Who was Toussaint-Louverture?


François-Domenica Bréda known as Toussaint-Louverture (1743-1803) was one of the leaders of the Haitian revolution and the first black man to become governor of a colony.

Toussaint-Louverture was born into slavery in approximately 1743 in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He belonged to a small and priviledged class of slaves employed by humane masters as personal servants. The Count de Breda, Toussaint’s owner, actively encouraged him to learn to read and write. He developed a passion for books and his readings were to become a great influence in his political life. Toussaint was freed from slavery at around the age of 33 and colonial records show that he became a land and slave owner himself.

The French Revolution of 1789 had a powerful impact on Saint Domingue. A complex civil war broke out in 1790 when free men of color claimed that they too were French citizens and should be allowed to enjoy the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The following year, on 22 August 1791, Toussaint was one of the main organizers of a slave revolt that would eventually be known as the Haitian Revolution, the first and only victorious slave revolt in history.

In 1793 representatives of the French revolutionary government in Paris offered freedom to slaves who joined them in the fight against counter-revolutionaries and foreign invaders. The following year these orders were ratified by the revolutionary legislature in Paris, which abolished slavery throughout all French territories. This was a determining factor in Toussaint’s decision to join the French army. Under his increasingly influential leadership the French defeated the British and Spanish forces.

Having made himself ruler of the island, Toussaint did not wish to surrender power to Paris and ruled Saint Domingue as an autonomous entity. In 1801 he issued a Constitution for the island, which provided for autonomy and established Toussaint as governor for life. It abolished slavery and aspired to put in place a multiracial society composed of blacks, whites and mulattos.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power in France he aimed to return the Caribbean colonies to their earlier profitability as plantation colonies. In 1802 he dispatched an expedition of French soldiers to the island, lead by his brother in law Charles Leclerc, to reestablish French authority and slavery. Leclerc arrested Toussaint and deported him to France where he was imprisoned in Fort de Joux and died on 7 April 1803.

For a few months the island remained under Napoleonic rule. However, the French soldiers soon fell victim to weapons and disease and surrendered to the indigenous army in November 1803. On 1 January 1804, the colony became the first black republic under the name of Haiti.

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