Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.
Francois-Dominque Toussaint L’Ouverture (L’Ouverture is a nickname, meaning, “the opening”) is the most important historical figure that you have never heard of, and maybe even the most important among those you have.
“I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.” wrote Toussaint who was in fact born a slave, most likely in the town of Breda, near Cap Haiten, Haiti. Despite this humble start, by the time of his imprisonment and subsequent death he was considered one of the most powerful men in the world.
L’Ouverture led the Haitian people in an uprising that eventually won Haiti’s independence from Napoleon and the French making it the first black republic as well as the first and only country to be formed by a successful slave uprising. Though he died in a French prison before seeing these events come to pass, there is no doubt that his efforts led to the final result that was carried out by his contemporaries. The Haitian Revolution not only sent shockwaves throughout the world of slavery and racism but it also helped change the geo-political landscape of the world, eventually causing Napoleon, tired of losing colonial battles in the Americas, to give the United States what became known as the Louisiana Purchase.
L’Ouverture was skilled both in politics and in warfare. While fighting Charles Emmanuel Leclerc, Napoleon’s, brother in law and one of several generals in charge of Hispaniola, Toussaint not only managed the affairs of the entire island of Hispaniola (there have been documented occasions of him riding on horseback across the island to speak with citizens about their problems), but also worked diplomatically with the British, Americans, Spanish and French. His inferior resources, weapons, training etc, did not keep him from winning numerous battles against what were considered at the time to be the world’s most formidable armies.
More than anything, Toussaint wanted peace between Haiti and the colonial powers and it was based on those feelings that the French lured him into a meeting in which he was kidnapped and shipped to France from Haiti, where he died in prison. He did not leave Haiti without speaking his mind however, leaving with a sentence that nearly everyone in modern Haiti knows by heart. As he boarded the boat Toussaint said, In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep. He was indeed correct in his prediction as Jean Jacques Dessalines and others picked up where Toussaint left off and led the Haiti to independence January 1st 1803.
Toussaint L’Ouverture has a lot to teach us, dedication, fighting for what you believe in, desire to see results, freedom and equal rights (and also not to trust the French). His rise from slave, to wealthy freeman and then up to the leader of the entire island of Hispaniola should serve as inspiration to those of us seeking to improve our situations in life. His skills in leadership left people wanting to follow him and willing to lose their lives for their leader and their cause.
This is by no means an exhaustive exposition of Toussaint, rather an introduction to am important historical figure you may not know about. For more information see the links below.
PBS Documentary- Egalite for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution
Laurent Dubois- Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution
Madison Smartt Bell- Toussaint Louverture (Vintage)