Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc

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Portrait of Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc
General Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc (also Victoire-Emmanuel Leclerc, LeClerc or Le Clerc) (March 17, 1772 Pontoise - Val-d'Oise, France - November 1, 1802 La Tortue, Saint-Domingue) was Commander-in-Chief of the 1802 French expeditionary force sent to re-establish slavery in Saint-Domingue. Leclerc was Napoléon Bonaparte's brother-in-law (married to Napoleon's favorite sister Pauline). He entered French military service voluntary in 1791.

Leclerc is appointed to command the expedition to Saint-Domingue

Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc
After tenures in the Army of Ireland and the Army of England, Leclerc gained promotion to general de division, which allowed him to aid Napoleon Bonaparte's bid for power. He participated in the coup d'etat of 18 Brumaire (in November 1799) making Napoléon Bonaparte the ruler and military dictator (First Consul) of France. More military campaigns followed on the Rhine and in Portugal and then in 1802 his brother-in-law appointed him commander of the expedition to recover the former French colony of Saint-Domingue, now Haiti,

Leclerc arrives in Saint-Domingue to reinstate slavery

In December of 1801 Leclerc leaves the French harbor of Brest with a fleet of 12 ships, commanded by Louis Thomas Villaret de Joyeuse. The goal of this massive shift of troops to Saint-Domingue was to defeat Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolutionaries and to bring back slavery to this great source of France's wealth.

With a large expedition that eventually included over 30,000 European troops, the French won several victories after severe fighting. At one point Toussaint, referring to the fight against the efforts of Leclerc to reinstate slavery, writes in a letter to Jean-Jacques Dessalines: "Tear up the roads with shot; throw corpses and horses into all the fountains; burn and annihilate everything, in order that those who have come to reduce us to slavery may have before their eyes the image of that hell which they deserve." (Beard, p. 186f)

The Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres
Toussaint Louverture, in addressing his soldiers before the battle of Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres (on February 23, 1802) speaks of his adversary Leclerc and the French invasion forces: "You are going to fight against enemies who have neither faith, law, nor religion. They promise you liberty, they intend your servitude. Why have so many ships traversed the ocean, if not to throw you again into chains? They disdain to recognise in you submissive children, and if you are not their slaves, you are rebels. The mother country 1, misled by the Consul 2 , is no longer anything for you but a step-mother. Was there ever a defence more just than yours? Uncover your breasts, you will see them branded by the iron of slavery." (Beard p183 ff)

During that important battle, the French 5e Regiment d'Infanterie Legere (5th French Light Infantry Regiment) was under the command of General Leclerc.

In Guadeloupe, another slave holding French colony in the Caribbean, Antoine Richepanse succeeded to roll back the abolition of slavery in May of 1802. Richepanse and his soldiers, who had been send by Napoléon with the same goals as Leclerc, killed 10.000 people in the process and opened the eyes of many in Saint-Domingue. After Richepanse's success the true intentions of the French became very clear.

Leclerc seizes Toussaint Louverture by deceit

After many battles including the important Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres (Feb. 1802) and Siege of Crête-à-Pierrot (March 1802) Toussaint's forces, even though they inflict huge losses on Leclerc's army, begin to weaken from the onslaught by the heavily armed French forces. Toussaint agrees to retire in the summer of 1802. Acting on Napoleon's secret instructions, Leclerc later seized Toussaint Louverture (on June 7, 1802) by deceit during a meeting and deported him to France where he died while imprisoned at Fort de Joux in the Jura mountains in 1803.

This treacherous act swung the tide inexorably against French hopes. Native insurgents redoubled their efforts to defeat the French, who were weakened by an epidemic of yellow fever. Leclerc died of the fever in November 1802 on La Tortue. He was succeeded in command by General Rochambeau, whose brutal racial warfare only succeeded in drawing more people to the rebel armies, including black and mulatto army officers like Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Henri Christophe. In November 1803 Rochambeau admitted defeat and Dessalines proclaimed the independence of Haiti on January 1, 1804.

Leclerc served as the Saint-Domingue Governor-General from February 5, 1802 to November 2, 1802

Note 1: France

Note 2: Napoléon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, a.k.a. the First Consul.

See also







  • Beard, J. R. (John Relly) (1863). Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH. Online Publication
  • Clarkson, Thomas Esq.. (1823) Thoughts on the Necessity for improving the Condition of the Slaves in the British Colonies, with a view to their ultimate emancipation; and on the practicability, the safety, and the advantages of the latter measure. London: Richard Taylor. (Project Gutenberg Online text)
  • Charles Leclerc. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. [Accessed on Nov 26, 2005 09:44 UTC] [1].