The definitive biography of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, leader of the only successful slave revolt in world history
Toussaint Louverture's life was one of hardship, triumph, and contradiction. Born into bondage in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), the richest colony in the Western Hemisphere, he witnessed first-hand the torture of the enslaved population. Yet he managed to secure his freedom and establish himself as a small-scale planter. He even purchased slaves of his own.
In Toussaint Louverture, Philippe Girard reveals the dramatic story of how Louverture transformed himself from lowly freedman to revolutionary hero. In 1791, the unassuming Louverture masterminded the only successful slave revolt in history. By 1801, he was general and governor of Saint-Domingue, and an international statesman who forged treaties with Britain, France, Spain, and the United States-empires that feared the effect his example would have on their slave regimes. Louveture's ascendency was short-lived, however. In 1802, he was exiled to France, dying soon after as one of the most famous men in the world, variously feared and celebrated as the "Black Napoleon."
As Girard shows, in life Louverture was not an idealist, but an ambitious pragmatist. He strove not only for abolition and independence, but to build Saint-Domingue's economic might and elevate his own social standing. He helped free Saint-Domingue's slaves yet immediately restricted their rights in the interests of protecting the island's sugar production. He warded off French invasions but embraced the cultural model of the French gentility.
In death, Louverture quickly passed into legend, his memory inspiring abolitionist, black nationalist, and anti-colonialist movements well into the 20th century. Deeply researched and bracingly original, Toussaint Louverture is the definitive biography of one of the most influential people of his era, or any other.
Girard, professor of history at McNeese State University, lucidly reveals how Toussaint Louverture led a remarkable life even in comparison with the other leaders of the Age of Revolutions. Born into slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, Louverture grew up speaking the Fon language of Benin and, most likely, practicing his parents' Vodou traditions. Louverture was enslaved until he was almost 50, but in the final decade of his life he became a guerrilla fighter, general, diplomat, planter, and head of state before dying as Napoleon's prisoner in France. As Saint-Domingue became the black republic of Haiti, Louverture presided over a revolution that was significantly more radical in both ideals and practice than the American and French uprisings that helped inspire it. Girard's study, based on extensive research in European archives, succeeds in relating Louverture's extraordinary life in its many and often contradictory aspects. It also conveys how he became an inspiration to abolitionists, civil rights activists, and anticolonial rebels worldwide without obscuring "the complexities of the Revolution he had to navigate and the skill he displayed in doing so." Girard's intelligent and graceful work offers a detailed account of Louverture's experiences and achievements, as well as a laudable overview of the revolution he helped create and sustain.