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(en) France, UCL AL #318 - August 1793-May 1796, File Haitian Revolution: The irresistible rise of Toussaint Louverture (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]
Mon, 20 Sep 2021 11:06:46 +0300
Slavery abolished, the republican authorities initiate a transition to wage
labor. But workers are resisting the new conditions of exploitation. Allied to
the French Republic, Toussaint Louverture will fly from success to success, until
becoming the strongman of the colony. ---- In a desperate situation, in August
1793, the civil commissioners Sonthonax and Polverel therefore resigned
themselves to proclaiming the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue. The
implementation, from North to South, will be done in a few weeks. No longer being
considered as an animal but as a human being, no longer being the property of
others, no longer having their children torn off, reconstituting their lineage
... For the hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered it, the
abolition of the status of slave corresponds to a fundamental change, hence the
dazzling and immense popularity of Sonthonax in Santo Domingo during the decade
"Whoever takes that gun away from you will want to make you a slave."According to
legend, it was with these words that Sonthonax distributed 20,000 rifles to the
black population of Santo Domingo in 1796.
Engraving by Miss Rollet, after Fougea (1794) / Musée d'Aquitaine.
This popularity of Republican commissioners does not, however, prevent a constant
insubordination of workers vis-à-vis paid work supposed to replace bonded labor.
The fact is that the multitude of "new freemen" aspires to an independent life
that had hitherto been forbidden: a piece of land to cultivate, an individual
house, a reunited family. A model that does not fit at all with the collective
and disciplined labor of the large plantation. But the authorities want to
resuscitate this goose that lays golden eggs that is the plantation and export
economy. To overcome the reluctance of "cultivators" - the new established term -
the authorities set very interventionist "cultivation regulations".
The contract of employment on a plantation is fixed at a minimum of one year,
during which the cultivators are bound to six days of labor per week. In exchange
for what, they and they share a quarter of the income of the domain. They can
choose to spend only five days, but their salary is then halved . A hierarchy
of salaries is established according to trade, age and sex . It is authorized
to operate a personal plot (0.6 hectare maximum) in his free time.
To these regulations which will be renewed by Toussaint Louverture and his
successors, the farmers will oppose a constant resistance: strikes, machine
breakdown, destruction of canes, and especially marronnage (renamed "vagrancy")
... Faced with this, coercive measures (fines , prison, expulsions) will only
harden over the years.
Despite everything, the abolition fulfilled its primary objective: to unite the
mass of the "new free" with the French Republic against the Spanish, British or
royalist slavers. On the strength of this foundation, Sonthonax and Laveaux
sought to rally the black insurgent leaders. In vain. Halaou is keen on his
independence; Jean-François, Biassou and Makaya prefer their lucrative alliance
with the Spaniards; Hyacinthe is seduced by the British ...
Over the course of his success, Toussaint was promoted to brigadier general, then
to division general, then to deputy governor, before proclaiming himself
"governor for life".
Burning Ch. Dietrich, XIX th century.
A spectacular change of alliance
Finally, an important black leader - not the best known, but the most brilliant -
ends up seizing the outstretched hand: it is Toussaint Bréda, says Louverture,
the nom de guerre he chose for himself. Since the fall of 1793, he has been at
odds with Jean-François and Biassou who, jealous of his popularity, have tried to
assassinate him. The Spanish general staff also took a grudge against him because
of his commitment to "general freedom" .
Faced with these threats, it is time for Toussaint Louverture to change
allegiance. He did so on May 6, 1794, in a spectacular and bloody fashion: by
surprise, he had 150 Spanish soldiers and French royalists arrested and executed
in Gonaïves, then hoisted the tricolor over the city. With him, it is 4,000
seasoned fighters and a third of the North Province who fall into the Republican
purse. Euphoria of the French command which finally sees the tide turning.
A month later, Toussaint was reassured in his choice when the news arrived that
in Paris, the Convention approved the abolition of slavery, and extended it to
all the French colonies.
The rallying of Toussaint Louverture kicks off the reconquest. It is the
beginning of an epic which, by powder, but also by cunning and by the pen, will
truly found the legend of Louvertur. A formidable strategist, indefatigable
horseman, he appears where one does not expect him, thrusting Jean-François and
Biassou here, putting down a royalist sedition there, deceiving the Spanish
staff, taking cities, maintaining an abundant correspondence with his allies. ,
but also with his enemies and with the black leaders who remained independent,
whom he endeavored to rally to the republic.
Where he settled, he put an end to arbitrariness and looting, and was celebrated
by populations of all colors. In its wake, former slaves became competent
officers, such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Moyse, Charles Bélair or Henry
Christophe. The army of the "new free" gained in cohesion, in efficiency, and
became essential to the French.
The autumn of 1795 marks an important stage: Spain, defeated in Europe, signs
peace and cedes Santo Domingo to France. The Spanish troops and their auxiliaries
Jean-François and Biassou weigh anchor.
The French forces in Saint-Domingue have, in three years, completely changed
face: in the fall of 1792, it was an expeditionary corps of white soldiers who
came to put down a revolt of black slaves with the help of the free Mulattoes; in
the fall of 1795, it was an army of all colors, from the base to the top, which
made "general liberty" its standard.
Toussaint took care of his image, as evidenced by this equestrian portrait
produced when he was the strong man of Santo Domingo.
"Toussaint Louverture, leader of the black insurgents of Saint-Domingue", print
(between 1796 and 1799). BnF
The "savior of the constituted authorities"
Etienne Laveaux (1751-1828)
Commander-in-chief of the French forces in Saint-Domingue, sincerely rallied to
the abolition of slavery, he was Toussaint Louverture's best ally in 1794-1796.
It is he who appoints him deputy governor. Then elected deputy of the island, he
will support his policy in Paris.
It is however at this time when the Spanish threat is removed, and when the war
effort must be deferred against the Anglo-Royalists, that "colored" dissensions
emerge within the Republican staff. Generals Rigaud, Villatte and Beauvais who,
as Mulattoes, see themselves as the future of the colony, whisperly accuse
Governor Laveaux of being subjugated by the glorious Toussaint Louverture, and of
promoting the rise of blacks to the best. posts. Villatte, the most determined to
act, will attempt a putsch. Failed, it will have the opposite effect from that
The occasion arose in March 1796. Following a revolt in Cap-Français, Villatte
had Laveaux arrested. Not long. Toussaint's troops come to his aid and have him
released. The benefit of this turnaround will be immense. The 1 stApril at a
ceremony that will become mythical, Governor Laveaux was acclaimed by Toussaint
Cape population, exalting him as the "savior of the constituted authorities, a
black Spartacus, the negro predicted by Raynal to avenge the insults made to his
race" . In the process, he appointed him deputy governor of the colony.
When he returned from Paris in May 1796, after almost two years of absence,
Commissioner Sonthonax immediately understood the new balance of power in
Saint-Domingue. Holding the Mulatto generals in suspicion, he distributed to
Toussaint's troops most of the 20,000 rifles he brought back, and strove to
seduce the "black Spartacus", thinking he could maneuver him . But it is too
late for that. It is now Louverture the master of the game.
Guillaume Davranche (UCL Montreuil)
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