norton, Graham Gendall – Toussaint L'Ouverture, in History Today, April 2003.
  • Ott, Thomas, The Haitian Revolution: 1789–1804 (University of Tennessee Press, 1973). ISBN 0-87049-545-3
  • Rodriguez, Junius P., ed. Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance and Rebellion. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2006). ISBN 0-313-33271-1
  • Ros, Martin, The Night of Fire: The Black Napoleon and the Battle for Haiti (in Dutch, 1991). 1994, Published by Sarpedon, New York, ISBN 0-9627613-7-0
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr., World leaders, past & present – Toussaint L'ouverture .
  • Schoelcher, Victor, Vie de Toussaint-L'Ouverture (1889).
  • Stinchcombe, Arthur L. Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World (Princeton University Press, 1995). ISBN 1-4008-0777-8
  • The Collective Works of Yves. Book I explains Haiti's past to be recognized. Book 2 culminates Haiti's scared present day epic history. ISBN 1-4010-8308-0
  • Thomson, Ian. 'Bonjour Blanc: A Journey Through Haiti' (London, 1992). ISBN 0-09-945215-4
  • Toussaint L'Ouverture – The Haitian Revolution (New York: Verso, 2008). A collection of L'Ouverture's writings and speeches, with an introduction by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. ISBN 1-84467-261-1
  • Tyson, George F., ed. – Great Lives Considered: Toussaint L'Ouverture (Prentice Hall, 1973). A compilation, indeed includes some of Toussaint's writings. ISBN 0-13-925529-X


  1. ^ The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon from History Wiz
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bell, pp.3–4
  4. ^ Matthewson; "Abraham Bishop, "The Rights of Black Men", and the American Reaction to the Haitian Revolution"; The Journal of Negro History, Vol 67, No 2, Summer 1982, pp.148–154
  5. ^ a b Cauna, pp.7–8
  6. ^ Bell, pp.57–58
  7. ^ Beard, pp.23–24
  8. ^ Korngold, page number needed.
  9. ^ Bell, pp.59–60, 62
  10. ^ Bell, p.60
  11. ^ Bell, pp.59–60.
  12. ^ Beard, pp.26–27; Bell, p.60, 62
  13. ^ Bell, pp.66, 70, 72
  14. ^ Bell, p.61
  15. ^ Bell, p.61; Beard, pp.30–36
  16. ^ Bell, p.18. Robin Blackburn. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776–1848. New York: Verso, 2000, p.54.
  17. ^ Bell, pp. 64–65
  18. ^ Cauna, pp.61–67; Bell, pp.60, 80
  19. ^ Bell, p.61; James, p.104
  20. ^ Cauna, p.263
  21. ^ a b c d Cauna, pp.264–267
  22. ^ Parkinson, p.37
  23. ^ Up to, for example, C.L.R. James, writing in 1938
  24. ^ Cauna, pp.62–62
  25. ^ a b Bell, pp.24–25
  26. ^ Bell, p.62
  27. ^ Bell, p.76,
  28. ^ Cauna, pp.63–65
  29. ^ Bell, pp.72–73
  30. ^ Bell, p.194
  31. ^ Bell, pp.56, 196
  32. ^ Bell, p.63
  33. ^ Bell, pp.12–15; James, pp.81–82
  34. ^ James, p.90; Bell, pp.23–24
  35. ^ Bell, p.32-33
  36. ^ Bell, p.33
  37. ^ Bell, pp.34–35
  38. ^ Bell, pp.42–50
  39. ^ Bell, pp.46
  40. ^ Bell, pp.28, 55
  41. ^ Bell, p.50
  42. ^ Bell, p.56
  43. ^ James, pp.125–126
  44. ^ Bell, pp.86–87; James, p.107
  45. ^ Bell, p.18
  46. ^ Bell, p.19
  47. ^ James, pp.128–130
  48. ^ James, p.137
  49. ^ James, pp.141–142
  50. ^ Bell, pp.92–95
  51. ^ James pp.143–144
  52. ^ Bell, pp.104–108
  53. ^ Bell, p.109
  54. ^ James, p.143
  55. ^ James, p.147
  56. ^ Bell, p.115
  57. ^ Bell, pp.110–114
  58. ^ Bell, pp.113, 126
  59. ^ James, pp.155–156
  60. ^ James, pp.152–154
  61. ^ Laurent Dubois and John Garrigus, Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789–1804: A Brief History with Documents. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p.31
  62. ^ a b Dubois and Garrigus, p.31
  63. ^ Bell, pp.132–134; James, pp.163–173
  64. ^ Bell, p.136
  65. ^ Bell, pp.137, 140–141
  66. ^ Bell, pp.147–148
  67. ^ Bell, p.145, James, p.180
  68. ^ James, pp.174–176; Bell, pp. 141–142, 147
  69. ^ Bell, pp.145–146
  70. ^ Bell, p.150
  71. ^ Bell, pp.150–153
  72. ^ James, pp.190, Bell, pp.153–154
  73. ^ Bell, p.153
  74. ^ Bell, pp.153, 155
  75. ^ James, p.179
  76. ^ Bell, p.155
  77. ^ Bell, pp.142–143
  78. ^ James, p.201
  79. ^ James, pp.201–202
  80. ^ James, pp.202, 204
  81. ^ James, pp.207–208
  82. ^ James, pp.211–212
  83. ^ Bell, pp.159–160
  84. ^ James, pp.219–220
  85. ^ Bell, pp.165–166
  86. ^ Bell, pp.166–167
  87. ^ Philippe Girard, "Black Talleyrand: Toussaint L'Ouverture’s Secret Diplomacy with England and the United States,” William and Mary Quarterly 66:1 (Jan. 2009), 87–124.
  88. ^ Bell, pp.173–174
  89. ^ Bell, pp.174–175
  90. ^ Bell, pp.175–177, 178–179; James, pp.229–230
  91. ^ James, pp.224, 237
  92. ^ Bell, p.177
  93. ^ Bell, pp.182–185
  94. ^ Bell, pp.179–180
  95. ^ James, p.236-237
  96. ^ Bell, p.180
  97. ^ Bell, p.184
  98. ^ Bell, p.186
  99. ^ Bell, pp.180–182, 187
  100. ^ Bell, pp.189–191
  101. ^ Alexis, Stephen. Black Liberator. London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1949, p.165
  102. ^ "Constitution de la colonie français de Saint-Domingue", Le Cap, 1801
  103. ^ Ogé, Jean-Louis. Toussaint L'Ouverture et l'Indépendence d'Haïti. Brossard: L’Éditeur de Vos Rêves, 2002, p.140
  104. ^ Bell, pp.210–211
  105. ^ Ogé, Jean-Louis. Toussaint L'Ouverture et l'Indépendence d'Haïti. Brossard: L’Éditeur de Vos Rêves, 2002, p.141
  106. ^ Philippe Girard, The Slaves Who Defeated Napoléon: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian War of Independence (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, November 2011).
  107. ^ James, p.263
  108. ^ Philippe Girard, "Napoléon Bonaparte and the Emancipation Issue in Saint-Domingue, 1799–1803," French Historical Studies 32:4 (Fall 2009), 587–618.
  109. ^ James, pp.292–294, Bell, pp.223–224
  110. ^ Bell, pp.206–209, 226–229, 250
  111. ^ Bell, pp.232–234
  112. ^ Bell, pp.234–236
  113. ^ Bell, pp.234, 236–237
  114. ^ Bell, p.256-260
  115. ^ Bell, pp.237–241
  116. ^ Bell, pp.261–262
  117. ^
  118. ^
  119. ^ Le rêve américain et caraïbe de Bonaparte : Le destin de la Louisiane française. L'expédition de Saint-Domingue,
  120. ^ Abbott, Elizabeth (1988). Haiti: An insider's history of the rise and fall of the Duvaliers. Simon & Schuster. p. viii ISBN 0-671-68620-8
  121. ^ John Bigelow: The last days of Toussaint Louverture
  122. ^ Toussaint Louverture: helping Bordeaux come to terms with its slave trade past (part 1) ~ Invisible Bordeaux
  123. ^
  124. ^ McLemee, Scott. "C.L.R. James: A Biographical Introduction." American Visions, April/May 1996.
  125. ^
  126. ^ Lydia Bailey (1952)
  127. ^ "‘Haiti’ sung by David Rudder", When Steel Talks, 2008.
  128. ^
  129. ^


  • English poet William Wordsworth published his sonnet "To Toussaint L'Ouverture"[123] in January 1803.
  • African-American novelist Frank J. Webb references Toussaint in his 1857 novel The Garies and Their Friends about free African Americans. Toussaint's portrait is a source of inspiration for the real estate tycoon Mr. Walters.
  • In 1934, Trinidadian historian C. L. R. James wrote a play entitled Toussaint L'Ouverture, which was performed at the Westminster Theatre in London in 1936 and starred actors including Paul Robeson (in the title role), Robert Adams and Orlando Martins.[124] The play was later revised in 1967 as The Black Jacobins, after James's classic 1938 history of that name.
  • In 1938, American artist Jacob Lawrence created a series of paintings about the life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, which he later adapted into a series of prints.[125] His painting, titled Toussaint L’Ouverture, hangs in the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, US.
  • In 1944, the African-American writer Ralph Ellison wrote the story "Mr. Toussan", in which two African-American youths exaggerate the story of Toussaint L'Ouverture. In this story, Toussaint is seen as a symbol of Blacks asserting their identities and liberty over White dominance.
  • Kenneth Roberts' best-selling novel Lydia Bailey (1947) is set during the Haitian Revolution and features L'Ouverture, Dessalines, and Cristophe as the principal historical characters. The 1952 American film based on the novel was directed by Jean Negulesco; Toussaint is portrayed by the actor Ken Renard.[126]
  • 1971 album Santana features an instrumental song titled "Toussaint L'Ouverture". It has remained a staple of the band's concert repertoire since that time. Officially released live instrumental versions are included on the 1974 album Lotus as well as the 1998 CD re-issue of Abraxas.
  • In 1977 the opera Toussaint by David Blake was produced by English National Opera at the Coliseum Theatre in London, starring Neil Howlett in the title role.
  • 1983, Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Brooklyn-born New York painter of the 1980s, whose father was from Haiti, painted the monumental work Toussaint L'Ouverture vs Savonarolla, with a portrait of L'Ouverture.
  • David Rudder's calypso "Haiti", first recorded in 1988, begins with a reference to Toussaint.[127]
  • 1995–2004, Madison Smartt Bell published a trilogy of novels inspired by the slave uprising and Haitian Revolution, with Toussaint L'Ouverture a key figure. All Souls' Rising (1995) was shortlisted for both the PEN/Faulkner and National Book awards. Master of the Crossroads (2000) and The Stone That the Builder Refused (2004) completed the trilogy.
  • In 2003, Hakim Adi published a book about great political figures from Africa since 1787, which included Toussaint L'Ouverture as one of the greatly influential political leaders in those years.[128]
  • In 2004, John Agard had published Half-Caste and Other Poems (Hodder Children's, 2004), in which features the poem "Checking Out Me History" that references Toussaint and "Nanny de Maroon". This poem is now being studied (as of 2010) for GCSE English. The poem is copyrighted 1996.
  • In 2004, Kimathi Donkor painted Toussaint L'Ouverture at Bedourete.
  • Bell also published Freedom's Gate: A Brief Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture (2007)
  • Wyclef Jean created an album in 2009 referencing Toussaint L'Ouverture's life and influence on Haiti. The album is called From the Hut, To the Projects, To the Mansion
  • Derick Alexander directed The Last Days of Toussaint L'Ouverture, starring Joseph Ademola Adeyemo as Toussaint L'Ouverture (2009)
  • Nick Lake referred to many incidents in Toussaint L'Ouverture's life in his young adult novel In Darkness (2012)
  • Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis starred as Toussaint L'Ouverture in the 2012 French miniseries Toussaint Louverture.[129]
  • Experimental rock group Swans named the track "Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture" off of their 2014 album To Be Kind after Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Cultural references

The inscription is opposite a wall inscription, also installed in 1998, honoring Louis Delgrès, a mulatto military leader who died leading the resistance against Napoleonic reoccupation and re-institution of slavery in Guadeloupe; the location of Delgrès' body is also a mystery. Both inscriptions are located near the coffins of Jean Jaurès, Félix Éboué, Marc Schoelcher and Victor Schoelcher.

Combattant de la liberté, artisan de l'abolition de l'esclavage, héros haïtien mort déporté au Fort-de-Joux en 1803.
(Combatant for liberty, artisan of the abolition of slavery, Haitian hero died in deportation at Fort-de-Joux in 1803.)

On August 29, 1954, the Haitian ambassador to France, Léon Thébaud, inaugurated a stone cross memorial for Toussaint Louverture at the foot of the fort. Years afterward, the French government ceremoniously presented a shovelful of soil from the grounds of Fort-de-Joux to the Haitian government as a symbolic transfer of Toussaint Louverture's remains. An inscription in his memory, installed in 1998, can be found on the wall of the Panthéon in Paris, inscribed with the following description:

1938: Haiti. A drama of the Black Napoleon by William DuBois. Poster for Federal Theater Project presentation in Boston; showing bust portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture.
Monument of Toussaint Louverture in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba


They reached France on 2 July 1802 and, on 25 August, Toussaint Louverture was sent to the jail in Fort-de-Joux in the Doubs. While in prison, he died on the seventh of April, 1803. Suggested causes of death include exhaustion, malnutrition, apoplexy, pneumonia and possibly tuberculosis.[121][122] In his absence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian rebellion until its completion, finally defeating the French forces in 1803.

"In overthrowing me you have cut down in Saint Domingue only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from the roots, for they are numerous and they are deep."[120]

Leclerc originally asked Dessalines to arrest Louverture, but he declined. The task then fell to Jean Baptiste Brunet. However accounts differ as to how he accomplished this. One account has it that Brunet pretended that he planned to settle in Saint-Domingue and was asking Toussaint's advice about plantation management. Louverture's memoirs however suggest that Brunet's troops had been provocative, leading Louverture to seek a discussion with him. Either way, Louverture had a letter in which Brunet described himself as a "sincere friend" to take with him to France. Embarrassed about his trickery, Brunet absented himself during the arrest.[118] He deported them to France on the frigate Créole and the 74-gun Héros, claiming that he suspected the former leader of plotting an uprising. Boarding Créole,[119] Toussaint Louverture famously warned his captors that the rebels would not repeat his mistake:

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was at least partially responsible for Louverture's arrest, as asserted by several authors, including Louverture's own son Isaac. On 22 May 1802, after Dessalines "learned that Louverture had failed to instruct a local rebel leader to lay down his arms per the recent ceasefire agreement, he immediately wrote Leclerc to denounce Louverture’s conduct as “extraordinary.” For this action, Dessalines and his spouse received gifts from Jean Baptiste Brunet.[117]

Arrest and imprisonment

With both sides shocked by the violence of the initial fighting, Leclerc tried belatedly to revert to the diplomatic solution. Toussaint's sons and their tutor had accompanied the expedition with this end in mind and were now sent to present Napoleon's proclamation to Toussaint.[115] When these talks broke down, months of inconclusive fighting followed. On 6 May 1802, Louverture rode into Cap-Français to treat with Leclerc. He negotiated an amnesty for all his remaining generals, then retired with full honors to his plantations at Ennery.[116]

Toussaint's plan in case of war was to burn the coastal cities and as much of the plains as possible, retreat with his troops into the inaccessible mountains and wait for fever to decimate the European troops.[112] The biggest impediment to this plan proved to be difficulty in internal communications. Christophe burned Cap-Français and retreated, but Paul Louverture was tricked by a false letter into allowing the French to occupy Santo Domingo; other officers believed Napoleon's diplomatic proclamation, while some attempted resistance instead of burning and retreating.[113] French reports to Napoleon show that in the months of fighting that followed, the French felt their position was weak, but that Toussaint and his generals were not fully conscious of their strength.[114]

Napoleon's troops, under the command of his brother-in-law, General Charles Emmanuel Leclerc, were to seize control of the island by diplomatic means, proclaiming peaceful intentions, and keeping secret his orders to deport all black officers.[109] Meanwhile, Toussaint was preparing for defence and ensuring discipline. This may have contributed to a rebellion against forced labor led by his nephew and top general, Moïse, in October 1801. It was violently repressed with the result that when the French ships arrived not all of Saint-Domingue was automatically on Toussaint's side.[110] In late January 1802, while Leclerc sought permission to land at Cap-Français and Christophe held him off, the Vicomte de Rochambeau suddenly attacked Fort-Liberté, effectively quashing the diplomatic option.[111]

Leclerc's campaign

Toussaint professed himself a Frenchman and strove to convince Bonaparte of his loyalty. He wrote to Napoleon but received no reply.[107] Napoleon eventually decided to send an expedition of 20,000 men to Saint-Domingue to restore French authority, and possibly to restore slavery as well.[108]

Toussaint charged Colonel Vincent with the task of presenting the new constitution to Napoleon, even though Vincent himself was horrified to discover that the general had gone so far. Several aspects of the constitution were damaging to France: the absence of provision for French government officials, the lack of advantages to France in trade with its own colony, and Toussaint's breach of protocol in publishing the constitution before submitting it to the French government. Despite his disapproval, Vincent attempted to submit the constitution to Napoleon in a positive light, but was briefly exiled to Elba for his pains.[106]

Napoleon had made it clear to the inhabitants of Saint-Domingue that France would draw up a new constitution for its colonies, in which they would be subjected to special laws.[101] Despite his initial protestations to the contrary, it seemed likely all along that he might restore slavery, which obviously worried the former slaves in Saint-Domingue. In March 1801, Louverture appointed a constitutional assembly, mainly composed of white planters, to draft a constitution for Saint-Domingue. He promulgated the Constitution on July 7, 1801, officially establishing his authority over the entire island of Hispaniola. It made him governor-general for life with near absolute powers and the possibility of choosing his successor. However, Toussaint was careful enough as to not explicitly declare Saint-Domingue's independence, immediately acknowledging that it was just a single colony of the French Empire in Article 1 of the Constitution.[102] Article 3 of the constitution states: "There cannot exist slaves [in Saint-Domingue], servitude is therein forever abolished. All men are born, live and die free and French."[103] The constitution guaranteed equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law for all races, but also confirmed Toussaint's policies of forced labour and the importation of workers through the slave trade.[104] Toussaint was willing to compromise the dominant Vodou faith for Catholicism. Article 6 clearly states that "the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman faith shall be the only publicly professed faith."[105]

An early engraving of Louverture

The Constitution of 1801

In November 1799, during the civil war, Napoleon Bonaparte gained power in France and passed a new constitution declaring that the colonies would be subject to special laws.[96] Although the colonies suspected this meant the re-introduction of slavery, Napoleon began by confirming Toussaint's position and promising to maintain the abolition.[97] But he also forbade Toussaint to invade Spanish Santo Domingo, an action that would put Toussaint in a powerful defensive position.[98] Toussaint was determined to proceed anyway and coerced Roume into supplying the necessary permission.[99] In January 1801, Toussaint and Hyacinthe Moïse invaded the Spanish territory, taking possession from the Governor, Don Garcia, with few difficulties. The area had been wilder and less densely populated than the French section. Toussaint brought it under French law which abolished slavery, and embarked on a program of modernization. He was now master of the whole island.[100]

Louverture persuaded Roume to declare Rigaud a traitor in July 1799 and attacked the southern state.[92] The civil war lasted over a year, with the defeated Rigaud fleeing to Guadeloupe, then France, in August 1800.[93] Toussaint delegated most of the campaign to his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who became infamous, during and after the war, for massacring mulatto captives and civilians.[94] The number of deaths is contested: James claims a few hundred deaths in contravention of the amnesty. The contemporary French general, Pamphile de Lacroix, suggested 10,000.[95]

In 1799, the tensions between Toussaint and André Rigaud came to a head. Louverture accused Rigaud of trying to assassinate him to gain power over Saint-Domingue for himself. Rigaud claimed Toussaint was conspiring with the British to restore slavery.[89] The conflict was complicated by racial overtones which escalated tension between blacks and mulattoes.[90] Toussaint had other political reasons for bringing down Rigaud. Only by controlling every port could he hope to prevent a landing of French troops if necessary.[91]

Expansion of territory: 1799–1801

The United States had suspended trade with France in 1798 because of increasing conflict over piracy. The two countries were almost at war, but trade between Saint-Domingue and the United States was desirable to both Toussaint and the United States. With Hédouville gone, Louverture sent Joseph Bunel to negotiate with the government of John Adams. The terms of the treaty were similar to those already established with the British, but Toussaint continually resisted suggestions from either power that he should declare independence.[87] As long as France maintained the abolition of slavery, it seems that he was content that the colony remain French, at least in name.[88]

As Toussaint's relationship with Hédouville reached the breaking point, an uprising began among the troops of Toussaint's adopted nephew, Hyacinthe Moïse. Attempts by Hédouville to manage the situation made matters worse and Toussaint declined to help him. As the rebellion grew to a full-scale insurrection, Hedouville prepared to leave the island, while Toussaint and Dessalines threatened to arrest him as a troublemaker.[84] Hédouville sailed for France in October 1798, nominally transferring his authority to Rigaud. Toussaint decided instead to work with Phillipe Roume, a member of the third commission who had been posted to the Spanish parts of the colony.[85] Though he continued to protest his loyalty to the French government, he had expelled a second government representative from the territory and was about to negotiate another autonomous agreement with one of France's enemies.[86]

In July, Louverture and Rigaud met commissioner Hédouville together. Hoping to create a rivalry that would diminish Toussaint's power, Hédouville displayed a strong preference for Rigaud, and an aversion for Toussaint[81] However, General Maitland was also playing on French rivalries and evaded the authority of Hédouville to deal with Toussaint directly.[82] In August, Toussaint and Maitland signed treaties for the evacuation of the remaining British troops. On 31 August, they signed a secret treaty which lifted the British blockade on Saint-Domingue in exchange for a promise that Toussaint would not export the black revolution to Jamaica.[83]

On 30 April 1798, Toussaint signed a treaty with the British general, Thomas Maitland, exchanging the withdrawal of British troops from western Saint-Domingue for an amnesty for the French counter-revolutionaries in those areas. In May, Port-au-Prince was returned to French rule in an atmosphere of order and celebration.[80]

For several months, Toussaint found himself in sole command of French Saint-Domingue, except for a semi-autonomous state in the south, where the mulatto general, André Rigaud, had rejected the authority of the third commission.[77] Both generals continued attacking the British, whose position on Saint-Domingue was looking increasingly weak.[78] Toussaint was negotiating their withdrawal when France's latest commissioner, Gabriel Hédouville, arrived in March 1798, with orders to undermine his authority.[79]

General Thomas Maitland meets Toussaint to discuss the secret treaty

Treaties with Britain and the United States: 1798

On reaching France, Sonthonax countered by accusing Toussaint of royalist, counter-revolutionary and pro-independence tendencies.[73] Toussaint knew that he had asserted his authority to such an extent that the French government might well suspect him of seeking independence.[74] At the same time, the French Directoire government was considerably less revolutionary than it had been. Suspicions began to brew that it might reconsider the abolition of slavery.[75] In November 1797, Toussaint wrote again to the Directoire, assuring them of his loyalty but reminding them firmly that abolition must be maintained.[76]

In summer 1797, Toussaint authorised the return of Bayon de Libertat, the ex-overseer of Breda, with whom he had a lifelong relationship. Sonthonax wrote to Louverture threatening him with prosecution and ordering him to get Bayon off the territory. Toussaint went over his head and wrote to the French Directoire directly for permission for Bayon to stay.[70] Only a few weeks later, he began arranging for Sonthonax's return to France that summer.[62] Toussaint had several reasons to want to get rid of Sonthonax; officially he said that Sonthonax had tried to involve him in a plot to make Saint-Domingue independent, starting with a massacre of the whites of the island.[71] The accusation played on Sonthonax's political radicalism and known hatred of the aristocratic white planters, but historians have varied as to how credible they consider it.[72]

Sonthonax, a fervent revolutionary and fierce supporter of racial equality, soon rivalled Louverture in popularity. Although their goals were similar, there were several points of conflict.[68] The worst of these was over the return of the white planters who had fled Saint-Domingue at the start of the revolution. To Sonthonax, they were potential counter-revolutionaries, to be assimilated, officially or not, with the ‘émigrés’ who had fled the French revolution and were forbidden to return under pain of death. To Toussaint, they were bearers of useful skills and knowledge, and he wanted them back.[69]

In September 1796, elections were held to choose colonial representatives for the French national assembly. Toussaint's letters show that he encouraged Lavaux to stand, and historians have speculated as to whether he was seeking to place a firm supporter in France or to remove a rival in power.[66] Sonthonax was also elected, either at Toussaint's instigation or on his own initiative, but while Lavaux left Saint-Domingue in October, Sonthonax remained.[67]

A few weeks after the triumph over the Villate insurrection, France's representatives of the third commission arrived on Saint-Domingue. Among them was Sonthonax, the commissioner who had previously declared abolition on the same day as Louverture's proclamation of Camp Turel.[64] At first the relationship between the two was positive. Sonthonax promoted Toussaint to general and arranged for his sons, Placide and Isaac, to attend the school that had been established in France for the children of colonials.[65]

The Third Commission: 1796–97

Another of Louverture's concerns was to manage potential rivals for power within the French part of the colony. The most serious of these involved the mulatto commander Jean-Louis Villatte, based in Cap-Français. Toussaint and Villate had competed over the command of some sections of troops and territory since 1794. Villatte was thought to be somewhat racist towards black soldiers such as Toussaint and planned to ally with André Rigaud, a free man of colour, after overthrowing French General Étienne Lavaux.[61] 1796 Villate drummed up popular support by accusing the French authorities of plotting a return to slavery. On 20 March, he succeeded in capturing the French Governor Lavaux, and appointed himself Governor. Louverture's troops soon arrived at Cap-Français to rescue the captured governor and drive Villatte out of town. Toussaint was noted for opening the warehouses to the public, proving that they were empty of the chains supposedly imported to prepare for a return to slavery. He was promoted to commander of the West Province two months later, and was eventually made Saint-Domingue's top-ranking officer in 1797.[62] Lavaux also proclaimed Toussaint Lieutenant Governor, announcing at the same time that he would do nothing without his approval, to which Louverture replied "After God, Lavaux".[63]

Throughout 1795 and 1796, Louverture was also concerned with re-establishing agriculture and keeping the peace in areas under his control. In speeches and policy he revealed his belief that the long-term freedom of the people of Saint-Domingue depended on the economic viability of the colony.[58] He was held in general respect and resorted to a mixture of diplomacy and force to return the field hands to the plantations as emancipated and paid workers.[59] Workers regularly created small rebellions, protesting poor conditions, their lack of real freedom or fearing a return to slavery.[60]

Before long, Louverture had put an end to the Spanish threat to French Saint-Domingue. In any case, the Treaty of Basel of July 1795 marked a formal end to hostilities between the two countries. Even then, the black leaders, Jean-François and Biassou, continued to fight against Toussaint until November, when they left for Spain and Florida, respectively. At that point, most of their men joined Toussaint's forces.[56] Toussaint also made inroads against the British troops, but was unable to oust them from Saint-Marc, so he contained them and rendered them ineffective by returning to guerilla tactics.[57]

Toussaint joined the French in early May 1794, raising the republican flag over the port of Gonaïves and provoking a mass exodus of refugees. In the first weeks, he eradicated all Spanish supporters from the Cordon de l'Ouest, which he had held on their behalf.[52] He faced attack from multiple sides. His former colleagues in the black rebellion were now fighting against him for the Spanish. As a French commander, he was under attack from the British troops who had landed on Saint-Domingue in September.[53] On the other hand, he was able to pool his 4,000 men with Lavaux's troops in joint actions.[54] By now his officers included men who were to remain important throughout the revolution: his brother Paul, his nephew Moïse, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe.[55]

Alliance with the French: 1794–1796

On the same day, the beleaguered French commissioner, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, proclaimed emancipation for all slaves in French Saint-Domingue,[46] hoping to bring the black troops over to his side.[47] Initially, this failed, perhaps because Toussaint and the other leaders knew that Sonthonax was exceeding his authority.[48] However, on 4 February 1794, the French revolutionary government proclaimed the abolition of slavery.[49] For months, Louverture had been in diplomatic contact with the French general Étienne Maynaud Bizefranc de Lavaux. During this time, competition between him and other rebel leaders was growing, and the Spanish had started to look with disfavour on his near-autonomous control of a large and strategically important region.[50] In May 1794, when the decision of the French government became known in Saint-Domingue, Louverture switched allegiance from the Spanish to the French and rallied his troops to Lavaux.[51]

Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight with us for the same cause.

Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint L'Ouverture,

General of the armies of the king, for the public good.[45]

Despite adhering to royalist political views, Louverture had begun to use the language of freedom and equality associated with the French revolution.[43] From being willing to bargain for better conditions of slavery late in 1791, he had become committed to its complete abolition.[44] On 29 August 1793 he made his famous declaration of Camp Turel to the blacks of St Domingue:

Some time in 1792-93, Toussaint adopted the surname Louverture, from the French word for "opening". (Although some modern writers spell his adopted surname with an apostrophe, as in "L'Ouverture", Toussaint himself did not, as his extant correspondence indicates.) The most common explanation is that it refers to his ability to create openings in battle, and it is sometimes attributed to French commissioner Polverel's exclamation: "That man makes an opening everywhere". However, some writers think it was more prosaically due to a gap between his front teeth.[42]

Throughout 1792, Toussaint, as a leader in an increasingly formal alliance between the black rebellion and the Spanish, ran the fortified post of La Tannerie and maintained the Cordon de l'Ouest, a line of posts between rebel and colonial territory.[38] He gained a reputation for running an orderly camp, trained his men in guerrilla tactics and "the European style of war",[39] and began to attract soldiers who would play an important role throughout the revolution.[40] After hard fighting, he lost La Tannerie in January 1793 to the French general Étienne Maynaud Bizefranc de Lavaux, but it was in these battles that the French first recognised him as a significant military leader.[41]

In December 1791, he was involved in negotiations between rebel leaders and the French Governor, Blanchelande, for the release of their white prisoners and a return to work in exchange for a ban on the use of the whip, an extra non-working day per week, and freedom for a handful of leaders.[35] When the offer was rejected, he was instrumental in preventing the massacre of Biassou's white prisoners.[36] The prisoners were released after further negotiations with the French commissioners and taken to Le Cap by Toussaint. He hoped to use the occasion to present the rebellion's demands to the colonial assembly, but they refused to meet with him.[37]

[25] Surviving documents show him participating in the leadership of the rebellion, discussing strategy, and negotiating with the Spanish supporters of the rebellion for supplies.[34]

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