[1803] - Toussaint L’Ouverture dies in prison

Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, died in the French prison of Fort de Joux on 7 April 1803. In 1801 he had moved to assert Haitian independence from Napoleonic France by drafting a constitution that called for the creation of a sovereign black state, free from colonial influence. Bonaparte responded, however, by despatching an expeditionary force to the island to restore French control. After fierce fighting L’Ouverture was captured and transported to France. He arrived in the country on 2 July 1802 and was imprisoned on 25 August. He died of pneumonia the following year.

L’Ouverture’s death inspired William Wordsworth to compose a sonnet in August 1803:

Toussaint, the most unhappy Man of Men!
Whether the rural Milk-maid by her Cow
Sing in thy hearing, or thou liest now
Alone in some deep dungeon’s earless den,
O miserable Chieftain! where and when
Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a chearful brow:
Though fallen Thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.
          (Gill, The Oxford Authors: William Wordsworth (1984), p. 282)

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