This Gilded African to page 82

In early 1794, Laveaux was in a desperate situation. Officers and men alike were reduced to rations of six ounces of bread per day. Disease claimed his men, and he was running out of ammo, clothes, and other supplies. (p. 74) The British were sweeping easily through the country and had already taken much of the south and west, restoring slavery as they went. The Spanish also made no moves towards their promise of emancipation for all blacks. In defiance, Toussaint began “taking matters as far as he could into his own hands. Every town he took, every ‘habitation’ he passed through he assembled the slaves and proclaimed to them in stirring words that the Spanish king and he, Toussaint L’Ouverture were giving them their freedom.” (p. 75)

Though nominally subordinate to Biassou and Jean Francois, Toussaint’s power was only growing, and this was causing severe rifts in their relationships. In the midst of his decline into womanizing and drinking, Biassou wrote a letter to the Spanish Governor demanding Toussaint’s head. The Governor ignored the letter, but when Toussaint found out, he rather cleverly manipulated Jean Francois into ordering Toussaint to arrest Biassou. He had eliminated one impediment, but the French and Spanish officers were growing increasingly suspicious of him. Parkinson says they “were beginning to have an uneasy feeling that this quiet man but daring soldier’s ambition for his people was implacable.” (p. 76)

This seems to imply either some disconnect between what Toussaint was fighting for and what some of the officers thought they were fighting for, or that the officers had given lip service to the fight for emancipation, figuring that Toussaint couldn’t be serious or couldn’t succeed but at least their army could be effective against the French army. The French officers would have been Royalists hoping to restore the royal family to the throne, which Toussaint professed to want, as well, yet he was also freeing slaves at every opportunity. I wonder what the reaction was of the other officers who watched him do this. They must have been a bit dumbfounded, yet to Toussaint’s mind, the French king had promised to free the slaves, so he was well within his rights.

Spain’s refusal to back up their promise of emancipation led Toussaint to begin negotiations with Laveuax for another change of sides. Toussaint’s reunion with France had to be approached cautiously, as his family were still under Spanish protection. Parkinson describes Toussaint’s ride back into San Domingo, where he was greeted “as a conquering hero, and was created a General, presented with an ornamental sword and had pinned to his breast by the Marquis da Hermonas the medal of the order of Queen Isabella and the gold medal of Charles IV inscribed ‘El Merito’.” In what to anyone in the know must have looked like a comical scene, Toussaint was feted like a king. (p. 77)

Unfortunately, Don Garcia thought that perhaps da Hermonas was too in the thrall of Toussaint, whom he began to suspect. Don Garcia swiftly replaced da Hermonas with General Cabrera, “threw Mo�se into prison and placed Toussaint’s entire family under house arrest.” (p. 78) With great effort, Toussaint used diplomacy to convince Don Garcia to release his family. He then plotted a daring escape with his family and men, in the course of which he was ambushed by Biassou, whose men shot Toussaint’s brother Jean Pierre dead.

With a fury that made opposing armies so superstitious they would flee the battlefield rather than fight against him, he recaptured Dondon, Gona�ves, and the major Spanish ports in quick succession. But as fearsome as he was on the battlefield, what made Toussaint successful was his ability to establish order in the towns he conquered. (p. 79) Aside from the occasional unfortunate eruption of violence, whites generally felt safe enough to try to resume their former lives.

Laveaux and Toussaint met formally on July 27, 1794 in Dondon. They maintained an extremely close, brotherly relationship for the rest of their lives. (Parkinson, p. 81)

Those who can’t teach, fish.

Brad DeLong excerpts a white paper on financial sustainability that immediately made me think of the failed policies of NGOs in Haiti.

Note: The Anti-Worm Guys Don’t Like ‘financial sustainability’

bq. While sustainability is certainly a desirable goal, it may be difficult to achieve. Teaching people to fish rather than providing fish is great if it works, but this method works only if the donor knows more about fishing in the local area than the people who live there, and only if the donor can transfer this knowledge. Yet it is difficult for outsiders to understand how institutions, politics and societies function, let alone how to influence them in a way that does not create unforeseen consequences. Even if a hypothetical planner could target foreign assistance so as to change communities and institutions for the better, the principal-agent problems involved in foreign assistance make it hard to do this in practice. It is difficult enough to monitor aid workers handing out fish, since they are not subject to market pressures, nor held democratically accountable to the people who they are charged with serving. However, at least one can determine whether fish have reached the intended recipients, and presume that if so, the recipients are better off. In contrast, it is much more difficult to determine whether training sessions for leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with the local fishermen have in fact made anyone better off. Foreign aid workers may provide encouraging anecdotes, but given their incentive to select among anecdotes, it is difficult to know whether donors would have been better off simply handing out fish.

Parkinson to page 74

As I’ve decided to start keeping a timeline of revolutionary events, I’ve started to notice that Parkinson isn’t much for dates. This makes for a much breezier read, no doubt, but doesn’t really help my timeline creation.

Roume, St. Leger, and Mirbeck left St. Domingue on September 17, 1792, to be replaced by Commissioners Sonthonax, Polveral, and Ailhaud. The new Commissioners brought 6000 troops, but were greeted everywhere by hostility. “The landowners were infuriated by their liberal attitudes; the mulattoes, whom they had come to befriend, were, to their astonishment, equally infuriated by their rumored intention to bring about the abolition of slavery; and even the freed blacks, who considered themselves mulattoes, were antagonistic.” (Parkinson, p. 66)

Bizefranc, the Comte de Laveaux, leader of the French troops, whom Parkinson calls “a very remarkable man,” defeats Toussaint in battle. Toussaint is wounded in the arm by the Chevalier d’Assis at Mont Pel�e. Toussaint, leading another thrust with his arm in a sling, is pushed back by Laveaux at the “Morne.” Dessalines makes his first appearance during this battle, and after it, Toussaint makes him a Captain. (Parkinson, p. 67) Toussaint suffers heavy losses – half his men! – at Tannerie, and is forced to retreat into the mountains. “It was a cruel blow to him but a good lesson, his first resounding defeat.”

In the midst of this came word that Louis XIV had been beheaded. This news blew apart the alliances and loyalties, driving officers of the French army to join with the rebels or with Spain, and driving repatriated slaves back into the mountains. “To make matters worse for Sonthonax, France was now at war with [both Britain and Spain],” which meant that France’s enemies surrounded the colony. (Parkinson, p. 67)

To my mind, what happened next is one of the pivotal moments in Haitian revolutionary history – or, if not pivotal, it was certainly akin to throwing a barrel of gasoline into a burning house – though Parkinson almost brushes over the event. General Galbaud was sent from France to prepare St. Domingue’s defense. “He could not have been a more unfortunate choice. He owned property on the island and, acting from his pocket, he immediately sided with the French planters against the mulattoes *whom Sonthonax had armed and encouraged*.” [my emphasis] The Commissioners tried to kick Galbaud off the island. In desperation, Galbaud first kidnapped Commissioner Polverel’s son; then, when that didn’t work, he mustered his army of sailors and attacked Le Cap. “So Sonthonax and Ploverel turned to the black army for help and in order to enlist their aid *promised them their freedom from slavery*.” (Parkinson, p. 68)

What makes this pivotal to my mind is the actions of Sonthonax. By arming, encouraging, and emancipating mulattoes and slaves, he fanned the fires of their revolution, and gave, in essence, official French sanction to the freedom fighters. Though he had promised the Assembly he had no intention of freeing the slaves, after Galbaud’s defeat he had no choice. “On 29 August 1793 he declared the emancipation of the slaves of St. Domingue. He cried out to the crowd that gathered to hear the proclamation that he had ‘a white skin but the soul of a black man’. The crowds knelt with joy in front of him and Sonthonax was reduced to tears…” (Parkinson, p. 70)

* “Ten thousand refugees [of the fires in Le Cap set during the struggle with Galbaud] scrambled on to seventeen warships and sailed for the United States, where the lucky ones landed at Chesapeake.” (Parkinson, p. 68) That must have been quite an event in Chesapeake. There must be an account of it.
* Parkinson produces a letter on pp. 68-69 “from the archives of Haiti” that seems to prove that Toussaint was one of the early instigators of the rebellion.

The rebels joined Spain, claiming that they desired to serve under a king. Spain gave the rebels arms and ammunition, training, and a promise of liberty. Though given the lower rank of Colonel by the Spaniards, Tousssaint used the alliance with Spain to swell his ranks to 5000 troops. He did it with a series of daring and bold raids, including one in which he rode his horse into the enemy camp and demanded – and won – the surrender of 1500 troops. Toussaint also strictly forbade torching and looting; “when the whites and mulattoes realized they had no atrocities to fear from him and that their women were protected they surrendered to him almost eagerly.” (p. 73)

Meanwhile, another menace was growing. The British, prompted by the appeals of the St. Domingue landowners, began to advance on the island. They swept easily up from Jeremie through Mole St. Nicholas and Leogane, encountering little resistance. Where stubbornness was encountered, the unscrupulous British commander Whitelocke offered hefty bribes to the officers. One who turned him down was Laveaux, and with particular vigor. However, Laveaux was also running short of money and supplies, and so sought to contact Toussaint to open negotiations. (Parkinson, p. 74)

This Gilded African to page 65

I’m finding Parkinson’s book a good source of stimulation for thinking about character traits, interactions, and motivations. However, I get the occasional feeling that she’s got the facts wrong, and some of her conclusions, in my opinion, reach rather far afield, as in a paragraph on page 52 where she ascribes to Toussaint a rather 20th century view of Voodoo and its place in the building of nations.

Take also, for example, the story of Toussaint’s lineage. Parkinson repeats the story that Toussaint was the son of the African chief Gaougainou, an oft-repeated point I’ve been inclined to reject based on Korngold’s reasoning. However, Parkinson also says that Toussaint’s wife Suzanne was the daughter of Pierre Baptiste (p. 36), the man widely regarded as Toussaint’s godfather, and who Korngold argues is Toussaint’s natural father. Would Toussaint have married his own sister? Korngold only says that Suzanne was _related_ to Pierre Baptiste.

Moreover, Toussaint seems to be thoroughly Christian, rejects Vodun, and professes to love France – not the characteristics one would expect of the son of an African king. Korngold says that Toussaint acknowledged only one father, Pierre Baptiste.

If Parkinson is correct, I can imagine a set of circumstances that would tie the stories together:

*What if:* Gaougainou was in fact an African king who was given his liberty by the kind-hearted manager of the Breda plantation. However, although he had his freedom, Gaougainou, seeing what was happening to his people and powerless to end it, became bitter and angry, striking out and physically abusing his wife and children. Toussaint spent more time in Pierre Baptiste’s comforting presence, eventually coming to see Baptiste as his father. After a time, Toussaint completely split with his natural father.

Or perhaps Toussaint’s father was crazy, and the child sought solace in the presence of Baptiste. There are many variations on this premise that might drive Toussaint to reject his African-born father. However, I still tend to think that Pierre Baptiste really was Toussaint’s father. It’s the simplest explanation for Toussaint’s beliefs and actions.


Placide, Suzanne’s first child, was the son of a mulatto named Seraphim Le Clerc. How ironic is that? (p. 36)


Toussaint wrote “the revolution found me with about 648,000 francs.” Would it have been possible for a slave to accumulate that much money by savings alone or, as Korngold suggests, does this suggest a large payoff to Toussaint for his role in the Boukman Rebellion? How could slaves accumulate wealth?


Toussaint grew up on a kindly plantation with a certain amount of freedom and responsibility. His small stature contributed to his determination not to be taken advantage of, and he trained himself every day until he was in peak physical condition. Toussaint was put in charge of the garden and later the animals.


Toussaint was not racist or vengeful. He was hopeful, balanced, only wanting to use war as a means to an end. (p. 37)


Continue reading This Gilded African to page 65

Is Aristide playing Toussaint?

I posted this question to the “Haiti List”:http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/library/mailing.htm last night, and I think it’s at least an interesting question, if also nothing more than idle speculation…

I’m probably the last person in the world to get this, right? Am I the slow one? If so, forgive me. I’m new to this stuff…

I was reading a bit tonight from “The Black Liberator”:http://www.biblio.com/books/1278315.html, by Stephen Alexis, and was struck by this thought: did Aristide intentionally identify himself with Louverture in hopes of inspiring a populist uprising?

In his “first speech from exile”:http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=20040306085832.24952.00000969%40mb-m26.aol.com&oe=UTF-8&output=gplain, Aristide is reported to have said:

bq. “In overthrowing me, they have uprooted the trunk of the liberty. It will grow back because its roots are many and deep.” In the shadow of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the genius of the race. I declare in overthrowing me they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace, but it will grow back because the roots are L’Ouverturian.

Toussaint said these words when he was first taken in chains on board the ship that would carry him to France. As Alexis tells it,

bq. “[On board the _Heros_] he was received by General Savary, who told him, to add to his humiliation: ‘You won’t be able to play the Negro Napoleon any more now, will you?’ Toussaint gave the French officer a scornful glance, and then said, speaking slowly, as though he were reading the future: ‘By overthrowing me, you have merely succeeded in cutting the trunk of Saint Domingue’s Tree of Liberty: but it will grow again, for the roots are deep, and many.'”

So… Setting aside for a moment the question of whether he actually was kidnapped, in claiming that he was, is Aristide trying to send a coded message to his fellow Haitians? After all, Toussaint was betrayed, forcibly removed from the country along with many of his family and supporters, and left to rot in a prison cell in an isolated fort. His betrayal and Leclerc’s subsequent attempt to disarm the slaves turned the tide of opinion and led to the slaves’ ultimate victory.

Does anyone know if Aristide invoked sentiment from this stage of history at other points in his political career?

On a different note, I came across this quote in Wenda Parkinson’s “This Gilded African”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0704321874/qid=1079028594/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/102-4368411-0762526?v=glance&s=books&n=507846: “The islands [of the Caribbean], geographically and historically, are vulnerable targets for commercialism, a free-for-all for astute foreign businessman and politicians whether under the guise of trade or aid.”

What do you think? Is that just the way it is?

The Black Liberator

I’ve been skipping around to different books in my collection lately. Recently, I spent some time with _Black Liberator, The Life of Toussaint Louverture_, by Stephen Alexis (translated and abridged by William Stirling from Alexis’ _Toussaint Louverture, Lib�rataur d’Haiti_)

The book lists Alexis as “Formerly Haitian Minister at the Court of St. James.” The jacket bio also says he was permanent Haitian delegate to the United Nations, and that he organized the First National Museum in Haiti.

It seems quite plausible that Mr. Alexis knows what he’s talking about, and much of what he writes jibes with what I already understand about Toussaint’s history. Unfortunately, though, the book lists no sources except occasionally within the text itself. I have not been able to turn up any biographical information for Alexis yet online, either. I am forced to exclude this as a credible source for the moment; I hope to find the original French text to see if there is a bibliography or footnotes which would let me verify this version of the facts.

Nevertheless, there is some interesting material to be read herein concerning the period leading up to Toussaint’s capture.

bq. “Another reason which led Toussaint to favour negotiations was the fact that Leclerc and other French Generals were achieving no small measure of success in undermining the loyalty of some of Toussaint’s lieutenants.” (pp. 196-7)

This is a compelling argument for Toussaint’s eventual capture – he may have believed himself out of options and was betting that Brunet would be honorable. His own generals were committing acts of perfidy, betrayal, and desertion at every turn. He must not have felt in control. (I wonder, is there any evidence that he was sick or depressed? Is there any evidence that he was _ever_ depressed? Was he exhausted? As I read in Parkinson, he had been in a similar position of imminent defeat very early in the revolution, and had attempted to negotiate a respite by promising to return the blacks under his command to slavery. Was he trying to repeat that gambit?)

On Toussaint leaving his army:

bq. “It was a bright May morning when Toussaint took leave of his comrades in arms in the little town of La Marmelade. Summoning his troops to the Place D’Armes, he announced that he had just made his peace with Leclerc. With controlled emotion, he extolled his men’s valour and their loyalty to himself; ‘Never forget that you are the guardians of the honour of your race.” (p. 203)

Alexis describes Toussaint keeping a stiff upper lip, while his “five thousand soldiers wept unrestrainedly.”

On page 204, Alexis paints the picture of a defeated Toussaint, a man who retires to Desachaux no longer to wear the military uniform, but rather the “costume of a landowner – long white tunic and white trousers and a broad-brimmed straw hat.”

Alexis maintains that Toussaint’s nephew, Bernard Chancy, followed him into a church one day:

bq. “Chancy saw his uncle walk slowly up to the altar where there stood a beautiful marble crucifix, which he himself had presented to the church. With an angry countenance Toussaint stared at the image, and then, in the bitterness of his defeat, he proceeded to apostrophize it: ‘You! You are the God of the white men, not the God of the Negroes! You have betrayed men, and deserted me! You have no pity for my race!’ And with a violent movement of his hand, this man, who feared only God, hurled the crucifix to the ground, where it lay shattered in a thousand pieces.”

On pages 206-207, Alexis points to evidence that Toussaint was directing the resistance from behind the scenes, though I can’t quite understand how that jibes with his description of Toussaint as defeated and in despair. Not that it doesn’t add up, but I would really love to find a more detailed description of Toussaint’s behavior and actions at this time. (Another reason I want to find Alexis’ sources.)

Starting on page 208, Alexis describes Toussaint’s betrayal by Leclerc and Brunet. Brunet lured Toussaint to his residence with a promise of friendship and hospitality. It took him a matter of minutes to turn traitor. Good dialog here:

bq. “Drawing his sword, Tousssaint leaped to his feet, his eyes flashing angrily. ‘Useless, General,’ said Ferrari, the officer in charge, and one of Leclerc’s personal aides. ‘Your men are already in chains, our troops command the entire countryside, and you are surrounded. The Captain-General has ordered me to arrest you. You no longer count for anything in Saint Domingue: surrender your sword.”

bq. Later, “He was then taken on board the _Creole_, which had been lying off Gonaives for more than a week, and was greeted with a crude remark from the master of the ship: ‘Ha! So we’ve got you at last, eh, Toussaint?’ The Negro leader, who had not uttered a word since his arrest, retorted with cold fury: ‘Yes, you have my head, but not my tail.’

bq. “[On board the _Heros_] he was received by General Savary, who told him, to add to his humiliation: ‘You won’t be able to play the Negro Napoleon any more now, will you?’ Toussaint gave the French officer a scornful glance, and then said, speaking slowly, as though he were reading the future: ‘By overthrowing me, you have merely succeeded in cutting the trunk of Saint Domingue’s Tree of Liberty: but it will grow again, for the roots are deep, and many.'”

bq. “Tears filled his eyes when his fourteen-year-old son, Saint Jean, ran to him weeping, and clasped his legs. Gently he stroked the boy’s head, and then pushed him away, saying, as he looked steadily into his eyes: ‘My son must not cry. He must learn to be brave in misfortune, and dream of the future.'” (pp. 209 – 210)

This Sonthonax fellow sounds like an intriguing character. There is a recent biography of him which is on my list to acquire. It sounds like he was an abolitionist ahead of his time.

“The Negroes had never forgotten how Leger Felicite Sonthonax had told them that if the white men sought to take away the guns he had given them, then the white men meant to enslave them.” (p. 211)

On page 212, Alexis describes Leclerc’s spiral downward into desperation He is constantly writing letters asking for more troops and more money.

bq. “At the landing of the splendid troops of the French expeditionary force Toussaint had cried out: ‘What criminal folly to expose this army on the brink of a volcano!’ And Leclerc was now learing the bitter truth of this.”

bq. Leclerc died “‘groaning about the folly of man.’ He was thirty years old.”

The Haitians and the Irish

_[The Louverture Project welcomes new contributor R. P. Remarque.]_

Similarities between the horrendous, compounding devastation in Haiti from Toussaint’s ousting until the present day, and the horrifying poverty and pulverizing political suppression of the Irish that peaked during, and after, the ‘Great Hunger’ years of the 1845-49 potato famine years, are startling.

Certainly they are not exact. One basic difference is that the Irish were crushed essentially because of unforgiving religious intolerance: Protestantism stridently vs. Catholicism. In addition, the Irish were perceived by the English as a race and as such were targeted for more or less legitimized slow extermination almost continuously since the Norman Invasion of 1169. The closer analogy to Haiti is that for centuries the Irish and their land were exploited for all they were worth … the same long-standing villainy that has driven Haiti and its people into senseless destitution.

The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham Smith,* which chronicles the Great Hunger years, is much in need of tightening and organization. Even so, the appalling story that weeps through the pages of this well-documented history contains haunting echos of what you’re reading on this site about Haiti. Select another history of that time if you prefer; the basic facts remain the same. Whatever your source, perhaps some lessons from Ireland can illuminate Haiti’s ‘Troubles.’

Among the parallels between the two:

IRELAND: At the time of the Great Famine, England already had been strangling Ireland for nearly seven centuries.

HAITI: Haiti (Quisqueya/Hispaniola/St. Domingue) has been strangling from within … and additionally has been strangled from without … almost continuously since the Portuguese explorer Christopher Columbus stuck his unwelcome Spanish-sponsored boot there over seven centuries ago.

IRELAND: The English government’s laissez-faire attitude toward Ireland guaranteed deepening disaster because as conditions within Ireland worsened her people became increasingly unable to improve their lot from within.

HAITI: Haiti’s intensifying poverty and chronic lack of healthy leadership has left her people increasingly unable to fend for themselves. From your posting entitled ‘The End of Nationhood,’ copyright 2004 John Maxwell: ‘A country whose infrastructure has been destroyed, whose best and brightest have fled after a century of sponsored abuse, is expected to pull itself up, as Americans say, by its own bootstraps. As you will discover if you try, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps simply breaks your back.’�
Continue reading The Haitians and the Irish