Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture

A Biography

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
Rate this:
In 1791, Saint Domingue was both the richest and cruelest colony in the Western Hemisphere; more than a third of African slaves died within a few years of their arrival there. Thirteen years later, Haitian rebels declared independence from France after the first--and only--successful slave revolution in history. Much of the success of this uprising can be credited to one man, Toussaint Louverture--a figure about whom surprisingly little is known.

In this fascinating biography, the first about Toussaint to appear in English in more than fifty years, Madison Smartt Bell combines a novelist's passion for his subject with a deep knowledge of the historical milieu that produced the man. Toussaint has been known either as a martyr of the revolution or as the instigator of one of history's most savagely violent events. Bell shatters this binary perception, producing a clear-eyed picture of a complicated figure.

Toussaint, born a slave, became a slaveholder himself, with associates among the white planter class. Bell demonstrates how his privileged position served as both an asset and a liability, enabling him to gain the love of blacks and mulattoes as "Papa Toussaint" but also sowing mistrust in their minds.

Another of Bell's brilliant achievements is demonstrating how Toussaint's often surprising actions, such as his support for the king of France even as the French Revolution promised an end to slavery and his betrayal of a planned slave revolt in Jamaica, can be explained by his desire to achieve liberation for the blacks of Saint Domingue.

This masterly biography is a revelation of one of the most fascinating and important figures in New World history.
Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, c2007.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780375423376
Characteristics: 333 p. : maps ; 24 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

May 19, 2015

"We are black, it is true, but tell us, Gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man?"
Toussaint Louverture was born a slave in St. Domingue (now Haitit), an island renowned for its wealth and for how cruelly its slaves were treated. Louverture fought in a slave revolt (often called the only truly successful slave revolt), rose to power, and lead armies against the Spanish and the British. He allied himself with the French, but Napoleon sent a force to invade, which Louverture and his men fought to a standstill. Despite his support for Napoleon, he was betrayed, arrested, and taken to France, where he died, without trial, in a jail cell in 1803. If you're like me, you ask yourself, "how have I not heard this story?" American writer Madison Smartt Belll, who has also written a novel about the slave revolt called "All Souls' Rising, relates the fascinating narrative of slavery, freedom, war, rebellion, and racism. Louverture emerges from the mists as a captivating, if ambiguous figure, who was able to play both sides and once held slaves himself. The other major books about Louverture are by the Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James who takes a Marxist approach. Some other worthwhile books on Haiti: Graham Greene's "The Comedians," Elizabeth Abbott's "The Duvaliers," and the novels of Edwidge Danticat. "I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in Saint Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers, and fight with us for the same cause."


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SLPL

To Top