Portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture
Portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture

Sections on the page

A. Biography and Haitian Revolution Overview

B. Relationship to the American and French Revolutions

C. Additional Resources

D. American Occupation, 1915-1934

rotating gif.gifGo to World History II.16 for material on Latin American history in the 19th century

Haiti and the Atlantic World, Julia Gaffield, Georgia State University has founding documents for Haiti and its connections to the broader Atlantic World.

A. Overview

Quill_and_ink.pngToussaint L'Ouverture (1743-1803) was the leader of the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1804.

Also known as: The Black Napoleon, Napoléon Noir, Black Spartacus
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  • In 1791, slaves united to revolt against the slave-labor plantation system in Saint-Domingue, the French half of the island of
  • Hispaniola. L'Ouverture, a former slave whom historians believe was well educated, was instrumental in both negotiating with French leadership and organizing Black citizens of Saint-Domingue.
  • England and Spain were heavily involved after declaring war against France, and Haiti became the stage for a bigger imperial battle. England intended to take Haiti as its own colony and re-institute slavery. The revolutionaries initially allied with Spain, but they had a tense relationship because L'Overture and other officers believed they were not doing enough to abolish slavery. Spain eventually ceded their half of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), to France.
  • After the French Revolutionary government abolished slavery in 1794, L'Overture re-allied with the French and became brigadier general of a poly-racial army. In 1897, L'Ouverture became governor for life of Saint Domingue.
  • In 1802, after gaining control of France, Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to regain control of and to restore slavery to the colony. Napoleon's troops captured L'Ouverture who died in prison in 1803.
  • Revolutionary leaders Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe continued the fight for independence, and France surrendered at the end of 1803. On January 1st, 1804, Saint-Domingue became Haiti, the second independent nation in the western hemisphere (the first in Latin America) and the first free Black-led republic in the world.

B. Relationship to the American and French Revolutions

  • The United States and Haiti at the time of their revolutions were connected by trade, their militaries, and ideology.
    • Haiti was a key trading partner for the American colonies because they were nearby, provided many raw goods, and were mostly unaffected by the trade restrictions set by England and France.
    • Nearly one thousand freed slaves from Haiti joined French troops to help fight in the American Revolution, participating in key battles at Savannah, the Capes. This was, in part, to show their loyalty to France as things grew more hostile in Saint-Domingue. Some key figures of the Haitian Revolution fought in these battles, and it is likely that they exchanged important revolutionary ideas.
    • Saint-Domingue looked to the United States as an example of a colony defeating its imperial rulers. The ideas of liberty and citizenship were promoted in similar ways, but taken to much greater levels in Haiti, as all slaves were liberated and granted political rights far before they were in the United States.
  • After the revolutions, US President John Adams kept a positive relationship with Haiti, but his successor, Thomas Jefferson, severed ties with the country. Despite plenty of informal trading, the United States and Haiti would not have a diplomatic relationship until after the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation. Even then, US Congressmen refused to meet with their black counterparts from Haiti. (See here for an examination into efforts by the George Washington administration to undermine the new Haitian Government)
  • Just like with the United States, Haiti's revolution had a two-way relationship with the one in France. While they were inspired by the same circulation of revolutionary ideas across the Atlantic, pressure from Haiti - and concern that they would lose the colony - forced French revolutionaries to abolish slavery at home and in their colonies before other European powers.
  • For more information the relationship between revolutionary Ujnited States and Haiti, see Haiti and the Early United States and Two Revolutions in the Atlantic World: Connections between the American Revolution and the Haitian Revolution (subscription required; free for teachers).

C. Additional Resources

Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, 1839
Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, 1839

Visit the following for more resources on Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution

Teaching About Haiti in World History, by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall, explains how Haiti has been left out of world history classrooms, why this needs to change, and how to incorporate it into lessons.

"A Short and Oversimplified History of Haiti" by Bob Corbett of Webster University

The Haitian Revolution from Kreyol.com, a private site dedicated to Haitian history and culture

Douglas Egerton on the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Overture and Jefferson from PBS

Teaching about Haiti has many teaching resources including films, books, lesson plans, media investigations, and primary source poems and songs.

primary_sources.PNGHaitian Declaration of Independence (1804)

Jefferson on the French and Haitian Revolutions, 1792

Toussaint L'Ouverture Letter to the French Directory (1797)

Toussaint L'Ouverture Biography/Autobiography: (1853) By John Relly Beard, republished in 1863 to include L'ouverture's 35 page autobiography

womens history.jpgFor more information on the history of Haitian Women's Involvement

Info on Sanité Bélair, with excerpts from C.L.R. James' The Black Jacobins, can be found here. A video with more info on Bélair here

Slavery in Latin America

Multimedia.pngEpisode 11: The Haitian Revolution from 15 Minute History, University of Texas

Toussaint L'Ouverture: A play by C.L.R. James

external image Red_Apple.jpgThe Haitian Revolution from the Choices Program, Brown University

Haitian Revolution Lesson Plan from Middle Tennessee State University

More Primary Sources and Lesson Plans here

Timeline of Haitian history, from Brown University

Quizlet Flashcards

D. American Occupation, 1915-1934

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U.S. Invasion and Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934

Intervention in Haiti from Digital History

Bandits or Patriots? Documents from Charlemagne Peralte Charlemagne Prelate led resistance to American occupation

History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America