By Nathan H. Dize
In May 2017, France celebrated its eleventh day commemorating the Abolition of Slavery. Throughout the Republic, mayors gave speeches and placed wreaths of flowers before statues and plaques in homage of key figures in the history of abolition. In many cities, this meant honoring Toussaint Louverture, the leader who led his compatriots in the Haitian Revolution until he was arrested, deported, and imprisoned in France from August 1802 until his death in April 1803. However, the French Republic has done little to recognize the circumstances that led to Louverture’s death on French soil as part of these commemorative celebrations.
Monuments to Louverture often only include mention of the oft-cited “tree of liberty,” his abolitionism, or that he “died in France.” Statues and plaques of Toussaint Louverture in Bordeaux, Grenoble, and in the Château de Joux near Pontarlier participate in what Christine Chivallon refers to as “mémoire oublieuse” (forgetful memory) to elide details of Louverture’s imprisonment. French commemorations of Toussaint Louverture celebrate his abolitionism rather than provide restorative or symbolic justice for Haitians or former colonies impacted by French slavery and the slave trade.Image 1: General Leclerc’s account of Toussaint Louverture’s arrest (credit: Internet Archive)
On June 11, 1802 General Charles Victoire Emmanuel Leclerc, Napoléon Bonaparte’s brother in-law tasked with reinstating slavery in Saint-Domingue, arrested Louverture along with his family and servant Mars Plaisir and deported them to France. After 28 days at sea, the Louvertures arrived in the French port of Brest. Toussaint was separated from his family and sent along with Mars Plaisir to the Château de Joux prison in the glacial Jura mountains of Franche-Comté. When the two arrived at the medieval fort on August 23 the prison’s commander, Louis Philibert Baille de Beauregard, escorted Louverture and Plaisir to their cell. From the end of August until his death on April 7, 1803 Louverture was subjected to constant surveillance, room searches, and harsh conditions during his imprisonment.