Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803)
Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture lived in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) in the Caribbean and became the leader of a 13-year-long revolt that created an independent country, which acted as a beacon of hope for the enslaved on other islands and one of fear for the slaving nations.
The French Revolution of 1789 raised hopes for liberty amongst the enslaved in Saint Domingue, who revolted in late 1791. Although he was no longer enslaved, Toussaint joined the rebellion and organised the revolutionaries into an effective army. An excellent general, adept at guerilla warfare, Toussaint skillfully used the wars between the region’s European powers to assist in the struggle for freedom.
Allying initially with the Spanish, who ruled Santo Domingo (the eastern half of the island, now the Dominican Republic) to defeat the French, he gained the arms and equipment that other slave rebellions had lacked. He then allied with the French government to defeat the Spanish, on the understanding that the French abolish slavery, which they did throughout all French territories in 1794. He also defeated the British government, which sent an army to Saint Domingue because they desired its valuable slave economy.
By 1801, Toussaint had liberated the island, freeing all the enslaved, but revolution in France had turned to despotism. In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent an army to the island with orders to reinstitute slavery. Kidnapped during peace negotiations, Toussaint was taken to France where he died in prison. Nevertheless, commanded by other former slaves, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, the united rebel forces defeated Napoleon’s troops and on January 1 1804, the Republic of Haiti was founded.