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Stirring the Pot of Haitian Historyby Michel-Rolph Trouillot$
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Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9781800859678

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781800859678.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 08 December 2021

The little orange tree grew

The little orange tree grew

(p.75) 6. The little orange tree grew
Stirring the Pot of Haitian History
Mariana Past, Benjamin Hebblethwaite
Liverpool University Press

The sixth chapter likens the Haitian Revolution to a cockfight and begins to question Toussaint Louverture’s uses of power. By January 26, 1801 Toussaint has become the dominant cock, largely due to his huge political organization in the Northern provinces. A hint of reproach echoes in the discourse of narrator Grinn Prominnin because of the unacknowledged debt owed by Toussaint to the masses of formerly enslaved people who participated in the Revolution. At this point the black rebels were often insufficiently armed or were pitted against one another. Some fought for personal interests, others on more general terms; the result was a weakened position. Their advantage lay in their sheer numbers and common determination to become free. In 1793 Toussaint tapped into this energy by declaring the goal of universal freedom and liberty for Saint-Domingue, a political and tactical move that assured the former enslaved people’s loyalty to him. Once his organization solidified, he allied himself with French forces, against the Spanish and British (on whose side other rebel leaders were fighting). By 1795, Spain was defeated, and Saint-Domingue was controlled by three sectors: the new French political commissioner (Lavaud), the freedmen (Vilatte, Beauvais, and Rigaud), and Toussaint’s army. Major contradictions—economic, political, and military—divided the masses from the leaders in the latter group; often the former enslaved people were forced to work the land for the benefit of the revolutionary generals. Meanwhile, both inside and outside of Saint-Domingue, people began to distrust the paper money issued by the revolutionary state, and its value decreased. The war in the South took form, with Toussaint positioned against Rigaud. France’s third civil commissioner, Sonthonax, arrived in 1796 and was determined to crush the British and the mulatto generals’ troops. Sonthonax named Toussaint the leading general and Rigaud an outlaw. But Toussaint had Sonthonax expelled from Saint-Domingue the following year due to their several disagreements (including the fact that Sonthonax promoted Moyse Louverture to the rank of general, passing over several other leaders in Toussaint’s army). Meanwhile, in France, the political situation was becoming more conservative, and Toussaint feared that the former colonists would return to seize their property. In a dog-eat-dog society, every class has economic, political, and ideological interests; the freedmen and newly freed slaves were at odds. Toussaint subsequently repulsed Hédouville (who was sent by France as an agent of the Directory, charged with implementing reforms) and fought a vicious war in the South against Rigaud, the dominant mulatto general, thus deepening the racial divisions in the general population. Although Rigaud took a racial approach himself, Toussaint’s demagogy encouraged this social poison to pit the masses of formerly enslaved people against the mixed-race people, a problem reflecting Haiti’s hereditary ideological disease. Toussaint’s primary interests were commerce, money and the trappings of power. So intent was Toussaint on keeping Saint-Domingue afloat economically that he imposed strictures on the formerly enslaved people through a “rural work code,” forcing them to either remain on the same plantations where they had previously toiled or face severe punishment (including death). The idea of “freedom for all” thus began to lose its meaning. England and the United States began to exert pressure on Saint-Domingue as well. Before the War of the South between Toussaint and Rigaud, blacks and mixed-race people were allied against France, but afterwards each group sought its own type of Haitian independence. The beginning of the end of Toussaint’s power came about when the rebel leader fell into the Rigaud’s trap in the afè Koray [Corail Affair]; he nevertheless continued to fight for several more years. Toussaint’s leadership style moved to demagogy, and after 1799, plots mushroomed everywhere against him. The other rebel general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, did not play upon social tensions in the same way that Toussaint did: instead of using race as a wedge issue, he allowed a group of mixed race people to join the rebel army, which raised everyone’s spirits and frightened the enemy. Toussaint’s organization was closer to the interests of the masses than Rigaud’s. With Dessalines, he convinced several maroon groups to fight against Rigaud; Dessalines won the South soon afterwards. The war of the South helped advance the larger revolution in Saint-Domingue. Once Rigaud was defeated, Toussaint was the only serious cock in the former colony. Freedom for everyone was the main interest of his organization, and he unified the country around it; Dessalines and Pétion ultimately worked together to help repulse Leclerc’s invasion of 1802. The freedmen’s advantage was blunted before they could take advantage of others. The former slaves grew stronger as a result. Despite Toussaint’s demagogy, the revolution was holding strong; though Toussaint still occupied a position of authority, there remained many contradictions in his camp.

Keywords:   Politics, Social conflicts, Toussaint Louverture, War of the South, Color prejudice, Sonthonax, Hédouville

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