Toussaint Louverture

France officially commemorates the bicentennial of the death of a black French general, as Napoleon's prisoner, on April 7th, 1803.

The Chateau de Joux, high in the mountainous region of Franche-Comté close to the Swiss border, was one of the great state prisons of France, along with the Bastille and the Chateau d'If (described by Dumas in The Count of Monte-Cristo). The huge fortress dates back nearly 1,000 years, its medieval walls augmented by Charles V, Vauban and finally by the young Joffre as engineer officer.

It was in this icy castle that, in 1802,  Napoleon ordered that another French general, Toussaint Louverture, recently  snatched from the heat of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, where he had lived all his life, should be incarcerated. Locked in his cell (which he never again left) on August 24th, 1802, he died alone on April 7th, 1803.

Now, 200 years after, his death is to be marked in France by 'a great national commemoration, supported by the ministry of culture, sponsored by UNESCO, supported by many Caribbean and African countries and personalities', much of which will be centred on the château. Some 18 million euros will be spent to position the château as a 'site-symbol of the fight for liberty'.

Toussaint Louverture is central to this project, though other notable figures were also imprisoned at Joux - Protestants after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Mirabeau (for personal rather than political reasons), chouans after the Vendée, the German patriot-poet von Kleist, as well as mulatto generals, contemporaries of Toussaint.

Toussaint is celebrated as 'the first black general of the French army', having been made general de brigade in 1794, the year in which the National Convention abolished slavery. In that year too the black father of Alexandre Dumas was raised to the same rank, commanding troops in Flanders. Later, Toussaint was general de division.

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