François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture and Toussaint Bréda, was a Haitian general and the most prominent leader of the Haitian Revolution from 1791 to 1804. He emancipated the slaves in the French colonies of Hispaniola and Saint-Domingue, known today as Haiti. Louverture initially fought against the French, then on their side, and finally against them again. The French captured him and his family in 1802, prompting Louverture to write one of his famous letters to Napolean Bonaparte asking him to release his family.
Capture of Hispanioloa
Toussaint controlled all of Sain-Domingue by 1800, then turned his attention to Spanish Santo Domingo. Ignoring the orders of Napolean, Toussaint overran the colony in January 1801 and freed its slaves. Now in command of the entire island of Hispaniola, Toussaint wrote a constitution that made him governor-general for life and granted him near absolute power over the island.
Toussaint also professed himself a Frenchman and tried to convince Bonaparte of his loyalty. While Bonaparte confirmed Toussaint’s position, he also saw him as an obstacle to making Saint-Domingue a profitable colony once again. In turn, Toussaint knew Bonaparte would reinstitute slavery and try to coerce the island to make peace with England. As a result, Toussaint trained a large army and stored supplies in anticipation of an attack, although he failed to act decisively.
General Charles Leclerc, Bonaparte’s brother-in-law, led a French invasion of Hispaniola in January 1802 that was much larger than Toussaint expected. Most Europeans and mulattoes on the island defected to the French very quickly. The black leaders of Toussaint’s forces followed suite after a few weeks of intense fighting, including Henri Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Toussaint formally surrendered in May in exchange for Leclerc’s promise not to reinstitute slavery, and retired with honour to a plantation.
Less than a month later, Bonaparte decided to remove Toussaint from the island because he suspected Toussaint of plotting an uprising. Under orders from Bonaparte and with the cooperation of Leclerc, the French general Jean-Baptiste Brunet wrote one of his famous letters to Toussaint asking for his help in putting down bandits near his home. Toussaint complied, and was captured at Brunet’s home on June 6. He and his family were soon placed aboard the 74-gun ship Le Heros, which was bound for France. Le Heros arrived at Fort-de-Joux in the French Jura Mountains on 2 July 1802.
Toussaint wrote one of his famous letters to Bonaparte on 20 July pleading for the safety of his wife Suzanne Louverture and their children Placide, Isaac and Saint-Jean. The letter describes his arrest under Brunet’s deception in promising to forgive Toussaint’s actions in Saint-Domingue, comparing it to the Coup of 18 Brumaire that brought Bonaparte to power as First Consul of France. This coup is so-named because it occurred on 9 November, 1799, which was 18 Brumaire, Year VIII of the French Republican calendar.
Toussaint also mentions that his house was pillaged and his immediate family arrested without being allowed to take anything with them. He states that he alone is responsible for his actions, and that his wife shouldn’t be blamed for them. Toussaint concludes the letter by describing Bonaparte as impartial and asks for his generosity on behalf of his family.
Toussaint was imprisoned at Fort-de-Joux on 25 August, 1802, where he was interrogated harshly and wrote a memoir. He died there on 7 April 1803, probably from multiple causes, including malnutrition, exhaustion, pneumonia and possibly tuberculosis. His youngest son Saint-Jean, died in Agen, France in 1804. Suzanne died in Agen in 1816, in the arms of their other two sons, Placide and Isaac.