Friday, 23 November 2012

Leek and the Haiti connection




I saw a puppet Baron Samedi the voodoo deity in a garden in Leek. His black top hat was covered frost. He did not look happy. The figure suggests that the Haitian cult of voodoo may have a toe hold in the town. Curiously enough though Leek does have a connection with the benighted Caribbean island in the shape of General Brunet of Clerk Bank.

The early 1800s saw the culmination of a bloody slave revolt on the island of San Domingo. The man who would eventually lead the revolt was Touissant L’Ouverture regarded by admirers as the “Black Napoleon” due to his military prowess. This remarkable man the son of African slaves proclaimed the end of slavery on the island and lead a war of liberation taking on the French, Spanish and finally the British who sent 20,000 to conquer San Domingo in 1798.

 By 1802 Napoleon was determined to recapture the island and reinstitute slavery. And this is where General Jean Baptiste Brunet comes in. An army commanded by General Le Clerc with Brunet as a second in command landed. Toussaint waged a successful guerrilla war against the French who lost many. Eventually both sides wearied of the conflict and peace negotiations agreed. However, Napoleon still wanted him arrested and Brunet drew Toussaint in on a promise of safe conduct. It turned out to be a trick and he was arrested along with his family and taken to an isolated chateau in the French Alps. (I realise that readers might find difficult to believe that the French act duplicitously).

The manner of Toussaint’s betrayal of which Brunet played a prominent part lead to a violent uprising which lead to the French abandoning the island. San Domingo changed its name to Haiti and became an independent country, perhaps the most successful slave uprising in history.

As for Brunet he was captured by the British in October 1803 and arrived in Leek the following year. By 1812 he was living in was living in Clerk Bank. He held a soirée, which met weekly in the Sheepmarket. The General had a comfortable life to be contrasted with the humiliation and privation suffered by the great man he brazenly tricked.