Thursday, May 8, 2008

Toussaint L'Overture

Gabrielle, the heroine in my upcoming Cobblestone Press novella, Sleep, was brought to Haiti a few years after the death of Toussaint L’Ouverture but he’s such a fascinating man I thought I’d tell you a little bit about him.

Born a slave, Toussaint was more than forty-five years old when he joined the revolution of the Haitian slaves who wanted freedom from their French overlords. At first, Toussaint only attended to the medical needs of the troops but he was an excellent horseman and a natural leader who soon led his own regiment. By 1797 he was in charge of an army of more than 20,000 men. With the help of arms and supplies from his American neighbours, he fought off the British and Spanish troops which had invaded St. Domingue as Haiti was then known. He then went on to crush the coloureds (the mulattos) who’d wanted to divided St. Domingue and establish their own republic in the south.

In two years, he had defeated all his enemies and was recognized as the governor-general of St. Domingue. He encouraged the former slaves to go back to work in the fields in exchange for a share of the profits and persuaded some of the planters to return. He later invaded and conquered the Spanish side of the island, Santo Domingo, but Napoleon Bonaparte was now in power in France and he wanted France back.

In 1803, Napoleon sent his troops in. Two of Toussaint’s black generals, Dessalines and Christophe, capitulated. Betrayed by the men he’d trusted the most, Toussaint also decided to enter into negotiations. He agreed to give up his leadership but the French knew they couldn’t allow him to remain on Haiti, not if they wanted to re-introduce slavery. The French general lured Toussaint to his camp, arrested him and deported him to France where he was imprisoned in the icy mountains near the Swiss border. He died there that same year.

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