BLACK SPARTACUS: THE EPIC LIFE OF TOUSSAINT LOUVERTURE. An outstanding study of how ‘the first black superhero of the modern age’ led the world’s only successful slave revolution.
By Ian Thomson
In January 1804, the West Indian island of Saint-Domingue became the world’s first black republic. The Africans toiling on the sugar-rich plantations overthrew their French masters and declared independence. The name Saint-Domingue was replaced by the aboriginal Taíno Indian word Haiti (meaning “mountainous land”) and the Haitian flag created when the white band was ceremonially ripped from the French tricolour. Two hundred years on, Haiti’s is the only successful slave revolution in history. It was led by Toussaint Louverture, a Haitian former slave and emblem of slavery’s hoped-for abolition throughout the Americas.
This superb new history of Louverture and his legacyportrays Saint-Domingue as the most profitable slave colony the world had ever known. The glittering prosperity of Nantes and Bordeaux, Marseilles and Dieppe, derived from commerce with the Caribbean island in coffee, indigo, cocoa and cotton; Saint- Domingue’s sugar plantations alone produced more cane than all the British West Indian islands together.
Whipped, chained and branded with the French fleur-de-lis, the slaves took up arms under Louverture – in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte a “gilded African”–and burned down plantation homes. The prospect of a free black state founded on the expulsion of its white community horrified the western world – this was half a century before the civil war liberated the enslaved peoples of the United States.
Sudhir Hazareesingh, a Mauritian-born historian, conducted much of his research in the French archives, where so many revolutionary-era documents are preserved. He has scrutinised letters from Louverture to a vast number of French officials and revolutionary republican organisations. Black Spartacus is not a dry academic work, though; with rare narrative verve, Hazareesingh conjures his subject’s extraordinary life. …
Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh is published by Allen Lane (£25). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com.