A biography of the man who challenged the power of the leading empires of his day and led the only successful slave revolt in human history.
Girard’s (History/McNeese State Univ.; Haiti: The Tumultuous History—From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation, 2010, etc.) detailed research on both sides of the Atlantic underpins this fresh portrayal, in which the author successfully dismisses much mythology about who Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was, what he stood for, and what he achieved. Girard’s fine-grained approach enriches a picture that is often drawn in highly polarized shades. Louverture did indeed lead Haiti’s slaves in a revolt for freedom, was involved in their emancipation from France, rose to become general and governor-general of the island, and defeated an army of France’s battle-hardened troops sent against him by Napoleon, but at the cost of his own life. Girard develops these high points in his subject’s life in terms of the historical context. Louverture’s views and aims were not fixed. He was not always an opponent of slavery, nor was he averse to owning slaves himself. He was also an inconsistent opponent of the large plantation owners and the other elements of power in Haiti’s racial hierarchy. Girard argues that what Louverture wanted above all was to be recognized as French and treated with the honor and respect due a Frenchman. He fought to master the necessary skills of speech and writing, and he amassed significant landholdings out of the ruins of continuing warfare. He deftly navigated a course between local representatives of French political factions and the different strands of racial politics on the island. He also mastered the art of maneuvering between the great powers, but successes were often pyrrhic.
A groundbreaking biography that underscores the difficulties of leading slaves to freedom and avoiding violent extremes.