The Life of Toussaint L'Overture: The Negro Patriot of Hayti


A newly typeset edition of the classic 1853 biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the brilliant military leader who defeated Napoleon's generals and liberated the slaves of Haiti.
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A newly typeset edition of the classic 1853 biography of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the brilliant military leader who defeated Napoleon's generals and liberated the slaves of Haiti.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781587420108
  • Publisher: Inkling Books
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,319,702
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.34 (d)

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Samples from Book 1, Chapters 1-4

I am about to sketch the history and character of one of those extraordinary men, whom Providence, from time to time, raises up for the accomplishment of great, benign, and far-reaching results. I am about to supply the clearest evidence that there is no insuperable barrier between the light and the dark-coloured tribes of our common human species. I am about to exhibit, in a series of indisputable facts, a proof that the much misunderstood and downtrodden negro race are capable of the loftiest virtues, and the most heroic efforts. I am about to present a tacit parallel between white men and dark men, in which the latter will appear to no disadvantage. Neither eulogy, however, nor disparagement is my aim, but the simple love of justice. It is a history--not an argument--that I purpose to set forth. In prosecuting the narrative, I shall have to conduct the reader through scenes of aggression, resistance, outrage, revenge, bloodshed, and cruelty, that grieve and wound the hear, and exciting the deepest pity for the sufferers, raise irrepressible indignation against ambition, injustice and tyranny--the scourges of the world, and specially the sources of complicated and horrible calamities to the natives of Africa. . . .

At the time when the hero and patriot whose career we have to describe first appeared on the scene, the island was divided between two European powers; the east was possessed by the Spaniards, the west and south by the French. It is with the latter portion that this history is mostly concerned. . . .

The interior of Hayti, however, lacks neither inhabitants nor natural beauty. The mountains rise in bold and varying outline against the brilliant skies, and in almost every part form a background of great and impressive effect. Broken by deep ravines, and appearing in bare and rugged precipices, they present a continued variety of imposing objects which sometimes rise into the sublime. . . . Alas! that scenes so attractive should, at the time our narrative commences, have been disturbed and made repulsive by the forced labour of myriads of human beings occupied on the numerous plantations, which, but for greed, and oppression, and cruelty, would themselves have multiplied the natural charms of the island. . . .

The large black population of Hayti was of African origin. Having been stolen from their native land, they were transplanted in the island to become beasts of burden to their masters. The infamous slave-trade was then at its height. Nations and individuals who stood at the head of the civilised world, and prided themselves in the name of Christian, were not ashamed to traffic in the bodies and the souls of their fellow-men. Three hundred vessels, employed every year in that detestable traffic, spread robbery, conflagration, and carnage over the coasts and the lands of Africa. Eighty thousand men, women and children, torn from their homes, were loaded with chains, and thrown into the holds of the ships, a prey to desolation and despair. In vain had the laws and usages of Africa, less unjust and cruel than those of Christian countries, forbidden the sale of men born in slavery, permitting the outrage only in the case of persons taken in war, or such as had lost their liberty by debt or crime. Cupidity created an ever-growing demand; the price of human flesh rose in the market; the required supply followed. The African princes, smitten with the love of lucre, disregarded the established limitations, and for their own bad purposes multiplied the causes which entailed the loss of liberty. Proceeding from a less to a greater wrong, they undertook wars expressly for the purpose of gaining captives for the slave mart, and when still the demand went on increasing, they became wholesale robbers of men, and seized a village, or scoured a district. From the coasts the devastation spread into the interior. A regularly organised system came into operation, which constantly sent to the sea-shore thousands of innocent and unfortunate creatures to whom death would have been a happy lot. In the year 1778, not fewer than one hundred thousand of its black inhabitants were forcibly and cruelly carried away from Africa.

Driven on board the ships which waited their arrival, these poor wretches, who had been accustomed to live in freedom and roam at large, were thrust into a space scarcely large enough to receive their coffin. If a storm arose the ports were closed as a measure of safety. The precaution shut out light and air. Then who can say what torments the negroes underwent? Thousands perished by suffocation--happily, even at the cost of life, delivered from their frightful agonies. Death, however, brought loss to their masters, and therefore it was warded off when possible by inflections which, in stimulating the frame, kept the vital energy in action. And when it was found that grief and degradation proved almost as deadly as bad air and no air at all, the victims were forced to dance and were insulted with music. If on the ceasing of the tempest and the temporary disappearance of the plague, things resumed their ordinary course, lust and brutality outraged mothers and daughters unscrupulously, preferring as victims the young and the innocent. When any were overcome by incurable disease, they were thrown into the ocean while yet alive, as worthless and unassailable articles. In shipwreck, the living cargo of human beings were ruthlessly abandoned. Fifteen thousand, it has been calculated,-- fifteen thousand corpses every year scattered in the ocean, the greater part of which were thrown on the shores of the two hemispheres, marked the bloody and deadly track of the hateful slave-trade.

Hayti every year opened its markets to twenty thousand slaves. A degradation awaited them on the threshold of servitude. With a burning iron they stamped on the breast of each slave, women as well as men, the name of their master, and that of the plantation where they were to toil. There the newcomer found everything strange,--the skies, the country, the language, the labour, the mode of life, the visage of his master,--all was strange. Taking their place among their companions in misfortune, they heard speak only of what they endured, and saw the marks of the punishments they had received. Among 'the old hands,' few had reached advanced years; and of the new ones, many died of grief. The high spirit of the men was bowed down. For the two first years the women were not seldom struck with sterility. In earlier times the proprietors had not wanted humanity, but riches had corrupted their hearts now; and giving themselves up to ease and voluptuousness, they thought of their slaves only as sources of income whence the utmost was to be drawn. It is not meant that the slaves of the French Haytian planters were worse treated than other slaves. Their condition, on the whole, was slightly better. But the inherent evils of slavery are very baneful and very numerous. Those evils prevailed in Hayti. The slave is helpless, ignorant, morally low, and almost morally dead--reduced as nearly as may be to a tool, a mere labouring machine, yet endued with strong emotions and burning passions. The master is all-powerful, self-willed, capricious, greedy of gain, and given to pleasure. In such a social condition vice and misery must abound; wherever such a social condition has existed, vice and misery have abounded. . . .

In the midst of these conflicting passions and threatening disorders, there was a character quietly forming, which was to do more than all others, first to gain the mastery of them, and then to conduct them to issues of a favourable nature. This superior mind gathered its strength and matured its purposes in a class of Haytian society where least of all ordinary men would have looked for it. Who could suppose that the liberator of the slaves of Hayti, and the great type and pattern of negro excellence, existed and toiled in one of the despised gangs that pined away on the plantations of the island?

The appearance of a hero of negro blood was ardently to be wished, as affording the best proof of negro capability. By what other than a negro hand could it be expected that the blow would be struck which should show to the world that Africans could not only enjoy but gain personal and social freedom? To the more deep-sighted, the progress of events and the inevitable tendencies of society had darkly indicated the coming of a negro liberator. The presentiment found expression in the words of the philosophic AbbŽ Raynal, who, in some sort, predicted that a vindicator of negro wrongs would ere long arise out of the bosom of the negro race. That prediction had its fulfilment in Toussaint L'Ouverture.

Toussaint was a negro. We wish emphatically to mark the fact that he was wholly without white blood. Whatever he was, and whatever he did, he achieved all in virtue of qualities which in kind are common to the African race. Though of negro extraction, Toussaint, if we may believe family traditions, was not of common origin. His great grandfather is reported to have been an African king. Whatever position his ancestors held, certain it is that Toussaint had in his soul higher qualities than noble or royal descent can guarantee. . . .

Throughout his arduous and perilous career, Toussaint L'Ouverture found great support himself, and exerted great influence over others, in virtue of his deep and pervading sense of religion. We might almost declare that from that source he derived more power than from all others. The foundation of his religious sentiments was laid in his childhood. . . .

In his mature years, and in the days of his great conflict, Toussaint possessed an iron frame and a stout arm. Capable of almost any amount of labour and endurance, he was terrible in battle, and rarely struck without deadly effect. Yet in his childhood he was weak and infirm to such a degree, that for a long time his parents doubted of being able to preserve his existence. So delicate was his constitution that he received the descriptive appellation of Fatras-B‰ton, which might be rendered in English by Little Lath. But with increase of years the stripling hardened and strengthened his frame by the severest labours and the most violent exercises. At the age of twelve he surpassed all his equals in the plantation in bodily feats. Who so swift in hunting? who so clever to swim across a foaming torrent? who so skilful to back a horse in full speed, and direct him at his will? The spirit of the man was already working in the boy. . . .

The virtues of his character procured for Toussaint universal respect. He was esteemed and loved even by the free blacks. The great planters held him in consideration. His intellectual faculties ripened under the effects of his intercourse with free and white men. As he grew in mind and became large of heart, he more and more was puzzled and distressed with the institution of slavery; he could in no way understand how the hue of the skin should put so great a social and personal distance between men whom God, he saw, had made essentially the same, and whom he knew to be useful if not indispensable to each other. Naturally he asked himself what others had thought and said of slavery. He had heard passages recited from Raynal. He procured the work. And now he found how much is involved in the simple art of reading. Toussaint could read,--Toussaint did read. He read passages similar to what follows, and he became the vindicator of negro freedom:-- . . . .

"'But the ancients,' you say, 'thought themselves masters of the lives of their slaves; we, having become more humane, dispose only of their liberty and their labour.' It is true, the progress of knowledge has on this important point given light to modern legislators. All codes, without an exception, have taken precautions to guard the life of even the man who pines away in servitude. They have put his existence under the protection of the magistrate. But has this, the most sacred of social institutions, ever had its due force? Is not America peopled with colonists who, usurping sovereign rights, inflict death on the unfortunate victims of their avarice? But suppose the law observed, would the slave materially gain thereby? Does not the master who employs my strength, dispose of my life, which depends on the voluntary and moderate use of my faculties? What is existence for him who has no property in it? I cannot kill my slave, but I may cause his blood to flow drop by drop under the drivers whip; I may overwhelm him with labours, privations, and pains; I may on all sides attack and slowly undermine the resources of his life; I may stifle by slow punishments the wretched embryo that a negress bears in her womb. It might be said that the laws protect the slave against a speedy death, only to leave to my cruelty the right of killing him in the course of time. In truth, the right of slavery is the right to commit crimes of all kinds." . . . .

These eloquent words must have produced a deep and pervading impression on a mind so susceptible as that of Toussaint. Here reason and feeling were harmonized into one awful appeal. Here philosophy joined with common sense and common justice, to proclaim negro wrongs, and to call for a negro vindicator. That call Toussaint heard; he heard its voice in his inmost soul; he heard it there first in low reverberations; he heard it there at last in sounds of thunder. Dwelling on those principles, pondering those words, consulting his own heart, and reflecting on his own condition, he came in time to feel that he was the man here designated, and that in the designation there was a call from Providence which he dared not disregard. But the time was not yet. Conviction must wait on opportunity. Besides, Toussaint was a religious man. Religion was his highest law. In one sense religion was his only law, for it comprehended every other form of law. What said religion? Read again, noble black; read with your own eyes; read the Bible for yourself and by yourself. Yes, if you will, consult the priest; but in retiring from the confessional, let Raynal's words echo in your ears, and fear lest you betray Christianity, even while striving to learn and obey its law.

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Table of Contents




Book 1

1-1. Hayti Described

Description of Hayti--its name, mountains, rivers, climate, productions, and chief cities and towns.

1-2. Haytian History

Columbus discovers Hayti--under his successors, the Spanish colony extirpate the natives--The Buccaneers lay in the west the basis of the French colony--its growth and prosperity.

1-3. Haytian People

The diverse elements of the population of Hayti--The blacks, the whites, the mulattoes; immorality and servitude.

1-4. Toussaint's Background

Family, birth and education of Toussaint L'Ouverture--His promotions in servitude, his marriage; reads Raynal, and begins to think himself the providentially-appointed liberator of his oppressed brethren.

1-5. Toussaint's Faith

Toussaint's presumed scriptural studies--The Mosaic code--Christian principles adverse to slavery--Christ, Paul, the Epistle to Philemon.

1-6. Slave Uprisings

Immediate causes of the rising of the blacks--Dissensions of the planters-- Spread of anti-slavery opinions in Europe--The outbreak of the first French Revolution--Mulatto war--Negro insurrection--Toussaint protects his master and mistress, and their property.

1-7. Clashes Continue

Continued collision of the planters, the mulattoes, and the negroes--The planters willing to receive English aid--The negroes espouse the cause of Louis XVI.--Arrival of Commissioners from France--Negotiations--Resumption of hostilities--Toussaint gains influence.

1-8. Hayti and France

France makes the mulattoes and negroes equal to the whites--The decapitation of Louis XVI. throws the slaves into the arms of Spain--They are afraid of the revolutionary republicans--Strife of French political parties in Hayti-- Conflagration of the Cape--Proclamation of liberty for the negroes produces little effect--Toussaint captures Dondon--Commemoration of the fall of the Bastille--Displeasure of the planters--Rigaud.

1-9. Toussaint in Command

Toussaint becomes master of a central post--Is not seduced by offers of negro emancipation, nor of bribes to himself--Repels the English, who invade the island; adds L'Ouverture to his name, abandons the Spaniards, and seeks freedom through French alliance.

1-10. Toussaint Victorious

Toussaint defeats the Spanish partizans--By extraordinary exertions raises and disciplines troops, forms armies, lays out campaigns, executes the most daring exploits, and defeats the English, who evacuate the island--Toussaint is Commander-in-chief.

1-11. Toussaint at Peace

Toussaint L'Ouverture composes agitation, and brings back prosperity--Is opposed by the Commissioner, HŽdouville, who flies to France--Appeals, in self-justification, to the Directory in Paris.

1-12. Civil War Rages

Civil war in the south between Toussaint L'Ouverture and Rigaud--Siege and capture of Jacmel.

1-13. Toussaint Faces Napoleon

Toussaint endeavours to suppress the slave-trade in Santo-Domingo, and thereby incurs the displeasure of Roume, the representative of France--he overcomes Rigaud--Bonaparte, now First Consul, sends Commissioners to the island--End of the war in the south.

1-14. Toussaint's Amnesty

Toussaint L'Ouverture inaugurates a better future--Publishes a general amnesty --Declares his task accomplished in putting an end to civil strife, and establishing peace on a sound basis--Takes possession of Spanish Hayti, and stops the slave-trade--Welcomes back the old colonists--Restores agriculture --Recalls prosperity--Studies personal appearance on public occasions-- Simplicity of his life and manners--His audiences and receptions--Is held in general respect.

1-15. Toussaint as Statesman

Toussaint L'Ouverture takes measures for the perpetuation of the happy condition of Hayti, specially by publishing the draft of a Constitution in which he is named governor for life, and the great doctrine of Free-trade is explicitly proclaimed.


Book 2

2-1. Napoleon Eyes Hayti

Peace of Amiens--Bonaparte contemplates the subjugation of Saint Domingo, and the restoration of slavery--Excitement caused by report to that effect in the island--Views of Toussaint L'Ouverture on the point.

2-2. Napoleon Attacks

Bonaparte cannot be turned from undertaking an expedition against Toussaint-- Resolves on the enterprise in order chiefly to get rid of his republican associates in arms--Restores slavery and the slave-trade--Excepts Hayti from the decree--Misleads Toussaint's sons--Despatches an armament under Leclerc.

2-3. In the Mountains

Leclerc obtains possession of the chief positions in the island, and yet is not master thereof--By arms and by treachery he establishes himself at the Cape, at Fort Dauphin, at Saint Domingo, and at Port-au-Prince--Toussaint L'Ouverture depends on his mountain strongholds.

2-4. Toussaint and Leclerc

General Leclerc opens a negotiation with Toussaint L'Ouverture by means of his two sons, Isaac and Placide--the negotiation ends in nothing--the French commander-in-chief outlaws Toussaint, and prepares for a campaign.

2-5. Fighting Continues

General Leclerc advances against Toussaint with 25,000 men in three divisions, intending to overwhelm him near Gona•ves--the plan is disconcerted by a check given by Toussaint to General Rochambeau in the ravine Couleuvre.

2-6. Under Siege

Toussaint L'Ouverture prepares Crte-ˆ-Pierrot as a point of resistance against Leclerc; who, mustering his forces, besieges the redoubt, which, after the bravest defence, is evacuated by the blacks.

2-7. Negotiations

Shattered condition of the French army--Dark prospects of Toussaint--Leclerc opens negotiations for peace--wins over Christophe and Dessalines--offers to recognise Toussaint as Governor-General--receives his submission on condition of preserving universal freedom--L'Ouverture in the quiet of his home.


Book 3

3-1. Leclerc in Trouble

Leclerc's uneasy position in Saint Domingo from insufficiency of food, from the existence in his army of large bodies of blacks, and especially from a most destructive fever.

3-2. Vile Conspiracy

Bonaparte and Leclerc conspire to effect the arrest of Toussaint L'Ouverture, who is treacherously seized, sent to France, and confined in the castle of Joux; partial risings in consequence.

3-3. Divide to Rule

Leclerc tries to rule by creating jealousy and division--Ill-treats the men of colour--Disarms the blacks--An insurrection ensues, and gains head, until it wrests from the violent hands of the general nearly all his possessions-- Leclerc dies--Bonaparte resolves to send a new army to Saint Domingo.

3-4. Rochambeau's Terror

Rochambeau assumes the command--His character--Voluptuousness, tyranny, and cruelty--Receives large reinforcements--Institutes a system of terror-- The insurrection becomes general and irresistible--The French are driven out of the island.

3-5. Toussaint in Prison

Toussaint L'Ouverture, a prisoner in the Jura mountains, appeals in vain to the First Consul, who brings about his death by starvation--Outline of his career and character.


Book 4

4-1. Dessalines as Emperor

Dessalines promises safety to the Whites, but bitterly persecutes them--Becomes Emperor of Hayti--Sanctions a wise constitution--Yields to vice and folly, and is dethroned and slain.

4-2. Racial Feuding

Feud between mulatto and negro blood, occasioning strife and political conflicts--Christophe president and sovereign in the north--PŽtion president in the south--The two districts are united under Boyer--RichŽ--Soulouque, the present emperor.

4-3. Conclusion



Notes and Illustrations

Classifying the coloured population--Causes of the insurrection--Christophe's portrayal of the struggle--Establishing schools.

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