Pierre Toussaint l'Ouverture

Rebel Leader and Statesman
1743 -1803

Map of the West Indies
The West Indies Campaigns

Pierre Toussaint l'OuvertureFew rebel leaders in history have ever been as successful as Pierre Toussaint L'Ouverture, the son of a slave who took his island of San Domingo (now Haiti) to independence under a constitutional government.

Intelligent, urbane and blessed with considerable military and political skills, Toussaint took advantage of the internal turmoil of revolutionary France and the subsequent pro-royalist revolt on San Domingo in 1791 to became one of the leading players in deciding his country's future.

He initially turned his support to Spain, which ruled the eastern portion of San Domingo, but the promise of the abolition of slavery in French possessions in 1793 saw him return professed loyalty to France.

In 1798 he helped oust a British expeditionary force to San Domingo, but soon afterwards expelled French officials.

He emerged victorious from another civil war between San Domingo's blacks, coloureds and whites and then in 1801 took advantage of Spain's withdrawal from the island to occupy its possessions before French troops could.

Toussaint's victory brought stable government and peace to San Domingo, and he set about restoring the Catholic Church to its pre-revolutionary position and reintroduced the Gregorian Calendar.

The independent policies annoyed Napoleon Bonaparte, but that mood turned to fury when, in 1801, Toussaint had himself proclaimed governor-for-life. The French First Consul ordered a large expeditionary force under his brother-in-law General Charles Leclerc to take back San Domingo.

What followed was a bloody war in which military fortunes swung one way then the other and atrocities were committed by all sides. As the war moved towards France's favour and with his army disintegrating with the defection of some of his commanders, Toussaint accepted an offer to meet with Leclerc.

However, Leclerc had not intention of allowing Toussaint to leave and had the black leader seized, placed in chains and sent to France.

The elderly Toussaint was imprisoned in the fortress of Joux, on the border of France and Switzerland, where he was maltreated and starved. Suffering tremendously from the cold, Toussaint died in 1803.


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