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How one man's freedom fight still reverberates to this day; Liverpool researchers discover Toussaint Louverture's story Deborah James reports.

Byline: Deborah James

RESEARCHERS in Liverpool are using archive material from around the world to show how an 18th Century slave achieved almost mythic status as a modern revolutionary icon.

Toussaint Louverture is famous for fighting for the freedom of black slaves in the Caribbean and defeating the armies of French conqueror, Napoleon Bonaparte.

His story is being made into a movie by American actor Danny Glover, to be produced by his new company Louverture Films.

Dr Charles Forsdick at the University of Liverpool's School of Modern Languages is searching archives across the world to understand how Toussaint, a black slave from Haiti, has survived in modern culture.

Tomorrow is International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition and events are being held in Liverpool to mark the occasion. August 23 was chosen to mark the anniversary of the triumph of the slaves in 1791, viewed as the beginning of the end of slavery.

More than 5,000 slave voyages left Liverpool, transporting over one million Africans to the Americas, as part of the infamous'slave triangle' and much of the city's wealth depended on the slave trade.

Dr Forsdick said: "What is so fascinating about Toussaint is that he became a mythic figure almost immediately after his death. He was tricked into a meeting with General Brunet in 1802 and was captured and held in a medieval fortress on the French-Swiss border.

"Here he was left to starve to death and never saw Jean-Jacques Dessalines lead the Haitian slaves to victory over the French."

Archive material has been discovered in France, Florida, New Orleans and Trinidad depicting Toussaint's life through French reports, eyewitness accounts and newspapers.

The archives reveal the varied attitudes he instilled in political leaders and popular writers and artists all over the world.

Many writers and poets used Toussaint as a way of showing their anger at Napolean's rule. In popular fiction Toussaint is a perhaps best known in the writing of Wordsworth. Homage was also paid by Orson Welles and in Madison Smartt Bell's novels: All Soul's Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone That the Builder Refused.

Dr Forsdick said: "Toussaint was vilified in the French press which sparked a strong anti-Napoleonic response in the London newspapers and from Wordsworth and Coleridge.

"He became the catalyst for debates about the abolition of the slave trade in French and American literature, such as the writings of John Beard, Frederick Douglass and Wendall Phillips.

"Toussaint was very much shape shifter; he fought as an ally of Spain against France and as an ally of France against England and Spain, playing the competing sides against each other. French historians often portray Toussaint as a schemer, but he was more of a shrewd strategist."

Dr Forsdick's findings, part of a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship, will be published in 2008


Toussaint Louverture; Gin is poured on the soil by Chief WK Rolla at the Canning Dock libation in 2000
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2005
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