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had suffered much at the hands of republican whites. At
all events the negro armies called themselves the armies of the
king while he was alive ; and after he was dead, they refused to
consider themselves subjects of the republic. In these circum-
stances, one would at first be apt to fancy they would side with
the British when they landed on the island. But it must be
remembered that, alojig with the blind and unintelligent royalism
of the negroes, they were animated by a far stronger and far
more real feeling, namely, the desire of freedom and the horror
of again being subjected to slavery ; and this would very effec-
tually prevent their assisting the British. If they did so, they
would be only changing their masters ; St Domingo would
become a British colony, and they, like the negroes of Jamaica,
would become slaves of British planters. No; it was liberty
they wanted, and the British would not give them that. They
hung aloof, therefore, not acting consistently with the French,
much less with the British, but watching the course of events,
and ready, at any given moment, to precipitate themselves into
the contest and strike a blow for negro independence.

The negroes, however, in the meantime had the fancy to call
themselves royalists, Francois having assumed the title of grand
admiral of France, and Biassou that of generalissimo of the
conquered districts. Toussaint held a military command under
them, and acted also as army physician. Every day his influ-
ence over the negroes was extending ; and as jealousy is a negro
vice as well as a European, Fran9ois became so envious of Tous-
saint's growing reputation as to cast him into prison, apparently
with the further purpose of destroying him. Toussaint, how-
ever, was released by Biassou, who, although described as a
monster of cruelty, appears to have had some sparks of gene-
rous feeling. Shortly after this, Biassou's drunken ferocity



rendered it necessary to deprive him of all command, and Fran-
eois and Toussaint became joint leaders, Toussaint acting in the
capacity of lieutenant-general, and Fran9ois in that of general-
in-chief. The negro army at this time judg'ed it expedient to
enter the service of Spain, acting in co-operation with the gover-
nor of the Spanish colony in the other end of the island, who
had been directed by his government at home to carry on war
against the French commissioners. The commissioners, it ap-
pears, following up the proclamation of liberty to the blacks,
which they had published with the hope of increasing their
forces suiEciently to resist the British invasion, made an attempt
to gain over Fran9ois and Toussaint. Toussaint, who thought
himself bound to assign his reasons for refusing to join them,
sent an answer which has been preserved. " We cannot," he
says, " conform to the w^ill of the nation, because, since the
world began, we have never yielded to the will of any but a
king. We have lost our French one ; so we adopt the king of
Spain, who is exceedingly kind to us ; and therefore, g'entlemen
commissioners, we can have nothing to say to you till you put
a king on the throne." This royalist enthusiasm was evidently
a mere fancy, which had been put into the heads of the negToes
by those who supplied them wdth words, and which Toussaint
allowed himself to be carried away with ; and the probability is,
that the letter we have quoted was the composition of a Spanish
priest. At all events, Toussaint was for some time an officer in
the Spanish service, acting under the directions of Joachim
Garcia, the president of the Spanish colonial council. In this
capacity he distinguished himself greatly. With 600 men, he
beat a body of 1500 French out of a strong post which they
had occupied near the Spanish town of St Raphael ; and after-
wards he took in succession the villages of Marmelade, Henneri,
Plaisance, and Gonaives. To assist him in these military opera-
tions, we are told in some curious notes written by his son,
" that, imitating the example of the captains of antiquity,
Lucullus, Pompey, Csgsar, and others, he constructed a topo-
graphical chart of that part of the island, marking* accurately
the positions of the hills, the course of the streams," &c. So
much did he harass the commissioners, that one of them, Pol-
verel, in speaking of him after the capture of Marmelade, used
the expression, " Cet homme fait ouverture partout'^ — [That man
makes an opening everywhere.] This expression getting abroad,
was the cause of Toussaint being ever afterwards called by the
name of Toussaint L' Ouverture ; which may be translated, Tous-
saint the Opener ; and Toussaint himself knew the value of a
good name too well to disclaim the flattering' addition. Besides
this testimony from an enemy, the negro chief received many
marks of favour from the Spanish general, the Marquis d'Her-
mona. He was appointed lieutenant-general of the army, and
presented at the same time with a sword and a badge of honour



in the name of his Catholic majesty. But the Marquis D'Her-
mona having- been succeeded in the command by another, Tous-
saint beg-an to find his services less appreciated. His old rival,
Francois, did his best to undermine his influence among- the
Spaniards ; nay, it is said, laid a plot for his assassination, which
Toussaint narrowly escaped. He had to complain also of the
bad treatment which certain French officers, who had surren-
dered to him, and whom he had persuaded to accept a command
under him, had received at the hands of the Spaniards. All
these circumstances operated on the mind of Toussaint, and shook
the principles on which he had hitherto acted. While hesitating
with respect to his next movements, intelligence of the decree of
the French Convention of the 4th of February 1794, by which
the abolition of negro slavery was confirmed, reached St Do-
mingo ; and this immediately decided the step he should take.
Quitting the Spanish service, he joined the French general,
Laveaux, who — the commissioners Santhonax and Polverel hav-
ing been recalled — was now invested with the sole governorship
oithe colony ; took the oath of fidelity to the French republic ;
and being elevated to the rank of brigadier -general, assisted
Laveaux in his efforts to drive the English troops out of the

In his new capacity, Toussaint was no less successful than he
had been while fighting under the Spanish colours. In many en-
gagements, both with the British and the Spaniards, he rendered
signal services to the cause of the French. At first, however,
the French commander Laveaux showed little disposition to
place confidence in him ; and we can easily conceive that it must
have been by slow degrees that a man in the position of Laveaux
came to appreciate the character of his negro officer. Laveaux
had a difficult task to fulfil ; nothing less, in fact, than the task
of being the first European to do justice in practice to the negro
character, and to treat a negro chief exactly as he would treat a
European gentleman. Philosophers, such as the Abbe Gregoire
and the Abbe Raynal, had indeed written books to prove that
ability and worth were to be found among the negroes, and had
laid it down as a maxim that a negro was to be treated like any
other man whose circumstances were the same; but probably
Laveaux was the first European who felt himself called upon to
put the maxim in practice, at least in afl'airs of any importance.
It is highly creditable, therefore, to this French officer, that when
he came to have more experience of Toussaint L'Ouverture, he
discerned his extraordinary abilities, and esteemed him as much
as if he had been a French gentleman educated in the schools of
Paris. The immediate occasion of the change of the sentiments
of Laveaux towards Toussaint was as follows. In the month of
March 1795, an insurrection of mulattoes occurred at the town
of the Cape, and Laveaux was seized and placed in confinement.
On hearing this, Toussaint marched at the head of 10,000 blacks



to the tovm, obliged the inhabitants to open the g-ates by tha
threat of a sieg-e, entered in triumph, released the French com-
mander, and reinstated him in his office. In gratitude for this
act of loyalty, Laveaux appointed Toussaint lieutenant-governor
of the colony, declaring his resolution at the same time to act by
his advice in all matters, whether military or civil — a resolution
the wisdom of Avhich will appear when we reflect that Toussaint
was the only man in the island who could govern the blacks. A
saying of Laveaux is also recorded, which shows what a decided
opinion he had formed of Toussaint's abilities : " It is this black,"
said he, " this Spartacus, predicted by Raynal, who is destined to
avenge the wrongs done to his race."

A wonderful improvement soon followed the appointment of
L'Ouverture as lieutenant-governor of the colony. The blacks,
obedient to their champion, were reduced under strict military
discipline, and submitted to all the regulations of orderly civil go-
vernment. " It must be allowed," says General de Lacroix, in his
memoirs of the revolution in St Domingo, an account by no
means favourable to the blacks — " it must be allowed that if St
Domingo still carried the colours of France, it was solely owing
to an old negro, who seemed to bear a commission from heaven
to unite its dilacerated members." It tended also to promote the
cause of good order in the island, that about this time a treaty
was concluded between the French Convention and the Spanish
government, in consequence of which the war between the
French colonists in one end of the island, and the Spanish colo-
nists in the other, was at an end, and the only enemy with whom
the French commander had still to contend was the British,
posted here and there along the coast. On the conclusion of this
treaty, Jean Francois, the former rival of Toussaint, left the
island, and Toussaint was therefore without a rival to dispute
his authority among the blacks. He employed himself now in
attacking the English positions on the west coast, and with such
vigour and success, that in a short time he forced them to eva-
cuate all the country on both sides of the river Artibonite,
although they still lingered in other parts of the island, from
which they could not be dislodged.

Since the departure of the commissioners, Santhonax and
Polverel, the w^hole authority of the colony, both civil and
military, had been in the hands of Laveaux ; but in the end of
the year 1795, a new commission arrived from the mother
country. At the head of this commission was Santhonax, and
his colleagues were Giraud, Raymond, and Leblanc. The new
commissioners, according to their instructions, overwhelmed
Toussaint with thanks and compliments ; told him he had made
the French republic his everlasting debtor, and encouraged him
to persevere in his efforts to rid the island of the British. Shortly
afterwards, Laveaux, being nominated a member of the legis-
lature, was obliged to return to France ; and in the month of April



1796, Toussaint L'Ouverture was appointed his successor, as com-
mander-in-chief of the French forces in St Doming-o. Thus, by
a remarkable succession of circumstances, was this negi^o, at the
age of tifty-three years, fifty of which had been passed in a
state of slavery, placed in the most important position in the

Toussaint now beg:an to see his way more clearly, and to be-
come conscious of the duty which Providence had assig-ned him.
Takin^" all thing's into consideration, he resolved on being* no
long-er a tool of foreig"n g-overnments, but to strike a grand blow
for the permanent independence of his race. To accomplish this
object, he felt that it was necessary to assume and retain, at least
for a time, the supreme civil as well as military command. Im-
mediately, therefore, on becoming* commander-in-chief in St
Doming-o, he adopted measures for removing- all obstructions to
the exercise of his own authority. General Rochambeau had
been sent from France with a military command similar to that
which Laveaux had held; but finding himself a mere cipher,
he became unruly, and Toussaint instantly sent him home.
Santhonax the commissioner, too, was an obstacle in the way ;
and Toussaint, after taking* the precaution of ascertaining that
he would be able to enforce obedience, g-ot rid of him by the
delicate pretext of making him the bearer of despatches to the
Directory. Along with Santhonax, several other officious per-
sonages were sent to France ; the only person of any official
consequence who was retained being the commissioner Raymond,
who was a mulatto, and might be useful. As these measures,
however, might draw down the vengeance of the Directory, if
not accompanied by some proofs of good-will to France, Tous-
saint sent two of his sons to Paris to be educated, assuring the
Directory at the same time that, in removing Santhonax and
his coadjutors, he had been acting for the best interests of the
colony. " I guarantee," he wrote to the Directory, " on my
own personal responsibility, the orderly behaviour and the good-
will to France of my brethren the blacks. You may depend,
citizen directors, on happy results ; and you shall soon see
w^hether I engage in vain my credit and your hopes."

The peojDle of Paris received with a generous astonishment
the intelligence of the doings of the negro prodigy, and the
interest they took in the novelty of the case prevented them from
being angry. The Directory, however, judged it prudent to
send out General Hedouville, an able and moderate man, to
superintend Toussaint's proceedings, and restrain his boldness.
When Hedouville arrived at St Domingo, Toussaint went on
board the ship to bid him welcome. Conversing with him in the
presence of the ship's officers, Toussaint said something about
the fatigues of government, upon which the captain of the vessel,
meaning to pay him a compliment, said that he wished no
greater honour than that of carrying him to France. "Your



ship," replied Toussaint, too hastily to consider whether what he
said was in the best taste — '• your ship is not larg-e enoug-li."
He improved the saying-, however, when one of Hedouville's
staff made an observation some time afterwards to the same
effect, hinting: that he should now give up the cares of govern-
ment and retire to France, to spend his declining years in peace.
" That is what I intend," said he ; " but I am waiting till this
shrub (pointing to a little plant in the ground) grow big enough
to make a ship." Hedouville found himself a mere shadow.
Toussaint, though strictly polite to him, paid no attention to his
wishes or representations, except when they agreed with his
own intentions.

In the meantime, Toussaint was fulfilling his pledge to the
Directory, by managing the aff'airs of the colony with the
utmost skill and prudence. One thing, however, still remained
to be done, and that was to clear the island of the British troops.
Toussaint's exertions had for some time been directed to this
end, and with such success, that Saint IMark, Port-au-Prince,
.Jeremie, and Mole, were the only places of which the British
still retained possession. He was preparing to attack them in
these their last holds, when General Maitland, seeing the hope-
lessness of continuing an enterprise which had already cost so
many British lives, opened a negotiation with him, which ended
in a treaty for the evacuation of the island. While General
Maitland was making his preparations for quitting the island,
Toussaint and he were mutual in their expressions of regard.
Toussaint visited the English g'eneral, was received with all the
pomp of military ceremonial, and, after a splendid entertainment,
was presented in the name of the king of Great Britain with a
costly service of plate and two brass cannons. General Maitland,
previous to the embarkation of his troops, visited Toussaint's
camp in return, travelling with only three attendants through a
tract of country filled with armed blacks. While on his way, he
was informed that Roume, the French commissioner, had written
to Toussaint, advising him to give a proof of his zeal in the
French cause by seizing General Maitland, and detaining him
as a prisoner ; but confiding in the negro's honour, he did not
hesitate to proceed. Arrived at Toussaint's quarters, he had
to wait some time before seeing him. At length he made his
appearance, holding in his hand two letters. " Here, general,''
he said on entering, " before we say a word about anything
else, read these ; the one is a letter I have received from the
French commissary, the other is the answer I am just going to
despatch." It is said by French historians that about this time
offers were made to Toussaint, on the part of Great Britain, to
recognise him as king of Hayti, on condition of his signing* a
treaty of exclusive commerce with British subjects. It is cer-
tain, at least, that if this offer was made, the negro chief did
not accept it.



The evacuation of St Domingo by the Eng-lish in 1798 did not
remove all Toiissaint's difficulties. The mulattoes, influenced
partly by a rumour that the French Directory meditated the re-
establishment of the exploded distinction of colour, partly by a
jealous dislike to the ascendency which a pure negro had gained
in the colony, rose in insurrection under the leadership of Rigaud
and Petion, two able and educated midattoes. The insurrectioii
was formidable ; but, by a judicious mingling of severity with
caution, Toussaint quelled it, reducing Rigaud and Petion to
extremities ; and the arrival of a deputation from France in the
year 1799 bringing a coniirmation of his authority as commander-
in-chief in St Domingo by the man who, under the title of First
Consul, had superseded the Directory, and now swayed the des-
tinies of France, rendered his triumph complete. Petion and
Rigaud, deserted by their adherents, and despairing of any
further attempt to shake Toussaint's power, embarked for France.

Coniirmed by Bonaparte in the powers which he had for some
time been wielding in the colony with such good effect, Toussaint
now paid exclusive attention to the internal affairs of the island. In
the words of a French biographer, " he laid the foundation of a
new state with the foresig'ht of a mind that could discern what
would decay and what would endure. St Doming'o rose from its
ashes ; the reign of law and justice was established ; those who
had been slaves were now citizens. Religion again reared her
altars ; and on the sites of ruins were built new edifices." Cer-
tain interesting particulars are also recorded, which g'ive us a
better idea of his habits and the nature of his government than
these general descriptions. To establish discipline among his
black troops, he gave all his superior officers the power of life
and death over the subalterns: every superior officer "com-
manded with a pistol in his hand." In all cases where the ori-
ginal possessors of estates which had fallen vacant in the course
of the troubles of the past nine years could be traced, they were
invited to return and resume their jn'operty. Toussaint's great
aim was to accustom the negroes to industrious habits. It was
only by diligent agriculture, he said, that the blacks could ever
raise themselves. Accordingly, while every trace of personal
slavery was abolished, he took means to compel the negroes to
Avork as diligently as ever they had done under the whip of
their overseers. All those plantations the proprietors of which
did not reappear were lotted out among the negroes, who, ' as a
remuneration for their labour, received one-third of the produce,
the rest going to the public revenue. There were as yet no civil
or police courts which could punish idleness or vagrancy, but
the same purpose was served by coiu'ts-martial. The ports of
the island were opened to foreign vessels, and every encourage-
ment held out to traffic. In consequence of these arrangements,
a most surprising change took place : the plantations were agam
covered with crops: the sugar-houses



built ; tlie export trade beg-an to revive ; and the population,-
ci'derly and well-behaved, beg-an to increase. In addition to
these external evidences of g"ood g-overnment, the island exhi-
bited those finer evidences which consist in mental culture and
the civilisation of manners. Schools were established, and books
became common articles in the cottag-es of the negro labourers.
IMusic and the theatre were encourag-ed; and public worship was
conducted with all the usual pomp of the Romish church. The
whites, the mulattoes, and the blacks, ming-led in the same
society, and exchang'ed with each other all the courtesies of civi-
lised intercourse. The commander-in-chief himself set the ex-
ample by holding public levees, at which, surrounded by his
officers, he received the visits of the principal colonists ; and his
private parties, it is said, " might have vied with the best regu-
lated societies of Paris." Himself frugal and abstemious in his
habits, he studied magnificence in all matters of court arrange-
ment, the dress of his officers, his furniture, his entertainments,
<Scc. His attention to decorum mig'lit be thought excessive, un-
less we knew the state of manners which had prevailed in St
Domingo while it was a French colony. He would never allow
the white ladies to appear at his court vv ith their necks uncovered :
v.'omeu, he said, should always look as if they were going' to
church. Like every man in hig-h office, Toussaint was frequently
annoyed by ambitious persons applying to him for situations for
which they had no capacity. He had the art, it is said, of
sending- such persons away without oflending them. A neg-ro,
for instance, who thought he had some claim to his acquaintance-
ship, would come and ask to be appointed a judge or a magis-
trate. " Oh yes," Toussaint would reply, as if complying with
the request; and then he would add, " of course you understand
Latin?" "Latin!" the suitor would say; "no, general, I never
learnt it." " T^liat ! " Toussaint would exclaim, " not know
Latin, and yet want to be a magistrate ! " And then he would
pour out a quantity of gibberish, intermingled with as many
sounding Latin words as he could remember ; and the candidate,
astonished at such a display of learning, would go away disap-
pointed, of course, at not getting the office, but laying all the
blame upon his ignorance of Latin.



Successful in all his schemes of improvement, Toussaint had
only one serious cause for dread. While he admired, and, it may
be, imitated Napoleon Bonaparte, he entertained a secret fear of
the projects of that great general. Although Bonaparte, as first
consul, had confirmed him in his command, several circumstances
had occurred to excite alarm. He had sent two letters to Bona-
parte, both headed, "The First of the Blacks to the First of



the AVhites," one of which announced the complete pacification
of the island, and requested the ratification of certain appoint-
ments which he had made, and the other explained his reasons
for cashiering a French official ; but to these letters Bonaparte
had not deig-ned to return an answer. Moreover, the represen-
tatives from St Domingo had been excluded from the French
senate ; and rumours had reached the island that the first con-
sul meditated the re-establishment of slavery. Toussaint thought
it advisable in this state of matters to be beforehand with the
French consul in forming a constitution for the island, to super-
sede the military government with which it had hitherto been
content. A draft "of a constitution was accordingly drawn up
by his directions, and with the assistance of the ablest French-
men in the island; and after being submitted to an assembly
of representatives from all parts of St Domingo, it was for-
mally published on the 1st July 1801. By this constitution
the whole executive of the island, with the command of the
forces, was to be intrusted to a governor-general. Toussaint
was appointed governor-general for life ; his successors were to

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 51 of 59)