By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)
“I send you with this letter a declaration which will acquaint you with the unity that exists between the proprietors of San Domingo who are in France, those in the United States, and those who serve under the English banner. You will see there a resolution, unequivocal and carefully constructed, for the restoration of slavery; you will see there that their determination to succeed has led them to envelop themselves in the mantle of liberty in order to strike it more deadly blows. You will see that they are counting heavily on my complacency in lending myself to their perfidious views by my fear for my children.
“It is not astonishing that these men who sacrifice their country to their interests are unable to conceive how many sacrifices a true love of country can support in a better father than they, since I unhesitatingly base the happiness of my children on that of my country, which they and they alone wish to destroy.
“Blind as they are! They cannot see how this odious conduct on their part can become the signal of new disasters and irreparable misfortunes, and that far from making them regain what in their eyes liberty for all has made them lose, they expose themselves to a total ruin and the colony to its inevitable destruction. Do they think that men who have been able to enjoy the blessing of liberty will calmly see it snatched away?
“They supported their chains only so long as they did not know any condition of life more happy than that of slavery. But today when they have left it, if they had a thousand lives they would sacrifice them all rather than be forced into slavery again.”
Excerpt from Toussaint L’Ouverture’s “Letter to the Directory, November 5, 1797,” published in “The Black Jacobins” by C. L. R. James 1963
François Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture was an enslaved African born on May 20, 1743 on the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue (Haiti.) He is recognized as one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution. The Africans who were enslaved in Haiti by a group of French men and women were the only group of Africans who seized and maintained their freedom from chattel slavery. They declared their independence on January 1, 1804 after years of armed struggle against European forces beginning in August 1891.
L’Ouverture chose his last name sometime in 1793. He used the last name L’Ouverture for the first time when he wrote a letter dated August 29, 1793 in which he encouraged enslaved Africans to unite:
“Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause.
“Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint L’Ouverture.”
He had carried the last name Breda at birth because, like enslaved Africans everywhere, he was given the name of his enslavers who owned the Breda plantation where he was born. In 1797 when he wrote his “Letter to the Directory”, L’Ouverture was 54 years old and had been free for about four years.
For a man who had been enslaved for most of his life it was an extraordinary achievement to be able to read and write. In every society where Africans were enslaved by White men and women, literacy was not encouraged for the enslaved Africans and in some places (USA) being literate was a death sentence for an enslaved African.
L’Ouverture’s letter referred to the people who were determined to re-enslave the Africans in Haiti who had been freed by the French Revolutionary government on February 4, 1794. Of course, this declaration on paper that the enslaved Africans on plantations owned by French men and women were free did not happen because these White people suddenly had an epiphany that enslaving other humans was wrong. They were forced to declare an abolition of slavery because the Africans in Haiti had seized their freedom three years earlier in 1791. In 1789, when the revolutionaries in France proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, they did not care about the freedom or rights of enslaved Africans whose coerced labour made France one of the richest European countries of the time. Haiti was France’s “Pearl of thee Antilles”.
The late Guyanese scholar and historian, Walter Rodney, in his 1973 book, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, included a quote from a presentation made in 1791 by Cardinal Maury, a member of the French National Assembly who urged the Assembly to maintain slavery in the French colonies:
“If you were to lose each year more than 200 million livres that you now get from your colonies; if you had not the exclusive trade with your colonies to feed your manufactures, to maintain your navy, to keep your agriculture going, to repay for your imports, to provide for your luxury needs, to advantageously balance your trade with Europe and Asia, then I say it clearly, the kingdom would be irretrievably lost.”
The French Revolutionary government seized power from the French monarchy and the aristocracy and declared France a republic in September 1792, murdering their king the following year. After a blood bath popularly known as the Reign of Terror (5 September 1793 – 28 July 1794) where French men and women marched their fellow citizens to the guillotine to be slaughtered by the tens of thousands, the blood thirsty citizens settled down and turned their attention once again to the colonies. With the fighting and killing in France White people did not have time to take care of business in the colonies but they had no intention of losing all that unpaid labour that was provided by Africans. After dispatching tens of thousands of their tribe via the guillotine the French, led by a Corsican (Napoleon Bonaparte), once more turned their covetous eyes to the riches of Haiti.
Bonaparte, drunk with power after defeating much of Europe, declared himself Emperor of France even though he was not French. He then tried to retake Haiti from the Africans who had taken their freedom and established their independence as a nation. The French had reneged on their declaration of freedom for enslaved Africans and had re-enslaved Africans in their colonies. Under Napoleon’s rule the French passed a law on May 20, 1802 revoking the law passed on February 4, 1794 which had abolished slavery in the French colonies.
On June 7, 1802 Bonaparte’s General LeClerc captured L’Ouverture after deceiving him by inviting him to a meeting with an offering to negotiate. Le Clerc realizing that he could not defeat the Africans led by L’Ouverture pretended to be willing to negotiate with L’Ouverture as the leader of his people. On June 15, 1802 L’Ouverture and his family were transported to France on board the French ship, Le Heros. On his arrival in France L’Ouverture was imprisoned and on April 7, 1803 he transitioned to join the ancestors, a victim of his belief in the non-existent honour of Bonaparte and the French. Today, the name Toussaint L’Ouverture is fairly well known as Haiti’s liberator.