It’s been 217 years since Toussaint died of cold, exposure, and neglect on April 7, 1803, at the Fort de Joux, on a high hilltop in the Doubs, France. He’d been arrested treacherously in Haiti by a French ally, and the French then had him transported across the Atlantic on the French frigate Créole, after his arrest in Haiti. He was held for a month at the Temple in Paris, where before him Marie Antoinette and other more important members of the royal family had been held before being taken to the guillotine. From the Temple, he was taken with his valet Mars Plaisir to the fort, and thrown into a bleak dungeon that can still be visited:
Here’s the loathsome and duplicitous letter sent by the French general Brunet, a supposed friend, that lured Toussaint to his arrest and kidnapping:
BRUNET, GEN. OF DIVISION, TO THE GEN. OF DIVISION,
- Now is the time, Citizen-General, to make known unquestionably to the General-in-chief that those who wish to deceive him in regard to your fidelity are base calumniators 2, and that your sentiments tend to restore order and tranquillity in your neighborhood. You must assist me in securing free communication to the Cape, which has been interrupted since yesterday, three persons having been murdered by fifty brigands between Ennery and Coupe-à-Pintade. Send in pursuit of these murderers men worthy of confidence, whom you are to pay well; I will keep account of your expenses.
- We have arrangements to make together, my dear General, which it is impossible to do by letter, but which an hour’s conference would complete. If I were not worn out by labor and petty cares, I should have been the bearer of my own letter today; but not being able to leave at this time, will you not come to me? If you have recovered from your indisposition, let it be to-morrow; when a good work is to be done, there should be no delay. You will not find in my country-house all the comforts which I could desire before receiving you, but you will find the sincerity of an honest man who desires only the prosperity of the colony and your own happiness. If Madame Toussaint, whom I greatly desire to know, wishes to take the journey, it will give me pleasure. If she needs horses, I will send her mine. I repeat, General, you will never find a sincerer friend than myself.
- With confidence in the Captain-General, with friendship for all who are under him, and hoping that you may enjoy peace,
- I cordially salute you.
- (Signed) BRUNET
- P. S. Your servant who has gone to Port-au-Prince passed here this morning; he left with his passport made out in due form.
Toussaint was a former stable boy on the Breda plantation in Haiti, but he was also a shapeshifter and, over a long and complicated revolution that eventually won Haiti its independence from France eight months after his death, he showed himself wily enough to have made allies of enemies and harsh enough to have made enemies of allies. He knew what equality meant and once addressed a note to Napoleon “From the first of the blacks to the first of the whites.” But in the end Napoleon tore him from home and did away with him.
Madison Smartt Bell, author of a three volume series on the Haitian Revolution that begins with the masterful All Souls’ Rising, (all souls being the English translation of Toussaint), wrote this about Toussaint’s end:
In fact, Toussaint survived a little more than seven months at the Fort de Joux. In the conclusion of his memoir he had written, with a certain insight into Napoleon’s plan for him: “Is it not to cut off someone’s legs and order him to walk? Is it not to cut out his tongue and tell him to talk? Is it not to bury a man alive?” No one wanted to make him a martyr. His bones were lost in a potter’s field, but his spirit, never to be suppressed, helped carry the Haitian Revolution to ultimate victory.
Speaking of Haitians being moved around the globe by nonHaitians: today, 61 Haitian migrants who were deported from the US to Haiti in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak here. Haiti had already closed its borders last month in hopes of preventing an outbreak of the virus, but the US was allowed to violate that with this deportation. So far it has counted 25 cases. However, Haiti can’t possibly have adequate testing for the new virus, and certainly doesn’t have the ability to quarantine people adequately or to provide hospital beds or ventilators for the very ill. I’m thinking some savvy ICE official chose the day of Toussaint’s death to inject this possible death dose into Haiti.