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Toussaint Louverture
Général Toussaint Louverture.jpg
Toussaint Louverture
Born 20 May 1743
Died 7 April 1803(1803-04-07) (aged 59)
Other names Toussaint L'Ouverture, Toussaint Bréda, The Black Napoleon
Movement Haitian Revolution
Military career
Allegiance  France
Service/branch French Army
French Revolutionary Army
Haitian Army
Rank General
Battles/wars Haitian Revolution

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (9 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L'Ouverture or Toussaint Bréda, was the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution. Louverture started his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue, which was a French colony. When he did this he was a black man (not a slave). Toussaint gradually took control over the whole island (also the Spanish part called Santo Domingo). When he had power for years, he tried to improve the security and economy on Saint-Domingue. He also restored the plantation system, by using paid workers. Besides of all this, he had a very large army.

Early life

Little is known for sure about Toussaint Louverture’s early life, because sources disagree. The first records of his life were from his son, Isaac Louverture. Most histories say Toussaint’s father was Gaou Guinou, who was a son of King Arrada. King Arrada, also called Great Arrada, was the king of what is now Benin. His mother was Gaou Guinou’s second wife.

Most sources tell us that Toussaint Louverture was born on the plantation of Bréda at Haute de Cap in Saint Domingue. His birthdate is unknown. All Saints' Day is likely, because his name "Toussaint" means "all saints'" in French. When the Haitian Revolution started he was probably about 50 years old. Different sources give birth dates from 1739 until 1746. When he was a child he was small and weak. But as an adult he was known by his great stamina and horse-riding skills.


Most sources tell us that Toussaint was well-educated by his godfather, Pierre Baptiste. By age 20 he could speak three languages, French, Creole and some Latin. He also had a knowledge of medicinal plants.

Marriage and children

Toussaint married Suzanne Simone Baptiste in 1782. Suzanne was probably his cousin. People think that he had 16 children, and that 11 of them had already died before he did himself. His oldest son was adopted. The two sons born out of his marriage with Suzanne were Isaac and Saint-Jean.

Slavery, freedom and working life

Toussaint was known for being a slave until the start of the Revolution. He was free at the age of 33. When he was free, he became wealthier and began to have more property. He made a good amount of money in the Revolution and he was the owner of several properties.

Religion and spirituality

During his life Toussaint Louverture was considered to be a Roman Catholic. The Vodou spirituality was also often used on the Bréda plantation. It was combined with Catholicism. It is not known if Toussaint had anything to do with these religions and spiritualties. When he was the ruler of Saint-Domingue, he said he did not.

Louverture was a Freemason. The historians thought this, because he used a Masonic symbol in his signature.

Haitian revolution

Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) was the world's biggest sugar producer and provided sugar for many countries. It had more than 800 sugar plantations. With a few rich families and 500,000 African slaves on Haiti, the slaves totally outnumbered everyone else. To stop the slaves from revolting and taking the power, the French people used terrible methods to keep the slaves powerless.

The Haitian Revolution began when the French people who owned the plantations wanted independence. But the slaves wanted something else; they wanted freedom. In 1791, about 100,00 slaves revolted. They burned all the sugarcane in the fields and killed hundreds of slave owners. In this early stage, Toussaint Louverture did not join yet. But after some weeks, he took his family to the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo to keep them safe and helped the supervisors of the plantation of Bréda to leave the island, if we believe surviving documents.

Toussaint Louverture was one of the leaders of the rebellion. He took part in talks about strategy. He had contact with the Spanish people who supported the rebellion, because they provided food to the slaves who were in revolt. In 1801 he moved to Santo Domingo and took control of the territory. He freed the slaves and wrote a constitution for Santo Domingo.

When Napoleon Bonaparte took power in France, he took back the rich sugar plantations on Saint-Domingue. In January of the year 1802, French soldiers landed in Saint-Domingue in order to get rid of Toussaint Louverture. When Napoleon Bonaparte told Toussaint that he wanted Saint-Domingue back, Toussaint said that he would get it back if he would end slavery on Saint-Domingue forever. Napoleon agreed and took Toussaint with him to Paris to discuss the deal further.

Despite the deal, the French people later accused Louverture of planning another revolt against the plantation owners. He was sent to jail in the French Alps. The jail was called Fort-de-Joux. Ten months after he was sent to jail, on the 7th of April 1803, Toussaint died.

After his death, slavery in Haiti was started again, but was never to be the same. Toussaint had left an impression about slavery, and the slaves continued to fight the rich French plantation owners in a brutal way. This resulted in another revolution. Toussaint’s General, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, took up Toussaint's job in the revolution after he died. Dessalines became the first Emperor of Haiti. Later in the revolt he was attacked and he died.

But before Dessalines died, yellow fever killed thousands of French people trying to calm the revolt in Haiti. On January 1, 1804, Saint-Domingue was renamed Haiti and was declared independent by Dessalines. In this way, Haiti became the first black republic in the world, and the first colony to free itself from European rule.

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