Toussaint L'Ouverture, François Dominique

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Toussaint L'Ouverture, François Dominique

(fräNswä` dômēnēk` to͞osăN` lo͞ovĕrtür`), c.1744–1803, Haitian patriot and martyr. A self-educated slave freed shortly before the uprising in 1791, he joined the black rebellion to liberate the slaves and became its organizational genius. Rapidly rising in power, Toussaint joined forces for a brief period in 1793 with the Spanish of Santo DomingoSanto Domingo
, former Spanish colony on the island of Hispaniola. The name has also been used for the Dominican Republic, and in early days it applied to Haiti. Columbus visited the island in 1492 and established a settlement on the northern coast, but when he returned in 1493,
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 and in a series of fast-moving campaigns became known as L'Ouverture [the opening], a name he adopted. Although he professed allegiance to France, first to the republic and then to Napoleon, he was singleheartedly devoted to the cause of his own people and advocated it in his talks with French commissioners.

Late in 1793 the British occupied all of Haiti's coastal cities and allied themselves with the Spanish in the eastern part of the island. Toussaint was the acknowledged leader against them and, with the generals DessalinesDessalines, Jean Jacques
, c.1758–1806, emperor of Haiti (1804–6), born a slave. A shrewd general, he served under Toussaint Louverture in the wars that liberated Haiti.
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 and ChristopheChristophe, Henri
, 1767–1820, Haitian revolutionary leader. A freed black slave, he aided Toussaint Louverture in the liberation of Haiti and was army chief under Dessalines.
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, recaptured (1798) several towns from the British and secured their complete withdrawal. In 1799 the mulatto general André RigaudRigaud, André
, 1761–1811, Haitian mulatto general in the wars that liberated Haiti. Educated, but vain, he believed in the superiority of mulattoes. He sought (1798–1800) unsuccessfully to wrest the leadership from Toussaint Louverture.
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 enlisted the aid of Alexandre PétionPétion, Alexandre
, 1770–1818, Haitian revolutionist. After taking part in the expulsion (1798) of the English from Haiti, he joined (1799) André Rigaud against Toussaint Louverture and commanded the heroic but tragic defense of Jacmel, a southern port.
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 and Jean Pierre BoyerBoyer, Jean Pierre
, 1776–1850, president of Haiti (1818–43). A free mulatto, he fought under Toussaint Louverture and then joined André Rigaud, also a mulatto, in the latter's abortive insurrection against Toussaint.
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, asserted mulatto supremacy, and launched a revolt against Toussaint; the uprising was quelled when Pétion lost the southern port of Jacmel.

In 1801, Toussaint conquered Santo Domingo, which had been ceded by Spain to France in 1795, and thus he governed the whole island. By then professing only nominal allegiance to France, he reorganized the government and instituted public improvements. Napoleon sent (1802) a large force under General LeclercLeclerc, Charles Victor Emmanuel
, 1772–1802, French general. He served under Napoleon Bonaparte in the Italian campaign, married (1797) Pauline Bonaparte, and took part in Napoleon's coup of 18 Brumaire (1799). In 1801 he commanded the French expedition to Portugal.
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 to subdue Toussaint, who had become a major obstacle to French colonial ambitions in the Western Hemisphere; the Haitians, however, offered stubborn resistance, and a peace treaty was drawn. Toussaint himself was treacherously seized and sent to France, where he died in a dungeon at Fort-de-Joux, in the French Jura. His valiant life and tragic death made him a symbol of the fight for liberty, and he is celebrated in one of Wordsworth's finest sonnets and in a dramatic poem by Lamartine.


See C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins (1938, 2d ed. 1963); C. Moran, Black Triumvirate: A Study of L'Ouverture, Dessalines, Christophe (1957); A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., Toussaint L'Ouverture: Haitian Liberator (1989); M. S. Bell, Toussaint Louverture: A Biography (2007).

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