Toussaint_Louverture_-_Madison_Smartt_Bell.pdf - Acclaim for Madison Smartt Bell's Toussaint Louverture \u201cWell-researched and elegantly written\u2026

Toussaint_Louverture_-_Madison_Smartt_Bell.pdf - Acclaim...

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Unformatted text preview: Acclaim for Madison Smartt Bell's Toussaint Louverture “Well-researched and elegantly written…. Bell's portrait of Louverture is as honest as his overall assessment of his actions is generous.” —The Wall Street Journal “Absorbing and inspired…. Bell creates a world of complicated racial politics, high stakes diplomacy and a time of world change.” —The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) “Mesmerizing…. Moving…. Combines rich, lyrical prose with exhaustive detail.” —Essence “A well-researched and timely reminder that Haiti's political tra vails are no recent phenomenon.” —The Miami Herald “An important recounting of a little-known piece of history.” —The Washington Post Book World “Bell's very readable and scholarly biography unpacks the complexities of [Louverture] and his milieu.” —The Providence Journal “A readable and engaging narrative, one likely to become the standard biography in English about this remarkable figure.” —The Nation “A beautifully composed discourse on a revolutionary world, a work in a class all its own…. Like any great novelist, this biographer respects the inscrutability of human nature, thereby elevating the genre of biography to the highest level.” —The New York Sun MADISON SMARTT BELL Toussaint Louverture Madison Smartt Bell is the author of twelve novels and two collections of stories. All Souls' Rising was a nalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. A professor of English and the director of the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College, Bell lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his family. ALSO BY MADISON SMARTT BELL Lavoisier in the Year One The Stone That the Builder Refused Anything Goes Master of the Crossroads Narrative Design Ten Indians All Souls' Rising Save Me, Joe Louis Doctor Sleep Barking Man and Other Stories Soldier's Joy The Year of Silence Zero db and Other Stories Straight Cut Waiting for the End of the World The Washington Square Ensemble Aux grands marrons! Yves Benot Gerard Barthelemy Michel Rolph Trouillot Toussaint Louverture, placed in the midst of rebel slaves from the beginning of the revolution of Saint Domingue, thwarted by the Spanish and the English, attached to the French, attacked by everyone, and believing himself deceived by the whole world, had early felt the necessity of making himself impenetrable. While his age served him well in this regard, nature had also done much for him … One never knew what he was doing, if he was leaving, if he was staying; where he was going or whence he came.1 —Général Pamphile de Lacroix Does anyone think that men who have enjoyed the bene ts of freedom would look on calmly while it is stripped from them? They bore their chains as long as they knew no better way of life than slavery. But today when they have left it, if they had a thousand lives they would sacri ce them all rather than to be again reduced to slavery … We knew how to face danger to win our liberty; we will know how to face death to keep it.2 —Toussaint Louverture Contents Acknowledgments Introduction ONE Opening the Gate TWO Before the Storm THREE Turning the Tide FOUR Closing the Circle FIVE The Last Campaign SIX Toussaint in Chains SEVEN Scattering the Bones AFTERWORD The Image of Toussaint Notes Bibliography Acknowledgments My thanks to Laurent Dubois, Jacques de Cauna, Albert Valdman, and David Geggus for their extraordinarily generous help in straightening me out on numerous speci c points … but these scholars are not to be held responsible for the conclusions I then drew. I thank Marcel Dorigny, Laennec Hurbon, Jane Landers, and Alyssa Sepinwall for their aid and comfort. Grand merci et chapeau has to Fabrice Herard and Philippe Pichot for a very educational visit to the Fort de Joux. Introduction As the leader of the only successful slave revolution in recorded history, and as the founder of the only independent black state in the Western Hemisphere ever to be created by former slaves, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture can fairly be called the highest-achieving African-American hero of all time. And yet, two hundred years after his death in prison and the declaration of independence of Haiti, the nation whose birth he made possible, he remains one of the least known and most poorly understood among those heroes. In the United States, at least until recently, the fame of Toussaint Louverture has not spread far beyond the black community (which was very well aware of him and his actions for two or three generations before slavery ended here). Neither Toussaint's astounding career nor the successful struggle for Haitian independence gures very prominently in standard history textbooks—despite, or perhaps because of, their critical importance from the time they began in the late eighteenth century to the time of our own Civil War. In his own country, Toussaint Louverture is honored very highly indeed—but not unequivocally. In the pantheon of Haitian national heroes, Toussaint is just slightly diminished by the label “Precursor” of liberty and nationhood for the revolutionary slaves who took over the French colony of Saint Domingue. The title “Liberator” is reserved for Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the general ‘who took Toussaint's place in the revolutionary ‘war, ‘who presided over Haiti's declaration of independence from France, and soon after crowned himself emperor. It's true enough that Dessalines was the rst man across the nish line in the race for liberty in Haiti. But without Toussaint's catalytic role, it's unlikely that Dessalines or anyone else would have known how or where to enter that race. Today's Haiti, known until 1804 as French Saint Domingue, occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, or “Little Spain”—the name that Christopher Columbus gave it ‘when he rst arrived in 1492. The 1.3 million Taino Indians who already lived there called their homeland Ayiti, which means “mountainous place.” Most of the Indians were peaceable Arawaks, though a community of more warlike Caribs had settled, comparatively recently, on an eastern promontory, in ‘what is today the Dominican Republic. Hispaniola was not the rst landfall in the New World for Columbus's expedition, but it was the rst place ‘where he built a settlement on land, beginning ‘with timber from one of his three ships, the Santa Maria, ‘which had foundered in the Baie d'Acul, on Haiti's northwest coast. After their long, cramped voyage of uncertain destination, Columbus's sailors and soldiers may well have felt that they had blundered into paradise, especially since in the beginning the Arawaks received them as gods descended from the sky. Food grew on trees and the living was easy. The awestruck Arawaks were friendly, their women agreeably willing. The Spaniards were fascinated, among other things, by the pure gold ornaments these natives wore. Columbus left one of his crews in these pleasant conditions and sailed back to Spain to report his success and to gather more men and material to exploit it. By the time he returned, in 1493, the Arawak-Spanish honeymoon had come to an ugly end. Exasperated by the abduction and rape of Arawak women, the cacique Caonabo, one of ve chiefs who ruled the ve kingdoms into which the Arawaks had divided the island, had launched a retaliation; the fort called La Navidad was razed and a handful of the Spaniards were slain. This second time, Columbus arrived in Hispaniola ‘with seventeen ships and two hundred men, including four priests. His patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, had instructed him to convert the Indians to Christianity, and to acquire for Spain the considerable quantity of gold which their jewelry suggested they must possess. The hostilities which had broken out during Columbus's absence provided a pretext to conduct these operations by force. According to royal orders, the Arawaks were compelled to accept Christ as their savior and to labor in the mines of Cibao to extract and surrender the gold which they themselves had used only for ornament, not for money. Thirty years later, this program had reduced a native population of well over a million to something between ve and ten thousand, all of whom would eventually disappear, leaving next to no trace that they had ever existed. It was one of the most vast and successful examples of genocide recorded in human history. Columbus's second expedition also included a Spaniard named Bartolome de Las Casas, who during his rst days in Hispaniola comported himself as a conquistador, and enjoyed his own team of Indian slaves. In 1506 he returned to Spain, where he took holy orders; by 1511 he had been ordained as a Dominican priest. Back in Hispaniola, with the cooperation of a few others in the Dominican order, he began to struggle, fervently if futilely, against the cruel and fatal mistreatment of the Indians. The Spanish throne, church, and military justi ed the enslavement of the Indians on the grounds that they were idolatrous and barbarous, the latter point proved by their alleged practice of cannibalism (though it seems that few if any of Hispaniola's Indians ever were cannibals). An argument was borrowed from Aristotle to the e ect that such benighted beings were naturally meant to be slaves. The counterarguments used by Las Casas had much in common not only with the idea of natural and universal human rights which would later drive the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, but also with the liberation theology which, a full ve centuries down the road, would help bring Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leadership in Haiti. Las Casas believed that the Indians were as fully endowed with reason as the Europeans enslaving them, and that the so-called evangelical mission merely masked the Spanish greed for gold. By 1517, Las Casas could see that Indian civilization and the whole Indian race were in real and imminent danger of extermination. He joined a handful of others in suggesting that the indigenous people of Hispaniola, who died like ies in conditions of slavery, might successfully be replaced by African slaves, who seemed better able to tolerate that situation. Though often blamed for it, Las Casas did not single-handedly invent the African slave trade, which the Portuguese had already begun; he was not the only one to conceive of bringing African slaves to European New World colonies, though he was one of the rst. He lived long enough to recognize that the substitution of African slaves would not save Hispaniola's Indians after all, and before the end of his career he had become as much an advocate for the human rights of the African slaves as for those of the Indians. But the spirit of African slavery had been loosed from its bottle; it would take over three centuries, and many bloody wars, to put it to rest. Haitian Vodou, which has its deepest roots in the religions of the several tribes of Africa's west coast, also makes use of a great deal of Catholic symbolism, many of the fundamentals of charismatic Christianity, and at least a few beliefs and practices of Hispaniola's indigenous Indians, some of whom did survive long enough to interact with the African-born slaves—especially in the mountain retreats of the runaway slaves who were called matrons, or maroons. Vodou lays a great importance on the idea of kalfou, or crossroads. There is understood to be a great crossroads between the world of the living and the other world inhabited by the spirits of the dead, which is considered to be quite near to our own, though invisible. Tra c through this crossroads de nes a great deal of Vodouisant religious practice: spirits of the ancestors, amalgamated into more universal spirits called Iwa, pass through to enter the world of the living and make their needs and wishes known. In more practical terms, quantities of time and distance in Haiti are more likely to be recognized and understood in terms of intersections, rather than the lines between them. Historically, the island of Hispaniola is a tremendously important kalfou—the crossroads where Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans came together for the rst time. The fundamental pattern of their relationship all over the Western Hemisphere—dispossession and extermination of the Indians by the Europeans, who go on to exploit the seized territory with African slave labor—was set for the first time here. Though the Spaniards opened the channel to the New World for the African slave trade, they never really made full use of it. The conquistadors were much more interested in pure gold than in the riches that could be wrung from a labor-intensive plantation economy. Sugar production in Hispaniola did begin under Spanish rule, but by the end of the sixteenth century most of the conquistadors had moved on to the looting of gold-rich Indian empires on the South American continent. The plantation economy of Hispaniola (by this time more commonly called Santo Domingo, after its capital city in the southeast) was stagnant, and even the importation of slaves had slowed to a trickle. The continuous hard labor of growing cane and processing sugar was mostly abandoned in favor of cattle ranching. The early Spanish voyagers in the New World had the habit of releasing a few domestic animals—goats, pigs, or cattle—on every island where they made landfall. The practice was an investment in the future: when they next visited one of these islands, months or years later, meat would be available on the hoof. In the seventeenth century there was enough wild livestock in the western third of Hispaniola (an area only sparsely settled by the Spanish) to support a group of European hunters called “buccaneers” after the re pit, or boucan, over which they smoked their meat. At the same time, the island of Tortuga, just o Hispaniola, had become a permanent base for the flibustiers, who during Europe's frequent wars were licensed by the French government to capture enemy ships as prizes, and during peacetime captured any ships they could, as pure piracy. Despite frequent attempts, the Spaniards were unable to uproot either of these two groups. In the Windward Islands, to Hispaniola's southeast, the French had had colonies at Martinique and Guadeloupe since 1635. In 1697 a French commander appeared in western Hispaniola, by then a de facto French colony, though unrecognized by law or treaty, to recruit from the buccaneer and flibustier communities for a raid on Cartagena, a prosperous Spanish port on the coast of present-day Colombia. The smashing success of this expedition was an important factor in the cession of western Hispaniola by the Spanish in the Treaty of Ryswick later the same year. The colony of French Saint Domingue now officially existed. Once legally sanctioned, the French colonists began to turn from buccaneering and piracy toward a plantation economy, reviving the sugar production which the Spanish had let drift into dereliction. About one hundred new sugar plantations were founded in the four-year period from 1700 to 1704, and the importation of African slaves to work them increased proportionately. Pirate and buccaneer communities were notoriously short of women, and most of the colonists who began to immigrate to the new French Saint Domingue did not bring their families with them. Their idea was not to put down permanent roots in Saint Domingue (in contrast to the British colonies on the North American continent) but to make a quick killing in the lucrative sugar trade, then return to Paris to enjoy the money. Legend has it that, in response to the request of the colonial government for white women immigrants, a boatload of prostitutes was swept from the streets of Paris and shipped to Saint Domingue. Some of these ladies, faute de mieux, became matriarchs of the first families of the colony. Under these conditions, cohabitation of Frenchmen with African slave women was more or less inevitable. By 1789, 30,000 persons of mixed European-African ancestry were counted in Saint Domingue, as compared with a white population of 40,000. These mixed-blood people were sometimes called “mulattoes,” a less-than-polite term derived from the French word for “mule,” or more courteously described as “colored people”: gens de couleur. Under the British slave system, which the United States inherited, a person with as much as a sixteenth part of African blood (notably, one step further than the naked eye can detect) was de ned as black and thus subject to slavery. The French system, by contrast, recognized the gens de couleur as a third race. As the American abolitionist Wendell Phillips put it, “unlike us, the French slaveholder never forgot his child by a bondwoman. He gave him everything but his name.” 1 Some mulattoes remained in slavery, but more were freed by their fathers and became property and slave owners themselves. By 1789, the population of African slaves was estimated at 500,000 or more. A decade following the American Revolution, and just as the French Revolution began, the slaves of Saint Domingue outnumbered the white master class by at least twelve to one, and they outnumbered the combined white and colored population by at least seven to one. Most of the wealthiest sugar planters had become absentee owners, living in France on income produced by slaves governed by professional plantation managers on site. Owners of not-quite-so-pro table plantations of indigo, cotton, or (increasingly) co ee were more likely to live in the colony, with their white families, mixed-blood families, or often enough some uneasy combination of both. These plantation owners, the cream of colonial society, were commonly called grands blancs, or “big whites.” Even before the whole situation was polarized by the French Revolution, there was a degree of class tension between this group and the “little whites,” or petits blancs, a population of merchants, artisans, sailors, international transients, and fortune seekers who mostly lived in the rapidly expanding cities and towns along the coast. The entire white community was united by fervent racism and by a mutual investment in the slave system (most petits blancs hoped and intended to evolve into grands blancs), but divided by di erences of economic status and interest. The free gens de couleurvrere socially and politically excluded by the whites (their parents) and at the same time given very considerable educational and economic support. The luckiest had been sent to France for their schooling (the home government, wary of trends that might lead to an independence movement in the colony, forbade the establishment of colleges for anyone in Saint Domingue) and owned plantations and slaves themselves. Others belonged to the artisan and petty merchant class. Colored women included a famous community of courtesans; mistresses to the most powerful white men of the colony, they were renowned for their grace, beauty, charm, and nely honed professional skill. Most gens de couleur, whatever their walk of life, counted relatives among both the African slaves and the European slave masters. The gens de couleur outnumbered the whites in two of Saint Domingue's three provinces, and were an economic force to be reckoned throughout the colony, but regardless of their status within their group, they were all subject to the same vicious racial discrimination. As of 1789, the colored people had no political rights whatsoever, and were subject to numerous humiliating little rules. Their surnames, usually derived from white parentage, were required to carry the phrase le dit—a derisive “the so-called.” Colored men could not carry arms in town and were forbidden to mingle with whites in situations like church or the theater. A dress code existed for both sexes, though it was much relaxed for colored women following a strike by the notorious courtesans. At the same time, colored men were a large majority in all branches of colonial military service. In the latter half of the eighte...
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