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The Role of Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Haitian Revolution

The Haitian Revolution, 1792-1803, was the first and only successful slave uprising. Before the revolution, Saint Domingue was a French colony. Saint Domingue was a leading producer of crops such as sugar and coffee, which fueled France’s economy. Enslaved Africans labored under harsh conditions. The slaves were owned by a class in society, known as planters, who supported slavery and were considered citizens of France. 1Another class was the free people of color, who were Blacks in agreement with slavery, even though they did not have the rights planters did.2 Both the planters and free people of color wanted Saint Domingue to be independent of French rule, but they wanted the island to become a free owning slave nation. 3 This was because the French had a system known as an exclusif, which made them only have trading affairs with the French.4The slaves did not agree on slavery in Saint Domingue, they did not agree on the social hierarchy system, since they had the lowest rights out of all of the classes, and finally they did not agree with the French on the exclusif system and the disputes regarding rights.5 A rebellion broke out in 1791, which was known as the Haitian Revolution, and was a war in which the Black slaves defeated the French, and other European forces. Although many slaves did not agree with the policy of enslavement, one vocal leader, known as Toussaint L’Ouverture was the voice of change for the overall movement. The multidimensional figure of Toussaint L’Ouverture led Saint Domingue into rebellion, from being a French colony, to a self-governing country, with the help of a slave militia. Toussaint L’Ouverture had a significant role in the uprising of the Haitian Revolution, by carrying out the main goal of the slaves, which was to overthrow France’s rule. In 1791, the initial revolt that sparked the Haitian Revolution was done through a Vodun style prayer call, carried out by Dutty Boukman.6 This attracted the attention of many slaves, and they formed a union of support for the overthrow of the French. During this revolt, nearly 2000 whites were killed.7 Right after the revolt sparked, Boukman died, and Toussaint L’Ouverture assisted in carrying out the initial purpose of the revolt. A year after the revolution had begun, French troops were sent by Leger Felicite Sonthonax, to Saint Domingue to restore order within the French colony. 8L’Ouverture joined the slave’s militia as a medical officer. Due to L’Ouverture’s strong leadership abilities, he advanced in his position from being a medical officer to fighting under Jorge Biassou’s militia, and eventually he controlled his own militia.9Since the overall purpose of L’Ouverture’s militia was to overthrow France’s colonization, they allied with the invading Spaniards. The French forces feared they would be defeated by the Spanish and other invading forces, so they made a temporary claim, saying that free people of color had legal equality in Saint Domingue. 10 The Whites did not agree on this decision, since they believed they were superior to the Blacks. This conflict was not healthy, since both of their opponents were rebel slaves. Soon after, the British invaded Saint Domingue in 1793. They invaded Saint Domingue, because they feared the rebel slave forces in Haiti would inspire slaves in British colonies. Great Britain became allies with the Spaniard and slave militias.11 L’Ouverture was fighting beside the British and Spaniards, and the French did not appreciate it, since the French army was weakened and greatly outnumbered. In early 1794, Sonthonax abolished slavery in the island of Saint Domingue, as a means to gain more people in the French forces. This caused Toussaint’s dedication to be in favor of the French, since they needed major help to win the revolution. L’Ouverture fell for this strategized method, which was enacted by the French. The French were not really against...
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