Toussaint Louveture

Long before Malcom, Martin and Marcus came this man Toussaint Louveture -One of the greatest Black Military Commanders to have ever lived, who at the end of the 18th century drove Napoleon out of Haiti and led his country to independence.

It began in 1791 in the French colony of Saint Dominique (later Haiti). Though born a slave in Saint Dominique, Toussaint learned of Africa from his father, who had been born a free man there. He learned that he was more than a slave, that he was a man with brains and dignity.

In 1789 the French Revolution rocked France. The sugar plantations of Saint Dominique, though far away, would never be the same. Spurred on by such Enlightenment thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the early moderate revolutionaries considered seriously the question of slavery. Those moderate revolutionaries were not willing to end slavery but they did apply the “Rights of Man” to all Frenchmen, including free blacks and mulattoes (those of mixed race).

Plantation owners in the colonies were furious and fought the measure. Finally the revolutionaries gave in and retracted the measure in 1791.

By 1793, the revolution in France was in the hands of the Jacobins, the most radical of the revolutionary groups. Though the Jacobins brought indiscriminate death to France, they were also idealists who wanted to take the revolution as far as it could go. So they again considered the issue of “equality” and voted to end slavery in the French colonies, including what was now known as Haiti.

There was jubilation among the blacks in Haiti, and Toussaint agreed to help the French army eject the British and Spanish. Toussaint proved to be a brilliant general, winning 7 battles in 7 days. He became a defacto governor of the colony.

In France the Jacobins lost power. People finally tired of blood flowing in the streets and sent Maximilian Robespierre, the leader of the Jacobins, to the guillotine.

A reaction set in. The French people wanted to get back to business.

More moderate leaders came and went, eventually replaced by Napoleon, who ruled France with dictatorial powers. He responded to the pleas of the plantation owners by reinstating slavery in the French colonies, once again plunging Haiti into war.

Napoleon Bonaparte By 1803, Napoleon was ready to get Haiti off his back: he and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace. Napoleon agreed to recognise Haitian independence and Toussaint agreed to retire from public life.

A few months later, the French invited Toussaint to come to a negotiating meeting will full safe conduct. When he arrived, the French (at Napoleon’s orders) betrayed the safe conduct and arrested him, putting him on a ship headed for France. Napoleon ordered that Toussaint be placed in a prison dungeon in the mountains, and murdered by means of cold, starvation, and neglect. Toussaint died in prison, but others carried on the fight for freedom.

Six months later, Napoleon decided to give up his possessions in the New World. He was busy in Europe and these far-away possessions were more trouble than they were worth.

He abandoned Haiti to independence and sold the French territory in North America to the United States (the Louisiana purchase). Years later, in exile at St. Helena, when asked about his dishonourable treatment of Toussaint, Napoleon merely remarked, “What could the death of one wretched Negro mean to me?

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