Before Toussaint L’Ouverture led the Haitian Revolution, slave-owners never dreamed their slaves might revolt. After him, they had nightmares.
You say you want a revolution? Well, Toussaint L’Ouverture wanted one, too. L’Ouverture was born a slave in Saint Domingue, and he died a prisoner in France, but he lived as a revolutionary.
L’Ouverture’s life before the Haitian Revolution is unclear but he seems to have gained his freedom in 1776 (it seems everybody was declaring their independence that year). Inspired by the French Revolution, slaves on Saint Domingue rebelled in 1791. Toussaint L’Ouverture joined the growing rebellion as a medical doctor. By 1792, rebel factions had begun to ally themselves with the Spanish against the French.
When France abolished slavery in 1794, L’Ouverture and his army switched sides to ally themselves with the French. Toussaint drove the Spanish out of Saint Domingue and secured most of the island for France. He was eventually promoted to general. When France’s representative, Sonthonax, returned to France, Toussaint found himself in control of Saint Domingue.
In 1801, despite Napoleon’s orders, Toussaint invaded Spanish-controlled Santo Domingo. He conquered the Spanish territory, freeing all the slaves and gaining control of the entire island of Hispaniola. Toussaint declared himself Governor-General for life. Though he maintained that the island was still a French colony, Napoleon dispatched 20,000 men to re-assert French control. L’Ouverture was arrested and died in prison.
Why he should be remembered: The Haitian Revolution was the most successful slave revolt in history. This revolt was the only one to result in the creation of a free state. The Haitian Revolution created panic among American slaveholders and encouraged several slave revolts in the United States.
To Toussaint L’Ouverture by William Wordsworth
TOUSSAINT, the most unhappy man of men!
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.
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