Dominique Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), after 1832, Watercolor on ivory, New-York Historical Society, Purchase, The Louis Durr Fund, 1956.123

“Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St. Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.”

These words were spoken by Toussaint Louverture, known as the “George Washington of the Haitian Revolution,” on August 29, 1793 to Black Haitians at Camp Turel. And yes, by that point his name would have made itself known. Assisting the slave rebellion on Haiti since 1791, Louverture agreed to fight for the French against the Spanish in exchange for the abolition of slavery, inspired by the language of freedom and equality associated with the French Revolution. On February 4, 1794, the French revolutionary government proclaimed the abolition of slavery in Haiti, and Loverture allied with the French.

In 1801, Louverture issued a constitution for Saint-Domingue, which called for black autonomy and a sovereign black state. However, Louverture was very aware of France’s fear of black leadership in Haiti, and he was jailed after resisting General Charles Emmanuel Leclerc’s mission from Napoleon to diplomatically seize control of the island. Louverture died in jail in France, but warned his captors that the rebels in Haiti would still fight for their country: “In overthrowing me you have cut down in Saint Domingue only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will spring up again from the roots, for they are many and they are deep.” He was right; leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared independence for Haiti on January 1, 1804, making it the only nation whose independence was gained as part of a slave rebellion.

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