I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of man, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching,
when the first should be last and the last should be first.

- Nat Turner

In 1791, revolt broke out in the French Caribbean colony of St. Domingue, which was located on the western third of the island of Hispaniola (the eastern two-thirds was owned by Spain and called Santo Domingo). One of the wealthiest colonies in the Americas, St. Domingue produced half of all the sugar and coffee exported to Europe and the United States. It owed its wealth to the work of slaves, who were treated with brutality.
The rebellion started when free blacks were not granted citizenship, as France's Declaration of the Rights of Man had decreed. Slaves joined in the revolt and returned the brutality their masters had shown them, murdering whites and torching the island. Because slaves and free blacks outnumbered whites by a ratio of more than 10 to 1, the revolt quickly spread through the port city of Cap Franšais and surrounding plantations. In 1794, the National Assembly of France abolished slavery in its colonies, and in January, 1800, when Spain formally ceded its colonial claims to France, Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leading general of the black revolt, became the undisputed leader of the entire island.

Although there is a large body of visual materials depicting the Haitian revolution, there are no existing portraits drawn from life of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the hero of the revolution. The first known representations of Toussaint were included in a book by British admirer Marcus Rainsford, who published An Historical Account of the Black Empire in Hayti in 1805.
Engravings in Rainsford's book were based on his sketches, or, as in the case of Toussaint's portrait, on his oral description: "Every part of his conduct was marked by judgement and benevolence... in person, Toussaint was of a manly form, above the middle stature, with a countenance bold and striking, yet full of the most prepossessing suavity -- terrible to an enemy, but inviting to the objects of his friendship or his love."

Unlike Rainsford, the French considered Toussaint "a villain... this serpent which France has warmed in her bosom," and representations of him by French artists reflected this perspective. In 1832, a new image lithographed by Nicolas Eustache Maurin appeared in Iconographie des contemporains, with a facsimile of Toussaint's signature below. No doubt influenced by three decades of vilification of Toussaint, the portrait's ape-like profile was widely accepted as an authentic likeness, and it became the the most frequently reproduced image of Toussaint.

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