The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Negro Patriot of Hayti: Comprising an Account of the Struggle for Liberty in the Island, and a Sketch of Its History to the Present Period

By John Relly Beard | Go to book overview

Summary

Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743–1803) won international renown in the Haitian fight for independence. He led thousands of former slaves into battle against French, Spanish and English forces, routing the Europeans and seizing control of the entire island of Hispaniola. L’Ouverture became governor and commander-in-chief of Haiti before officially acknowledging French rule in 1801, when he submitted a newly written constitution to Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) and the French legislature for ratification. In response, Bonaparte sent an army to depose L’Ouverture, who was taken prisoner in June of 1802 and shipped to France to be held without trial in “the dungeons of the castle of Joux” until he died of pneumonia in April, 1803 (p. 233).

John Relly Beard (1800–1876) was an English Unitarian minister who wrote more than thirty books in his lifetime, including The Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture (1853) and several reference volumes on a variety of topics. He wrote in simple language and attempted to translate complicated foreign affairs—such as the Haitian struggle for independence—into terms that every reader could understand. Beard’s biography of L’Ouverture was first published in London on the fiftieth anniversary of L’Ouverture’s death. Ten years later, in 1863, Boston publishers reissued Beard’s biography, replacing a brief history of Haiti’s fight for independence after L’Ouverture’s exile with the first English translation of a thirty-five page autobiography written by L’Ouverture and other related documents, including a transcript of his post-mortem examination. Beard’s biography remained the authoritative English-language history of L’Ouverture’s life until the late twentieth century.

In explaining his reasons for writing about L’Ouverture, Beard frankly admits that he does so in order to “supply the clearest evidence that there is no insuperable barrier between the light and the dark-coloured tribes of our common human species” (p. 1). Throughout the text, Beard compares L’Ouverture to famously successful white generals and argues for L’Ouverture’s supremacy. L’Ouverture is superior to George Washington,

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