Toussaint Louverture Biography, François Toussaint Louverture Biography and Profile, François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, Haitian Revolution, Haitian Political Leader, Haitian Politician, Haitian Military

Although he never set foot in Britain or the British West Indies, Toussaint L’Ouverture had a large, albeit indirect, influence on the end of slavery in the British Empire. L’Ouverture was the leader of history’s largest slave revolt – a dozen years of bloody, brutal fighting, starting in 1791, that transformed the French colony of St Domingue into the independent country of Haiti.

By eliminating France as a major slaveholding power, Haitian independence cut the ground from under a prime argument in parliament against abolition – that if Britain abolished the slave trade, its rival, France, would take it over.

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In 1793, at war with France, Britain tried to capture St Domingue. The attempt ended in a costly and humiliating failure. By forcing British troops to withdraw in 1798, L’Ouverture showed British officers what determined military opponents enslaved people fighting for their freedom could be. Of the more than 20,000 British soldiers sent to St Domingue during five years of fighting, over 60% died during the conflict. Some of the surviving officers returned home as abolitionists.

Haitian independence, in 1804, also showed enslaved people throughout the Caribbean that they could fight for freedom and win. Whenever Haiti was discussed at dinner, observed Lady Nugent, wife of the governor of Jamaica, ‘the blackies in attendance seem so much interested, that they hardly change a plate, or do anything but listen… What must it all lead to?’

Toussaint L’Ouverture Full Biography and Profile

François-Domenica Bréda known as Toussaint-Louverture was one of the leaders of the Haitian revolution and the first black man to become governor of a colony.

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Born May 20, 1743, François Toussaint early life is not well documented. It is believed his father was Gaou Guinou, the younger son of the king of Allada, a West African kingdom. His family was sold into slavery and sent to the Caribbean. Toussaint was fortunate to be owned by enlightened masters who allowed him to learn to read and write. He read the classics and the Enlightenment political philosophers, who deeply influenced him. He also developed a deep devotion to the teachings of Catholicism.

Intelligent and hardworking, Toussaint became an expert in medicinal plants and horsemanship. Recognized by his master for his abilities, he quickly rose to become the plantation’s chief steward. It is said that he was given his freedom in 1776, the same year the United States declared its independence from Great Britain. Toussaint continued to work for his former owner and married Suzanne Simone Baptiste in 1782. The couple had three children: Placide, Isaac, and Saint-Jean.

François-Domenica Bréda known as Toussaint-Louverture was one of the leaders of the Haitian revolution and the first black man to become governor of a colony.

Toussaint-Louverture was born into slavery in approximately 1743 in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He belonged to a small and priviledged class of slaves employed by humane masters as personal servants. The Count de Breda, Toussaint’s owner, actively encouraged him to learn to read and write. He developed a passion for books and his readings were to become a great influence in his political life. Toussaint was freed from slavery at around the age of 33 and colonial records show that he became a land and slave owner himself.

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The French Revolution of 1789 had a powerful impact on Saint Domingue. A complex civil war broke out in 1790 when free men of color claimed that they too were French citizens and should be allowed to enjoy the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The following year, on 22 August 1791, Toussaint was one of the main organizers of a slave revolt that would eventually be known as the Haitian Revolution, the first and only victorious slave revolt in history.

In 1793 representatives of the French revolutionary government in Paris offered freedom to slaves who joined them in the fight against counter-revolutionaries and foreign invaders. The following year these orders were ratified by the revolutionary legislature in Paris, which abolished slavery throughout all French territories. This was a determining factor in Toussaint’s decision to join the French army. Under his increasingly influential leadership the French defeated the British and Spanish forces.

Having made himself ruler of the island, Toussaint did not wish to surrender power to Paris and ruled Saint Domingue as an autonomous entity. In 1801 he issued a Constitution for the island, which provided for autonomy and established Toussaint as governor for life. It abolished slavery and aspired to put in place a multiracial society composed of blacks, whites and mulattos.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France he aimed to return the Caribbean colonies to their earlier profitability as plantation colonies. In 1802 he dispatched an expedition of French soldiers to the island, lead by his brother in law Charles Leclerc, to reestablish French authority and slavery. Leclerc arrested Toussaint and deported him to France where he was imprisoned in Fort de Joux and died on 7 April 1803.

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For a few months the island remained under Napoleonic rule. However, the French soldiers soon fell victim to weapons and disease and surrendered to the indigenous army in November 1803. On 1 January 1804, the colony became the first black republic under the name of Haiti.

  • Toussaint L’Ouverture Full Biography and Profile (UNESCO)
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