He was equal to the facts of life, however hard, and grappled with them and mastered them as a man should.
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.
Let us go back for a moment. On the arrival of the first commissioners, Mirbeck, Roume, and St. Leger, the mulattoes in the West were in arms under Rigaud; the blacks in the North, under Jean François and Biassou. They were a ragged crowd: pikes, muskets, cane-knives, axes, whatever the hand could find, were their arms, and they fought without order or discipline, inspired by revenge and hatred to slavery. Jean François, if vain and ostentatious, was sagacious and full of resource. Biassou was bold, fiery, and vindictive. The blacks had slaughtered and been slaughtered, hanged and been hanged, plundered and been plundered. There seemed no end to it and no object. They heard that the commissioners were placable, so they wished to make terms. But who would dare to venture among the whites? Were not all outcasts, hunted beasts, fugitive slaves? Raynal and Duplessis (mulattoes) at last took the hazard. The Governor sent them to the commissioners, they to the Colonial Assembly. The Assembly that day was in an exalted state: it emulated the gods. It replied loftily: “Emissaries of the revolted negroes, the Assembly, established on the law and by the law, cannot correspond with people armed against the law. The Assembly might extend grace to guilty men, if, being repentant, etc.,” and Raynal and Duplessis were ordered sharply to “withdraw.”
They did withdraw, amid the hooting of the mob. They returned to Grande Rivière. The army and the people came out to meet them, wishing peace: they told their story, and peace was turned to war, love to hatred. Biassou, in a rage, ordered all the white prisoners in the camp to be put to death. “Death to the whites!” went along the lines and among the people. The insane pride of the whites worked its own punishment, and now a hundred more were to be slaughtered. No white was there to save them, and no God to wrest them away. Then a man, black, indifferent in person, unpleasing of visage, meanly dressed, makes his way among the crowd to Biassou swelling with rage. He speaks to him a few words, quietly, calmly; they are to the purpose. The General’s face is composed; he listens; he countermands his orders, and the whites are saved.
The negro who saves them is Toussaint Breda, afterward called Louverture. The son of an African chief, Gaou-Guinon, with no drop of white blood in his veins. He had been the born slave of the Count de Breda, and had been well treated by his manager, Bayou de Libertas. He was the husband of one wife and the father of children. With religious aspirations, an inflexible integrity, and an inquiring mind, he had been a valuable slave and had been raised from a field-hand to be M. Bayou’s coachman.
Toussaint was never hungry while a slave; he was not whipped. His hut was comfortable; vines twined around his door. Bananas and potatoes grew in his garden. Toussaint, it seems, was not a beast of burden. To make sugar he was worth no more than a Bozal just stolen; but with these rare virtues — patience, courage, intelligence, fidelity — he might have sold for five hundred dollars and might be trusted to drive horses. When the rebellion broke out he did not join it, but assisted M. Bayou with his family to escape, and shipped a rich cargo to the United States for his maintenance.
Toussaint was then fifty years old. None knew the day of his birth; the records of stock then and there were not carefully kept. For fifty years this negro had lived the life of a slave; his only occupation the hoeing of cane and the grooming of horses. What thoughts, what struggles, what hopes had taken shape in that uncultivated brain no man knows — for Toussaint was a man of few words, and he left no writings. It was late in life to begin a new trade; late to begin to find out his own powers and strength; late to trust himself to freedom, he who had always had a master; late to speculate upon the destinies of the black race; late to attempt to shape them. But in revolutionary times men learn fast; great men need only the opportunity; they rise to the emergency. Cromwell was not a born or trained general or ruler, nor was Washington, nor was William Tell. Toussaint had bided his time. This slave was ignorant, knew nothing. He learned to read when approaching his declining years; then he studied: Raynal, Epictetus, Caesar, Saxe, Herodotus, Plutarch, Nepos — these were the books and lives he knew.
He decided to join his race, and having some knowledge of simples was made physician of the forces commanded by Jean François. Here he served well, as he always did, and learned the trade of war. Shocked at the cruelties of whites and blacks he took the side of mercy and saved lives from the sword as well as from disease. He saw the vanity of François, the rashness of Biassou, the cruelty of Jeannot; but he retired disgusted to no stupid monastery; he returned not to the ease and degradation of slavery, but was equal to the facts of life, however hard, and grappled with them and mastered them as a man should. He was then loyal to the King, and he was loyal to the Church, a devout Catholic.
In 1792, the three commissioners, sent out from France to “settle” the affairs of the colony, had been thwarted and finally driven away by the whites. In September (1792), Santhonax, Polverel, and Ailhaud had arrived with troops, money, and instructions and a new governor, Desparbes, in place of Blanchelande. He soon became disgusted, alarmed, and he fled. The commissioners bestirred themselves to settle the commotion. The rich planters were for the King; the Petits Blancs were for the Directory; the mulattoes, under Rigaud, ravaged the West: the revolted negroes, under Jean François, Biassou and others, threatened on the North. France herself, that ancient kingdom, was now fermenting; struggling — yet with hope — to realize in the state her unformed faith in democracy, and with the energy of despair striving to beat back the waves of bayonets which beat and bristled on her borders. Thus matters stood in France, thus in Santo Domingo. The slaves in both countries had risen, and rushed to arms. Their remedy was desperate; so was their disease.
General Galbaud, a new governor, arrived from France in May (1793). The commissioners were engaged in the west in fighting Rigaud. They returned to Cap François to fight the Governor whose authority they disputed. Galbaud held the ships and the arsenals and determined to assert his authority. His soldiers and sailors entered the town and abandoned themselves to drunkenness, pillage and brutality. The commissioners armed the slaves in the town, promised them freedom, and sent for aid to the negro generals. Jean François and Biassou refused; but a chief, Macayo, at the head of three thousand blacks, entered the town, and the conflict raged. The whites were driven into the sea and slaughtered. Madness ruled, and none fiercer than the mulattoes. Galbaud fled, and half the city was destroyed by fire. At last — for a while — the whites gave up the hope of recovering their slaves. Thousands fled — some suppose nine-tenths — and found refuge along the American coasts.
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