Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire, and Narratives of Loyal Opposition

By John Patrick Walsh | Go to book overview

1 Toussaint Louverture and the Family
of Saint-Domingue

THE HISTORIAN JOSEPH Boromé tracked down over sixteen hundred letters, reports, decrees, and proclamations by Toussaint Louverture.1 These documents, now dispersed in public and private collections, represent one of the largest records of the Haitian Revolution and certainly the largest left by a man who had spent more than half his life as a slave in the French colony. Perhaps due to the sheer number of documents or to the years it took to locate them all, it appears that Boromé was never able to complete the biography he had planned, Toussaint Louverture: A Life with Letters.2 Nevertheless, his tireless efforts led to a vital index of Toussaint’s extant writings. Beginning with two letters in August 1793, while still fighting for royalist Spain, Toussaint announced his presence in an apparent show of support for general emancipation.3 These addresses were made just as Sonthonax, the French Republican civil commissioner on SaintDomingue, abolished slavery and less than a year before Toussaint switched sides to France in circumstances that remain unclear, as Geggus has shown in his analysis of Toussaint’s “volte-face.”4 Almost ten years later, by then general in chief and governor of Saint-Domingue, Toussaint signed off in late 1802 by imploring Bonaparte for mercy. He died the following spring.

To date, the Complete Works of Toussaint Louverture does not exist.5 As Boromé attested in private correspondence, the attempt to recover nearly a decade’s worth of documents, many forever lost and/or destroyed, is something akin to a Sisyphean task.6 Faced with such a vast and disorganized archive, I have given priority in the analyses that follow to selected letters and documents for close inspection, summarized

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