He spent his life fighting for a liberty he would not survive to enjoy. Yet because of his bravery and determination, millions remain free.
As the 18th century came to a close, the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Dominque, known as Haiti by the indigenous islanders, was the richest colony in the world. It produced 60% of the world's coffee and 40% of its sugar. But its wealth was fed by the blood, sweat, and tears of the people enslaved and worked to death on the disease-ridden plantations of the island's white masters.
Toussaint Bréda was one such slave. He was born on a plantation, but as an adult was able to earn his freedom. At that time, one in 12 slaves managed to buy their way out of slavery. These were les gens de couleur libres, or free men of color. Ironically, once free, they were at liberty to perpetuate their society’s social conventions, which is to say, they too could own slaves. This created a precarious social caste system on the island the white slavers were happy to exploit.
Toussaint received an education, likely with the help of his family. As a free man, he eventually bought a small coffee plantation. It was worked by about a dozen slaves. But Toussaint knew that owning other humans was wrong. Events would soon lead him to turn this understanding into action.