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7213: Oral history if Toussaint Louverture Bell Replies (fwd)

From: madison bell <mbell@goucher.edu>

This reply is mostly prompted by the post from Robin Boucard.

Some points and little known facts about Toussaint Louverture:

1.   He was most certainly literate, and quite well read.  He had read 
Raynal's History of the West Indies, which predicted that a "Black 
Spartacus" would appear to bring the African slaves of the Caribbean out of 
slavery by revolution.  He is supposed to have been fond of Epictetus, the 
Stoic philosopher who had been a slave.  Just when he learned to read is 
not certain.  He himself sometimes claimed that he had taught himself to 
read and write in middle age, shortly before the Revolution, but it seems 
more likely that he was literate from an earlier point, perhaps even from 

Relatedly, some commentators, claim that Toussaint did not speak French, 
but only Kreyol.  The truth is that he did speak, read and understand 
French with perfect fluency.  His spelling of French was quite uncertain, 
however, and for that reason he relied on secretaries to whom he 
dictated.  But he most definitely read over what they wrote and the choice 
of words was wholly his own.  Some late letters written in his own hand, 
without a secretary, from his prison at the Fort de Joux survive and these 
are clearly written in French, not Creole, though in phonetic spellings.

2.	Toussaint probably never did travel outside the island Hispaniola, where 
he was born.  And he certainly did not go as far as Europe.  However he did 
have agents and spies in England, France, the United States and neighboring 
Caribbean colonies, and perhaps in other places too, and he was quite 
well-informed about what went on in those countries.  It is quite possible 
that Russia was aware of him and interested in him, as Boucard 
suggests.  There is a weird  Russian novel from the Stalinist period by 
somebody called Vinogradov, featuring scenes of Toussaint in Paris, but 
this is not founded on fact.

3.	Portraits of Toussaint Louverture do not resemble each other much and 
many do not resemble descriptions of Toussaint either.   Many of the 
so-called portraits were done by artists who never actually saw the 
subject, so the situation was like when European artists tried to make 
pictures of buffalo on the basis of description alone.  The most reliable 
portrait of Toussaint is the well known full profile of him in his 
general's hat-- this portrait, a miniature, was drawn from life and given 
as a gift to the French commissioner Roume.   There are some others that 
seem fairly accurate also.  You can take a look at several on this website:


4.  Toussaint was free at the time of the Revolution and owned land and 
slaves himself.  This discovery was made from research on property records 
in the 1970s.   The date of his freedom is not certain.   Max Beauvoir told 
our group during the Man of the Millenium celebration  (if I remember 
correctly) that Toussaint's marriage certificate has been found and that it 
states that he had NEVER been a slave.  Other scholars have also theorized 
that Toussaint may have been free from birth.

Boucard's post reminds me that biographies of Toussaint in English are 
scant.  I think the best of them is Ralph Korngold's  CITIZEN TOUSSAINT, 
out of print, but findable in libraries.   Wenda Parkinson's THIS GILDED 
AFRICAN is not bad and may be still in print, I am not sure.   A 
considerable amount of information on Toussaint is found in CLR James THE 
BLACK JACOBINS.  All these books are dated, though and do not take into 
account more recent discoveries such as the fact that Toussaint was free at 
the time of the Revolution.   The information about Toussaint found in my 
two novels about the Revolution, ALL SOULS' RISING and MASTER OF THE 
CROSSROADS, is as accurate as I was able to make it.  But Gillespie's PAPA 
TOUSSAINT may be a more convenient reference because (I think-- I am 
holding off on reading this book until I complete my own third novel on 
Toussaint's career) although it too is a novel, Gillespie maintains a very 
strict fidelity to fact, and it does cover the whole story in one volume.