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were their friends, they became turbulent, and rose in arms in
several places, but were without much difficulty put down. Two
or three whites, who were enthusiastic revolutionists, sided with
the insurgents ; and one of them, M. De Beaudierre, fell a victim
to the fury of the colonists. The negro population of the island
remained quiet ; the contagion of revolutionary sentiments had
not yet reached them.

When the National Assembly heard of the alarm which the new
constitution had excited in the colonies, they saw the necessity
for adopting some measures to allay the storm ; and accordingly,
on the 8th of March 1790, they passed a resolution disclaiming
all intention to legislate sweepiugly for the internal affairs of the
colonies, and authorising each colony to mature a plan for itself
in its own legislative assembly (the Revolution having super-
seded the old system of colonial government by royal officials,
and given to each colony a legislative assembly, consisting of
representatives elected by the colonists), and submit the same to
the National Assembly. This resolution, which gave great dis-
satisfaction to the Amis des Noirs in Paris, produced a tempo-
rary calm in St Domingo. For some time nothing was to be
heard but the bustle of elections throughout the colony : and
at length, on the 16th of April 1790, the general assembly
met, consisting of 213 representatives. "\¥ith great solemnity,
and at the same time with great enthusiasm, they began their
work — a work which was to be nothing less than a complete
reformation of all that was wrong in St Domingo, and the pre-
paration of a new constitution for the future government of the
island. The colonists were scarcely less excited about this
miniature revolution of their own, than the French nation had
been about the great revolution of the mother country. All eyes
were upon the proceedings of the assembly ; and at length, on


tlie 28th of May, it published the results of its deliberations in
the form of a new constitution, consisting of ten articles. The
provisions of this new constitution, and the lang'uag-e in which
they were expressed, were astounding : they amounted, in fact,
to the throwing- off of all alleg-iance to the mother country.
This very unforeseen result created great commotion in the
island. The cry rose everywhere that the assembly was rebelling
against the mother country ; some districts recalled their deputies,
declaring they would have no concern with such presumptuous
proceedings ; the governor-general, M. Peynier, was bent oa
dissolving" the assembly altog'ether ; riots were breaking out in
various parts of the island, and a civil war seemed impending,
when in one of its sittings the assembly, utterly bewildered and
terrified, adopted the extraordinary resolution of going on board
a ship of war then in the harbour, and sailing bodily to France,
to consult with the National Assembly. Accordingly, on the 8th.
of August, eighty-five members, being nearly all then left sittmg,
embarked on board the Leopard, and, amid the prayers and tears
of the colonists, whose admiration of such an instance of heroism
and self-denial exceeded all bounds, the anchor was weighed, and
the vessel set sail for Europe.

In the meantime, the news of the proceedings of the colonial
assembly had reached France, and all parties, royalists as well
as revolutionists, were indignant at what they called the impu-
dence of these colonial legislators. The Anils des Noirs of
course took an extreme interest in what was going on ; and
under their auspices, an attempt was made to take advantage of
the disturbances prevailing in the island for the purpose of me-
liorating the condition of the coloured population. A young
mulatto named James Og*e was then residing in Paris, whither
he had been sent by his mother, a woman of colour, the proprie-
trix of a plantation in St Domingo. Oge had formed the ac-
quaintance of the Abbe Greg'oire, Brissot, Robespierre, Lafayette,
and other leading revolutionists connected with the society of
the Amis des Noirs, and fired by the ideas which he derived
from them, as well as directly instigated by their advice, he re-
solved to return to St Domingo, and, rousing the spirit of insur-
rection, become the deliverer of his enslaved race. Accordingly,
paying a visit to America first, he landed in his native island on
the r2th of October 1790, and announced himself as the redresser
of all wrongs. Matters, however, were not yet ripe for an insur-
rection ; and after committing some outrages with a force of 200
mulattoes, which was all he was able to raise, Oge' was defeated,
and obliged, with one or two associates, to take refuge in the Spa-
nish part of the island. M. Blauclielande succeeding M. Peynier
as governor-general of the colony, demanded Oge from the Spa-
niards; and in March 1791 the wretched young man, after betray-
ing the existence of a wide-laid conspiracy among- the mulattoes
and negroes of the island, was broken alivfe upon the wheel.


All this occurred while the eighty-five members of the assembly
were absent in France. They had reached that country in Sep-
tember 1790, and been well received at first, owing- to the novelty
and picturesqueness of their conduct ; but when they appeared
before the National Assembly, that body treated them with
marked insult and contempt. On the 11th of October, Barnave
jDroposed and carried a decree annulling all the acts of the colo-
nial assembly, dissolving it, declaring its members ineligible
again for the same office, and detaining the eighty-five unfortu-
nate gentlemen prisoners in France. Barnave, however, was
averse to any attempt on the part of the National Assembly to
force a constitution upon the colony against its will ; and espe-
cially he was averse to any direct interference between the
whites and the people of colour. These matters of internal
regulation, he said, should be left to the colonists themselves ; all
that the National Assembly should require of the colonists was,
that they should act in the general spirit of the Revolution.
Others, however, among whom were Gregoire, Brissot, Robes-
pierre, and Lafayette, were for the home government dictating
the leading articles of a new constitution for the colony ; and
especially they were for some sweeping assertion by the National
Assembly of the equal citizenship of the coloured inhabitants of
the colony. For some time the debate was carried on between
these two parties ; but the latter gradually gained strength, and
the storm of public indignation which was excited by the news
of the cruel death of Oge gave them the complete victory. Tra-
g-edies and dramas founded on the story of Oge were acted in
the theatres of Paris, and the popular feeling against the
planters and in favour of the negroes g'rew vehement and un-
governable. " Perish the colonies," said Robespierre, "rather
than depart, in the case of our coloured brethren, from those uni-
versal principles of liberty and equality which it is our glory to
have laid down." Hurried on by a tide of enthusiasm, the
National Assembly, on the 15th of May, passed a decree declar-
ing all the people of colour in the French colonies born of free
parents entitled to vote for members of the colonial judicatures,
as well as to be elected to seats themselves. This decree of ad-
mission to citizenship concerned, it will be observed, the mulat-
toes and free blacks only ; it did not affect the condition of the
slave population.

In little more than a month this decree, along with the intelli-
gence of all that had been said and done when it was passed,
reached St Domingo. The colony was thrown into convulsions.
The white colonists stormed and raged, and there was no extre-
mity to which, in the first outburst of their anger, they were not
ready to go. The national cockade was trampled under foot. It
was proposed to forswear allegiance to the mother country, seize
the French ships in the harbours, and the goods of French mer-
chants, and hoist the British flag instead of the French. The


TOUSSAI^•T l'ouverture and the republic op hayti.

froveraor-general, M. Blanchelande, trembled for the results.
But at leng'tli the fury of the colonists somewhat subsided : a new
colonial assembly was convened : hopes beg-an to be entertained
that something' might be eifected bj its labours, when lo ! the
news ran through the island like the tremor of an earthquake — •
" The blacks have risen." The appalling- news was too true. The
conspiracy, the existence of which had been divulged by Oge
before his execution, had burst into explosion. The outbreak had
been fixed for the 25th of Aug-ust ; but the negroes, impatient as
the time drew near, had commenced it on the nig'ht of the 22d.
The insurrection broke out first on a plantation near the town of
Cape Francois ; but it extended itself immediately far and wide ;
and the negroes rising' on every plantation, first murdered their
masters and their families, and set fire to their houses, and then
poured in to swell the insurgent army. The greater part of the
mulattoes joined them, and took a leading share in the insur-
rection. The horrors which were perpetrated by the negroes
caimot, dare not be related. On one plantation the standard of
the insurgents was the body of a white infant impaled on a
stake ; on another, the insurgents, dragging a white, a carpenter,
from his hiding-place, declared that he should die in the way of
his occupation, and accordingly they bound him between two
boards and sawed him through. But these are among the least
savage of the enormities which were committed during the insur-
rection. " It was computed," says Mr Bryan Edwards, the
historian of the West Indies, " that, within two months after the
revolt first began, upwards of two thousand white persons of all
conditions and ages had been massacred, that one hundred and
eighty sugar plantations, and about nine hundred coffee, cotton,
and indigo settlements had been destroyed, and one thousand
two hundred families reduced from opulence to absolute beggary."
But after the first shock was over, the whites of the cities had
armed themselves, and marched out to attack the negroes, and
their retaliation was severe. They outdid the negroes in the
cruelty of their tortures. " Of the insurgents," continues the
same authority, " it was reckoned that upwards of ten thousand
had j)erished by the sword or by famine, and some hundreds by
the hands of the executioner — many of them, I am soriy to say,
under the torture of the wheel."

The insurrection was successful. Although the numerical loss
of the insurgents had been greater than that of the whites, yet
the latter saw that it was in vain to hold out longer against such
a large body of foes. Accordingly, on the 11th of September, a
truce was concluded between the whites and the mulattoes in the
western province ; and following this good example, the general
assembly of the colony came to a resolution to admit the ob-
noxious decree of the 15th of May, which recognised the equal
citizenship of all persons of colour born of free parents. As the
refusal to admit this decree had been the pretext for the insur-
13 d


rection, this concession, along with some others, had the effect of
restoring" order ; althoug-h, as may be readily conceived, the
blacks, who gained nothing by the concession, were far from
being conciliated or satistied. The mulattoes, however, were
now gained over to the side of the whites, and the two together
hoped to be able to keep the negroes in g-reater awe.

Meanwhile strange proceedings relative to the colonies were
occurring in the mother country. The news of the insurrection
of the blacks had not had time to reach Paris : but the intelli-
gence of the manner in which the decree of the 15th of May had
been received by the whites in St Domingo had created great
alarm. " We are afraid we have been too hasty with that decree
of ours about the rights of tlie mulattoes : it is likely, by all
accounts, to occasion a civil war between them and the whites ;
and if so, we run the risk of losing the colony altogether." This
was the common talk of the politicians of Paris. Accordingly,
they hastened to undo what they had done four months before,
and on the 24th of September the National Assembly actually
repealed the decree of the loth of May by a large majority.
Thus the mother country and the colony were at cross purposes ;
for at the very moment that the colony was admitting the
decree, the mother country was repealing it.

The flames of Avar were immediately rekindled in the colony.
'^ The decree is repealed," said the whites ; " we need not have
been in such a hurry in making concessions to the mulattoes."
*' The decree is repealed," said the mulattoes ; " the people in
Paris are playing false with us ; we must depend on ourselves in
future. There is no possibility of coming to terms with the
whites ; either they must exterminate us, or we must exterminate
them." Such was the effect of the wavering conduct of the home
government. All the horrors of August were re-enacted, and the
year 1791 was concluded amid scenes of war, pestilence, and
bloodshed. The whites, collected in forts and cities, bade defiance
to the insurgents. The mulattoes and blacks fought on the
same side, sometimes under one standard, sometimes in separate
bands. A large colony of blacks, consisting of slaves broken
loose from the plantations they had lived upon, settled in the
mountains under two leaders named Jean Francois and Biassou,
planted provisions for their subsistence, and, watching for oppor-
tunities, made irruptions into the plains.


Perplexed with the insurrectionary condition of St Domingo,
the home government deputed three commissioners to visit the
island, and attempt the rectification of its affairs. This was
a fruitless effort. The commissioners, on their arrival, made
several tours through the island, were greatly astonished and
shocked at what they saw, and, despairing of eft'ecting any



"beneficial measure, returned to Paris. Meanwjiile the Revo-
lution in the mother country was proceeding*; the republican
party and the Amis des Noirs were rising" into power; and on
the 4th of April 1792 a new decree was passed, declaring" more
emphatically than before the rights of the people of colour, and
appointing three new commissioners, who were to proceed to St
Domingo and exercise sovereign power in the colony. These
commissioners arrived on the 13th of September, dissolved the
colonial assembly, and sent the g"overnor, M. Blanchelande,
home to be g-uillotined. With g-reat appearance of activity, the
commissioners commenced their duties ; and as the mother conn-
try was too busy about its own affairs to attend to their jiroceed-
ings, they acted as they pleased, and contrived, out of the g'eneral
wreck, to amass larg-e sums of money for their own use ; till at
length, in the beginning" of 1793, the revolutionary government
at home, having* a little more leisure to attend to colonial affairs,
revoked the powers of the commissioners, and appointed a new
g-overnor, M. Galbaud. When M. Galbaud arrived in the island,
there ensued a struggle between him and the commissioners, he
heing" empowered to supersede them, and they refusing" to submit.
At lengrth the commissioners calling* in the assistance of the re-
volted nesToes, M. Galbaud was expelled from the island^ and
forced to take refuge in the United States. While this strange
struggle for the governorship of the colony lasted, the condition
of the colony itself was g-ro wing" worse and worse. The plantations
remained imcultivated ; the whites and the mulattoes Avere still at
war ; masses of savage negroes were quartered in the hills, in fast-
nesses from which they could not be dislodged, and from which
they could rush down unexpectedly to commit outrag-es in the
plains. In one of these irruptions of a host of negroes, the beauti-
ful city of Cape Francois, the capital of St Domingo, was seized
and burnt.

In daily jeopardy of their lives, and seeing* no prospect of a
return of prosperity, immense numbers of the white colonists
were quitting" the island. Many families had emig-rated to the
neighbouring island of Jamaica, many to the United States, and
some even had sought refuge, like the royalists of the mother
country, in Great Britain. Through these persons, as well as
through the refugees from the mother country, overtures had
been made to the British government, for the purpose of inducing
it to take possession of the island of St Domingo, and convert it
into a British colony; and in 1793, the British government,
against whi<.-h the French republic had now declared war, began
to listen favourably to these proposals. General Williamson, the
lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, was instinicted to send troops
from that island to St Domingo, and attempt to wrest it out of
the hands of the French. Accordingly, on the 20th of Septem-
ber 1793, about 870 British soldiers, under Colonel Whitelocke,
landed in St Domingo — a force miserably defective for such an



enterprise. The number of troops was afterwards increased, and
tlie British were able to effect the capture of Port-au-Prince, and
also some ships which were in the harbour. Alarmed by this
success, the French commissioners, Santhonax and Polverel,
issued a decree abolishing negro slavery, at the same time invit-
ing- tlie blacks to join them against the British invaders. Several
thousands did so ; but the great majority iied to the hills, swel-
ling the army of the negro chiefs, Francois and Biassou, and
luxuriating in the liberty which they had so suddenly acquired.

It was at this moment of utter confusion and disorganisation,
when British, French, mulattoes, and blacks, were all acting their
respective parts in the turmoil, and all inextricably intermingled
in a bewildering war, which was neither a foreign war nor a
civil war, nor a war of races, but a composition of all three — it
was at this moment that Toussaint L'Ouverture appeared, the
spirit and the ruler of the storm.


Toussaint L'Ouverture, one of the most extraordinary men of
a period when extraordinary men were numerous, and, beyond
all question, the highest specimen of negro genius the world has
yet seen, was born in St Domingo, on the plantation of the Count
de Noe, a few miles distant from Cape Francois, in the year
1743. His father and mother were African slaves on the count's
estate. His father, it is said, was the second son of Gaou-Guinou,
king- of a powerful African tribe ; but being taken prisoner by
a hostile people, he was, according to the custom of the African
nations, sqld as a slave to some white merchants, who carried him
to St Domingo, where he was purchased by the Count de Noe.
Kindly treated bj - his master, the king's son scarcely regretted
that he had been made a slave. He married a fellow-slave, a girl
of his own country, and by her he had eight children, five sons
and three daughters. Of the sons, Toussaint was the eldest.
The negro boy grew up on the plantation on which his father
and mother were slaves, performing* such little services as he
could ; and altogether, his life was as cheerful, and his work as
easy, as that of any slave-boy in St Domingo. On Count Noe's
plantation there was a black of the name of Pierre-Baptiste, a
shrewd intelligent man, who had acquired much information,
besides having been taught the elements of what would be termed
a plain European education by some benevolent missionaries.
Between Pierre and young Toussaint an intimacy .sprung up,
and all that Pierre had learned from the missionaries, Toussaint
learned from him. His acquisitions, says our French authority,
amounted to reading, writing, arithmetic, a little Latin, and an
idea of geometry. It was a fortunate circumstance that the
greatest natural genius among the negroes of St Domingo Avas
thus sinoied out to receive the unusual gift of a little instruc-



tion. Toussaint's qualifications g-ained him promotion; he M^as
made the coachman of M. Bayou, the overseer of the Count de
Noe — a situation as high as a negro could hope to fill. In this,
and in other still higher situations to which he v/as subsequently
advanced, his conduct was irreproachable, so that while he gained
the confidence of his master, every negro in the plantation held
him in respect. Three particulars are authentically known re-
spectins: his character at this period of his life, and it is somewhat
remarkable that all are points more peculiarly of moral than of
intellectual superiority. He was noted, it is said, for an exceed-
ing'ly patient temper, for great affection for brute animals, and
for a strong unswer^dng* attachment to one female whom he had
chosen for his wife. It is also said that he manifested singular
strength of religious sentiment. In ]3erson he was above the
middle size, with a striking countenance, and a robust constitu-
tion, capable of enduring any amount of fatigue, and requiring"
little sleep.

Toussaint was about forty-eight years of age when the insur-
rection of the blacks took place in August 1791. Great exertions
were made by the insurgents to induce a neg'ro of his respecta-
bility and reputation to join them in their first outbreak, but he
steadily refused. It is also known that it was ovving to Tous-
saint's care and ingenuity that his master, M. Bayou, and his
family escaped being massacred. He hid them in the woods for
several days, visited them at the risk of his own life, secured the
means of their escape from the island, and, after they were settled
in the United States, sent them such remittances as he could
manage to snatch from the wreck of their property. Such con-
duct, in the midst of such barbarities as were then enacting, in-
dicates great originality and moral independence of character.
After his master's escape, Toussaint, who had no tie to retain him
longer in servitude, and who, besides, saw reason and justice in
the strug'g'le which his race was making for liberty, attached
himself to the bands of neg'roes then occupying the hills, com-
manded by Francois and Biassou. In the negro army Toussaint
at once assumed a leading rank ; and a certain amount of
medical knowledge, which he had picked up in the course of
his reading', enabled him to unite the functions of army physi-
cian with those of military officer. Such was Toussaint's posi-
tion in the end of the year 1793, ^vhen the British landed in the

It is necessary here to describe, as exactly as the confusion
will permit, the true state of parties in the island. The British, as
we already knovv', were attempting to take the colony out of the
hands of the French republic, and annex it to the crown of Great
Britain ; and in this design they were favoured by the few
French royalists still resident in the island. The French com-
missioners, Santhonax and Polverel, on the other hand, men of
tjie republican school, were attemptinfr, -with a motley army of

;roussAiNT l'ouverture and the republic of hayti.

French, mulattoesj and blacks, to beat back the British. The
o-reater part of the mulattoes of the island, grateful for the exer-
tions which the republicans and the Amis des Noirs had made
on their behalf, attached themselves to the side of the commis-
sioners, and the republic which they represented. It may natu-
rally be supposed that the blacks would attach themselves to the
same party — to the party of those whose watchwords were
liberty and equality, and who consequently were the sworn
enemies of slavery; but such was not the case. Considerable
numbers of the negroes, it is true, were gained over to the
cause of the French republic by the manifesto the commissioners
had published abolishing slavery; but the bulk of them kept
aloof, and constituted a separate negro army. Strangely enough,
this army declared itself anti-republican. Before the death of
Louis XVI., the blacks had come to entertain a strong sympathy
with the king, and a violent dislike to the republicans. This
may have been owing either to the policy of their leaders,
Francois and Biassou, or to the simple fact, that the blacks

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 50 of 59)