François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture

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François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture or Toussaint Bréda, 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 Toussaint is thought to have been born on the plantation of Bréda at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue on May 20th, 1743, His date of birth is uncertain, but his name suggests he was born on All Saints Day. Most histories identify Toussaint’s father as Gaou Guinou, a younger son of the King of Allada/ 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.

He was probably about 50 at the start of the revolution in 1791  he was the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military and political intelligence saved the gains of the first Black insurrection in November 1791. He first fought for the Spanish against the French; then for France against Spain and Britain; and finally, for Saint-Domingue’s colonial sovereignty against Napoleonic France. He then helped transform the insurgency into a revolutionary movement, which by 1800 had turned Saint-Domingue, the most prosperous slave colony of the time, into the first free colonial society to have explicitly rejected race as the basis of social ranking.

Toussaint did not live to see the end of the revolution due partly  to Jean-Jacques Dessalines; According to several authors, including Louverture’s own son Isaac. It was said that Dessalines was at least somewhat responsible for Louverture’s arrest.

History recounts that 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.

Leclerc originally asked Dessalines to arrest Louverture, but he declined. The mission was then assigned to Jean Baptiste Brunet. According to Louverture’s memoirs Brunet’s troops had been offensive, leading Louverture to pursue a dispute 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.

Toussaint was then deported to France on the frigate Créole and the 74-gun Héros,   with the claim that he was suspected of plotting an uprising. Boarding Créole, Toussaint Louverture famously warned his captors that the rebels would not repeat his mistake:

“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.”

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. In his absence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines led the Haitian rebellion until its completion, finally defeating the French forces 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:

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.)

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