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Leclerc gave Henry Christophe a cordial message of greeting to Toussaint, and t

he negotiator returned to La Marmelade.  He was careful to refrain

from telling Toussaint of his complete submission to Leclerc

 

 

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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Christophe's Treachery and Surrender

Toussaint Negotiates End of Hostilities

 

Toussaint took advantage of the lull in the heavy fighting to thank Napoleon for his letter.  Although he did not believe a word of it, he surpassed himself in his expressions of gratitude, and reassured him of his loyalty to France and his respect for her authority.  He pointed out, however, that he was at the moment quite legitimately engaged in self-defence: he could not very well cross his arms resignedly in face of Leclerc’s criminal and stupid act of aggression.

In the twilight of his meteoric career, when he was an exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon eventually realized that his downfall had been one of Toussaint’s aims.  Turning over in his mind his own part in the affairs of Saint Domingue, Napoleon said to Baron de Las Cases, who was taking down his memoirs: ‘I am sorry about my attitude towards Saint Domingue at the time of the Consulate.  It was a bad mistake to try and force it into submission.  It should have contented myself with letting Toussaint govern it.’

With the idea of negotiating, Toussaint sent two French officers, Brigadier Pascal Sabes and Lieutenant Gemont, whom he was holding as prisoners-of-war, to General Boudet.  As soon as the latter received the message he seized the opportunity of initiating peace talks.  He considered that negotiations were now imperative, since the situation of the French army was deteriorating daily, and yellow fever was now spreading its sickly mask over the countryside.

Boudet having received the necessary authorization, dispatched Bernard Chancy, his prisoner-of-war, to Toussaint.  Chancy took with him a letter filled with protestations of friendship and peaceful intentions.  Toussaint, only too willing to re-establish relations with France provided the Negroes would not suffer, sent him back to Boudet declaring once more that he was not guided by ambition but by honour and that he was ready to make any further sacrifice to prevent the damage from spreading any further, provided the freedom of the Negroes was guaranteed.

Another reason which led Toussaint to favour negotiations was the fact that Leclerc and other French Generals were achieving no small measure of success in undermining the loyalty of some of Toussaint’s lieutenants.  French emissaries were continually trying by every means in their power to separate Toussaint from his principal assistants.  Leclerc had, in fact, already proved his sympathy with them by deporting Andre Rigaud from the Colony.  His deportation was bitterly received by his followers, for it showed only too clearly the official French attitude towards the mulattoes: it provided a lesson which was to guide their future conduct.

The Negro general who was most favourably impressed by Leclerc’s perfidious insinuations was Henry Christophe, who commanded the first Northern division.  Christophe was a Negro from Saint Christophe Island, and have been born of free parents.  In 1791 he had joined up with a mulatto company to fight the slaves.  After this Christophe took to sea as a pirate, boarding and pillaging mercilessly all the rich galleons that came his way in the Caribbean.  When Toussaint declared for France, Henry Christophe joined him.  Recognizing his organizing and military qualities, his chief appointed him to the command of Petite Anse.  After the war in the south, the commander-in-chief promoted Christophe to the rank of brigadier; and when Moise Louverture was shot Henry Christophe took his place as northern commander.

To win him over, Leclerc sent to Petite Anse a man called Vilton, with whom Christophe was on friendly terms.  Vilton told of all the advantages he would reap if he went over to Lectern.  Just when they were on the verge of a meeting Leclerc said in a letter confirming and guaranteeing Vilton’s  promises, ‘if you intend  to submit to the Republic, think what a great service you would be rendering her by securing for us the person General Toussaint’.

Christophe was then so far advanced in his negotiations with Leclerc that the Frenchman thought it feasible to make him a proposal of this nature.  It must be recorded to his credit that he replied to Leclerc’s ignoble suggestion in the following terms: ‘This degrading suggestion shows me that you object to crediting me with the slightest sentiments of delicacy or honour.  He is my commander and my friend.  How can friendship be compatible with such cowardice?’

Leclerc hastened to send another letter, suitably filled with flattering compliments.  He urged the Negro general to ignore his earlier communication and proposed a meeting at Haut du Cap ‘to clear everything up’.

Christophe now proceeded to La Marmelade, where he informed Toussaint of Leclerc’s proposals.  He showed him the letters he had received, but tactfully kept Leclerc’s proposals about Toussaint to himself.  The commander-in-chief, who had already been considering a cessation of hostilities, authorized Henry Christophe to go and hear Leclerc had to say.

The meeting between Leclerc and Christophe took place on April 26, 1802.  The Captain-General exerted all his charm to win over Toussaint’s lieutenant once and for all, and he was completely successful.  By the end of the conversation the Negro general had, without Toussaint’s authority, surrendered to Leclerc, and undertaken to hand over without delay one hundred pieces of cannon, twelve hundred men from the reserve, all his ammunition, French prisoners-of-war, the Limbe, and all his strategic positions.  It was a stab in the back for Toussaint.

Leclerc gave Henry Christophe a cordial message of greeting to Toussaint, and the negotiator returned to La Marmelade.  He was careful to refrain from telling Toussaint of his complete submission to Leclerc: he merely handed over the Frenchman’s letter which Toussaint placed on his table without for the moment reading it.  Christophe did not stay long at Toussaint’s headquarters, but hastened back to his own command at the conclusion of the audience.  As soon as his lieutenant had gone, Toussaint turned to read Leclerc’s letter, and was astonished to find that his lieutenant had concluded an armistice.  Furious, Toussaint swiftly dispatched his chief of staff in pursuit of Christophe, telling him to return forthwith and give and explanation of his action.  Needless to say, Christophe did not obey the imperious summons.

Toussaint at once summoned a council of war and informed his officers of the treachery of Henry Christophe one of the mainstays of his military power.  There was general consternation.  His whole plan of a strong, honourable capitulation was disintegrating, and he must now meet Leclerc almost in the role of a conquered man; but the conqueror was not his enemy, it was his own favourite, Henry Christophe.

Leclerc had concluded his letter to Toussaint in the following terms: ‘It would be happy day for me if you would undertake to come to an agreement with me and submit to the Republic.’  Toussaint replied that he had never ceased to be faithful to France, and that if he, Leclerc, had behaved towards him in accordance with the military code, and as befitted the services Toussaint had rendered France, not a single shot need have been fire in Saint Domingue.  He ended with an acid criticism of Christophe’s action, which was, he said, contrary to the most elementary principles of military loyalty and discipline.

Like a good gambler, Toussaint accepted the unfortunate situation with his accustomed calm.  In order to determine the peace clauses, he proposed a personal meeting with Leclerc at Henricourt near Cap Francais.  Leclerc refused to agree to this.  Toussaint then deputed two aides-de-camp to confer with Leclerc.  The meeting lasted for three hours, at the end of which the delegates had agreed with the Captain-General that a peace should be drawn up on the following lines: (1) inviolable liberty for all Negroes of Saint Domingue; (2) all Negro officers to remain in full enjoyment of their ranks and dignities; (3) Toussaint Louverture to retain his staff of officers, and to retire at his convenience to one of his estates.

Leclerc was delighted with this arrangement, and he expressed his pleasure in a most generously worded letter.  Here are a few extracts from it: ‘Today we must not our time in going over the evils of the past—I shall devote myself solely to the task of restoring the Colony to its former splendour . . . You, and the Generals with you, need have no fear that I shall investigate past conduct, for I draw a veil over all that has happened here in Saint Domingue . . . In this I emulate the example set by the First Consul in his attitude to France after Brumaire 18th . . . I shall distinguish in future only between good citizens and bad citizens.  Your generals and your troops will be treated and used like the rest of my army.’

Leclerc now expressed a desire to see his former enemy, and it was arranged that the two men should meet at Cap Francais.  The re ensued great anxiety throughout the city, for everyone knew that Toussaint would rarely trust anyone; and they wondered if he would appear after all.  But he went.  It was as though Toussaint, in the events through which he had lived, had seen the emptiness of human prudence; and now yielded once more to impulse as if reverting to the inherent fatalism of his race.  Almost indifferent to what might happen, he set out for his meeting with Leclerc on May 5, accompanied by a glittering escort of six hundred horse, under the personal command of Morisset.

To the amazement of the French Army, which had not expected him, Toussaint Louverture appeared at the gates of Cap Francais.  At the well-known sound of his trumpets the whole city flocked into the streets, while General Debelle and Hardy hastened to greet him.  As he entered Cap Francais, Negro men and women knelt down before him.  He was conducted to Leclerc’s residence near the harbour, and was taken into the salle d’honneur, which was adorned with a portrait of himself.  Leclerc was absent, lunching on board Rear-Admiral Maguy’s frigate.  Suddenly all the artillery of the forts were fired in honour of the Negro general, and the warships anchored in the roads echoed the shore salutes.  In the twinkling of an eye Leclerc’s residence was invaded by a multitude of French officers eager to behold their legendary enemy.  Leclerc hastened ashore.

Toussaint was conversing amicably with Debelle and Hardy when the Captain-General hastened to embrace him.  He complimented Toussaint on the mark of confidence he had shown by visiting him in the way in the midst of the French army.  ‘Our reconciliation.’ he went on, ‘will bring prosperity once more to this wonderful island which owes so much to your great work of restoration.’  ‘I never thought,’ replied Toussaint, ‘that I would one day have to offer resistance to France, our natural protector.  If only news had been sent ahead of you the cannon would never have been fired as our welcome to the envoy of a great power; instead, you would have been received with bonfires of joy and happiness.  General Christophe requested you to grant him a few days in which to receive my orders and you should have acceded to his request.’  ‘I knew of your absence,’ said Leclerc, ‘but as the commander-in-chief of a French army, and therefore superior to Christophe in rank and authority, I considered it would be an affront to my dignity to wait upon the wishes of a Brigadier.’

‘And yet, General, you did wait four days; and you will surely concede that a few more days more could have made no difference, cast no slur upon your honour?  For according to your brother-in-law’s letter your mission was a peaceful one.’

‘No doubt I was over-hasty,’ admitted Leclerc.  ‘Let us forget the past, however, and it will be the sooner mended.  Let us rejoice in our reunion, General!  Each of us has done wrong; but now your sons, your officers and my officers, must bear witness to our friendship.’  And as he spoke, Leclerc threw open the doors of the room and the multitude from the salle d’honneur poured in on them.  Leclerc then, in the presence of all, received from Toussaint the renewal of his oath of loyalty, and himself reiterated that Toussaint’s lieutenants would all retain their rank and honour with the exception of Dessalines.

‘That is contrary to our agreement,’ flashed out Toussaint, and his expression contracted with sudden fury.

‘Very well, we shall not except Dessalines,’ amended Leclerc hastily.

Night fell on Cap Francais, lit up like daylight in honour of Toussaint Louverture.  Leclerc gave a state reception: all the vast salons of the Carenage Palace were filled with red roses, the favourite flower of the commander-in-chief.  Violins played softly and rich perfumes filled the air.  Pauline Bonaparte wore a snowy white gown that seemed ready to slip off her shoulders; her gloves reach up to them, and she negligently carried a cashmere scarf embroidered with gold thread.  It was noticed that she was particularly gracious towards the handsomest man present—General Henry Christophe, dazzling in a uniform of scarlet and gold.

Meanwhile the commander-in-chief found himself surrounded by French generals, who, in a corner of the great salon, were arguing about the vicissitudes of the recent campaign.  Some of them could not stomach the tremendous self-confidence apparent in Toussaint’s attitude, only partially concealed by an air of studied modesty.  In particular General Debelle was exasperated at the superiority complex of the former slave, and with a view to humiliating him said abruptly:

‘I have serious doubts, General Toussaint, of your loyalty to Bonaparte: sincerity does not strike me as being a Negro virtue; which is scarcely surprising, since nobody can transform a sack of coal into flour.’

‘Possibly,’ replied Toussaint with heat, stung by the innuendo; ‘but that sack of coal can produce capable of destroying not only flour, but bronze as well.’

Debelle’s discourteous insinuation had cast a cloud over the commander-in-chief’s mood, and he was annoyed with himself for having replied in a way which betrayed, only too clearly, his true state of mind.  He made to leave the reception, but Leclerc managed to dissuade him.

As he left Leclerc’s reception Toussaint realized that despite all the honours paid him, despite the honourable peace he had obtained, he was by no means satisfied with the course of events, nor with his own part in them.  He was one of those men who can never really be content to compromise.

Whenever Toussaint was not a conqueror and able to dictate his own terms, he felt that he was conquered; and he knew in his heart; that he was so now.  Moreover, he discerned the hypocrisy and felt fragility to Leclerc’s undertaking and guarantees.  Nor for his part did Leclerc place any trust in the continued loyalty of his former foe.  Thus the two generals felt that their entente own more to the force of circumstance than to any real desire for peace, and the germ of mutual distrust made their relationship a hazardous thing.

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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

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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 18 February 2012

 

 

 

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