HERO TOUSSAINT

Slavery, freedom, and working life I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man. Until recently, historians believed that Toussaint had been a slave until the start of the revolution. The discovery of a marriage certificate dated 1777 shows that he was freed in 1776 at the age of 33. This find retrospectively clarified a letter of 1797, in which he said he had been free for twenty years. It seems he still maintained an important role on the Breda plantation until the outbreak of the revolution, presumably as a salaried employee. He had initially been responsible for the livestock, but by 1791, his responsibilities most likely included acting as coachman to the overseer, de Libertat, and as a slave-driver, charged with organising the work force. As a free man, Toussaint began to accumulate wealth and property. Surviving legal documents show him renting a small coffee plantation worked by a dozen of his slaves. He would later say that by the start of the revolution, he had acquired a reasonable fortune, and was the owner of a number of properties and slaves at Ennery.
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The French Revolution outlawed slavery, but the white slave owners, who favored the French monarchy rather than the French revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton, refused to free their slaves. This refusal to follow the new dictates coming from the metropolis in France motivated the slaves to revolt, and their revolt led to widespread murder and pillage. In 1791, Toussaint Louverture, who had been freed earlier, became the first leader of the black slaves independence and freedom movement. He used his private fortune to underwrite the rebellion. Haiti then was ruled by Toussaint’s army of former black slaves and people of color. In all, he had to fight carefully against France, England, and Spain. By 1801 he controlled all of Haiti, the French-speaking half of the island of Hispaniola, but the Spanish-speaking section did not join his movement. Toussaint created a constitution which emancipated the slaves, but, in order to continue the immense prosperity that came from the former slave plantations, Toussaint himself imported new African slaves. In 1802, the new ruler of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, was shown a copy of Toussaint’s Haitian Constitution—Haiti had not yet declared its full independence from France.