Nick Name: The Black Napoleon
Birthday: May 20, 1743
Died At Age: 59
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Toussaint L'Ouverture, Toussaint Bréda
Born in: Saint-Dominigue (present day Haiti)
Famous as: Leader of the Haitian Revolution
Spouse/Ex-: Suzanne Simone Baptiste
Died on: April 7, 1803
place of death: Fort-de-Joux
Toussaint Louverture was a former slave who led the Haitian independence movement during the French Revolution and briefly established Haiti as a black-governed French protectorate. The Haitian Revolution is the only successful slave revolt in modern history—at a time when most of the slave revolts ended in executions and failure, he led a revolution that culminated in the establishment of an independent state. Born into slavery at an era where the harsh treatment meted out to blacks was legal, he was fortunate enough to have white masters who treated him kindly and allowed him to gain an education. An intelligent and hardworking young man, he also acquired knowledge about medicinal plants and was a talented horseman. He was deeply influenced by the writings of the French philosophers who wrote of individual rights and equality. Inspired by the French Revolution that called for radical social and political reforms in France, the colored people in Saint-Dominigue (present day Haiti) also decided to revolt for their right to freedom and dignity. Soon a major slave rebellion began and Toussaint emerged as the leader of this movement. He was a very tactful, courageous and idealistic general who converted a society of slaves into an independent state of which he became the governor.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 20 May 1743 in Saint-Dominigue. The exact details about his childhood are not known though it is generally believed that Gaou Guinou, a younger son of the King of Allada, was his father, and his second wife, Pauline, his mother. Toussaint was the eldest among their several children.
Even though he was born as a slave, his father had once been a free man who had been captured and sold into slavery. Fortunately Toussaint had a liberal master who let him read and write. He became an avid reader and read whatever books he could lay his hands on. He especially admired the writings of the French enlightenment philosophers.
By the time he was 20, he could speak three languages—French, Creole, and Latin. He had also acquired some knowledge about medicinal plants and herbs.
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He eventually secured freedom from his owner though he continued working for him out of his own accord. With time he got married and raised a family, and settled into a comfortable life.
In August 1791 a sudden slave revolt took place in the northern province in which slaves rebelled by setting fire to plantation houses and fields and killing whites. A free man himself, he helped his former master and his wife escape. He also secured the safety of his wife and children before he too decided to get involved in the revolt.
He realized that some of the rebel leaders were willing to compromise with the European radicals, a point of view that he did not share. Thus he organized an army of his own and trained his followers in the tactics of guerilla warfare.
Realizing that its rule was being threatened, the French National Convention granted citizenship rights and freedom to all blacks within the empire in a bid to secure the loyalty of the black population. Following this, Toussaint joined the French in their war against Spain in 1794.
He led the French in ousting the British and then in capturing the Spanish controlled portion of the island. By 1801 he was ruling Saint-Dominigue as an independent state although it was still officially under French rule. He even drafted a constitution in which he abolished slavery and appointed himself the governor.
He acquired near absolute powers and there was no provision for a French official in his territory. Under his rule all the blacks were freed, and he gave prominence to the maintenance of law and order, and encouraged trade and commerce.
He professed himself a Frenchman in order to convince Napoleon Bonaparte of his loyalty. Even though Bonaparte confirmed Toussaint’s position, he saw him as a hindrance to the restoration of Saint-Dominigue as a profitable colony.
Toussaint had an idea that Bonaparte would try to reinstitute slavery in the territory and thus organized a huge army in preparation for war should the French try to snatch away his control. He was deeply concerned about preserving the free society he had so painstakingly built.
Just as Toussaint had feared, Napoleon dispatched his brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc along with a huge army to capture him. After a few weeks of violent fighting and considerable bloodshed, the black army began to weaken and several of the chief black leaders sided with Leclerc.
Finally Toussaint agreed to lay down his arms in exchange for Leclerc’s promise not to restore slavery. But shortly afterwards, in an act of betrayal the French arrested and imprisoned him.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Suzanne Simone Baptiste in 1782. He had fathered several children with different women in his youth, many of who predeceased him. Though not much information is available about all his children, it is known for sure that he had three legitimate children: Placide, Isaac, and Saint-Jean.
In July 1802 he was captured by the French and sent to jail in Fort-de-Joux in the Doubs. He died on 7 April 1803. His death is believed to have been caused by malnutrition, pneumonia and tuberculosis.