Black History Spotlight: Toussaint Louverture
By:Leon Kwasi Kuntuo-Asare
Toussaint Louverture is believed to of been born on the Breda Plantation at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti). The date of his birth is unknown, some say he could of been born on May 20, 1743 other accounts say he was most likeley born on November 1 (All Saints Day). Not much is known about his parents, but biographer John Beard’s historical narrative on Louverture, claims that his grandfather was a man named Gaou Guinou, who was a son of the King of the kingdom of Allada (also known as the kingdom of Ardra). It was a West African kingdom on the Coast of southern Benin. Louverture according
to some accounts was well-educated by his godfather, who was a man named Pierre Baptiste, who was a free-person-of-color (a mixed race person with African ancestry). Some historians believe that his letters reveal that he was well-versed in the languages of French and Creole, and was knowledgeable on the writings of political strategist Machiavelli and stoic philosopher Epictetus. There is also reason to believe he may of received additional education in Catholic schools, thought by Jesuit missionaries. The medical knowledge he acquired is believed to of been a combination of traditional African medicine, combined with techniques that were commonly used by Jesuit hospitals.
Later in Life
In 1782, Louverture is believed to of married a woman named Suzanne Simone Baptiste, who is believed to of been the daughter of his godfather. Reportedly, Louverture claimed he fathered 16 children, but at the time of his death only three children had outlived him.
“I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man”
Some records indicate that Louverture probably received his freedom around 1776 and was probably around 33-years-old. Up until the start of the revolution, Louverture is believed to of been a salaried employee of the Breda Plantation and mostly performed duties such as coachman, overseer, slavedriver and looked after the plantation’s livestock. As a free man Louverture started to amass a small fortune of money and property, some accounts say he rented a small coffee plantation, and owned several of his own slaves.
A Revolutionary Life
In 1789, the Free People of Saint-Domingue, inspired by the French Revolution, desired to increase their rights in the French colony, while at the same time desiring to keep the blacks on the slave colony stripped of any such rights. On August of 1797, a vodoo ceremony at Bois Caiman officially started the slave rebellion in the north of the colony, which held the most black people in forced bondage. According to some scholars, Louverture would not join the revolution until a few weeks into it.He would first send his family to the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic). He would then join the forces of Georges Biassou as a physician to Biassou’s troops. Some records reveal that Louverture was part of the group’s leadership, and was involved in strategy and negotiated with the Spanish for supplies. He would train his men in guerrilla warfare and the European style of war at the time.
On August 29 1793, he gave his famous declaration of Camp Turrel to the Blacks of St.Domingue:
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 Louverture,
General of the armies of the king, for the public good.”
On February 4 1794, the revolutionary government of France proclaimed the abolition of slavery. This came after months of Louverture having diplomatic talks with French general Etienne Maynaud de Bizefranc de Laveaux. This decision would be one of the main reasons that convinced Louverture (who was having issues with the Spanish), to switch his allegiance from the Spanish to the French. He would rally his troops to battle with Laveaux against the Spanish. This decision would cause some of his former allies to turn against him, also now being a French commander, he was now in armed-conflict with the British empire, whose troops landed on the coast of Saint-Domingue in September of that year. In 1798, Louverture was in total command in Saint-Domingue, with the exception of a semi-independent state in the south, which was controlled by general Andre Riguad, a free man of color, who rejected the authority of Louverture. Louverture still continued to fight the British, but on April 30 1798, he signed a treaty with British general, Thomas Maitland. Exchanging withdrawal of British troops for the release and amnesty of French counter-revolutionaries in the area. On August 31, Louverture and Maitland signed another treaty which ended the British blockade on Saint-Domingue, in exchange for a promise that Louverture would not export his black revolution to the British slave colony of Jamaica (which was a major suger producer at the time). The tension between the black Louverture and his Mulatto rival, Riguad began to intensify, eventually leading to a civil war famously-known as the “War of Knives” it lasted about a year. The defeated Riguad would flee to the French overseas region of Guadeloupe.
During the Saint-Domingue civil war, Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France and passed new laws for its French colonies (which still included Saint-Domingue). Louverture thought this could mean a return of slavery, but Bonaparte let Louverture believe that wasn’t the case, but he did not want Louverture and Saint-Domingue to attack Spanish Santo Domingo, a decision that Louverture knew could place in a major defensive position from possible attackers (which could include the French). In January 1801, Louverture against the wishes of Napoleon, invaded Santo Domingo, capturing the governor, Don Garcia, bringing Santo Domingo under French law, which abolished slavey in the region. As the leader of the entire island of Hispaniola, he began to modernize Santo Domingo, which was less developed than its French speaking counter-part. On July 7 1801, he established his authority over the island by having a new constitution created, which named him Governor-General for life, with almost absolute power. Louverture still shied away from officially declaring independence form France, partly because he saw himself as a black Frenchman and partly because he didn’t want to battle France again and possibly lose and have them return slavery to the island. Nonetheless, Bonaparte would eventually send 20,000 French troops to restore French authority and if possible restore slavery. Bonaparte’s troops were under the control of his brother-in-law Charles Emmanuel Leclerc, who had orders to deport all the black officers and to recapture the entire island colony, under diplomatic means if possible. When peaceful negotiations brokedown, both sides started to shoot it out, fighting would last for a few months. Eventually, Louverture would be arrested, deported and imprisoned in France. On April 7, 1803, Louverture would die, some suggest he could of died of malnutrition and or pneumonia.
In his absence Jean-Jacques Dessalines would lead the H revolution, until it was victorious over the French in 1804 and the nation of Haiti was born.