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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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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 ...