The Spaniards are for a moment paralyzed: they pursue him, but neither hoof nor pistol can reach him. Toussaint is not to be caught.
Continuing Revolution in Haiti,
our selection from Santo Domingo: Its Revolution and Its Hero by Charles Wyllys Elliott published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Revolution in Haiti
Famine had more than once increased the misery during these three years, yet the island was fruitful, and cultivation, here and there, went on. The sagacious Jean François had initiated cultivation along the mountain-sides, and in the valleys; and thus secured an unfailing magazine of supply.
Toussaint, meanwhile, continues his duties with the negro troops. Steadily and surely, if not rapidly, he gains strength and influence and knowledge of war. He has measured himself with Jean and Biassou, and is not wanting. His prudence, patience, silent will, and courage make him useful to them, and his justice and determination and mercy make him the idol of the men. The Marquis Hermona, Governor of the Spanish part of the island, made advances to the negro chiefs. Santhonax, in his extremity after the destruction of Cap François, sent Macayo to propose an alliance, but they distrusted him.
Meanwhile Louis XVI was beheaded. They said, “We have lost the King of France, but the King of Spain esteems us and gives us succor.” They declined the proposals of the commissioners, and ranged themselves on the side of Spain. Toussaint was loyal to the memory of the King, and followed François and Biassou. Hermona saw that Toussaint was a man; and while Jean François was advanced to the first rank, Toussaint was raised to that of colonel in the Spanish army. He at once applied himself to his duties, and what he did was always well done. His troops became, as if by a word, the best disciplined in the army. The reason was plain: he knew what men ought to do and what they can do; and the men knew that he was upright and wise. So these ragged, ignorant, roving hordes became efficient troops. Confidence begat confidence: the commander trusted his men, and they relied on him; together they were strong. Idleness was not Toussaint’s policy. The insurgents under Jean François, Biassou, and Toussaint held strong positions in the mountains south of Cap François. Brandicourt, the general of the French troops, was at once trapped and compelled to order his troops to lay down their arms. Grande Rivière, Dondon, Plaisance, Marmalade, and Ennery, the most important places in the north, quickly fell into Toussaint’s hands.
The French commissioners were getting into straits. The Spanish troops were against them; the blacks were against them. The remaining whites were divided; some wore the black cockade, others the white; the troops, and friends of the commissioners, the tricolor; the mulattoes, the red. War was everywhere, and no man was safe but with arms in his hands and in the strongest party. But this was not enough: some of the planters mounted the English hat and sent to the English for succor. Even “perfide Albion” was welcome, if they might but reestablish slavery and get again their estates. In this extremity, Santhonax decided to make friends with the blacks, and proclaimed at Cap François universal freedom (August 20, 1793). Polverel repeated the proclamation at Port au Prince. The enthusiasm among the negroes was great, but not universal. Their leaders were not moved; they distrusted the commissioners and they doubted the stability of the French Republic — so the war went on.
In September, the English landed at Jeremie, in the extreme southwest. They took possession of St. Nicholas, in the extreme northwest, and during the year 1794 the whole western coast was in their possession — St. Nicholas, St. Marc, St. Jacmel, Tiburon, Jeremie; and at last, on June 4th, Port au Prince, the capital, yielded. “Twenty-two topsail vessels,” with their cargoes, worth four hundred thousand pounds sterling, were a part of the spoil. The mulatto chief, Rigaud, had taken the side of France. Educated in Bordeaux, he had followed, in Santo Domingo, his trade of a goldsmith, which the whites thought too good for a “nigger.” He was a brave man, mild in peace, and terrible in war, and, aided by Pétion, he kept up a harassing fight against the English. Shortly after the fall of Port au Prince, a ship arrived with a requisition for the commissioners to return to France; they must answer for their doings there, and General Laveaux was left as provisional governor.
His case, and that of the French, was desperate. Shut up in Port de Paix, the last stronghold of the French, he wrote (May 24, 1794): “For more than six months we have been reduced to six ounces of bread a day, officers as well as men, but from the 13th we have none whatever, the sick only excepted. If we had powder we should have been consoled. We have in our magazines neither shoes, nor shirts, nor clothes, nor soap, nor tobacco. The most of the soldiers mount guard barefoot; we have no flints for the men; but be assured that we will never surrender; be assured too, that after us, the enemy will not find the slightest trace of Port de Paix.” Dark was the outlook, but brave was the heart of General Laveaux.
The hour was nigh: the hands advanced on the dial of time. Events, which no man could have foreseen or controlled, had gathered for judgment, and at last a great nation had decreed freedom to a poor, debauched, and servile race. But who should lead them, who should now defend them against themselves; give shape and system to their undisciplined wishes, carry them safely through the anarchy of unbounded liberty and crystallize them into a state whose only sure basis is the Rights and Duties of Labor, Thought, Speech, and Worship, the Rights and Duties of Man. The hour has come and the man — Toussaint Breda! from his eyrie near Dondon, sweeps the horizon. In the east he sees the decadent power of Spain: it has spoken no word of freedom for the blacks. In the west he sees the white sails of England: she is hand and glove with the planters to reestablish slavery. In the north France and Laveaux are nigh death. France only has proclaimed liberty to the blacks. Toussaint sees the “opening” for his race and for himself, and from this day he is Toussaint Louverture — the first of the blacks. Bone of their bone and skin of their skin, he alone knows their needs, their capacities, and their hearts. With the clear glance of inspiration he sees the moment, with the firm grasp of talent he seizes it.
General Laveaux saw this, and through the priest, La Haye, made advances to him. Toussaint is wise and he is wary; he keeps his own counsel; he consults not Jean François, who had once cast him into prison; nor Biassou, nor the Marquis Hermona. As usual, he performs his duties; as usual, he partakes of the communion; as usual, his troops look to him, and Hermona said: “There exists on earth no purer soul.” He has placed his wife and children in safety; he has ordered his affairs; his horse stands saddled and bridled; then, tearing off his epaulettes he casts them at the feet of the Spanish officers, flings himself on his horse, and rides like the wind out of the camp. The Spaniards are for a moment paralyzed: they pursue him, but neither hoof nor pistol can reach him. Toussaint is not to be caught.
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