Toussant Louverture's Role in the Haitian Revolution

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

How much do you know about Toussant Louverture? You may know that he was born a slave, but how much do you know about his role in the Haitian Revolution? This lesson discusses the former slave's meteoric rise to a leader of the Haitian Revolution.

Becoming a Leader

How much do you know about Toussant Louverture's early life? You may know that he was born a slave, but how exactly did he find himself as a leader of the Haitian Revolution? Louverture was born into slavery sometime around the year 1743. His dad was well-educated, and Louverture became a devout Catholic at a very early age. Even though he would eventually work closely with the French, he did not speak the language very well. Instead, he spoke a language called Haitian Creole, a combination of both French and native West African languages.

As a result of his exceptional intelligence and unparalleled work ethic, Toussant Louverture earned the trust and respect of his master. In 1777, he became a free man. It was these qualities that helped Louverture become one of the most impactful leaders of the Haitian Revolution just over a decade later.

Slavery in the Caribbean

As you may know, slavery was an important institution in the New World. Cash crops like sugar and tobacco made plantation owners a small fortune in European markets. To maintain and increase production, it was necessary to have a very large and very cheap labor force. In colonies like Saint-Dominique (now Haiti), slaves worked up to 18 hours a day - giving them only 6 hours to sleep or tend to their personal lives! Long hours along with brutal treatment by plantation masters created a growing need among slaves to fight back. As the French Revolution raged on across the Atlantic, many slaves saw this as their window of opportunity, a chance to fight for their own freedom.

The Revolution Begins

The Haitian Revolution began on August 21, 1791, when a mob of slaves began burning down plantations and killing white Europeans. At first, Toussant Louverture could not have cared less. Most of the rebels were fighting for their own freedom, not an end to slavery. Louverture was already a free man, so why should he care?

Within less than a month, Louverture's tune began to change. He realized that the slave rebels were not only disorganized but also very ineffective with their tactics. Louverture helped his former master escape the rebels in Saint-Dominique before joining the fight. A brilliant and compelling leader, Louverture quickly formed his own little army. Louverture's rebels were trained in guerrilla warfare, a military tactic that broke away from traditional styles of fighting. The Haitian slave army took advantage of their small size and knowledge of the island to successfully conduct raids and ambushes, surprising their enemies at every turn.

Toussant Louverture
Toussant Louverture

The French and Spanish

By 1793, France was at war with Spain. The French colony Saint-Dominique shared an island with the Spanish colony Hispaniola. The small island became a center of fighting between the two countries. Initially, Toussant Louverture sided with the Spanish. For his allegiance, the Spanish not only made him a knight but gave him the title of general as well.

After about a year of fighting alongside France's enemy, Louverture was presented with an interesting opportunity. The new governor of Saint-Dominique had issued a proclamation that freed all slaves. Meanwhile, Spain still supported the institution of slavery. Louverture flip-flopped and switched sides to fight alongside the French. As a reward for his service, the governor of Saint-Dominique made Louverture the lieutenant governor. Shortly after, Louverture and his troops were able to completely remove the Spanish from the island.

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