Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture Sudhir Hazareesingh
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Allen Lane (30 April 2020)
The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life, he confronted (and for a time overcame) some of the dominant forces of his age - slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, 'the most unhappy man of men', imprisoned in a fortress in France.
Black Spartacus draws on a wealth of archival material, much of it overlooked by previous biographers, to follow every step in Louverture's singular journey, from his triumphs against French, Spanish and British troops to his skilful regional diplomacy, his Machiavellian dealings with successive French colonial administrators and his bold promulgation of an autonomous Constitution. Sudhir Hazareesingh shows that Louverture developed his unique vision and leadership not solely in response to imported Enlightenment ideals and revolutionary events in Europe and the Americas, but through a hybrid heritage of fraternal slave culture, Caribbean mysticism and African traditions. Above all, Hazareesingh retrieves Louverture's rousing voice and force of personality, making this the most engaging, as well as the most complete, biography to date.
After his death in the French fortress, Louverture became a figure of legend, a beacon for slaves across the Atlantic and for generations of European republicans and progressive figures in the Americas. He inspired the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass, the most eminent nineteenth-century African-American; his emancipatory struggle was hailed by those who defied imperial and colonial rule well into the twentieth. In the modern era, his life informed the French poet Aimé Césaire's seminal idea of négritude and has been celebrated in a remarkable range of plays, songs, novels and statues. Here, in all its drama, is the epic story of the world's first black superhero.
Sudhir Hazareesingh was born in Mauritius. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and has been a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, since 1990. He has written extensively about French intellectual and cultural history; among his books are The Legend of Napoleon, In the Shadow of the General and How the French Think. He won the Prix du Mémorial d'Ajaccio and the Prix de la Fondation Napoléon for the first of these, a Prix d'Histoire du Sénat for the second, and the Grand Prix du Livre d'Idées for the third.