February 4, 2015
From the Inkwell of: Bartholomew J. Worthington III
Born - August 22, 1742
Died - April 7, 1803
Toussaint L'Ouverture was born into slavery on May 20, 1743 on the French colony of Saint Dominique. He was the eldest son of Gaou Guinon, an African prince who was sold into slavery after being captured by his cousin.
Even though L'Ouverture lived under the rule of the French Code Noir (Black Code), he was fortunate enough to have ganed the favor of his plantation manager. L'Ouverture was taught to read and write by his god father, and Bayon de Libertad, who oversaw the plantation's operations, allowed L'Ouverture unlimited access to his personal library.
By 20, the highly intelligent L'Ouverture was tri-lingual, speaking French, Creole and some Latin; a renowned horseman; and a highly respected medicine man. He was also granted his freedom by Libertad, though he continued to manage his former master's operations and serve as Libertad's personal coachman. L'Ouverture would settle in a relatively non-eventful life for about 18 years, even marrying and starting a family.
His comfortable existence would change on August 22, 1791, when the "Night of Fire" insurrection would see slaves rise up against their oppressive treatment and set fire to plantation homes and fields and kill white slave owners. The 48 year old L'Ouverture ensured his family's safe relocation to the Spanish controlled side of the island, and would join the growing revolutions.
While the initial uprising would be quickly suppressed, it sparked an ongoing conflict between free Blacks, slaves and the planters. L'Ouverture's brilliance would drive his rapid rise through the revolution's leadership ranks. A strategic decision to ally the revolution's forces with Spain would result in the French National Convention granting citizenship rights in 1794 and freedom to all Blacks within the French empire. This tactic was a move to secure the loyalty of Saint Dominique's Black population and stave off attempts by Spain and Britain to seize control of the island.
The tactic worked as L'Ouverture would switch his allegiance from the Spanish to the French side. He would continue to be acknowledged as a dominant political and military personality in Saint Dominique. By 1801, he was ruling Saint Dominique as an independent nation and would declare himself governor for "the rest of his glorious life." He would even draft a national constitution that reaffirmed the abolishment of slavery.
These actions rubbed the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte the wrong way, and he would send his brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, to the island. Leclerc's mission was two-fold: Capture L'Ouverture and, revert Saint Dominique back to a French controlled slave colony.
Leclerc would succeed in capturing L'Ouverture who would die of pneumonia, imprisoned at Fort de Joux in France, on April 7, 1803. But Saint Dominique would never return to French control, as it would achieve its full independence one year later in 1804, under the leadership of L'Ouverture's successor.
"I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man."