Toussaint Louverture A revolutionary life

Philippe R. Girard

Book - 2016

"Toussaint Louverture's life was one of hardship, triumph, and contradiction. It began on Saint-Domingue, the richest colony in the Western Hemisphere, where he witnessed first-hand the torture of the enslaved population. Yet he managed to earn his freedom and establish himself as a small-scale planter. He even purchased slaves of his own. In Toussaint Louverture, Philippe Girard tells the incredible tale of how Louverture transformed himself from lowly freedman to revolutionary hero. ...Working as a coachman for his wealthy, white owners, Louverture traveled across Saint-Domingue, building a network among slaves and free blacks that would form the basis of the slave revolt he engineered in 1791. What followed was a decade of unprecedented bloodletting: about 200,000 people in the colony of Saint-Domingue were killed in battle or murdered. By 1801, Louverture was general and governor of the colony, now called Haiti. But his lifelong quest to be accepted as a member of the French colonial elite ended in despair: in 1802, on Napoleon's orders, he was exiled to France, where he spent the last year of his life in a prison cell. Ten years in the making, Toussaint Louverture is based on extensive archival research in France, Britain, Spain, the United States, and the Caribbean. The book contains many revelations about Louverture's life, from a previously unknown first marriage to the circumstances of his manumission, his exact role in the outbreak of the 1791 Haitian slave revolt, his actions as governor of France's richest colony, and the tragic nature of his death."--Provided by publisher.

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Basic Books [2016]
Language
English
Physical Description
340 pages ; illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9780465094134
0465094139
Main Author
Philippe R. Girard (author)
  • Aristocrat, c. 1740
  • Child, c. 1743-1754
  • Slave, 1754
  • Revolutionary apprentice, 1757-1773
  • Family man, 1761-1785
  • Freedman, c. 1772-1779
  • Slave driver, 1779-1781
  • Muleteer, 1781-1789
  • Witness, 1788-1791
  • Rebel, 1791
  • Monarchist, 1792
  • Spanish officer, 1793-1794
  • French patriot, 1794-1796
  • Politician, 1796-1798
  • Diplomat, 1798-1800
  • Planter, 1800-1801
  • Governor general, early 1801
  • God? Late 1801
  • Renegade, early 1802
  • Prisoner, 1802-1803
  • Icon, 1803-present.
Review by Choice Reviews

There has been an explosion of published scholarship on Haiti in the last decade. These products have greatly advanced the study of the early history of the Haitian Republic, and especially of the only successful rebellion ever by slaves. Despite such a research bonanza, the world has for too long lacked a modern, comprehensive biography of Toussaint—the enigmatic, complex, sometime-mystical stimulator of the rebellion. Historian Girard (McNeese State Univ.) now adds his own impressive acquaintance with the best of Haitian scholarship to the work of others to provide a balanced life of Haiti's originator. In his book, Toussaint becomes the quintessential transitional figure who sought as much to join the French as he wanted to oust them from Saint-Domingue. He could never understand why Napoleon insisted on persecuting and imprisoning someone like himself, who mostly wanted to be embraced by Napoleon as an overseas hero of the French revolution. It took Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Louverture's successor, to turn the rebellion into a revolution, to exterminate most of the remaining whites, to declare Haiti black, and to "complete" what Louverture—a very different and more nuanced person—had begun. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.--R. I. Rotberg, Harvard UniversityRobert I. RotbergHarvard University Robert I. Rotberg Choice Reviews 54:09 May 2017 Copyright 2017 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803) is best known as the leader of the Haitian Revolution, a slave revolt in the French colony of Saint-Domingue that resulted in the establishment of the Republic of Haiti. Born a slave of African descent, Louverture saw himself as French; this dichotomy would define his life and shape his political policies. Girard (Haiti: The Tumultuous History—From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation) attempts to reconcile the contradictions of Louverture's life. Sources documenting his subject's early days are scarce, and the author spends the first part of the biography exploring the unusual race relations of Saint-Domingue, which along with discussions of the area's economic, political, and social issues, provide much-needed context to explain Louverture's shifting loyalties and self-reinventions. While Louverture's role in the revolution comprises a large portion of this work, Girard also considers the hero's life after the conflict, when he became governor and rebuilt Saint-Domingue's agrarian economy by instituting a cultivator system. At the height of his power, Louverture was deposed by Napoleon and imprisoned in France, where he later died. The book ends with a brief discussion of Louverture's legacy. VERDICT A compelling look at an extraordinary historical figure. Recommended for anyone interested in revolutionary and/or Caribbean history.—Rebekah Kati, Durham, NC. Copyright 2016 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit. (Dec.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A definitive biography of one of the most influential men in history chronicles how the lowly freedman transformed himself into a revolutionary hero and the mastermind of the bloody Haitian slave revolt of 1791.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"Toussaint Louverture's life was one of hardship, triumph, and contradiction. It began on Saint-Domingue, the richest colony in the Western Hemisphere, where he witnessed first-hand the torture of the enslaved population. Yet he managed to earn his freedom and establish himself as a small-scale planter. He even purchased slaves of his own. In Toussaint Louverture, Philippe Girard tells the incredible tale of how Louverture transformed himself from lowly freedman to revolutionary hero. Working as a coachman for his wealthy, white owners, Louverture traveled across Saint-Domingue, building a network among slaves and free blacks that would form the basis of the slave revolt he engineered in 1791. What followed was a decade of unprecedented bloodletting: about 200,000 people in the colony of Saint-Domingue were killed in battle or murdered. By 1801, Louverture was general and governor of the colony, now called Haiti. But his lifelong quest to be accepted as a member of the French colonial elite ended in despair: in 1802, on Napoleon's orders, he was exiled to France, where he spent the last year of his life in a prison cell. Ten years in the making, Toussaint Louverture is based on extensive archival research in France, Britain, Spain, the United States, andthe Caribbean. The book contains many revelations about Louverture's life, from a previously unknown first marriage to the circumstances of his manumission, his exact role in the outbreak of the 1791 Haitian slave revolt, his actions as governor of France's richest colony, and the tragic nature of his death."--Provided by publisher.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A definitive biography of one of the most influential men in history, based on meticulous research from archives across the world and in multiple languages, chronicles how the lowly freedman transformed himself into a revolutionary hero and the mastermind of the bloody slave revolt of 1791. 20,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The definitive biography of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, leader of the only successful slave revolt in world history

Review by Publisher Summary 6

The definitive biography of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture, leader of the only successful slave revolt in world historyToussaint 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.