This statue of François-Dominique Toussaint, better known as Toussaint Louverture, was donated to the city of Bordeaux by the Republic of Ha...

Toussaint Louverture: helping Bordeaux come to terms with its slave trade past (part 1)

This statue of François-Dominique Toussaint, better known as Toussaint Louverture, was donated to the city of Bordeaux by the Republic of Haiti in 2005. The subject matter of this work, sculpted by Haitian artist Ludovic Booz, and its riverside location are heavy with significance, forming an important step on the road to Bordeaux coming to terms with its slave trade past.

Picture from
Fonds Jacques de Cauna collection,
previously featured in Sud Ouest.
Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) was a self-educated slave in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (later to become Haiti). In the slipstream of the 1789 French Revolution, the issue of slavery was seriously called into question, much to the discontent of plantation owners in the colonies. The revolutionaries eventually bowed to pressure and decided to back down from their egalitarian stance; the news of this betrayal soon spread, triggering mass slave revolts. Leading the Saint-Domingue rebellion was Toussaint Louverture.

In 1793, France and Great Britain went to war, and British troops invaded Saint-Domingue. To build an alliance with slaves, the French revised their previous decision and abolished slavery in the colony, a move which was extended to all the French colonies shortly afterwards by the National Convention, led by Robespierre and the Jacobins. Toussaint Louverture became an ally of the French army and as a military general drove British as well as Spanish invaders out of the colony.

When the Jacobins were overthrown in France and Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, the national legislature began to once again reconsider their decisions on colonial slavery in response to the lobbying actions of planters. After Toussaint Louverture created a separatist constitution, Napoléon Bonaparte sent an expedition  in 1802 to retake the island, oust Louverture and restore slavery.

More than 50,000 French troops died in attempts to retake the colony. Leclerc invited Toussaint Louverture to a parley but the meeting was a cover - Toussaint Louverture was kidnapped and deported to France, where he was imprisoned at Fort de Joux in the Jura mountains. He died there in 1803 of a combination of exhaustion, malnutrition, pneumonia and possibly tuberculosis.

Isaac Louverture (picture from
Fonds Jacques de Cauna collection,
previously featured in Sud Ouest).
The fight for independence continued after the deportation of Toussaint Louverture. French troops were defeated at the Battle of Vertières and, in late 1803, as France withdrew its remaining 7,000 troops from the island, Napoleon gave up his plans to re-establish a North American empire. Former slaves proclaimed the independence of Saint-Domingue on January 1st 1804, and Haiti remains the only contemporary nation born of a slave revolt.

Returning to the statue, there are direct ties between Toussaint Louverture and the city. His younger son Isaac, who along with brother Placide had been educated in France, lived and died in Bordeaux. He is best-known as the author of memoirs entitled “A Nineteenth-Century Representation of Black Masculinity in the Name of the Father” and lived in this house on Rue Fondaudège.

After Isaac's death in September 1854, as stated on the plaque he was buried in Chartreuse cemetery in central Bordeaux, first in an unmarked grave before his remains - and those of his widow Louise Chancy Louverture - were transferred to the vault of the Gragnon-Lacoste family, whose patriarch was a great admirer (and biographer) of Toussaint Louverture. When I went looking, locating the grave initially appeared to be akin to locating a needle in a haystack, but fortunately a helpful attendant was on hand to point me in the direction of this discreet plaque:


  1. Interesting and educational post, looking forward to part 2. Diane

  2. Thanks - part 2 coming soon indeed... giving the full low down on the slave trade in Bordeaux.

  3. Hello,
    The name of Isaac's widow is Louise Chancy (not "Chauzy").
    Best regards,
    Jacques de Cauna, "Toussaint Louverture. Le Grand Précurseur"

    1. Thank you, this has been corrected... and have added a link to your book!