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From the prison at Brest, Toussaint had sent a dignified protest to the First Consul, complaining of Leclerc’s treachery

and of the treatment inflicted on his family: “A mother of a family may well, at the age of 53, merit the indulgent

benevolence of a generous and liberal nation. 



Books on Toussaint

Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.

C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Doscourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet's Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)


Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman.  Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)

David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World.  University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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"Yet Not Die . . ."

Toussaint's Final Days at Fort de Joux

“. . . Yet die not; do thou

Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow.”


The Heros dropped anchor off Brest on July 2, 1802.  Police swarmed all over the quay when Toussaint was set ashore.  The unusual spectacle of a Negro dressed up as a general drew the jeers and catcalls of the excited crowd which thronged the landing-stage to catch a glimpse of the prisoner.  Toussaint was calm, dignified, and sad.  Along with his valet, Mars Plaisir, he was thrown into a dungeon in the fortress of Brest, overlooking the sea.  Toussaint’s family, with the exception of Placide, were sent to Bayonne and kept under the surveillance by the military commander.  Placide, for having served as one of his father’s staff officers, was transferred to the brig Naiade and conveyed to Belle Isle en Mer, where he was imprisoned.

On July 25, Napoleon ordered that Toussaint Louverture, together with his manservant, was to be moved to Fort de Joux, in the Jura Mountains.  Why did he not have Toussaint tried immediately by a court-martial and summarily executed?  There were three reasons: he wanted to extract the secret of the Negro’s negotiations with the English; he wanted him to disclose where he had hidden his reputedly fabulous fortune; and, finally, he was acting on advice sent him by Leclerc: “In the present state of affairs, to judge and execute him would merely exacerbate the Negroes out here.”

From the prison at Brest, Toussaint had sent a dignified protest to the First Consul, complaining of Leclerc’s treachery and of the treatment inflicted on his family: “A mother of a family may well, at the age of 53, merit the indulgent benevolence of a generous and liberal nation.  She is guilty of nothing.  I am alone responsible for my conduct.”  But this protest was met with silence.

At dawn on August 13, Toussaint and Mars Plaisir were taken from their dungeon and conveyed by launch to Landerneau.  There they were put in a carriage and, escorted by two companies of cavalry, taken to Morlaix, which they reached by nightfall.  The next morning the journey continued to Guingamp, where a group of soldiers showed themselves to be chivalrous sons of France in the presence of brave adversary. 

It happened that the garrison at Guingamp was supplied by the 82nd regiment, which had fought under General Toussaint’s orders in Saint Domingue; and the officers begged the escort commander to allow the carriage to halt, so that they could pay a last tribute to the conquered general.  The escort commander granted their request, and then, one by one, these brave soldiers went up and embraced the old Negro.  They then lined up, presented arms, and paid him the full military honours of his rank, while their eyes shone with tears.

The procession continued on its way to Paris, reaching the capital in the evening of August 17.  Toussaint was lodged for the night in the Temple prison.

The next morning he was sent to Besançon, which he reached three days later.  Fame had carried his name throughout the length and breadth of France, and the streets of the ancient town, where Victor Hugo had been born a few months previously, were thronged with people anxious to see for themselves Toussaint Louverture, whom they had nicknamed “the Moorish King.”

By midday on August 23, Toussaint, half starving and worn out with fatigue, found himself facing the entire populace of Pontarlier gathered together outside the Hotel de la Poste, where the procession had halted.  All the grief and sorrow in the world seemed to gaze out of his eyes.  Baille, the commander of Fort de Joux, was already at Pontarlier, waiting to receive his famous guest.  Relay horses had been provided.

The feudal citadel of Fort de Joux, facing towards Switzerland and set high amid the snow-covered peaks, stands like an eagles’ nest on the rugged height.  It had been the residence of a cruel old hypochondriac, whose name it still bears.  Mirabeau, in the course of his many disputes with his father, had been imprisoned there.  And Fort de Joux was now Napoleon’s favourite prison, where he confined his most redoubtable opponents.  Several of his foes had already known its cells, among them d’Andigne and Suzannet, who had succeeded in escaping.

The fort is little better than an inhabited block of ice, save for a few months of spring and summer.  As soon as the autumn begins, the whole region is enclosed by a thick hard wall of snow, and the steep winding pathways are quite impassable.  The few inhabitants of the region are virtual prisoners in their own houses throughout the winter.  Even inside the fort there is barely any warmth; the mighty walls ooze and drip all the time, and a cruel frost adorns them with grotesque patterns.

Here, then, in the coldest, and most uncomfortable cell, they confirmed the “centaur of the savannahs.” 

His cell is little better than a trench,” wrote his faithful valet, “barely nine yards long and less than four yards wide.  The lowness of the ceiling seems to weigh down heavily upon our shoulders.  At the opposite end from the door, three-quarters of the loop-hole which serves as a window is blocked up.  We can see only a tiny rectangle of sky, and even that is partially cut off by a corner of the roof outside.  Between us and the sky there are also heavy iron bars.  The cell was so damp when we came in that the water covered the floor completely.  For the furniture—a bed, a chest of drawers, a little table, and two chairs.  To the left, a crude little fireplace.

The malignity of Baille far surpassed that of Napoleon’s gaoler, Hudson Lowe, at Saint Helena.  Baille, a despicable person, redoubled the cruel orders of his superiors in order to curry favour with them.  There was no kind of moral torture to which he did not subject his hapless prisoner.  Toussaint had been addressing numerous memoranda to Napoleon, justifying his conduct both before and after the events, and emphasizing the treachery of Leclerc.  This correspondence soon exasperated the First Consul, and suddenly the order was passed on to Fort Joux: The prisoner is not to write any more letters to the Government.  With zealous haste Baille sped to Toussaint’s cell and removed all his paper and writing materials.

All the regional authorities, the perfect, and the police were daily reminded by the Government to maintain the utmost vigilance over their captive.  During the night Toussaint would be woken up as many as four times by the guards on duty.  The little money his wife had been able to convey to him on board the Heros was taken from him on the threat of ‘searching his trousers if he did not hand over all he had, and on one occasion Toussaint was stripped naked.

Baille, however, was by no means satisfied with his searches.  For example, he burst into the cell at midnight, followed by one of his officers.  “What do you want now?” asked Toussaint wearily from his bed.  “I am certain,” replied Baille, “that you have not handed everything over.  Have you any papers of importance here?”  Toussaint sat up and took from the inside pocket of his jacket three letters which he held out to the gaoler: one was from Leclerc requesting him to confer with Brunet; the second made the appointment for the fateful meeting; and the third was from Pesquidoux, a commander of the Ennery garrison, requesting the commander-in-chief to dismiss his national guard.

The first two letters were invaluable to Toussaint, for they were the only proof of the trap into which the two French generals had lured him.  As he gave them to Baille he said: “You will give them back to me when I leave.”

Leave?  Had misfortune upset the balance of Toussaint’s mind?  To be sure, he was one of those who never despair in the most hopeless situations, who rely on the courage and genius finding an eventual way out of somehow; but in this icy narrow cell, where he had been thrown in the hope that he would soon die, what hope could Toussaint still have that one day he might leave?

By heaping vexations and privations on Toussaint Napoleon was hoping to break his spirit; hence, hearing of the great solace Toussaint derived from the presence and tender solicitude of his valet, Mars Plaisir, he ordered him to be removed.

One morning Baille and Amiot entered the cell, cruel enjoyment illuminating their faces.  Mars Plaisir, kneeling down, was busily massaging his master’s right leg which was badly swollen from rheumatism.  The cold was so intense that Toussaint was shivering from head to toe, and his teeth were chattering.

“Pick up your belongings,” said Baille to Mars Plaisir, “and get out.”

“What!” cried Toussaint bitterly, “would you take him from me?”

“By order of the Government,” replied the jailer curtly.

Mars Plaisir began sobbing passionately.  His piteous grief might have moved the very stones.  He clung to his master’s knees, and Amiot had to drag him away and throw him out.  Chained, he was taken on foot to Nantes, whence he was to sail for Saint Domingue to reveal the secret place where Toussaint had buried his treasures; his captors believed Mars Plaisir was the only person to share this knowledge.

To make Toussaint’s imprisonment even harder to bear his food ration was now severely curtailed.  Every day his diet, like the vigilance to which he was subjected, received another turn of the screw.  Had Baille been able to sew up his prisoner’s lips, he would undoubtedly have done so.  He wrote to Decres: “Up to now the Guard Officer could see him, though not talk to him, and then only when taking him his food.  I alone see him now.  When it is necessary to enter his cell I make him move into the adjoining one, previously occupied by his servant.  I have expressly forbidden Toussaint to utter a single word.”

There was still another humiliation to inflict on the prisoner, to complete his demoralization.  Everything connected with his military uniform was to be taken away.

Gleefully, Baille hastened to the cell to carry out this latest order.  When he gave Toussaint the news the Negro general replied: “I am treated this way because of the colour of my skin.  But has it ever prevented me from serving France?  Is it any reflection on my honour, my reputation or my courage?”  Rolling his general’s uniform, his trousers, and his plumed hat into a bundle, he threw it at the jailer’s feet, saying in sudden fury: “There, you lackey!  Take that to your master!”

By September 9, 1802, Napoleon judged that his prisoner’s resistance must be completely undermined as the result of the rigorous treatment to which he had been subjected.  He therefore considered that the moment was ripe to send to Toussaint a special agent, charged with the task of extracting from the captive the information desired.  For this mission he appointed one of his aides-de-camp, General Cafarelli, renowned for his subtlety and harshness.

Cafarelli paid Toussaint three visits, but neither threats nor promises could move the man of iron to utter more than he was willing to reveal.  Quietly evasive and restrained, Toussaint referred to nothing but the events of his resistance, haughtily assumed responsibility for them, and said no more.

Napoleon’s agent found himself talking to a man ravaged by wretchedness but still strong enough to rise above his misfortunes. 

Let Toussaint speak for himself:

Everything I have done has been for the good of the Colony, to guarantee the freedom of my people.  If Leclerc had not announced his arrival in Saint Domingue with cannon-shot, all the evil consequences would not have ensued.  When Henry Christophe set fire to Cap Francais in answer to Leclerc’s attempt to force his way into the city, he was carrying out my orders; so also were General Mareupas, at Port de Paix, and Dessalines, at Saint Marc. 

I was exasperated by Leclerc’s imprudent and impolitic attack.  In the face of his unwarranted aggression I could not forget that I carried a sword.  My Constitution?  It was necessary.  I admit that I did wrong in promulgating it, but my desire to make the Colony prosper, and the hope that it would be approved by the Government, decided me. 

As for England, I only dealt with her twice.  Once was when I had defeated her and it was necessary to arrange the terms of evacuation.  The other time was when it was vitally urgent to obtain supples for the Colony.  France was quite cut off from Saint Domingue. 

Indeed, I refused to become King of Saint Domingue so that I could remain loyal to the Republic.  In the course of his second meeting with me at Gonaives, General Maitland did everything in his power to persuade me to grant his country exclusive trading rights, and to place the island under English protection; but I fooled him and all the representatives with whom he surrounded me.

The conditions of the second treaty were never carried out because Admiral Forker, of Jamaica, said that Maitland had allowed himself to be fooled by a Negro.  Apart from a horse’s trappings and a set of gold plate presented to me as a personal gift from King George—which I was at first reluctant to accept—I have received no gifts from England.  In the end I accepted these items at the personal insistence of General Maitland.  

Ah, yes!  The Americans sold me ten thousand rifles, gunpowder sent in flour barrels, and sixteen four-pounders.  These things were necessary to me for the defence of the Colony.  

As for the treasures of which you talk so persistently, I have none.  Observing that those who deal with public monies are rarely completely upright, I have always made it a strict rule to leave the public monies severely alone . . . 

Your assertion that I had six Negroes shot who had buried my treasures, and that I have sent other riches to England and the United States, is a slanderous invention.

“But you had money invested in business?”

“I have never been interested in business, Monsieur: I work on the land,” replied Toussaint proudly.

“You say in your Memorandum to the First Consul that you had 648,800 francs before the Revolution: what have you done with it all?”

“At that time the Colony was ruined, and France was sending no supplies.  I spent my money to pay the army. .  . .  Saint Domingue is a treasure-house, but to find the treasure a man must work, and the Negroes must have peace, and freedom.”

The dialogue was interrupted by Baille who, coming into the cell, said to Toussaint:

“Here are the clothes they’ve made for you.”  They were the grey garments worn by convicts.

The Negro was so overcome that Cafarelli noted: “Seeing him so shaken, I reminded him that there was still one way whereby he could win some favour with the Government—by frankly telling everything . . . This appeared to disconcert him, and he thought for a moment.  Then he began again reiterating his protestations of loyalty to the Republic . . . I visited him again the next morning and found him ill and trembling with the cold.  He seemed to be suffering greatly and could scarcely speak.  I interrogated him again, and urged him to trust me, since I would not [I assured him] abuse his confidence.  He then picked up the memorandum [already quoted], begged me to take it away, and told me that I would find in it all I wished to know.”

Cafarelli concluded his report to Napoleon in the following terms: “It was obvious that the man had made up his mind to confess nothing . . . Stubbornly dissembling, always master of himself, subtle and adroit, giving an air of great frankness to everything he said, he yet said what he wanted to say.  He often speaks of his family, above all of his son Placide.  I was unable to tell him where they were.  His prison is cold, healthy, and very secure.  He has communication with no one.  Toussaint believes that his only misdeed was the proclamation of his Constitution.’

Renewed precautions were now taken against the prisoner’s escape, because a stranger, pretending to be a doctor, had already succeeded in piercing the cordon which encircled Toussaint.  This person had not only approached him, but had spoken to him: true, this had been in the presence of the jailer, but nevertheless, the impossible had happened.

Toussaint’s audacious interviewer was a certain unfrocked priest, Abbé Dormoy, a notorious adventurer who did not know the meaning of fear.  One morning in October he had appeared at Fort de Joux, and after showing Baille a false permit, had announced that, as a doctor, he wished to see Toussaint.  Completely deluded by Dormoy’s self-assurance, Baille duly led him down to the cell, where the pseudo-doctor gravely sounded the prisoner, asked him several questions, spoke about the state of his health, and said that he would call in and see him again.

It seems certain that Dormoy was the emissary of a religious organization which attempting to save Toussaint, who, it will be remembered, had done much to help and favour the clergy during his government in Saint Domingue.  It is not unreasonable to suppose that the Jesuits should have sought to rescue a man who had rendered them such invaluable assistance with their religion was persecuted and hunted down.  At any rate, the Abbé exploit made a multitude of officials—ministers, prefects, and jailers—frantic with fury.  But the police did not succeed in laying hands on Dormoy, and the mystery of his visit was never explained.

To his jailers, the dying prisoner was now becoming an obsession, making them ill in their turn.  Sheer fatigue and exhaustion affected Baille so seriously that he was no longer able to sleep, and he resigned his position.  Baille was succeeded by Amiot, whose cruelty far exceeded that of his predecessor: he even refused to grant Dr. Tavernier of Pontarlier permission to see the dying man.

Toussaint’s vision of the future was his consolation for everything else.  He could see, among the wild rugged rocks and gullies and the flaming plains, the men whom he had reared carrying his great work to its glorious conclusion in the struggle to the death.  His body might be destroyed, but his work lived on.

The winter was growing more cruel now, and its icy needles pierced through the poor swollen flesh of Toussaint Louverture.  Every day he moved nearer to his end with a dignity that compelled the respect even of his brutal jailers.  From time to time Toussaint swallowed down his sobs.  To sustain his courage he would painfully push the table towards the fireplace, open his book of prayers, crouch back on his chair, and, by the faint candle-light, comfort himself with the beauty of the Psalms.  But eyes would cloud over so that he could not read; and the holy book would fall unheeded to the floor.

As though to make men forget the rigours of the winter, spring came swiftly and suddenly in the year 1803 with radiant loveliness.  April, glorious in her flowers and fragrance, smiled throughout the length and breadth of France, but the unhappy prisoner knew nothing of the vernal sweetness: the cell in which he lay dying retained the wintry cold and darkness.  For the past three days he had been given no wood at all and could not stop shivering.

During the night of April 6 Toussaint was taken violently ill.  His chest burned, he vomited blood, he broke into a cold sweat, and a thousand daggers stabbed at his lungs.  His throat was on fire, blood trickled from the corners of his lips . . .

Great scenes came flooding back into his mind . . . Saint Domingue . . . its blue mountains . . . its turquoise skies . . . Breda . . . the family cabin . . . his wife . . . his children . . . Mars Plaisir . . . the red plume given to him by Laveaux . . . Napoleon’s sword of honour . . . Maitland . . . the celebrations at the Mole . . . And the bitter memories—the young body of Moise Louverture . . . Rochambeau . . . ‘Snake Gully’ . . . the red roses of Sesnay . . . and then a whole army of Negroes. . . .  “Free at last!” groaned the dying man, his proud smile twisted in pain.

Suddenly the breathing lessened, and a choking sound came from the throat.  Toussaint Louverture had died, sitting in his chair.

Next morning, at eleven o’clock, Amiot entered, smiling at the thought of the joke he would play on the prisoner sitting motionless in his chair beside the fireplace.

“Eh! Toussaint! Lots of food today!”

No answer.  He went up to the Negro general; the body was stiff.  He shook it brutally, and then he understood.  The jailer stepped back awkwardly, baring his head with instinctive respect for the dead.  Then he went out; but you could never tell, he thought, with these black princes . . . To make quite sure, he went back and carefully locked the door.

*   *   *   *   *

The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World 

Reviewed by Mimi Sheller

The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World explores the multifarious influence—from economic to ideological to psychological—that a revolt on a small Caribbean island had on the continents surrounding it. Fifteen international scholars, including eminent historians David Brion Davis, Seymour Drescher, and Robin Blackburn, explicate such diverse ramifications as the spawning of slave resistance and the stimulation of slavery's expansion, the opening of economic frontiers, and the formation of black and white diasporas. Seeking to disentangle the effects of the Haitian Revolutionfrom those of the French Revolution, they demonstrate that its impact was ambiguous, complex, and contradictory.Publisher, University of South Carolina Press

Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804

A Brief History with Documents

By Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus

This volume details the first slave rebellion to have a successful outcome, leading to the establishment of Haiti as a free black republic and paving the way for the emancipation of slaves in the rest of the French Empire and the world. Incited by the French Revolution, the enslaved inhabitants of the French Caribbean began a series of revolts, and in 1791 plantation workers in Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, overwhelmed their planter owners and began to take control of the island. They achieved emancipation in 1794, and after successfully opposing Napoleonic forces eight years later, emerged as part of an independent nation in 1804. A broad selection of documents, all newly translated by the authors, is contextualized by a thorough introduction considering the very latest scholarship. Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus clarify for students the complex political, economic, and racial issues surrounding the revolution and its reverberations worldwide. Useful pedagogical tools include maps, illustrations, a chronology, and a selected bibliography.—Publisher, Bedford/St. Martin's

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 18 February 2012




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Related files: Toussaint Trapped  More Than Just A Man