The Haitian Revolution was a slave revolt that was part of a series of revolutionary wars that occurred in Europe and across the Americas. The 13-year campaign was led by military leader General Toussaint Louverture (pictured), and his efforts led to the end of France’s occupation of what is now known as Haiti.
Details of Louverture’s early life are scant, but some historians point to his family hailing from what is now known as Benin. He was reportedly born at the plantation of Bréda at Haut de Cap in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), and while this day marks his day of birth, historians are not truly certain.
Louverture married Suzanne Simone Baptiste Louverture, reportedly his cousin or his godfather’s, Pierre Baptiste, daughter. He claimed to have fathered 15 children, with 11 of them dying. Louverture’s three oldest sons, however, are known in the annals of history.
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Conflicting accounts on Louverture’s life as a slave continue to impact his story, though, and it appears he was an educated businessman who owned a coffee plantation in the Saint-Domingue with several workers.
In 1789, the French Revolution inspired the free people of color in Saint-Domingue to fight for the same rights given to those living in France. In 1791, the slave insurrection would begin, although Louverture was not an early adopter of the revolution. After some time, though, Louverture joined the cause by serving as a doctor to Spanish Army General Georges Biassou who later became his enemy.
Louverture led Black rebellion forces and aligned himself with the Spanish fighters who also occupied the region. It became clear to the French that Louverture and his alliances could undermine their battle.
In 1794, The French government ended slavery in French Saint-Domingue, although it was promised earlier as a ruse to bring Black soldiers over to the French side. Louverture diplomatically dealt with French leaders during his time at war, working closely with General Étienne Maynaud Bizefranc de Lavaux.
Louverture’s prowess was impressive, but rebel leaders did not approve of the massive sway he held over the region. In May 1794, the call to end slavery caused Louverture to align himself away from the Spanish forces and join with the French.
British and Spanish forces continued their offensive moves, but Louverture handed out defeat after defeat, although he did suffer some setbacks. He would also defeat his former ally General Biassou, who eventually retreated to Spanish-held Florida.
Tired of war, France wanted to see a return to business in the money-rich lands of Saint-Domingue and a new leader emerged in the nation: Napoleon Bonparte was a vicious war leader and dictator who reinstated slavery in the colonies, which sparked off more war. Napoleon and Louverture brokered a peace deal in 1803 with the French leader allowing Black Saint-Domingue to have its independence.
Louverture agreed to retire from the rebellion, but Napoleon betrayed him. The French general placed Louverture in a mountain prison in France where he died later that year.
Napoleon no longer wished to carry on his attacks on Haiti, and his forces were still battling for independence. The general eventually pulled his forces out from the region, thus making Haiti truly independent. Napoleon would also sell the French territory in North America to the United States in what was known as the “Louisiana Purchase.”
Napoleon was later exiled but never felt remorse for his betrayal of Louverture.
Watch Toussaint Loverture’s powerful story here: