Toussaint’s Clause

The prolific Professor Corbett has posted a review of Gordon Brown’s Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution.

The book looks at the influence of Haiti on early American foreign policy. From Amazon’s book description:

In its formative years, America, birthplace of a revolution, wrestled with a volatile dilemma. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and many other founding fathers clashed. What was to be the new republic’s strategy toward a revolution roiling just off its shores?

From 1790-1810, the disagreement reverberated far beyond Caribbean waters and American coastal ports. War between France and Britain, the great powers of the time, raged on the seas and in Europe. America watched aghast as its wealthy trading partner Haiti, a rich hothouse of sugar plantations and French colonial profit, exploded in a rebellion led by former slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

“Toussaint’s Clause: The Founding Fathers and the Haitian Revolution” narrates the intricate history of one of America’s early foreign policy balancing acts and one of the nation’s defining moments. The supporters of Toussaint’s rebellion against France at first engineered a bold policy of intervention in favor of the rebels. But Southern slaveholders, such as Jefferson, eyed the slave-general’s rise and masterful leadership skills with extreme alarm and eventually obtained a reversal of the policy — even while taking advantage of the rebellion to make the fateful Louisiana purchase.

Far from petty, the internal squabbles among America’s founders resolved themselves in delicate maneuvers in foreign capitols and on the island. The stakes were mortally high — a misstep could have plunged the new, weak and neutral republic into the great powers’ global war. In “Toussaint’s Clause”, former diplomat and ambassador Gordon S. Brown details the founding fathers’ crisis over Haiti and their rancorous struggle, which very often cut to the core of what America meant by revolution and liberty.

Treatment of prisoners of war in Revolutionary times

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a couple of weeks ago about the abuse of prisoners of war by American soldiers and CIA agents. Of interest to readers of this blog was Friedman’s reference to the book “Washington’s Crossing,” by David Hackett Fischer. Friedman writes:

bq. What is particularly moving is one of Mr. Fischer’s concluding sections, “An American Way of War,” in which he contrasts how Washington dealt with prisoners of war with how the British and Hessian forces did: “According to the ‘the laws’ of European war, quarter was the privilege of being allowed to surrender and to become a prisoner. By custom and tradition, soldiers in Europe believed that they had a right to extend quarter or deny it. … In these ‘laws of war,’ no captive had an inalienable right to be taken prisoner, or even to life itself.”

bq. American attitudes were very different. “With some exceptions, American leaders believed that quarter should be extended to all combatants as a matter of right. … Americans were outraged when quarter was denied to their soldiers.” In one egregious incident, at the battle at Drake’s Farm, British troops murdered all seven of Washington’s soldiers who had surrendered, crushing their brains with muskets.

bq. “The Americans recovered the mutilated corpses and were shocked,” wrote Mr. Fischer. The British commander simply denied responsibility. “The words of the British commander, as much as the acts of his men,” wrote Mr. Fischer, “reinforced the American resolve to run their own war in a different spirit. … Washington ordered that Hessian captives would be treated as human beings with the same rights of humanity for which Americans were striving. The Hessians … were amazed to be treated with decency and even kindness. At first they could not understand it.” The same policy was extended to British prisoners.

The insight I get from this has to do with Toussaint Louverture’s treatment of prisoners during the Haitian Revolution. Louverture was roundly praised for his humanity to captured soldiers, and it seems this is all the more remarkable considering that he would have been well within the norms of the day to mistreat them in the extreme.

Reflecting on the previous post about Haitians in the American Revolution, I wonder if there was an opportunity for Christophe and others to bring back any of Washington’s values. Could the father of Haiti have been influenced by the father of America?

This is purely idle speculation, mind you, but it would be interesting if there were any evidence either way on the subject.

Jacob Lawrence and the Toussaint Louverture series

The blog Art for a Change recently ran this post on Jacob Lawrence, an African-American painter who, in 1938 at the age of 21, produced a 41-panel series depicting the life of Toussaint Louverture.

At least one of the links in the original post is broken, so here are some other links to biographies of Jacob Lawrence and to images of the Toussaint series:

* 15 color prints from the series.

* More images from an exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum.

* An extensive list of Jacob Lawrence links at World Wide Arts Resources.

* Biographies at and the University of Maryland Art Gallery.

* A9 collection of other images online.

List of Famous People of Haitian Descent

Thanks to James L-C for permission to reprint the following list of famous people of Haitian descent. There were some surprises for me on this list. Anyone know of any to add? ~ed.

UPDATE: J.S. Alexis has emailed the following to the editors: “In your list of famous people of Haitian descent, you should add actor Sydney Poitier. His father was a Haitian farmer.”


W.E.B. Dubois – Famous American Civil Rights Leader whose parents migrated from Haiti

Toussaint Louverture “The Black Napoleon” – Black Freedom fighter who in 1803 would open the way for the First Black Republic in the World, Ayiti (Haiti). He died in a french jail before seeing a free Haiti, which in 1804 became the 2nd country in the Americas after the U.S. to become independent

Jean-Jacques Dessalines – Leader of the First Black Republic in the World

Alexandre Petion – Haitian Leader who would help the founder of Latin American Independence, Simon Bolivar (The country of Bolivia is named after him), by providing weapons and soldiers with the promise Bolivar would free all the slaves in places he liberated. The flag of Venezuela was actually sewed together in Haiti

Henry Christophe – Famous Haitian King who build the Citadelle in Haiti which is a huge fortress representing freedom. As a young boy, he was one of many slave soldiers recruited by the French in then the colony of Saint Domingue (which would later become Haiti) to fight alongside the Americans in the American Revolution in 1779 against the British in Savanah Georgia. Today, there is a Statue in Savanah Georgia representing the little known fact of Haiti’s small contributions in U.S. History


John James Audubon – Was born in Haiti and would become a legendary, revered bird watcher and art enthusiast in America. The Audubon Society is named after him

Jean Michel Basquiat – Son of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents who was a graffiti artist in NYC using the tag SAMO who would later become one of the most successful, controversial and glamorous artists in the world

Jacques Stephen Alexis – Haitian writer who is a descendant of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. One of his works is GENERAL SUN, MY BROTHER

Ludovic Lamothe – A graduate of L’Institution Saint Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince Haiti, he was sent to Paris to study music composition. He is one of Haiti’s most renowned classical composers

Wyclef Jean – Musician, singer and producer who founded the Fugees

Praz – The other guy from the Fugees

Won-G – Haitian American Rapper who has a video out with Paris Hilton. Wait…Not that kind of video (imagine the outrage of P.H. caught doing it with a black guy). This one is actually not rated X and is a music video

Edwidge Danticat – Famous Haitian American writer of such books like THE FARMING OF THE BONES and KRIC? KRAC?

Quddus – Haitian Canadian MTV VJ / Model

Oswald Durand – Haitian Poet who wrote “choucoune” which would later become the lyrics for the songs “little bird” by Harry Belafonte.

Alexandre Dumas – French writer who is the son of a Haitian slave woman and a French soldier. His famous writings includes, THE THREE MUSKETEERS and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO

Gabrielle Casseus – Actor in movies such as BLACK HAWK DOWN, and BEDAZZLED

Vanessa Williams – Not the singer, but the one who acts in SOUL FOOD the series.

Tyrone Edmond – Famous Haitian model

Jimmy Saint Louis – Famous Haitian actor / model. He was in THE BOURNE IDENTITY, TEARS OF THE SUN, and soon to be released THE GAMES OF THEIR LIVES where he plays the role of Haitian Joe Gaetzens (see sports below). {I have a cameo in this movie by the way, where I play the role of soccer players Eddie Pope and Robin Frazer ~J~}

Garcelle Beauvais – Born in Haiti and moved to NY. She would become a model than an actress on NYPD Blue

Gary Dourdain – Actor from CSI Las Vegas. His parents or grandparents came from Haiti. Sadly enough, his older brother died in Haiti (there are questions as to whether he was pushed off a balcony, or simply fell) while on a visit there to research his Haitian lineage

Marjorie Vincent – Daughter of Haitian immigrants who would become Miss America in 1991

Raoul Peck – Haitian Film director who has many films in his credits. One of which is the famous documentary LUMUMBA: Death of a Prophet

Josephine Premice – Haitian born American actress/dancer/singer. Some of her acting credits is THE JEFFERSONS, THE COSBY SHOW, A DIFFERENT WORLD…

Rene Depestre – Famous Haitian writer of many books, one of which is THE FESTIVAL OF THE GREASY POLE

Jacques Roumain – Famous Haitian writer and one of his most famous work is GOUVERNEURS DE LA ROSEE

Jean-Jean Pierre – Haitian composer, musician, journalist, and playwright, who was profiled on the New York Times Public Lives segment in December 23rd 2004

Ronal and Rony Delice – Haitian Brothers who are acclaimed fashion designers in New York City


Pierre Toussaint – Haitian born slave who is under consideration by the Vatican for canonization for his humanitarian work in New York

Elizabeth Clarisse Lange – Freed slave who first migrated to Cuba then to Baltimore, Maryland. In Baltimore, she founded the first Catholic school for black children, the St. Francis Academy. Today, she is also being considered for canonization by the Vatican


Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable – Free Black Slave from Haiti who would become a very successful trader in America. In 1779, he established the first permanent settlement of the city of Chicago. He is known today as the founder of that city.

Dr. Rose Marie Toussaint – One of only two women liver transplant surgeon in the world

Joseph Laroche – Haitian businessman traveling with his french wife and kids on the Titanic which was somewhat of a choc to people to see a black man and his white wife traveling aboard a very expensive ocean liner at that time. He was taking his family to live in Haiti when he died with many others on the sunken ship. We all know what happened. She along with their 2 kids survived. He didn’t. He was the only black man to die on the Titanic. His wife and kids never made it to Haiti as they decided to return to France

Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph – She is the new president of MassBay Community College in Massachussetts


Joe Gaetjens – Haitian born soccer player who scored amazing goal for the underdog U.S. in match against mighty England in 1950 World Cup of Soccer in Brazil. This game is still today one of the biggest upset in sports history. He would later die under mysterious circumstances in Haiti under Papa Doc (see below). In 1976 he was inducted into the United States Soccer Federation Hall of fame.

William Joseph – DT for NY Giants

Jonathan Vilma – LB for NY Jets

Samuel Dalembert – C for Philadelphia 76rs

Mario Elie – Former G for Houston Rockets

Olden Polynice – Former NBA player

Bruny Surin – Haitian / Canadian Track and field star


Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier along with his father Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, combined to ruled Haiti under a brutal dictatorship for about 30 yrs. Papa Doc was the inspiration of Graham Greene in his book and movie adaptation of THE COMEDIANS. When Baby Doc left for France in 1986, it is estimated he took most of the country’s wealth with him. Today he lives broke in the South of France with his wife having taken most of the stolen money before leaving him


Danny Glover – American Actor and Activist who’s been working for the past decade to get Hollywood to make a movie on TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE. Unfortunately, Hollywood thinks the story is too black.

Jonathan Demme – Film Producer who just recently released THE AGRONOMIST a story of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique who died under shady circumstances

Lauryn Hill – Much love for you girl. Can’t wait for the FUGEES reunion concert this summer in Haiti. You bet I will be on the plane to PAP

Katherine Dunham – The Matriarch of black American dance, she spend many years in Haiti studying Haitian dances. She incorporates many Haitian dances in her works. If you found this instructive, let me know. If I am missing anyone from this list, let me know. My job is to promote my culture in a positive light and if you have learned something new, than I did a good job. Like we say in kreyol, “deye mon se mon”, which means behind every mountains is many more mountains – in short, the struggle continues.

Peace! ~J~

Review of Geggus’ book

Martin Munro has published a review of David Geggus’ “The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World”: The review appears in the latest issue of Modern Language Review, and is available electronically for a fee of $10.83 at “IngentaConnect”: (registration required; other delivery options available).

Haiti 1804 at the Carrie Art Collection

Via the VT Haiti mail list, we find that the Carrie Art Collection in Petionville, Haiti, has “posted a gallery of revolution-themed Haitian Art”: From their email:

bq. The Carrie Art Collection is pleased to present the virtual exhibit of Haitian Art entitled “Haiti1804”:

bq. In 1804 the slaves of Saint-Domingue overthrew their French colonial masters in what was to be one of the most earthshaking and traumatic uprisings of the 19th century.

bq. Haiti and the Haitian People were born of this struggle, both unique in the modern world. And then came Haitian Art.

bq. If art speaks of what is most precious to people, then the focus Haitian art has on Haitian history speaks of the Haitian people’s pride in their exceptional heritage.

bq. The Carrie Art Collection has selected from among Haiti’s finest artists, to present “Haiti1804”. Visit now and discover the magic of Haitian history and Haitian art.

bq. The Carrie Art Collection
121 Juvenat, # 5
Petionville, Haiti
Telephone: (509) 401-0145

They have a nice collection of images posted, and each image is accompanied by a bit of history in both English and French. The prices are a bit steep for me, but at least the viewing is free.

More from James… to page 56

This is the kind of thing about C.L.R. James’ writing that I have problems with: In a section where he writes of the horrific punishment meted out by a paranoid planter named LeJeune, this statement appears:

p. 23, “The judges, after a thousand delays, returned a negative verdict.”

Okay, I know the writer is showing disdain for the one-sided justice of the day, but the hyperbolic prose weakens his usefulness as a source of information. Were there really 1,000 delays? Did this extend for days, weeks, years? What kind of delays? What was their nature?

I know this seems like a minor point, but after James has presented more than a page of details about the case, encountering a sloppy statement like this feels rather jarring.

Aside from that, I’m appreciating James more as he sets the stage for the revolution. Through page 61, he is describing the political and economic forces that led up to the French and Haitian revolutions.

In Haiti, among the plantation owners, James describes a culture of indulgence and mercantile tunnel-vision. Plantation owners were anxious to squeeze every drop they could out of Saint Domingue so that they could earn enough money to retire to France. This intentionally rootless existence gave rise to a singular debauchery that has overtones of the squalor that is extant in Haiti’s cities today.

The flow of money and the virtual isolation from the homeland produced a wave of corruption so powerful that even priests were swept up in it, some openly living with mistresses.

Many nationalities co-existed here, and many of the residents were criminals or failures in their own lands. In Haiti simply having white skin meant respect and the opportunity for a clean start.

Of course, the issue of one’s “whiteness” was complicated when mulatto children started becoming numerous. To preserve the white’s superior status, mixed-breeds were classified through a system of 128 gradations of Negro. A man could be 127 parts white and 1 part black and still be considered black. “In a slave society, the mere possession of personal freedom is a valuable privilege, and the laws of Greece and Rome testify that severe legislation against slaves and freedmen have nothing to do with the race question. Behind all this elaborate tom-foolery of quarteron, sacatra and marabou, was the one dominating fact of San Domingo society – fear of the slaves.”

James’ description of the Mulattoes’ growing influence reminds me of the Scots and the Jews. Like them, the Mulattoes came to dominate economically by being thrifty, smart, and by quietly acquiring wealth and property and squeezing out the whites who were struggling to keep up. Though James doesn’t mention it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mulattoes didn’t also give preferential treatment to others of their group.
Continue reading More from James… to page 56