One of the main leaders of the slave revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, which in 1804 became the second independent republic in the Americas.
François-Domenica Bréda, Christian name Toussaint, came from a royal family in the African region of Dahomey, today known as Benin. Although he was born a slave in 1743, he was fortunate to belong to the Count of Breda, one of the few slave owners who treated their slaves well. His owner encouraged him to learn to read and write. Toussaint was passionate about books and the readings significantly influenced his life. At age 33, he was freed and bought land and slaves. He achieved a certain level of fortune and gained access to the colonial power circles.
The French Revolution of 1789 had a powerful impact on Saint-Domingue, due to the fact that the proclamation of the equality of men contradicted the reality of slavery. In 1791, the first slave rebellion began, led by a Jamaican, Bukman, on the French part of the island. Toussaint, the only literate officer, was named secretary of the movement. The revolutionary government then recognized the freedom of slaves in its colonies. Toussaint is considered one of the main organizers of what is known as the only victorious slave revolt in history. It was then that he took the name L’Ouverture, based on the French word for “opening.”
In 1793, the representatives of the French revolutionary government in Paris granted freedom to the slaves who had joined them to fight against counter-revolutionaries and foreign invaders. The following year, Paris ratified the orders and declared the abolition of slavery throughout French territory. This led Toussaint to ally with the French army to defend the colony. Under the growing influence of his leadership, the French defeated the British and Spanish in Haiti.
As the governor of French Haiti, Toussaint did not want to submit to the powers in Paris and he decided to govern the colony as an independent entity. He was able to resist various attempts by the French government to remove him from power and he led the successful invasion of the Spanish part of the island. In 1801, he proposed a constitution that, in addition to establishing autonomy, named him as governor for life. He intended to create a multi-racial society under this constitution.
When Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power in France, he tried to reinstate colonial rule in France’s Caribbean territories and regain their profitability. In 1802, he sent an expedition of French soldiers to the island to re-establish French authority and slavery. Toussaint was arrested and deported to France, where he was imprisoned and died, on April 7, 1803, in Fort de Joux because he was not treated for an illness.
During the months that Napoleon governed the island, the army developed under L’Ouverture defeated the French in the battle of Vertières. In late 1803, Haiti declared its independence and became the first black republic.
Author: Pablo Samuel Torres
Published: April 30, 2012.
This post is also available in: Español