Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Lopinot and the Haitian Revolution


There are few occasions in a person's lifetime that possess a sense-alteration to the degree of conveying the impression of being outside of the events taking place. The cusp of epochs; a common version may be the death of a parent or the collapse of a career.

To better grasp the scale of the Haitian Revolution, the events can only be perceived via such terms as Holocaust, mass murder, the liberation of a people, the birth of a nation, genocide, and even these, muttered out of context, lose their importance. Seeing is believing.
She was undoubtedly a woman of great strength of character and personal courage, exceptionally brave or perhaps simply possessed by the incipient stupidity that overbreeding sometimes brings to the upper classes.
She was completely aware of the whole scale destruction and mass murders being undertaken by the slaves. On the plantation La Resource she was not alone. The house slaves, still faithful to the memory of her parents, hovered breathlessly on the borders of their serfdom. She herself had but one clear intention, that was, to save the life of Charles Joseph Count Loppinot de la Fresillière, who had come into her pallid life two years before.
She was a Creole of this island and had known only the odour of the negroes, the aroma of burnt cane, the smell of molasses, of sawdust and of perfumes imported from abroad and as such, had lost their delicacy in the furnace holds of ships becalmed in the wide Sargasso Sea.
She knew well the fragrance of exotic tropical blooms carried on a warm wind when one sat dozing in the side gallery, the slave girl in spotless white, fanning her bare feet. She had been unprepared for the fresh crispness of his appearance, the originality of his clothing, and a sense about him that she could only compare to freshly baked bread or if you could imagine the smell of sunshine.
All her life, she had a highly developed olfactory faculty. They were never  lovers. He had arrived on the island aboard a 78 gun ship of the line in the company of the exalted. After having lived in Louisiana as an officer in the militia, he was now at St. Domingue where he was appointed Lieutenant de Roi par interim at Port au Prince. He became Major Commandante pour Roi at Jerome in 1784 and Commandante particulier at Port au Prince in 1787.
He occupied large estates in the colony. He married Catherine Fabre d'Auray by whom he had four sons. He was her neighbour. From the hilltop upon which her mansion had been built, she could see the burning cane fields. Macaque, her father's valet, so named in a moment of levity in what now seemed to be a thousand years ago, approached her with much gentility, smiled through his chattering teeth and told her in courtly French that the wagon was prepared and that the Monsieur had consented to enter the hogshead that had been provided for their escape and that he had requested her to join him. This she declined in as much as she had already decided to die in the house her father had built, overlooking the deep bay at Moucound.
Six of her strongest houseboys rolled the heavy oaken barrel in which the Count, wrapped in blankets against the inevitable collisions lay in hiding. This was heaved onto the waiting oxcart. Later they would roll it on to a careened longboat leaning on the waters edge in the bay. This in turn would be hauled aboard the British frigate "Arethusa" that would eventually take him and his family, also hidden in rum barrels, to Jamaica and safety. He would, however, return with the British expedition.
That evening, with her delicate profile turned slightly windward, she could smell them coming long before she heard them in the bottom of the garden near to the fountain dedicated to the Three Graces, built by her father in the year that she was born.
Five years later, between the execution of Louis XVI on the 21st of January 1793 and that of Marie Antoinette on the 16th October, at the promting of Loppinot himself, the future Louis XVIII - the Dauphin Louis XVII still being alive - then Compte de Provence, conferred on Loppinot the powers of Governor General of St. Domingue and Commissioner of all the Windward and Leeward Islands of America by a commission signed in Hamm in Westphalia on the 24th August 1793. This was to commence when "... His Majesty would only be able to decide further useful directions on the restoration of the monarchy, only then would he send his orders."
In as much as his lands had been lost in St. Domingue and in return for his service with the British expedition, the Secretary of State decided that a suitable grant of land would be made to him in Trinidad.
Col. Thomas Picton was a large, red-faced Welshman who drank more than he should and kept a notoriously common woman of an indeterminable racial background as a mistress. He tended to run the colony in much the same manner as he did his regiment. He was sitting in a warm rummy vapour which emanated from his person, when the Count was announced by the German sentry belonging to the 3rd Hompesch's regiment of German "Jägers" left behind so as to maintain order in the freshly captured island.
Picton could not stand the idea of meeting and dealing with yet another overly brought up, dandified ex-courtier of a now extinct kingdom. Frenchies made him sick. With elaborate resignation he listened as the Count Loppinot went through lengthy formalities, finally arriving at the point: land. Sorry, Picton had not heard a word from the Secretary of State and as such had no authority to make a grant. Undeterred, the Count borrowed money on mortgage. He attempted to utilise his slaves by purchasing a half share in a sugar estate at Tacarigua. But the depressed sugar market at the time, so different from the prosperous revolutionary days in St. Domingue, resulted in heavy losses for him.
In Trinidad, his rank and military experience earned Loppinot the confidence of the military governors of the island who succeeded Col. Picton. Brigadier General Thomas Hislop appointed him a brigadier-general in the militia. It was during the latter's governorship that the Count again applied for a grant of land in a mountain valley above Tacarigua. This time he was successful, and the area of his cocoa plantation is still bearing his name to date.
Under Hislop's successor, Major-General W. Monroe, during a period when the wars for the liberation of South America was being conducted by a young mestizo revolutionary called Simon Bolivar, Loppinot was sent with troops to flush out a revolutionary cell that had been built up under the aegis of one Geraldine Carry on Carry's island in the Dragon's Mouth, Chacachacare.
The insurgents, comprised mainly of members of the local Masonic Lodge, had already left for Guiria on the mainland. Taking the town, they were successful in the recommencing of the revolution, which had petered out. They were later known as the "Immortal 45" and were with Bolivar at the capture of Caracas.
Sir Ralph Woodford, the island's first civil governor who succeeded Munro in 1813, dismissed the old Council of Advice of previous administrators and appointed a new Council of Three, one of whom was the Count.
In 1814, the year after Woodford's arrival, the news of the fall of Napoleon came. The Count lost no time in suggesting means of winning back St. Domingue. In elaborate terms he addressed the Comte d'Artois. He commenced:
"Monsignor, we have heard the most memorable, the most happy and the most cheering event for the spirit of Frenchmen. The monstrous idol, that fantasy of ambition and error raised up is finally cast down to leave only the bitter memory of the most painful screams..."
He was reminding the Comte d'Artois of his position and rank and proposed a commission for himself as Governor General, not in name but in fact. He wrote dozens of letters outlining various schemes and plans to retake St. Domingue, now Haiti. They all came to nothing. The most wealthy, the most splendid, the most fantastic colony France had ever possessed was now on the road to its own destiny. The last of the house of Bourbon to sit upon the throne of France were reactionary relics of the ancient regime, best remembered by the saying that they learned nothing and forgot nothing. In his closing of one of his last letters to the king a disappointed Loppinot writes:
"Since the happy events which restored His Majesty to the throne, I have not received a single instruction..."
Loppinot lived out his last years in his mountain retreat as one of the most respected and prominent inhabitants of the British colony of Trinidad. When he died in 1817, he was buried on his estate, as were his wife and a son. Well beloved by his slaves, there was never a hanging in Loppinot. The family and title exist to this day in France.

No comments: