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in the Place Royale, Toussaint saw Macandal twisting and writhing in the flames. 

He watched the white men jesting and mocking at the martyr’s helpless contortions;

the innocent Negroes breathless before the horrid sight



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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"More Than Just a Man"

Toussaint's Early Years


Pauline Gaouguinou walked slowly and heavily out of the chapel of Haut du Cap.  She had been to Mass, and a stream of slaves moved past her along the highway.  They talked noisily of the happy days they had known in their native land and about the miseries of their present lives.  One group hummed a strange, sad melody, filled with all the unhappiness of slavery.  An old Bambara Negress named Pelagia, who was said to be able to foretell the future, went to Pauline, touched the girl’s stomach with a spray of red laurel, and said solemnly:

"Your womb is sharply pointed, Pauline.  You will bring forth a male child, and he will be a great chief."

"Ah!  You think so, Pelagia?" replied Pauline wistfully.

"If it happens as you say, the boy shall be your godchild."

On the night of May 20, 1743, she gave birth to her child, Francois Dominique Toussaint, a boy who was so sickly that it was thought he would not live.  Yet Pelagia had not been mistaken, for Pauline’s son was destined to become, in Lamartine’s phrase, ‘more than just a man—a nation’.

Pauline’s husband, Prince Gaouguinou, was the second son of the king of the Arada tribe.  He had been brought from Africa by a Portuguese trader among a batch of slaves acquired at the famous Wydah market in Dahomey, and sixty days later, after a terrible voyage, had been sold in the market-place at Cape Francais, in Haiti.  The prince’s new master, Comte de Noe, a kind and chivalrous man, owned the beautiful estate of Breda, about three miles from the Cape.  One day he noticed Gaouginou’s noble bearing, and on questioning him learned that he was of royal blood.  He at once granted the Negro prince what was known as liberte de savane, a status which gave him both freedom and the protection of his liberator.  Nor did the owner of Breda stop at this, for he also presented the prince with a gift of land and five Negroes.

Gauguinou was received into the Catholic faith.  In due course he had married Pauline, a young woman of his own tribe, who was, according to one chronicler, ‘both beautiful and lively’.  On Gaouguinou’s wedding day the Comte de Noe gave his slaves a holiday, and the countryside was filled with the sounds of songs, games, and dances.

Their child Toussaint grew up a peculiar, sickly lad, not particularly presentable, and invariably downcast.  His godfather, an old Negro called Pierre Baptiste who worked at the hospital of the Fathers of Charity, passed on to the child what the Jesuits had taught him of reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Young Toussaint was often in and out of the hospital, and it was thus that the Superior, Father Luxembourg, struck by the boy’s evident intelligence and aptitude, took charge of his religious education.  For a time he lived with the Fathers, working as a servant in the refectory.

Prince Gaouguinou contributed towards Toussaint’s education by teaching him the Arada language and the science of medicinal herbs.  Later, the former accomplishment won him the support of the Arada slaves, all of them first-class warriors; the latter invested him, in the eyes of the Negroes, with the reputation of being a great sorcerer who was able to commune with the ‘good spirits’.  Gaouguinou also told his son stories of his African ancestors.  With suppressed excitement the boy listened to tales of the forest and the bush, and heard of the stratagems employed by his forefathers in their tribal wars.  Little by little he began to realize the importance of his ancestry, and grew to consider himself superior to his playmates, from whom he stood aloof more and more as the years went by.

When Toussaint was fifteen something happened that was to fire his spirit and turn his whole mind to the single aim of setting free his fellow Negroes.

One afternoon in January 1758 he was in Cap Francais when a famous Negro by the name of Macandal was to be put to death in the Place Royale.  Macandal had succeeded in poisoning several of the settlers and overseers, but had at last been caught and sentenced to be burnt alive.  Having run away from his master eighteen years earlier, he had waged a relentless war against the landowners and had poisoned a number of the settlers and even some of the more valued Negroes.  Macandal had accomplices among house slaves, and he had given them his poisons to be mixed with the food and drink of their masters.  In this way whole families had died in agony.

Standing among the crowd of spectators in the Place Royale, Toussaint saw Macandal twisting and writhing in the flames.  He watched the white men jesting and mocking at the martyr’s helpless contortions; the innocent Negroes breathless before the horrid sight; the wretched victim, forced into crime and murder by the vilest of all human institutions, now groaning and cursing as the fire flickered greedily up his body.  All these sights filled Toussaint with the ambition to rid Saint Domingue of slavery, but how was he, a poverty-stricken youth, to fight against these mighty white men?

A sudden shout of horror from the crowd burst in on Toussaint’s meditations.  The victim, ‘after making exertions beyond those of other men’, had freed himself from the iron chain which bound him to the stake, and was now running across the square, his body scarred with burns.  Confusion reigned until the mounted guards caught their prey once more.  The Negro onlookers were scattered by savage sword blows.  As the slaves fled in all directions they cried out: ‘Brother Macandal, you were right when you said that no human being could ever kill you!’  Yet his hands and feet were bound again, and he was thrown back into the fire.

Heart and mind filled with bitterness, Toussaint returned to Breda, accompanied by a young friend called Biassou, a slave who worked at the hospital of the Fathers of Charity.  From that day his melancholy became even more marked—the melancholy of a young slave whose heart had been hardened and who viewed life and men alike with bitterness.

Meanwhile, the bonds of slavery lay lightly on Toussaint, for the landowner of Breda entertained kind feelings towards the Gaouguinou family.  His parents owned a few cattle, and they were able to sell the surplus from their garden.  Negroes who were hungry knew they could always be sure of a bite to eat at the ‘good Gaouguinous’.

Sometimes Toussaint would go with his mother to the market at Cap Francais, where he would marvel at this ‘Paris of the Antilles’, with its glittering shops and stately mansions.  But his eyes never lost their sadness.  His days were passed in dreaming, and he became more and more taciturn.  Sometimes he was to be seen scaling the steepest rocks with the agility of a goat; and when he reached the top he would sit down and gaze for hours at the horizon.  As an athlete he had no rival, but notwithstanding his aptitude his young friends dubbed him fatras baton (weedy stick) on account of his sickly appearance.  He had, however, a finely shaped head, a lofty brow, and a clear-cut triangular face.  His large, close-set eyes seemed to stand out of his face; with small but thick lips, a resolute chin, and sharp white teeth, there was a suggestion of sardonic cruelty about his features.

When the time came for Toussaint to take up his duties as a slave the factor of Breda, M. Bayon de Libertad, took him under his wing, impressed by his serious looks and natural intelligence.  He put in charge of the livestock, in which capacity he did his work conscientiously and showed great initiative.

His life was one of work, suffering, and pride—the secret pride of humble folk.  He was saddened by all the servile, mechanical tasks which the Negroes had to perform, and which the Negroes had to perform, and which filled the bright sunlit land with unbounded affliction.  By night the voices of his brothers would come to Toussaint, echoing across the countryside, as they called ingenuously on their gods in distant Africa to aid them in their distress.  Day after day he would watch the slaves at work on the sugar plantations, toiling under the sugar plantations, toiling under the constant threat of the lash.  But he hid his feelings, smiled at the overseer, and gave the impression that he was a contented youngster, in whom the seed of rebellion could never germinate.  He played a role so well that his masters were completely deceived forty years, every day holding him up as an example to the other slaves.  He was M. Bayon de Libertad’s favourite, and the expression as wise as Toussaint’ became proverbial.

He had an instinctive knowledge of horse-breeding, and soon learned the art of taming wild horses and mules, proving so skilful that he was nicknamed "the centaur of the savannah."  In all weathers he was out in the open, toughening his body, and perhaps dreaming of what the future held in store for him and the huge masses who languished in slavery.  During these lonely journeys Toussaint would allow his ambitions to have free rein; but as soon as Breda came in sight again he was once more the smug, contented slave.

About this time Toussaint suffered a great personal sorrow in the death of his mother.  Pauline was survived by her five children, of whom Toussaint was the eldest.  The youngest, Jean, who was said to be the image of his royal grandfather, the African king, died in childhood.  The other three children were Pierre (who was to die fighting at the side of his brother Toussaint), Paul, and Marie Noel.  Gaouguinou himself, overcome by grief, did not long survive his wife.

Toussaint was thus left as head of the family.  The family sense was highly developed in him, and he watched his brothers and sister with the greatest solicitude, making sure that they won the favour and esteem of their master.  As a reward for his high merits, and a further testimony to his irreproachable loyalty, M. de Libertad made Toussaint his personal coachman, a position of great trust, since it naturally brought him into close touch with the master and his family.

Retiring, serious, and industrious, Toussaint made splendid use of his position.  Soon after his promotion by M. de Libertad he was appointed steward of Breda.  Before this appointment no slave had ever held such an important position in Saint Domingue.  His qualities as an administrator and leader of men, seen now in the exercise of his new duties, made a lively impression on Toussaint’s master, for under his stewardship the estate of Breda became the most prosperous in Cap Francais. 

The revenues were trebled.  It was as though Toussaint were not acting for somebody else, but in his own interests.  And indeed it was not really the owner’s interest which he had at heart; it was a proud desire to display his abilities to the full.  Although inwardly grieving, he would sometimes severely punish lazy or rebellious slaves and be hated by them in consequence; they were quite unable to understand why one of their fellows should show such an immoderate zeal for work when the profits would go to someone else.

The years passed by, and outwardly Toussaint’s life was tranquil.  Yet working for his master in the fields or in the stifling sugar-mills, he knew profound melancholy, as he reflected on the plight of his fellow slaves, but kept to himself.  Sometimes they would see him at night walking alone through the woods, musing in an undertone.  

Many of the slaves already regarded him as their natural leader, and in their admiration and fear of him they would say to one another that he was "the beloved of the African gods, with whom he was in communication."  

Toussaint was well aware of these rumours, but did nothing to discourage them, as they served to enhance his prestige in the eyes of the innocent and superstitious.  His triangular-shaped face with its prominent eyes reminded them of their ancestral African idols.  He would take no part in their dances or other simple pleasures, keeping himself aloof, yet free from arrogance, another proof of his instinctive sense of leadership.

In 1777, when he was thirty-four, Toussaint was solemnly liberated by Bayon de Libertad.  About this time he became a prey to violent passions, and there were few beautiful Negresses at Breda who did not come to know his embraces.  Although he was remarkably discreet, his excess came to the ears of Pierre Baptiste, who reproached him and advised him to take a wife and settle down.  His patron also spoke to him, and even recommended an Arada girl renowned for her beauty and liveliness.  

But Toussaint rejected the suggestion with a smile: he would only marry a woman of his own choosing, and his observations are recorded: 

I have chosen my wife myself: M. Bayon de Libertad wanted me to marry a vivacious, high-spirited young Negress.  But I have always been able to withstand people who thought they were doing me a good turn, when their endeavours ran contrary to my own inclination.  So I married Suzanne, because I preferred to have a wife who was already familiar with the cares and worries of running a house.

His wife, Suzanne Simone Baptiste, had been the mistress of a freed mulatto called Seraphin Clerc, and she had borne him one child, Placide.  Suzanne was modest, gentle, and pleasing to look at.  During the first years of his married life Toussaint appeared to be perfectly happy   He continued to give the impression to his master of an apathetic slave who had achieved his ideal and wished for nothing more.  But already he was shaping in his mind the broad outlines of the strategy he would employ in what was to be his phenomenal accent to power.  He would lull his adversary into a false state of security, and then, at the right time, turn and crush him utterly, swiftly, and relentlessly.

Suzanne bore her husband two sons, Isaac and Saint Jean.  With an unusual sensitivity Toussaint made no distinction between his own sons and his stepson, and appeared equally fond of all three.  As a husband he was always kind and cheerful.  He and his wife followed a truly Biblical way of life. Here is Toussaint's delightful  frank account of this: 

On Sundays and on feast days my wife, my relatives, and I went to Mass.  On returning home we would have a pleasant meal together, and after remaining in one another’s company for the rest of the day, we would conclude with family prayers.  Until the outbreak of the Revolution I had never been separated from my wife for any length of time.

We would work side by side in our little garden, holding hands as we went to and from our work.  Heaven always blessed our labours, for not only did we lack for nothing and were even able to save, but we also had the pleasure of giving food to the Negroes who worked on the estate when they were in need of it.

Toussaint now had a good home, and his position of authority at Breda satisfied to some extent his desire for power; but events in Europe were beginning to bring grave expressions to the faces of his master, and, with his secret ambition in mind, he lent a joyful ear to the disturbing rumours from Paris.

Source: J. Brown, M.D. History and Present Condition of St. Domingo. Philadelphia: Wm. Marshall, 1837.

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The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World 

Reviewed by Mimi Sheller

Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804

A Brief History with Documents

By Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus

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American Creation

Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic

By Joseph J. Ellis

This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (Founding Brothers) among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery). Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit.— Publishers Weekly /  American Creation (Joseph Ellis interview)

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The Revolution: A Manifesto

By Ron Paul

Congressman, Republican Presidential candidate and author Paul (A Foreign Policy of Freedom) says "Let the revolution begin" with this libertarian plea for a return to "the principles of our Founding Fathers: liberty, self-government, the Constitution, and a noninterventionist foreign policy." Specific examples demonstrate how far U.S. law has strayed from this path, particularly over the past century, as well as Paul's firm grasp of history and dedication to meaningful debate: "it is revolutionary to ask whether we need troops in 130 countries . . . whether the accumulation of more and more power in Washington has been good for us . . . to ask fundamental questions about privacy, police-state measures, taxation, social policy." Though he can rant, Paul is informative and impassioned, giving readers of any political bent food for thought. With harsh words for both Democrats and Republicans, and especially George W. Bush, Paul's no-nonsense text questions the "imperialist" foreign policy that's led to the war in Iraq ("one of the most ill considered, poorly planned, and . . . unnecessary military conflicts in American history"), the economic situation and rampant federalism treading on states' rights and identities ("The Founding Fathers did not intend for every American neighborhood to be exactly the same"). Though his policy suggestions can seem extreme, Paul's book gives new life to old debates.—Publishers Weekly

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King of the Mountain

The Nature of Political Leadership

By Arnold M. Ludwig

“People may choose to ignore their animal heritage by interpreting their behavior as divinely inspired, socially purposeful, or even self-serving, all of which they attribute to being human, but they masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps and apes do, so they should have little cause to get upset if they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too."—from the book King of the Mountain presents the startling findings of Arnold M. Ludwig's eighteen-year investigation into why people want to rule. The answer may seem obvious—power, privilege, and perks—but any adequate answer also needs to explain why so many rulers cling to power even when they are miserable, trust nobody, feel besieged, and face almost certain death. Ludwig's results suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. Profiling every ruler of a recognized country in the twentieth century—over 1,900 people in all­­, Ludwig establishes how rulers came to power, how they lost power, the dangers they faced, and the odds of their being assassinated, committing suicide, or dying a natural death. Then, concentrating on a smaller sub-set of 377 rulers for whom more extensive personal information was available, he compares six different kinds of leaders, examining their characteristics, their childhoods, and their mental stability or instability to identify the main predictors of later political success. Ludwig's penetrating observations, though presented in a lighthearted and entertaining way, offer important insight into why humans have engaged in war throughout recorded history as well as suggesting how they might live together in peace.

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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

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 31 January 2012




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