[1801] - Toussaint L’Ouverture takes command of Haiti, liberates black slaves

In January 1801 Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the 1791 slave uprising in San Domingo, invaded the Spanish territory of Santo Domingo to the east of the island and brought it under French law, thereby abolishing slavery. He thus gained power over the whole of the island. Fearful that France was considering restoring slavery to its colonies, L’Ouverture formed an assembly to draft a constitution for the island in March. On 7 July the new constitution was published: it appointed L’Ouverture as the governor-general for life, and asserted legal equality for all races. In doing so, it formally announced the success of the Haitian Revolution.

Napoleon, however, was deeply unhappy with these developments. When the constitution was presented to him by L’Ouverture’s friend, Charles Humbert Marie de Vincent, Vincent was sent into exile. Napoleon subsequently sent an expeditionary force of 20,000 men to the island to restore French control. After fierce fighting, L’Ouverture was captured in the summer of 1802. He was deported to France where he was imprisoned in the Fort de Joux. He died in prison of pneumonia on 7 April 1803.

Although France had recovered sovereignty of the island, the rebel fight for national independence was far from over. Significantly, Jean Jacques Dessalines, an ambitious French officer who had been born to enslaved parents in San Domingo, defected to the rebel cause. He subsequently defeated the French colonial army at the Battle of Vertières on 18 November 1803, a victory that led to the declaration of independence on 1 January 1804. Dessalines thus became the first ruler of an independent Haiti.

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