Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

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Toussaint Louverture letters (RLC.Ms.532)

Redwood Library and Athenaeum

50 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840
Tel: (401) 847-0292
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email: redwood@redwoodlibrary.org

Biographical note

Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was born a slave in the French colony, Bréda, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), in 1743 and was legally freed in 1777. In 1791, Touissant began his military career as a leader of the slave rebellion that broke out on Saint Domingue and began the Haitian Revolution (1794-1804), which culminated with the elimination of slavery and the founding of the Republic of Haiti in 1804. Toussaint initially allied with the Spaniards in the neighboring Dominican Republic, but switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery in 1794. Toussaint gradually established control over the whole island of Hispaniola, using military and political tactics to gain dominance over rivals. During his years in power as governor and commander-in-chief, he worked to improve the economy of Saint Domingue, restored the plantation system using paid labor, negotiated trade treaties with the United States and Britain, and maintained a large army. In 1801, Toussaint submitted a newly written constitution, which named himself as governor for life, and provided for autonomy and a black sovereign state to Napoleon Bonaparte (1763-1821) and the French legislature for ratification. In response, Bonaparte sent an army to force Toussaint to resign and restore French authority in the former colony. Toussaint was taken prisoner by the French forces in June 1802 and was deported to France where he died in the prison at Fort-de-Jeux on April 7, 1803.