Social historian James G. Leyburn has said of Toussaint
Louverture that "what he did is more easily told than what
was." Although some of Toussaint's correspondence and
remain, they reveal little of his deepest motivations in
struggle for Haitian autonomy. Born sometime between 1743
1746 in Saint-Domingue, Toussaint belonged to the small,
fortunate class of slaves employed by humane masters as
servants. While serving as a house servant and coachman,
Toussaint received the tutelage that helped him become one
few literate black revolutionary leaders.
Upon hearing of the slave uprising, Toussaint took
secure safe expatriation of his master's family. It was
that he joined Biassou's forces, where his intelligence,
strategic and tactical planning (based partly on his
works by Julius Caesar and others), and innate leadership
brought him quickly to prominence.
Le Cap fell to French forces, who were reinforced by
thousands of blacks in April 1793. Black forces had joined
French against the royalists on the promise of freedom.
in August Commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax abolished
in the colony.
Two black leaders who warily refused to commit their
to France, however, were Jean-François and Biassou.
allegiance to a king would be more secure than allegiance
republic, these leaders accepted commissions from Spain.
Spanish deployed forces in coordination with these
blacks to take the north of Saint-Domingue. Toussaint, who
taken up the Spanish banner in February 1793, came to
own forces independently of Biassou's army. By the year's
Toussaint had cut a swath through the north, had swung
Gonaïves, and effectively controlled north-central Saint-
Some historians believe that Spain and Britain had
informal arrangement to divide the French colony between
Britain to take the south and Spain, the north. British
landed at Jérémie and Môle Saint-Nicolas (the Môle). They
besieged Port-au-Prince (or Port Républicain, as it was
under the Republic) and took it in June 1794. The Spanish
launched a two-pronged offensive from the east. French
checked Spanish progress toward Port-au-Prince in the
the Spanish pushed rapidly through the north, most of
occupied by 1794. Spain and Britain were poised to seize
Domingue, but several factors foiled their grand design.
factor was illness. The British in particular fell victim
tropical disease, which thinned their ranks far more
combat against the French. Southern forces led by Rigaud
northern forces led by another mulatto commander,
forestalled a complete victory by the foreign forces.
uncertain conditions positioned Toussaint's centrally
forces as the key to victory or defeat. On May 6, 1794,
made a decision that sealed the fate of a nation.
After arranging for his family to flee from the city of
Domingo, Toussaint pledged his support to France.
the National Assembly's decision on February 4, 1794, to
slavery appears to have been the strongest influence over
Toussaint's actions. Although the Spanish had promised
emancipation, they showed no signs of keeping their word
territories that they controlled, and the British had
slavery in the areas they occupied. If emancipation
wasToussaint's goal, he had no choice but to cast his lot
In several raids against his former allies, Toussaint
the Artibonite region and retired briefly to Mirebalais.
Rigaud's forces achieved more limited success in the
tide clearly swung in favor of the French Republicans.
the key event at this point was the July 22, 1794, peace
agreement between France and Spain. The agreement was not
finalized until the signing of the Treaty of Basel the
year. The accord directed Spain to cede its holdings on
Hispaniola to France. The move effectively denied
funding, and avenues of retreat to combatants under the
aegis. The armies of Jean-François and Biassou disbanded,
many flocked to the standard of Toussaint, the remaining
commander of stature.
In March 1796, Toussaint rescued the French commander,
General Etienne-Maynard Laveaux, from a mulatto-led effort
depose him as the primary colonial authority. To express
gratitude, Laveaux appointed Toussaint lieutenant governor
Saint-Domingue. With this much power over the affairs of
homeland, Toussaint was in a position to gain more.
distrusted the intentions of all foreign parties--as well
those of the mulattoes--regarding the future of slavery;
believed that only black leadership could assure the
of an autonomous Saint-Domingue. He set out to consolidate
political and military positions, and he undercut the
of the French and the resentful gens de couleur.
A new group of French commissioners appointed Toussaint
commander in chief of all French forces on the island.
position of strength, he resolved to move quickly and
to establish an autonomous state under black rule. He
Sonthonax, the leading French commissioner, who had
the abolition of slavery, and concluded an agreement to
hostilities with Britain. He sought to secure Rigaud's
and thus to incorporate the majority of mulattoes into his
national project, but his plan was thwarted by the French,
saw in Rigaud their last opportunity to retain dominion
Once again, racial animosity drove events in
as Toussaint's predominantly black forces clashed with
mulatto army. Foreign intrigue and manipulation prevailed
sides of the conflict. Toussaint, in correspondence with
States president John Adams, pledged that in exchange for
he would deny the French the use of Saint-Domingue as a
operations in North America. Adams, the leader of an
but still insecure, nation, found the arrangement
dispatched arms and ships that greatly aided black forces
is sometimes referred to as the War of the Castes. Rigaud,
his forces and ambitions crushed, fled the colony in late
After securing the port of Santo Domingo in May 1800,
Toussaint held sway over the whole of Hispaniola. This
gave him an opportunity to concentrate on restoring
order and productivity. Like Jean-Jacques Dessalines and
(Henry) Christophe, Toussaint saw that the survival of his
homeland depended on an export-oriented economy. He
reimposed the plantation system and utilized nonslaves,
still essentially relied on forced labor to produce the
coffee, and other commodities needed to support economic
progress. He directed this process through his military
dictatorship, the form of government that he judged most
efficacious under the circumstances. A constitution,
1801 by the then still-extant Colonial Assembly, granted
Toussaint, as Governor-general-for-life, all effective
well as the privilege of choosing his successor.
Toussaint's interval of freedom from foreign
was unfortunately brief. Toussaint never severed the
with France, but his de facto independence and autonomy
the leaders of the mother country and concerned the
of slave-holding nations, such as Britain and the United
French first consul Napoléon Bonaparte resented the
the former slaves who planned to govern a nation on their
Moreover, Bonaparte regarded Saint-Domingue as essential
potential French exploitation of the Louisiana Territory.
advantage of a temporary halt in the wars in Europe,
dispatched to Saint-Domingue forces led by his
General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc. These forces,
between 16,000 and 20,000--about the same size as
army--landed at several points on the north coast in
1802. With the help of white colonists and mulatto forces
commanded by Pétion and others, the French outmatched,
outmaneuvered, and wore down the black army. Two of
chief lieutenants, Dessalines and Christophe, recognized
untenable situation, held separate parleys with the
agreed to transfer their allegiance. Recognizing his weak
position, Toussaint surrendered to Leclerc on May 5, 1802.
French assured Toussaint that he would be allowed to
quietly, but a month later, they seized him and
to France, where he died of neglect in the frigid dungeon
de Joux in the Jura Mountains on April 7, 1803.
The betrayal of Toussaint and Bonaparte's restoration
slavery in Martinique undermined the collaboration of
such as Dessalines, Christophe, and Pétion. Convinced that
same fate lay in store for Saint-Domingue, these
others once again battled Leclerc and his disease-riddled
Leclerc himself died of yellow fever in November 1802,
months after he had requested reinforcements to quash the
resistance. Leclerc's replacement, General Donatien
waged a bloody campaign against the insurgents, but events
the shores of Saint-Domingue doomed the campaign to
By 1803 war had resumed between France and Britain, and
Bonaparte once again concentrated his energies on the
Europe. In April of that year, Bonaparte signed a treaty
allowed the purchase of Louisiana by the United States and
French ambitions in the Western Hemisphere. Rochambeau's
reinforcements and supplies never arrived in sufficient
The general fled to Jamaica in November 1803, where he
surrendered to British authorities rather than face the
retribution of the rebel leadership. The era of French
rule in Haiti had ended.
Data as of December 1989