The Betrayal, Arrest, &  Death of Toussaint

The Betrayal, Arrest, &  Death of Toussaint


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes




Leclerc felt impressed that Toussaint should be made responsible for all massacres of whites

which had taken place since the French invasion, for he knew that Dessalines was but

an agent of his superior in committing these barbarities

Toussaint                                                                                                                                                                     Dessalines


The Betrayal, Arrest, &  Death of Toussaint

By J. Brown, M.D.


Toussaint complained to M. Sabes of the critical nature of his situation, and he received little comfort from the answer of that officer, who informed him that the war would never have arisen if he had not disobeyed the orders of France.

Toussaint at this cast upon him a look of astonishment without deigning to make a reply to his remark; but turning to the naval officer, “You are aware, monsieur,” said he, “that in case you have command of a public vessel, and another, without apprizing you of his intentions comes to remove you by jumping aboard upon the forecastle with another crew that doubles your own in numbers, you cannot be blamed for attempting to defend yourself upon the quarter deck. This is my situation in regard to France.”

After this short interview, the French officers were dispatched with a letter to Gen Leclerc, proposing on the part of Toussaint to terminate a war which was without an object and seemed likely to have no end. “Circumstances,” continued the letter, “have occasioned much evil to the country, but whatever may be the resources of the French army I shall always be strong enough to burn and ravage, and to sell my life dear, however serviceable it may once have been to the mother country.”

The number of persons who had been murdered by the blacks without having been engaged in hostilities already amounted to three thousand: and though the odium of this wanton  cruelty was thrown upon Dessalines it was in reality due to the reckless policy of Toussaint. All the whites about the person of the latter had fallen by the bayonets of his followers, with the single exception of M. Valéé, and this person had been shot before his eyes in a moment of irritation and afterwards buried with the honors of war, a monument being erected over the grave by Toussaint.

Leclerc felt impressed that Toussaint should be made responsible for all massacres of whites which had taken place since the French invasion, for he knew that Dessalines was but an agent of his superior in committing these barbarities; but the French commander-in-chief had already encountered obstacles which had discouraged him, and more than five thousand of his troops had already been sacrificed in a service from which nothing had yet to be gained.

He therefore consented the more readily to enter into negotiations with Toussaint, as the evil he had already done was but little to what he might yet accomplish, surrounded as he was by a formidable horde of blacks, in a part of the island where he could profit by every opportunity to carry devastation into the open country.

Leclerc’s Reply to Toussaint

To the message of Tousaint Gen. Leclerc sent a ready reply, offering pardon to the black chief and all his troops in case of their submission,—stating that the past should be forgotten and thenceforward but two classes be acknowledged in St. Domingo—those who were good or bad citizens; and the letter ended in the following strain:

“I shall treat your troops as the rest of my army. As to you, general, you desire leisure, and you are right. When a man has sustained for many years the burden of government of such a country as St. Domingo I readily believe he has need of repose. I grant you permission to retire to either of your estates, as shall please you best. I have sufficient confidence in your wishes for the welfare of the colony to believe that you will employ your moments of leisure in communicating your opinions as to the best measures for the prosperity of agriculture and commerce.”

To this letter there was appended a decree revoking the proclamation of outlawry which had been published against Toussaint and Christophe.

The submission of Toussaint was a fortunate event to the French army, as there is little doubt that if the blacks had maintained their resistance for a few weeks longer their fortunes would have been placed beyond the power of Leclerc. At the time when negotiations were in progress for the surrender of Toussaint the French had already lost five thousand men; so that of twenty-five thousand men who had been dispatched to St. Domingo under Gen. Leclerc there remained but few more than twelve thousand who were now able to do service in the field; and these were so much exhausted by hard duty that they were hardly sufficient to patrol the country or form the garrisons of posts necessary to be maintained.

Gen. Leclerc at the request of the governor of Guadeloupe now dispatched Gen. Boudet to that island, and replaced him in the command of the southern provinces by gem Rochanbeau, who was a stern old Creole, dreaded by the Negroes and hated by the mulattoes for a letter which he had once written from Philadelphia, in which he descanted with severity upon the characters of that race in St. Domingo, affirming that they were more vicious and less brave, sober or grateful than the class of blacks.

Portraits of Rigaud and Dessalines

Soon after his arrival at Port au Prince Rigaud came back once more from France, and he was received tremblingly by the whites of the South, but exultingly by the mulattoes, and four hundred respectable individuals of that class, who upon the downfall of Toussaint had just returned from St. Jago de Cuba, hastened in a body to pay their respects to Rigaud. This occurrence awakened the jealousy of Rochambeau, and he hastened to represent to Gen. Leclerc the danger which might result from Rigaud’s influence in the then unsettled condition of the country.

Toussaint complained also of the honorable reception which had been accorded to his great rival, whom he accused of being his inveterate enemy. Gen. Leclerc, beset with these exhortations, which he ought to have spurned from him as the incendiary machinations of the envious, sent an order to Rigaud to return to France. This arbitrary command spread terror and grief in the ranks of the mulattoes, who saw their favorite chief insulted, and found that notwithstanding their ambitious aspirations they had now no influence in the state, as the struggle for dominion resided solely between the whites and blacks.

Petion, the friend of Rigaud and Leclerc, exclaimed when he had been informed of the order for the departure of the former, “Alas that he should have come to witness our grief, as well as to suffer in his own person by this blow.”

Gen Lacroix being now ordered to leave Rochambeau’s division at Port au Prince, in order to take upon himself the command in the department of Cibao, thus describes the appearance of Dessalines at Cape Francois.

“I saw many general officers of our army pass along without receiving any manifestations of respect from either the blacks or mulattoes; but all at once I heard a bustle—it was caused by the approach of Dessalines, who was on his way to pay his salutations to Gen. Leclerc for the first time. A multitude of every sex and age followed him or prostrated themselves before him. I was saddened and indignant, and somber and painful ideas haunted me until my arrival at the quarters of the commander-in-chief.

“When I had arrived there I found Dessalines in the antechamber, and horror restrained me from approaching him. He requested to know who I was. He came up to me, and without looking me in the face said in a hoarse voice, ‘I am Gen. Dessalines, and while the times were less happy I have heard much of you.’ His bearing and manners were brutal and savage, and his words had in them more assurance than remorse—and to have assumed this attitude he must have felt that he stood strong. I could not without much effort be polite, for I remembered the scenes of Verrettes and Petit Riviere.”

Toussaint Negotiates Retirement

Toussaint had just before this come to pay his respects to Gen. Leclerc, and the people of Cape Francois lavished upon him every demonstration of the most devoted reverence and honor. He came with four hundred mounted guides, who, during his interview with Gen. Leclerc awaited his return in the yard of the government house. After the black chiefs had given their oath of fidelity to the new order of things permission was granted them to retire to their estates.

Toussaint demanded to be allowed to fix himself upon his plantation near Gonaives, and Dessalines retired to one in the vicinity of St. Marks. The submission of these two chiefs placed the whole island in the peaceable possession of the French; but it had been desolated by war, and hopes of present sustenance from the soil were utterly void.

The plantations which had been rebuilt and restored to cultivation during the administration of Toussaint, had, by his destructive system of warfare, been given to the flames, and a dearth was now the consequence. The troops of Toussaint had not yet been disbanded, and the French were compelled to furnish them with provisions, as well as their own forces. What the sword had failed to destroy, famine now threatened to effect; and in this dreary exigence the French were driven to have recourse to the other islands.

The Spaniards yielded to their solicitations for succor, but the peace of Amiens had been already broken, and the English refused to furnish supplies to those whom they regarded as enemies. Toussaint in retiring from his power had rewarded each of his generals by making them chiefs of a demi-brigade, to hold rank in the island, and thus he kept alive the organization of his former military strength. Leclerc saw the dangerous tendency of thus leaving behind the seeds of another defiance to his power, and he ordered that the troops of Toussaint should be incorporated with his own; but it was found that many difficulties interposed themselves against this arrangement.

The French officers refused to submit to an order which made Negroes their comrades, and every one foresaw and dreaded the consequences of scattering the black regiments as idlers and vagabonds through the country; and to prevent some of these dangers, so likely to arise from such an arrangement, the different corps of blacks were detached from each other and sent on separate duties among the different posts which were chiefly manned by French troops.

The influence of the black chiefs was put in requisition to restore the Negroes to the plantations, and make the labors of agriculture serve them for employment instead of the disorders of war. In spite of the ravages which had been spread so far and wide through the destructive system of defence which had been adopted by Toussaint, the lands were soon revived to new productiveness; and upon the re-establishment of order and peace foreign vessels began again to visit the ports of the island to exchange their cargoes for its productions.

The South had not suffered much devastation, and when tranquility had been restored its prosperity revived in a proportion far exceeding that which was opening upon the North.

In the midst of this quiet return to a condition which gave hope to the future, a new enemy arose to overwhelm the island, whose destructiveness was not to be resisted by the sword. Nearly at the same time, the yellow fever began its ravages among the French troops, both at Cape Francois and Port au Prince, and from its first fearful onset its character was so fatal as to threaten the whole army with annihilation.

The victims of the disease were expiring hourly, and it was found necessary that carts should pass throughout the place at the hour of midnight to receive the dead bodies, which were left in every street at the doors of the houses. Amidst the panic excited by this mortality the bustle of life was dumb. Dread of infection stifled all sympathy, and made men regardless of the fate of others so long as they remained untouched and in security.

While this infliction was adding to the sensitive terrors of the French, rumors and suspicious were darkly spread that the deep and all-pervading influence of Toussaint was not unemployed among his race—particularly when it was reported from mouth to mouth among the French that it had been asserted by the blacks that their submission was but a suspension of hostilities until the month of August.

Arrest & Death of Toussaint

A breath will quiver the leaf that hangs by a thread, though a sturdy blast may not shake it when secure in its position. The month of August had become an epoch in St. Domingo, from its more certain fatality to Europeans and other strangers than other months of the year, and it was first feared and then believed that the expected development of fever among the French was to be the signal of another insurrection of the blacks, to rival the first in all things but in the extent of its horrors.

The French doubted the designs of Toussaint, from the concealment about Ennery of eighteen hundred men, who had once been the guards of the black general. Two letters also had been intercepted, writers by him to his former aid-de-camp and secret agent at Cape Francois. One of them was filled with invectives against Christophe and Dessalines, and these were followed by expressions of satisfaction that Providence had at last come to their aid—(Providence being the name of the principal hospital at Cape Francois.)

It was demanded how many voyages were made each night to Fossette, a cemetery where the French burnt their dead; and it was added, that information should be given immediately in case Gen. Leclerc fell sick.

The other letter was a tissue of ambiguous expressions in the quaint style of the Negro dialect of the country, and they seemed to relate chiefly to some preparations, advising where to bring the flour, etc.

Before the evidence of these letters was obtained, it had been observed that Clervaux, Christophe, and Maurpas had manifested much anxiety lest the destructiveness of disease among the French troops might be seized upon by Toussaint as an occasion to resume his power, and call them to an account as an occasion to resume his power, and call them to an account for treating without his orders.

They even proposed that he should be transported from the island, that harm might not come to them from the vengeance of a man at whose name they trembled, and whose influence was still sufficient to make the dominion of the French in St. Domingo a problem which time alone could solve.

This conduct of the black chiefs, which seemed to result from a secret sympathy with the cunning of their race—the letters which seemed to confirm what was before strongly suspicious—and the advice received from all quarters to give activity to his own fears, urged Gen. Leclerc to the policy of removing a man from the country whose name alone was a terror, and whose indomitable spirit might yet seize upon an occasion to embroil the island and perpetuate war.

The district of Ennery was crowded with French troops, partly through accident and partly through design. At this, as had been forseen, Toussaint complained, and he demanded their removal. Gen. Brunet, the French commander, answered him with the assurance that he would with pleasure yield to his wishes, but he first wished to know from him, as one best acquainted in that respect, what place should be selected whither to remove the troops, and at the same time secure their death.

This appeal to his aid in a case of definitely flattered Toussaint,, who blinded by vanity, lost sight of his usual circumspection, and ran into the net prepared for him. “See the whites,” exclaimed he, “the doubt nothing, know every thing, but have to come nevertheless to consult old Toussaint.” He answered Gen. Brunet that he would hold the proposed consultation at the plantation Georges, at a little distance from Gonaives, where he would appear accompanied by twenty of his followers.

The French general when he had received this reply proceeded immediately with the same number of attendants, to join Toussaint at the place appointed for the interview. After the first salutations were over both of them shut themselves up to begin the deliberations, and the soldiers of each were left to stroll about the house. All at once at a concerted signal the French attendants, to join Toussaint at the place appointed for the interview. After the first salutations were over both of them shut themselves up to begin the deliberations, and the soldiers of each were left to stroll about the house.

All at once at a concerted signal the French attendants fell upon those of Toussaint, and announced to him—“General, the captain-general has given me the order to arrest you—Your guards are in custody—our troops surround the house, and if you make any resistance you die; you are no longer invested with power in St. Domingo—give me your sword.” Toussaint gave it up without uttering a remonstrance, and seemed more confounded at the suddenness of his capture than indignant at being thus deprived of his personal liberty.

He was conducted to Gonaives, and placed aboard the Creole frigate, which had been ordered round from Cape Francois to receive him after his capture; and while he was proceeding aboard he spoke to Ferrari the memorable words: “In my overthrow nothing is cut down but the trunk of the tree of liberty among the blacks of St. Domingo—it will survive in its roots, which are deep and numerous.”

The embarkation was made at midnight, Gen Leclerc having granted the request of the prisoner to be joined by his wife and children. As soon as these were aboard the Creole sailed for cape Francois, where Toussaint and his family were transferred to another ship of war, the Hero, which immediately sailed for France. The passage was rapid, and the ship arrived safely at Brest. Toussaint was taken out immediately, and made to set out in a carriage towards Morlaix, on the route to the castle of Joux in the Lower Pyrenees, while his family were removed to Bayonne.

The gelid atmosphere of the mountain region where the prison of Toussaint was situated wrought a rapid decay in the bodily constitution of one who had never before been beyond the tropics, and was now in extreme old age. But the dreary reverse which had torn him from the summit of his power and ambition had an agency equally potent in hurrying him to the tomb, and after a captivity of ten months he expired in his cell.

Toussaint’s Character,  Rule, & Influence

Thus terminated the career of the first of blacks, who has by turns been represented as a ferocious monster, and as the most surprising and the best of men. As it has been truly observed, he was neither. Endowed by nature with high qualities of mind, he owed his elevation nevertheless to the sole agency of extraordinary events. Nature made him but an African of uncommon shrewdness, and the accidental situation of his country made him a prince among his race; and as his fortune grew he deemed himself an instrument of heaven to redeem the condition of his brethren and guide them to a glorious destiny.

His habits were thoughtful; and like all men of energetic temperament, he crowded much into what he said. Compared with the rest of his race, his character and talents swell into bold relief; and so profound and original were his opinions that they have been successively drawn upon by all the chiefs of his country since his era, and still without exhaustion or loss of adaptation to the circumstances of the country.

The policy of his successors has been but a repetition of his plans, and his maxims are still the guidance of the rulers of Hayti. His thoughts were copious and full of vigor, and what he could express well in the sententiousness of his native patois he found tame and unsatisfactorily in the French language, which he was obliged to employ in the details of his official business. He would never sign what he did not fully understand, obliging two or three different secretaries to re-word the document until they had succeeded in furnishing the particular phrase expressive of his meaning.

He seemed at first to be attached to the interests of the blacks, but when he had tasted of the sweets of power he grew more and more fond of its exercise for himself alone and to secure the possession of nominal liberty to his race, because in that he advanced the interests of his own personal ambition. He made himself an absolute and independent chieftain, both to exalt himself beyond the wanton ignorance of the blacks and to maintain their condition against the designs of France.

“I wish not for independence,” said he, “but as a means of securing to my caste the enjoyment of rights which have once been conceded to them, but which now are menaced.”

Leclerc was instructed to offer a bishop’s mitre to either of Toussaint’s confessors who should succeed in obtaining his voluntary submission; but fathers Antheaume, Moliere and Corneille all declared without hesitation their utter want of all influence over their penitent; and added that devotion with him was but a political mask; and these pretended confessors may be presumed to know better than any one what his confessions were.

The confidential secretaries of Toussaint assured Gen. Leclerc that they knew no one in the world who possessed a control over his stubborn spirit. Napoleon knew so little of his character that he sent Gen. Caffarelli to visit him several times in his confinement, to demand of him how much treasure he had left concealed in St. Domingo.

“I have indeed lost something else beside treasures,” were the only words in reply.

It is perhaps due to truth to say that occasion was taken by the French of their earliest suspicions to seize upon the person of Toussaint, as they feared for the future tranquility of their government in the country so long as there remained within its limits a Negro chief whose all potent voice could at any moment summon the blacks to his standard; and by seizing upon occasions of disaster to the French succeed once more in establishing a native dynasty which would make itself independent of France.

Toussaint had scarcely become settled in his retirement before the vessels which afterwards received him as a prisoner had departed from Cape Francois to receive him at Gonaives.

The arrest of Toussaint did not produce so great a sensation among the blacks as had been expected. The idol that they had worshipped they seemed to resign into the hands of his enemies without a murmur, or at the most the event produced in them but a momentary wonder, which soon subsided into absolute indifference. Toussaint’s aid-de-camp, Lafontaine, against whom it was proved that he had been active in making arrangements for the success of his patron’s designs, was shot at Cape Francois after he had made a written adieu to his family full of pathetic eloquence.

The only disturbance which was consequent upon Toussaint’s capture originated with a black named Sylla, who remained in command of a detachment of black troops at Ennery. These ran to arms at the tidings that their general had been seized by the French; but they were subdued in the very origin of their attempt, and the leaders were shot.

Gen Leclerc now felt conscious that his situation was one of extreme difficulty and danger; and amidst the embarrassments of the case he found it by no means an easy task to determine upon the nature of his policy. He dreaded the consequences if the blacks were suffered to continue with arms in their hands, and he feared the dangers which might result if any attempt were made to disarm them.

He was not ignorant of what Sonthonax had told them: “If you wish to remain free make use of your arms the moment the whites demand them of you; for such a demand will be the inevitable precursor of slavery.” Neither was it forgotten that Toussaint while reviewing his troops would often seize a musket, and brandishing it aloft would exclaim, “Behold your liberty!”

These recollections had their influence in restraining Leclerc from attempting suddenly to disarm the blacks at a moment when disease was thinning the numbers of his own troops; and in a task so delicate he hoped to succeed better by a cautious system of temporizing.

Source: J. Brown, M.D. History and Present Condition of St. Domingo. Philadelphia: Wm. Marshall, 1837.

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