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Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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hold office for five years each ; and he was to have the power
of nominating the first of them. Various other provisions
were contained in the constitution, and its general effect was to
give St Domingo a virtual independence, under the guardian-
ship of France.

Not disheartened by the taciturnity of Bonaparte, Toussaint
again addressed him in respectful terms, and intreated his rati-
fication of the new constitution. The first consul, however, had
already formed the resolution of extinguishing Toussaint and
taking possession of St Domingo ; and the conclusion of a treaty
of peace with England (1st Oct. 1801) increased his haste to
effect the execution of his deceitful purpose. In vain did persons
acquainted with the state of the island endeavour to dissuade him
from this movement, by representing the evils which would arise.
" I want," he said to the minister Forfait, who was one of those
who reasoned with him on the subject — " I want, I tell jou, to
get rid of 60,000 men." This was probably the secret of his
determination to invade St Domingo. Now that the treaty with
England was concluded, he felt the presence of so many of his
old companions in arms to be an incumbrance. There were men
among them very likely to criticise his government and thwart
his designs, and these it would be very convenient to send on a
distant expedition. Nay more, it would not be misrepresenting
Napoleon's character, if we were to suppose that some jealousy
of his negro admirer mingled with his other views. Be this as
it may, the expedition was equipped. It consisted of twenty-six
ships of war and a number of transports, carrying an army of
25,000 men, the flower of the French troops, who embarked
reluctantly. The command of the army was given to General
Leclerc, the husband of Pauline Bonaparte, the consul's sister.



Bonaparte had never forg-iven his sister this marriagre with a man
of low birth ; and it is said that a frequent cause of annoyance to
him in the lirst years of his consulship, was the arrival in Paris
of all sorts of odd people from the country, who, being- relations
of Leclerc, claimed to be the kinsmen of the first consul. Bona-
parte according-ly took this opportunity of sending- his brother-
in-law abroad, Leclerc was accompanied by his wife Pauline,
a woman who, to a streng-th of mind worthy of Napoleon's sister,
added a large share of personal beauty. Many of Toussaint'&
enemies accompanied Leclerc in this expedition, among- whom
we may mention Rochambeau, who was second in command^
and the mulattoes Rig-aud and Petion.

The French squadron reached St Doming-o on the 29th of
January 1802. " We are lost," said Toussaint, when he saw the
ships approach ; " all France is coming- to St Domingo." The
invading army was divided into four bodies. General Kervesau,
w^ith one, was to take possession of the Spanish town of St Do-
ming-o ; General Rochambeau, with another, was to march on
Fort Dauphin; General Boudet, with a third, on Port-au-Prince^
and Leclerc himself, with the remainder, on Cape Francois. In
all quarters the French were successful in effecting a landing-.
Rochambeau, in landing- with his division, came to an engag-e-
ment with the blacks who had gathered on the beach, and
slaughtered a great number of them. At Cape Francois, Leclerc
sent an intimidating message to Christophe, the negro whom
Toussaint had stationed there as commander ; but the negro
replied that he was responsible only to Toussaint, his commander-
in-chief. Perceiving, however, that his post was untenable,
owing to the inclination of the white inhabitants of the town to
admit Leclerc, Christophe set fire to the houses at night, and
retreated to the hills by the light of the conflagration, cariying
2000 whites with him as hostages.

Although the French had effected a landing, the object of the
invasion was yet far from being attained. Toussaint and the
blacks had retired to the interior, and, in fastnesses where no mili-
tary force could reach them, they were preparing for future attacks.
That the force of language might not be wanting to co-operate
with the force of arms, the first consul had sent out a pro-
clamation to be distributed among the inhabitants of St Domingo,
assuring- them that, " whatever was their origin or their colour,
they were all equal, all free, all French in the eyes of God and
the republic ; that Fmnce, herself long desolated by civil wars,
hut now at peace with the universe, had sent her ships to guaran-
tee civil liberty in St Domingo ; but that if the anger of the re-
public were provoked, it would devour her enemies as the fire
devours the dried sugar canes." The proclamation did not pro-
duce the intended eifect ; the blacks still refused to submit.
Another stroke of policy was in reserve, the intention of which
was to incline Toussaint himself to forbear his opposition to the



f)Ccu-!)ation of tlie island by the Frencli. Our readers already
know that two of Toussaint's sons, whose names were Isaac and
Placide, had been sent to Paris to be educated. At Paris, they
were placed under the tuition of one M. Coasnon. The first
consul resolved that Toussaint's two sons, along* with their pre-
«:eptor, should accompany the expedition under Leclerc to St
Doming-o, to try the effect which the sig-ht of them might have
on the mind of the neg:ro chief. Pie had sent for them at the
Tuileries, and received them very g-raciously, inquiring" of M.
Coasnon which was Isaac and which Piacide. " Your father,"
lie said to them, " is a great man, and has rendered many ser-
vices to France. Tell him I said so ; and tell him not to believe
that I have any hostile intentions against St Domingo. The
troops I send are not destined to fight against the native troops,
but to increase their strength. The man I have appointed com-
mander is my own brother-in-law." He then asked them some
questions in mathematics ; and the young men withdrew, de-
lighted with the first consul's kindness. After landing at Cape
Francois, Leclerc despatched Coasnon with Toussaint's two sons
to the village of Henneri, where he heard that Toussaint then
was. One of the sons, Isaac, has written an account of this in-
terview Avith his father, and of the transactions which followed it.
Travelling to Henneri, he tells us, with M. Coasnon, the negroes
everywhere on the road received them with raptures. When
they reached Henneri, Toussaint was absent, and they spent the
first evening with their mother and the rest of the family. Next
day Toussaint joined them, and meeting him at the door, they
threw themselves into his arms. M. Coasnon then presented
him with a letter from the first consul, which he read on the
spot. The letter was a skilful mixture of flattery and menace.
*=' If the French flag," it said, " float over St Domingo, it is owing
to you and your brave blacks. Called by your abilities and the
force of circumstances to the first command in the island, you
liave put an end to civil war, and brought back into repute reli-
gion and the worship of God, from whom everything proceeds.^
The constitution which you have made contains a number of

excellent things ; but " and then follow a few threatening

passages. After reading the letter, Toussaint turned to M.
Coasnon and said, " Which am I to believe 1 — the first consul's
words, or General Leclerc's actions? The first consul offers
me peace ; and yet General Leclei'c no sooner arrives than he
rushes into a war with us. However, I shall write to General
Leclerc." An attempt was then made to influence him through
his paternal feelings; but at length Toussaint put an end to
the interview by saying, " Take back my sons," and immediately
rode off.

The correspondence which Toussaint entered into with Leclerc
produced no good result, and the v/ar began in earnest. Tous-
saint and Christophe were declared outlaws, and battle after


hattle was fouglit witli varying success. The mountainous
nature of tlie interior greatly impeded tlie progress of the French.
The Alps themselves, Leclerc said, -were not nearly so troublesome
to a military man as the hills of St Domingo. On the whole, how-
ever, the advantage was decidedly on the side of the French ;
and the blacks were driven by deg-rees out of all their principal
positions. The success of the French vras not entirely the con-
sequence of their military skill and valour ; it was partly owing
also to the effect which the proclamations of Leclerc had ou
the minds of the negroes and their commanders. If they were
to enjoy the perfect liberty which these proclamations pro-
mised them, if they were to continue free men as they were now,
■what mattered it whether the French were in possession of the
island or not ? Such w^as the general feeling ; and accordingly
many of Toussaint's most eminent officers, among whom were
Laplume and Maurepas, went over to the French. Deserted thus
by many of his officers and by the great mass of the negro popu-
lation, Toussaint, supported by his two bravest and ablest gene-
rals, Dessalines and Christophe, still held out, and protracted the
war. Dessalines, besieged in the fort of Crete a Pierrot by
Leclerc and nearly the whole of the French army, did not give
up the defence until he had caused the loss to his besiegers of
about 3000 men, including several distinguished officers ; and
even then, rushing out, he fought his way through the enemy,
and made good his retreat.

The reduction of the fortress of Crete a Pierrot was considered
decisive of the fate of the war ; and Leclerc, deeming dissimula-
tion no longer necessary, permitted many neg'roes to be massacred,
and issued an order virtually re-establishing the power of the old
French colonists over their slaves. This rash step opened the
eyes of the negroes who had joined the French : they deserted
in masses ; Toussaint was again at the head of an army ; and
Leclerc was in danger of losing all the fruits of his past labours,
and being obliged to begin his enterprise over again. This
was a very disagreeable prospect ; for although strong rein-
forcements were arriving from France, the disorders incident to
military life in a new climate were making large incisions into
his army. He resolved, therefore, to fall back on his former policy ;
and on the 25th of April 1802, he issued a proclamation directly
opposite in its spirit to his former order, asserting the equality of
the various races, and holding out the prospect of full citizenship
to the blacks. The negroes were again deceived, and again
deserted Toussaint. Christophe, too, despairing of any farther
success against the French, entered into neg'otiation with Leclerc,
securing as honourable terms as could be desired. The example
of Christophe was imitated by Dessalines, and by Paul L'Ouver-
ture, Toussaint's brother. Toussaint, thus left alone, was obliged
to submit ; and Christophe, in securing good terms for himself,
had not neglected the opportunity of obtaining similar advan-


tag-es for his commander-in-cliief. On the 1st of May 1802, a
treaty was concluded between Leclerc and Toussaint L'Ouverture,
the conditions of which were, that Toussaint should continue to
g-overn St Domingo as hitherto, Leclerc acting- only in the capa-
city of French deputy, and that all the officers in Toussaint's
army should be allowed to retain their respective ranks. " I
swear," added Leclerc, "before the Supreme Being, to respect
the liberty of the people of St Domingo." Thus the war appeared
to have reached a happy close ; the whites and blacks mingled
with each other once more as friends ; and Toussaint retired to
one of his estates near Gonaives, to lead a life of quiet domestic

The instructions of the first consul, however, had been precise,
that the negro chief should be sent as a prisoner to France.
Many reasons recommended such a step as more likely than any
other to break the spirit of independence among the blacks, and
rivet the French power in the island. The expedition had been
one of the most disastrous that France had ever undertaken. A
pestilence resembling the yellow fever, but more fatal and terrible
than even that dreadful distemper, had swept many thousands
of the French to their graves. What with the ravages of the
plague, and the losses in war, it was calculated that 30,000
men, 1500 officers of various ranks, among whom were fourteen
generals, and 700 physicians and surgeons, perished in the expe-

It is our melancholy duty now to record one of the blackest
acts committed by Napoleon. Agreeably to his orders, the per-
son of Toussaint was treacherously arrested, while residing peace-
fully in his house near Gonaives. Two negro chiefs who endea-
voured to rescue him were killed on the spot, and a large number
of his friends were at the same time made prisoners. The fate
of many of these was never known ; but Toussaint himself,
his wife, and all his family, were carried at midnight on board
the Hero man-of-w^ar, then in the harbour, which immediately
set sail for France. After a short passage of twenty-five days, the
vessel arrived at Brest (June 1802) ; and here Toussaint took his
last leave of his wife and family. They were sent to Bayonne ; but
by the orders of the first consul, he was carried to the chateau of
Joux, in the east of France, among the Jura mountains. Placed
in this bleak and dismal region, so different from the tropical
43limate to which he had been accustomed, his sufferings may
easily be imagined. Not satisfied, however, with confining his
unhappy prisoner to the fortress generally, Bonaparte enjoined
that he should be secluded in a dungeon, and denied anything
beyond the plainest necessaries of existence. For the first few
months of his captivity, Toussaint was allowed to be attended by
a faithful negro servant ; but at length this single attendant was
removed, and he was left alone in his misery and despair. It
appears a rumour had gone abroad that Toussaint, during the



war in St Doming-o, had buried a large amount of treasure
in the earth ; and during his captivity at Joux, an officer was
sent by the first consul to interrogate him respecting the place
where he had concealed it. " The treasures I have lost," said
Toussaint, " are not those which you seek." After an imprison-
ment of ten months, the negro was found dead in his dungeon
on the 27th of April 1803. He was sitting at the side of the fire-
place, with his hands resting' on his legs, and his head drooping.
The account given at the time was, that he had died of apoplexy ;
but some authors have not hesitated to ascribe it to less natural
cii'cumstances. " The governor of the fort," observes one French
writer, " made two excursions to Neufchatel, in Switzerland. The
first time, he left the keys of the dungeons with a captain whom
he chose to act for him during his absence. The captain accord-
ingly had occasion to visit Toussaint, who conversed with him
about his past life, and expressed his indignation at the desig'n im-
puted to him by the first consul, of having wished to betray St Do-
mingo to the English. As Toussaint, reduced to a scanty farina-
ceous diet, suiFered greatly from the want of coffee, to which he
had been accustomed, the captain generously procured it for him.
This first absence of the governor of the fort, however, was only
an experiment. It was not long before he left the fort again, and
this time he said, with a mysterious, unquiet air to the captain,
'■ I leave j^ou in charge of the fort, but I do not give you the
keys of the dungeons ; the prisoners do not require anything.'
Four days after, he returned, and Toussaint was dead — starved."
According" to another account, this miserable victim of despotism,
and against whom there was no formal or reasonable charge, was
poisoned ; but this rests on no credible testimony, and there is
reason to believe that Toussaint died a victim only to the seve-
rities of confinement in this inhospitable prison. This melan-
choly termination to his sufferings took place when he was sixty
years of age.

Toussaint's family continued to reside in France. They were
removed from Bayonne to Agen, and here one of the young-er
sons of Toussaint died soon after his father. Toussaint's wife died
in May 1816, in the arms of her sons Isaac and Placide. In
18-25, Isaac L'Ouverture wrote a brief memoir of his father, to
which we acknowledg'e ourselves to have been indebted.

We have thus sketched the life of the greatest man yet
known to have appeared among the negroes. Toussaint L'Ouver-
ture was altogether an original genius, tinctured no doubt with
much that was French, but really and truly self-developed. His
intellectual qualities so much resembled those of Europeans, as
to make him more than a match for many of the ablest of them.
But perhaps, if we seek to discover the true negro element of
his genius, it will be found in his strong affections. The phreno-
logical casts given of Toussaint's head are useful, as representing
this in the way most likely to be impressive. They represent



Toussaint as having' a skull more European in its general shape
than that of almost any other negro. That Toussaint L'Ouver-
ture was not a mere exceptional negro, cast up as it were once
for all, but that he was only the first of a possible series of able
negroes, and that his greatness may fairly be taken as a proof
of certain capabilities in the negro character, will appear from
the following brief sketch of the history of St Domingo subse-
quently to his imprisonment and death.


The forcible suppression of Toussaint's government, and his
treacherous removal from the island, did not prove a happy
stroke of policy ; and it would have been preferable for France to
have at once established the independence of St Domingo, than
to have entered on the project of resuming it as a dependency
on the old terms. Leclerc, with all the force committed to his
care by Bonaparte, signally failed in his designs. The con-
temptuous and cruel manner in which the blacks were generally
treated, and the attempts made to restore them as a class to
slavery, provoked a wide-spread insurrection. Toussaint's old
friends and generals, Dessalines, Christophe, Clerveaux, and
others, rose in arms. Battle after battle was fought, and all
the resources of European military skill were opposed to the
furious onsets of the negro masses. All was in vain : before
October, the negroes, under the command of Dessalines and
Christophe, had driven the French out of Fort Dauphin, Port
de Paix, and other important positions. In the midst of these
calamities, that is, on the 1st of November 1802, Leclerc died,
and Pauline Bonaparte returned to France with his body.
Leclerc was succeeded in the command by Rochambeau, a
determined enemy of the blacks. Cruelties such as Leclerc
shrunk from were now employed to assist the French arms •
unoffending negroes were slaughtered ; and bloodhounds were
imported from Cuba to chase the negro fugitives through the
forests. Rochambeau, however, had a person to deal with capable
of repaying crueltv with cruelty. Dessalines, who had assumed
the chief command of the insurgents, was a man who, to great
military talents and great personal courage, added a ferocious
and sanguinary disposition. Hearing that Rochambeau had
ordered 500 blacks to be shot at the Cape, he selected 500
French officers and soldiers from among his prisoners, and had
them shot by way of reprisal. To complete the miseries of the
French, the mulattoes of the south now joined the insurrection,
and the war between France and England having recommenced,
the island was blockaded by English ships, and provisions beg'an
to fail. In this desperate condition, after demanding assistance
from the mother country, which could not be granted, Rocham-
beau negotiated v»ith the negroes and the English for the eva-



ciiation of the island ; and towards the end of November 1803,
all the French troops left St Doming-o.

On the departure of the French, Dessalines, Christophe, and
the other generals proclaimed the independence of the island " in
the name of the blacks and the people of colour." At the same
time they invited the return of all whites who had taken no part
in the war ; but, added they, " if any of those who imagined they
would restore slavery return hither, they shall meet with nothing"
but chains and deportation." On the 1st of January 1804, at an
assembly of the generals and chiefs of the army, the indepen-
dence of the island was again solemnly declared, and all present
bound themselves by an oath to defend it. At the same time, to
mark their formal renunciation of all connexion with France, it
was resolved that the name of the island should be changed from
St Domingo to Hayti, the name given to it by its original Indian
inhabitants. Jean Jacques Dessalines was appointed governor-
general of the island for life, with the privilege of nominating
his successor.

The rule of Dessalines was a sanguinary, but, on the whole, a
salutary one. He began his government by a treacherous mas-
sacre of nearly all the French who remained in the island trust-
ing to his false promises of protection. All other Europeans,
however, except the French, were treated with respect. Dessa-
lines encouraged the importation of Africans into Hayti, saying
that since they were torn from their country, it was certainly
better that they should be employed to recruit the strength of a
rising nation of blacks, than to serve the whites of all countries
as slaves. On the 8th of October 1804, Dessalines exchanged
his plain title of governor-general for the more pompous one of
emperor. He was solemnly inaugurated under the name of
James I., emperor of Hayti ; and the ceremony of his coronation
was accompanied by the proclamation of a new constitution, the
main provisions of which were exceedingly judicious. All Hay-
tian subjects, of whatever colour, were to be called Macks, entire
religious toleration was decreed, schools were established, public
worship encouraged, and measures adopted similar to those which
Toussaint had employed for creating and fostering an industrial
spirit among the negroes. As a preparation for any future war,
the interior of the island was extensively planted with yams,
bananas, and other articles of food, and many forts built in
advantageous situations. Under these regulations the island
again began to show symptoms of prosperity. Dessalines was a
man in many respects fitted to be the first sovereign of a people
rising out of barbarism. Born the slave of a negro mechanic,
he was quite illiterate, but had great natui'al abilities, united to a
very ferocious temper. His wife was one of the most beautiful
and best educated negro women in Hayti. A jDleasant trait of
his character is his seeking out his old master after he became
emperor, and making him his butler. It was, he said, exactly


TorssAiNT l'ouverture and the republic of hayti.

the situation the old man wished to fill, as it aiforded him the
means of being" always drimk. Dessalines himself drank nothing-
but water. For two years this negro continued to govern the
island ; but at length his ferocity provoked his mulatto subjects
to form a conspiracy against him, and on the 17th of October
1806 he was assassinated by the soldiers of Petion, who was his-
third in command.

On the death of Dessalines, a schism took place in the island.
Christophe, who had been second in command, assumed the
government of the northern division of the island, the capital of
which was Cape Fran9ois ; and Petion, the mulatto general,
assumed the government of the southern division, the capital of
which was Port-au-Prince. For several years a war was carried
on between the two rivals, each endeavouring to depose the
other, and become chief of the whole of Hayti ; but at length
hostilities ceased, and by a tacit agreement, Petion came to be
regarded as legitimate governor in the south and west, where
the mulattoes were most .numerous ; and Christophe as legitimate
governor in the north, where the population consisted chiefly of
blacks. Christophe, trained, like Dessalines, in the school of

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 52 of 59)