The leader of the revolt of the almost half million enslaved Africans on the island of St Domingue, Toussaint L'Ouverture attained his people's freedom and created the first independent country to rise out of the oppressions of slavery. His revolution struck fear in the hearts of imperialists and gave courage to the enslaved everywhere.
In 1492 Cristoforo Columbo had stumbled across an island he named Santo Domingo during his search for the riches of the East. It was soon settled by the Spanish; the French gained a toehold on the eastern end of the island and were the acknowledged rulers there in 1697. By the the time Toussaint was born, it was the colony producing the most wealth for its 'mother country'. In the 1790s there were some 30,000 Whites, 24,000 free Blacks (mainly of mixed descent) and 450,000 slaves on the island. The free Blacks, many of whom owned plantations and slaves, did not have full rights of citizenship and were lower in the strict social hierarchy than all Whites. The colony was ruled directly by France.
Toussaint was one of eight children born to an enslaved African couple on the plantation known as Breda. His father being a very privileged slave, the young creole-speaking Toussaint was allowed to learn French, Latin, and reading and writing from Pierre Baptiste, his godfather, a slave working at the nearby hospital run by the Fathers of Charity. Toussaint also became a Roman Catholic. At first assigned to work with the estate animals, L'Ouverture became coachman to the estate manager and then steward of all the livestock. He married and had a number of children.
The French Revolution in 1789 deposed the French monarch, and promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man (liberté, egalité, fraternité); it also granted the right for local Assemblies in the French Colonies. In St Domingue this encouraged the free Blacks to begin a struggle for full equality, which was opposed by the royalists. The ensuing civil war resulted in the massacre of thousands of Whites in August 1791. Further fighting broke out when the Assembly declared that only those free Blacks born of free parents were to be granted the new Rights.
The slaves, led by Oge, also rebelled in 1790, but were suppressed and Oge was executed. However, probably because the acculturated slave population had been augmented by the arrival of 100,000 newly enslaved Africans in the period 1788-91, the Blacks, led by a 'voodoo' priest named Boukman, fought on. The Assembly in France, needing the revenue from St Domingue products (sugar, coffee, tobacco), sent an army to restore control. Caught in the innumerable cross-fires, the French
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Publication information: Book title: Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787. Contributors: Hakim Adi - Author, Marika Sherwood - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 109.
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