Toussaint L’Ouverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803)
The Atlantic Slave Trade lasted from around the 16th century through to the 19th century. Although much emphasis is placed on the efforts people like Rosa Parks, Olaudah Equiano and Marcus Garvey who helped to end not only slavery, but bring equality, there were people and events which preceded some of the most courageous people celebrated in Black History.
There were the Maroons in Jamaica, led by Nanny, who was born of the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, who helped to free slaves and took control over much of the hilly inlands of Jamaica. Marcos Xiorro was an African slave who led a revolution in 1821 in Puerto Rico. There were also a few different slave revolutions in Mâle, Brazil in 1835. Arguably the most successful slave rebellion in the Americas was led by a man named Toussaint L’Ouverture.
L’Ouverture was born in the country then called Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and was freed from slavery at the age of 33 in 1776. He continued to work but was able to acquire property and some wealth, due to his increased responsibilities as a driver and work force organiser. When the revolution began in 1791, he was placed in charge of a small band of rebels and negotiated with the French Governor to stop the use of whips, and an extra non working day amongst other things. These demands were not met, and the rebels started to increase their alliance with the Spanish. After many years of fighting and treaties with Britain and the US in 1798, L’Ouverture was captured, sent to France and died in 1803, a year before Haiti declared independence and abolished slavery.
These achievements are not to be taken lightly. Haiti was the wealthiest of all the Caribbean colonies in 1789, producing 60% of the world’s coffee and 40% of the worlds sugar. Haiti gained its independence almost 160 years before other Caribbean islands like Guyana and Barbados. In other words, this was not a colony which had no significance. How then has Haiti, along with other Caribbean islands with vast resources, become so poor in the 200 years since independence? It seems as though the UK, France and Spain continue to benefit, almost as though independence and the abolition of slavery signalled a change of oppression rather than an end to it. Has slavery ever really ended?