François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, also Toussaint Breda, Toussaint-Louverture (1743 - April 7, 1803) was one of the leaders of the Haitian slave revolt of 1791 and a major figure in the struggles that followed. Template:Audio
Toussaint was reputed to be of the western African Arrada tribe. His father, Gaou-Guinou, had been brought to Saint-Domingue and sold to the Count de Breda. Toussaint was the eldest son and his date of birth is given as either May 20 or November 1 (All Saints' Day procuring the name Toussaint). He also took the surname Breda from his owner. De Breda was relatively humane and happy to encourage Toussaint to learn to read and write. He was already a noted horse rider and herbalist before his subsequent military and political career. He married a woman called Suzan and they had a son, named Placide.
Though it was not widely known during his lifetime, Toussaint was in fact a free man by the time of the great slave uprising he would eventually help lead. He was freed from slavery at about the age of 33 and colonial records show that he leased a field of about 15 hectares with 13 slaves to grow coffee. At the time of this lease he was still unable to sign, or write, though he would learn these skills before the revolution.
The French Revolution of 1789 had a powerful impact on the island. Inspired by the new philosophies of the Enlightenment, "liberté, egalité, et fraternité", the French proclaimed the Rights of Man to include all free men. When this promise was withdrawn under pressure from the plantation owners it sparked widespread slave risings. Toussaint did not participate in the campaign of Vincent Ogé, a wealthy free man of color whose attempt to claim voting rights for this group in October 1790 was brutally crushed. But he became an aide to Georges Biassou in the insurgency of August in the following year. He rose rapidly, the Black army proved to be surprisingly successful against the fever-ravaged and poorly-led European troops. In 1793 Toussaint briefly allied with the Spanish and gained the nickname L'Ouverture which he adopted as his surname. Later that year the British occupied most of the coastal settlements of Haiti including Port-au-Prince.
In 1793 Léger Félicité Sonthonax and Étienne Polverel, representatives of the French revolutionary government in Paris, offered freedom to slaves who would join them as they struggled to defeat White counter-revolutionaries and fight the foreign invaders. On February 4, 1794, these emancipation orders were ratified by the Revolutionary legislature in Paris, now largely Jacobin, which abolished slavery throughout all territories of the French Republic. In early May 1794, Toussaint left the Spanish and joined the French army, bringing thousands of Black soldiers with him. Under Toussaint's increasingly influential leadership, this French army of Black, Mulatto, and White soldiers defeated the British and Spanish forces.
After Toussaint's army won seven battles in one week against them in January of that year, the British withdrew from Haiti in 1798. In 1799 he invaded Saint-Domingue's southern peninsula and defeated the Mulatto general André Rigaud, his last major rival for power in the colony. The Spanish were defeated in 1800. Toussaint drafted a committee to write a constitution for the colony, which went into effect in 1801.
When Napoleon came to power in France, he began to work with colonists to return France's Caribbean territories to their earlier profitablity as plantation colonies. Denying that he was trying to reinstate slavery, Napoleon's brother-in-law Charles Leclerc attempted to regain French control of the island in 1802. Toussaint was invited to negotiate a settlement. Attending a meeting under safe conduct he was seized and shipped to France, where he died in captivity in the Fort-de-Joux in Doubs in 1803.
On the "Abraxis" album, the group Santana has a song named to him, in his honor.
- Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography by J. R. Beard, 1863
- A section of Bob Corbett's on-line course on the history of Haiti that deals with Toussaint's rise to power.
- The Louverture Project - Wiki: Toussaint Louverture