Born into slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue around 1740, Toussaint Louverture became a free man under the Old Regime. He nevertheless joined the slave uprising in the colony in 1791, rising to become one of its leaders. In 1794, he switched sides, joining the French; by 1798, he was the lawfully appointed governor of Saint-Domingue and an influential figure in France’s politics and international diplomacy. After a contest of wills with Napoleon, Louverture ended his life as a prisoner in France. Today, he is honored in the Pantheon, the French capital he never saw, whereas in his native Haiti, he is remembered as “the Precursor” who paved the way for Jean-Jacques Dessalines, “the Liberator” who proclaimed the country’s independence.
In 1804 Haiti was declared independent by its formerly enslaved people of African origin. 21 years later, in 1825, France recognised the sovereignty of the former ‘French part of Saint-Domingue’ in return for compensation to be paid to the formerly slave-owning settlers. Haiti was to struggle for a whole century to pay off this debt incurred by independence and the loans raised in connection with it.