Lydster: Toussaint Louverture

from the French word for ‘the one who opened the way’

Toussaint LouvertureVirtually all my friends say they never helped their children with homework. My parents certainly never helped me. But there was a disconnect last year between her algebra teacher and most of the class, so I did what I could.

This year, I didn’t help much until my daughter had two sick days in early May. Being ill in high school does not mean you don’t have to do the work. So during the last week of classes, I did assist her for three days in a row.

One of the assignments for AP World History was to talk about a notable historic figure. My daughter decided to draw, then paint, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (or L’Ouverture). He could be considered the George Washington of Haiti, although he did not live long enough to see the end of that country’s revolution.

While she worked on English homework, I found some biographical information about Louverture. The early stuff was vague; he was born between 1739 and 1746, with many historians settling on 1743, in May, or maybe November.

He was a leader of the 1791 slave revolt. “His military and political acumen consolidated those gains, and eventually controlled the whole country. He worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue,” later called Haiti.

“Some time in 1792–93, he adopted the surname Louverture, from the French word for ‘opening’ or ‘the one who opened the way.’ Although some modern writers spell his adopted surname with an apostrophe, he did not.

“The most common explanation for the name is that it refers to his ability to create openings in battle. The name is sometimes attributed to French commissioner Polverel’s exclamation: ‘That man makes an opening everywhere.’ However, some writers think the name referred to a gap between his front teeth.

On 29 August 1793 he made his famous declaration of Camp Turel to the blacks of St Domingue.

In 1800, he created a de facto autonomous colony, and named himself governor for life in the constitution, against Napoleon Bonaparte’s wishes. “In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon to restore French authority. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803.

“The French, suffering the loss of two-thirds of their forces from yellow fever, withdrew from Saint-Domingue that year. The Haitian Revolution continued under Louverture’s lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence on 1 January 1804. It was the only slave revolt in the modern era that led to the founding of a state.”

The airport in Haiti is Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Tabarre, near Port-Au-Prince. The number of cultural references to Louverture is enormous, including a 1971 track by Santana from the group’s third album.

Not helping my daughter with the homework would give me more time. (And I DO love summer vacation!) But in helping, I learn stuff, so that’s the trade off.