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Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Toussaint L'Ouverture

François Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (c.1743-1803) was born into slavery in northern Saint Domingue and gained his freedom in the 1770s. Toussaint, who is believed to be of Fon origin (Benin), joined Boukman Dutty's 1791 slave revolt that launched the Haitian Revolution. Toussaint, a man of small stature but great energy, intellect, and ambition, used his extraordinary skills to navigate the intrigues of the great powers as well as the shifting alliances of the colony's European, African, and Creole inhabitants. On June 21, 1793, the military successes of Toussaint and other insurgents forced the French Republic to promise freedom and citizenship to all slaves in return for their support against France's foreign and domestic enemies. The resulting alliance led to the first mass exodus, with as many as ten thousand royalist whites fleeing Cap Français on ships bound for Norfolk, Virginia, one of the South's major ports of entry for Saint Domingan refugees. By 1800 Toussaint had driven the British, Spanish, and French from Saint Domingue and laid the foundation for the independent republic of Haiti. In 1802 Toussaint was treacherously captured by Napoleon's army and sent to France, where he died in prison in 1803.

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