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Gary Ashwill

A self-educated former slave, François Dominique Toussaint-L'Ouverture joined the Haitian Revolution in 1791 and became its foremost general, defeating both French and British forces. In 1802, he was betrayed and captured, and he died imprisoned in France.

Toussaint figures importantly in the early-nineteenth-century writings of James McCune Smith, David Walker, and Henry Highland Garnet, among others, as a symbol and exemplar of resistance to slavery, and as an example of the potential of the black race. William Wells Brown, in his pamphlet St. Domingo: Its Revolution and Its Patriots (1854), compares Toussaint favorably to Napoleon and George Washington: “Toussaint liberated his countrymen; Washington enslaved a portion of his.” George Clinton Rowe's seventy-stanza poem, Toussaint L'Ouverture (1890), lauds Toussaint as the “deliverer of his race.” Later African American writers such as Carter G. Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois argued ...

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Barrymore Bogues

Former slave, and political and military leader during the late eighteenth century of the revolutionary slave army in the Caribbean French colony of Saint Domingue, Toussaint L’Ouverture is a historical figure of world significance. By the early nineteenth century, he was known as one of the most remarkable men of those times. The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth honored him with a sonnet; major Western newspapers wrote editorials about him, and when he died in a French prison, one newspaper called him a “truly great man.” In the late nineteenth century, the American writer Henry Adams devoted a chapter of his nine-volume history of the United States to Toussaint L’Ouverture. In Adams’s judgment, “The story of Toussaint Louverture [sic has been told almost as that of Napoleon but not in connection with the history of the United States although Toussaint exercised an influence as decisive as that of any ...

Article

Roy E. Finkenbine

Born to African slave parents on the Bréda plantation near Cap Français (contemporary Cap-Haïtien) in Saint Domingue, the leading French sugar colony in the Caribbean, Toussaint remained in slavery for nearly the first five decades of his life. His manager, Bayou de Libertas, recognizing his intelligence, assigned him the less physically demanding task of serving as his coachman, taught him to read, and allowed him to read extensively on a variety of subjects. Among his favorite books were histories of the military campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, which undoubtedly helped familiarize him with military strategy.

When the French Revolution—with its slogan of liberty, equality, and fraternity—precipitated slave revolts in Saint Domingue in 1791 Toussaint seized his chance for freedom After helping his master flee to safety in the United States he entered the fighting on the rebel side quickly earning a reputation as a skilled ...

Article

There is little documentation regarding the life of François Dominique Toussaint Louverture before the first slave uprising in 1791 in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known before independence). According to contemporary oral accounts, his parents were from Dahomey (present-day Benin), and his father was a powerful chief in that country before his enslavement. Toussaint was the first of eight children born on the Bréda plantation, near the northern coast of Saint-Domingue. Born in the French colony, and familiar with its culture, Toussaint was considered a Creole rather than an African, which—according to the logic of European colonialism—guaranteed him a more elevated social status. This status, and the plantation owner's affection for him, freed Toussaint from ever having to toil in the sugarcane fields. Instead, he worked as a domestic servant in the plantation house. Toussaint was emancipated in 1776 at the young age of thirty-three. In 1779 he rented ...