Review of Geggus’ book

Martin Munro has published a review of David Geggus’ “The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World”:http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?isbn=1570034168. The review appears in the latest issue of Modern Language Review, and is available electronically for a fee of $10.83 at “IngentaConnect”:http://www.ingentaconnect.com/search/expand?pub=infobike://mhra/mlr/2005/00000100/00000001/art00052 (registration required; other delivery options available).

This Gilded African to page 111

It is beginning to emerge that there were two factions fighting for independence in St. Domingue – Toussaint in the north and Rigaud in the south. While Toussaint instilled discipline in his troops and demanded equality and fair treatment, the efforts of Rigaud and the mulattos were marked by distrust and petty jealousies. (Parkinson p. 99) In the mulatto-dominated south, “Whites and blacks were equally badly treated, jailed for no reason and held without trial for the slightest offense. The mulattoes were so confident of their authority that they were openly corrupt and too arrogant to care who knew it.” (p. 103) Toussaint had no choice but to tolerate Rigaud’s excesses as his army was responsible for holding off the British in the south. For their part, the mulattos resented the influence that Toussaint held over Laveaux, and, as they needed Toussaint and his army, they plotted amongst themselves to remove Laveaux and install a mulatto governor. (pp. 99-101)

The mulattos were sorely disappointed, however. With Toussaint’s backing, a force of local cultivators was raised and Laveaux was released; then, in a ceremony in Le Cap on the first of April, 1796, with 10,000 troops standing at attention, Laveaux declared Toussaint Lieutenant Governor.

At Laveaux’ request, France sent another set of Commissioners. Sonthonax, having been found innocent of charges of treason returned, as did Roume, who was given charge of the Spanish sector. The mulatto Raimond completed the set. “The Commissioners landed bearing with them [as gifts to Toussaint] an ornamental sword and a brace of pistols of superb workmanship. They also carried an invitation for him to send his two sons to France where they could receive the finest education and would be the responsibility of the Republic.” (p. 103)

Sonthonax deported Villatte and launched an ill-fated attempt to investigate Laveaux’ arrest. Sonthonax’ clumsiness and Laveaux’ ill-health and yearning to return to France prompted Toussaint to nudge these two Frenchmen out of the colony. When France asked for “representatives to the new French Chamber of Deputies and to the Senate, Toussaint “volunteered” Sonthonax and Laveux. Laveaux did in fact leave, but Sonthonax refused the appointment and stayed put. (pp. 105-106)

“In the spring of 1797 [Toussaint] made a sudden attack upon several British outposts, taking them with ease and capturing valuable cannon, arms and prisoners. A grateful Sonthonax appointed him Commander in Chief in a ceremony in the Place d’Armes.” (p. 107)

Sonthonax had come to despise the whites, feelings which were equally returned in light of his efforts to emancipate and arm the slaves. He tried several times to enlist Toussaint’s help in massacring or banishing the whites and establishing an independent state. Firmly rebuked, Sonthonax pleaded with Toussaint to forget the matter, but the general knew that Sonthonax was out of control and had to be removed. (pp. 106-107)

Toussaint “wrote a long report to the Directory of all Sonthonax’ unbalanced plans.” The Directory was also hearing from planters who wanted the Commissioner recalled. Sonthonax, though, became even more determined to see his dream of an independent black state to fruition, and began to sow dissent among Toussaint’s army. After putting down a mutiny, Toussaint could no longer tolerate the Commissioner’s presence. Diplomatically, firmly, and with the force of threat behind him, he accompanied a blustering Sonthonax to the frigate L’Indien. After due consideration, Toussaint also sent his two children, Placide and Isaac, to France to be educated, finally taking up the offer that the Commissioners had brought with them the previous year. (pp. 108-111)

This Gilded African to page 98

Sonthonax was recalled to France to face trail for treason, leaving Laveaux in charge of the colony. (p. 83) Toussaint gained a reputation for being an inexhaustable and unpredictable foe. Indeed, the quotes Parkinson includes on page 84 invoke a certain awe of the man.

Toussaint was betrayed by the mulattos at St. Marc, an event which would deeply damage his trust in members of that race. He suffered more mulatto defections at Petite Rivi�re and Verrettes; at these towns and in Mirebelais he succeeded in taking the victory, only to suffer a reversal of fortune. He fought for five months to retake Mirebelais, finally succeeding in June 1795. (pp. 84-5)

Parkinson describes a poignant scene between Toussaint and the Marquis d’Espinville, commander of the French emigrees which underscores Toussaint’s honor. Toussaint, in ill-fitting and horse-sweat stained uniform versus the marquis’ elegant refinement. Toussaint swore to treat d’Espinville’s forces honorably, and was true to his word, to the point of defending them against the bringing of a court martial. (p. 85)

Another incident illustrates an essential point. Toussaint’s soldiers surrounded a group of planters attempting to leave Mirebelais with their gold and possessions. For all the planters knew, the rumors of Toussaint’s vicious murderousness were true, but Toussaint immediately allayed their fears and offered them an escort to Port au Prince. As the author says, “there were always two motivations to his actions, the heart and the head, and he was looking to the future – he needed the whites.”

After the fighting in Mirebelais, Toussaint took the time to enjoy the comforts of the Administrator’s quarters in that city. He invited the nobles of the town to the grand house for parties. “So, for the first time in St Domingue, white, mulatto, and black met together for the purposes of pleasure.” Indeed, pleasure was apparently the right word. According to Parkinson, Toussaint’s sexual conquests were legion, though he was “puritanical” in public. (p. 88)

Two Catholic priests, Father Martini and Father Lanthenure were constant companions and great influences.

Independence meant different things to Toussaint and to his people. To the slaves (now ‘cultivators’), independence meant freedom from work. To Toussaint, independence meant the beginning of work – work to ensure continued exports and therefore the economic strength of the republic. The cultivators chafed at the idea of going back to work on the plantations, and Toussaint was shot in the leg in one such uprising. (Parkinson, p. 89) The challenge of transitioning from a slave economy to a new independent state was ahead of him.

“Toussaint fought on; he issued a proclamation: ‘O You Africans, my brothers, you who have cost me so many battles, so much labour and so much concern, you whose liberty was created with your own blood. How long will I have the shame of seeing my deluded children turn from the advice of a father who loves them.’ He told them ‘work is a virtue, it is a necessity. It is the general dignity of the State. All vagrant and idle men will be arrested and punished under the law.'” (p. 89)

He was also faced with the threat of British officers “infiltrating his army dressed in rebel uniforms and trying to persuade his men to join their forces.” (p. 91) This underscores the precarious nature of the loyalties at the time. White, black and mulatto were joining which ever force they felt furthered their interest, yet an unstable situation created enough question marks to make for unstable alliances. Perhaps this is why Toussaint could see his way to forgive officers who betrayed him.

In 1795, the Treaty of Basle with Spain ceded the eastern two-thirds of the island to France, which ended French/Spanish hostilities on the island and sent Toussaint’s former partners cum rivals Jean Fran�ois and Biassou to their respective retirements. (p. 92)

Parkinson reminds us that there were “factions in the Chamber in Paris who were pressing for the return of slavery.” (p. 93) Having now had a taste of independence, having spent blood in its pursuit, Toussaint must have seen that a return to slavery would have been disastrous. He was steeling himself for the task of securing Saint Domingue’s independence. To begin, Toussaint, Rigaud, and Beauvais launched simultaneous attacks against the British from Jeremie to M�le St. Nicholas.

The British were surprised by Toussaint’s skill on the battlefield. They expected to go to war against “a band of black bandits.” Instead, they met a highly trained army – disciplined, dignified, and devastating. Toussaint’s army managed seven victories in seven days with very little loss of men. General Maitland, on the other hand, saw his forces decimated, down to 2500 from 20,000. He had no choice but to plead for a truce. Though yellow fever certainly helped the natives’ cause, “Maitland himself conceded that Toussaint would have won even without the ravages of this terrible disease.” (p. 96)

“The military historian Fortescue writes that ‘the British Campaign in the West Indies .. cost England in army and navy little fewer than 100,000 men, half of them dead and half permanently unfit for service.’ He added: ‘the secret of England’s impotence for the six years of the war may be said to be in the two fatal words St Domingue.’ The cost in money in St Domingue alone had been �300,000 in 1794, �800,000 in 1795 and �600,000 in 1796, and all for nothing.” (p. 96)

After negotiating the British surrender, Toussaint marched his troops into Port au Prince where, despite the fears of the inhabitants, the men’s behavior was impeccable. In contrast, two British commanders scorched the earth as they left. “Toussaint had not only gained the day on the battlefield; the victory won, he now showed the enemy not only the calibre of himself but of his people.” (p. 98)

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)

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

James’ The Black Jacobins Chapter III

In this chapter, James describes the shifting balance of power in Haiti in 1789 – 91.

The French Revolution was having far-reaching effects. Suddenly, with the fall of the Bastille, the small whites in Saint Domingue, inspired by their brothers in Paris, made a determined grab for power. The wealthy bourgeoisie of the North angled for a new situation as well, while the Mulattoes were fighting, both through official and unofficial channels, to be covered under the blanket of the Rights of Man.

There were three divisions of whites in 1789, post-revolution:

# The Assembly of the North Province – wealthy merchants and bankers from LeCap
# The Assembly of St. Marc – called themselves the Patriots, condemned the usury of the northern bourgeoisie; when they couldn’t get the Mulattoes’ cooperation, they called for their extermination.
# The counter-revolutionary royalist bureaucracy.

All three groups hated the Mulattoes, yet needed their support. (pp. 66-67)

From James, p. 63:

bq. “The small whites, as soon as they heard of the fall of the Bastille, had deserted their friends the bureaucracy and joined the revolution.. There was only one hope for the bureaucrats — the Mulattoes, and the Governor instructed the commandants of the districts to adopt a new attitude towards them. ‘It has become more necessary than ever not to give them any cause for offence, to encourage them and to treat them as friends and whites.’ The retreat of race prejudice had begun.”

Prejudice had shifted out of expediency. In the vacuum of power, alliance with the Mulattoes was key. “The whites were only 30,000. The Mulattoes and free blacks were about the same, and increasing at a far greater rate than the whites.” (p. 64) The black slaves were not considered. It was seriously thought that revolution was not in their nature.

The wealthy and the bureaucrats of that colony, who had maintained a realistic and pragmatic understanding of the situation to which they were subjecting the blacks, sensed something was coming.
Continue reading James’ The Black Jacobins Chapter III