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 novelists 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 Bells 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.