Memoir of transactions that took place in St. Domingo

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This little tract is an account of British sailor Marcus Rainsford's encounter with Toussaint Louverture on the island of Saint-Domingue. I can't verify its authenticity - some bits do seem fantastic -- yet the punchline, in which Toussaint spares Rainsford's life -- certainly seems in character for the General. Following are the notes I took on viewing the book at John Carter Brown Library on June 21, 2004. I was thrilled to discover the book had been signed by M. Rainsford himself! --Stumax 15:30, 17 Jan 2005 (PST)

Cited as

{{Memoir of Transactions that took place}} yields
Rainsford, Marcus (1802). A Memoir of Transactions that took place in St. Domingo... London: R.B. Scott.

Front Matter:

that took place in
St. Domingo,
in the spring of 1799;
affording an idea of the
present state of that country
the real character of its black governor,
Toussaint L'ouverture,
and the
safety of our West-India Islands
from attack or revolt;
the rescue of a British officer
under sentence of death.

Inest sua Gratia parvis.

by Captain Rainsford,
Twenty-four years an officer in His Majesty's army.

Printed by R. B. Scott.
At his Office in St. Clement's Lane, Strand.

Sold by Edward Lawrence, in the strand,
Nearly opposite Beaufort Buildings.

Very little will be expected in the following pages when coming from the pen of a Soldier; but that little will be found to be his own; and this on a Subject of much doubt and importance may possibly protract its existence in an age of compilation! He is however, better satisfied to consider it as a small emanation of gratitude to a singular man, who in the possession of extraordinary power, did not use it unworthily.
-- London, January 6, 1802


Rainsford is, as he says "Born of a respectable family in the kingdom of Ireland." He joined the military at a young age and "served during the American war." In the process of trying to join his regiment in Martinique, his ship is blown off course, ending up in Cape Francois. It was suggested that Rainsford pretend to be an American so that he would avoid being captured as a POW (Britain at the time being at war with Saint-Domingue.) Who do they see on arrival at the Cape but "the respectable Toussaint in familiar conversation with two private Brigands. He very civilly came up to us - enquired the news - from whence we came ? and our destination. I accommodated my answers to the occasion, and to the character I was to support, and complained of severe treatment from the English! to which he replied, "Je pense que les Anglois y sont bien malade à la Mole" -- he believed the English were very sick at the Mole -- and we took our leave." (pp. 7-8)

Rainsford is surprised to discover at the American hotel "a perfect system of equality!" Officers and privates sat together. "I had the honour of sitting near a fat drummer, who very freely helped himself from my dish, and addressed me with frequent repititions of "A votre Santé bon Americain." Here also Toussaint dined, but did not take the head of the table, from the idea (I was informed) that no man should be invested with superiority but in the field. In the evening I went to the billiard table, where Toussant [sic] also came. Much hilarity prevailed, and his affability highly increased the satisfaction of the company. i played with him, and found nothing to dissipate the pleasure which the novelty of the scene inspired. There were several tables in the same room, at which all played with the same familiarity with which they dined." (pp. 8-9)

Rainsford learns of a review of the troops which he subsequently attends with Americans and other Englishmen pretending to be Americans. (The pertinent description of this appears elsewhere, in Parkinson, I believe). On traveling the city, the young Captain is dismayed to see it in ruins. American merchants had built houses and shops on the ruins, which only served to make the place more depressing. "The great street still contained the walls of many superb edifices of five and six stories high, and most beautiful structure; highly-finished gilt balustrades, in some instances, yet remained." (p. 10)

[Note: I have seen an illustration of this monument. Perhaps someone would be kind enough to upload an image. --Stumax 15:30, 17 Jan 2005 (PST)] Wandering the city, Rainsford "arrived at a large square, in the centre of which was a considerable eminence, and a seat on the top; -- there were two centinels [sic] to guard it -- of whom I enquired if I might ascend the steps? They answered in the affirmative, but cautioned me not to touch the Cap of Liberty which crowned it, for it was SACRED TO SANTHONAX [sic] AND POLVEREL! My curiosity induced me to ascend; when I perused, immediately under the cap, a showy inscription in French, of which I do not exactly recollect the idiom, not daring to take a copy, but it was to the following purport --

My Friends,
We came to make you free,
The French Nation gives liberty to the World.
Guard your Freedom.
Vive la Liberte -- Vive la Republique.
Vive Robespierre!

"This inscription, I understand, formed a part of thier speech in 1793, when the Blacks and the Mulattos carried them in triumph to the Government-House, and afterwards set fire to the city in eight different places. They used every woman with savage barbarity, and then murdered with the bayonet, man, woman, and child. Sixty-two thousand inhabitants left the city. They exterminated the Whites and revelled in their cruelty eighteen days! Such is man when in the possession of power! and happy would it be for the human race if the Insurgents of St. Domingo, so little removed from savage life, were not countenanced by those who have partaken of the felicities of civilized society. Of the carnage that flew through this island enough has already been said; but it is yet in the recollection of many Americans, that the view of the city in flames, the adjacent sugar works, &c. was the most dreadful ever beheld." (pp. 12-14)

Haunted by the images he has imagined, Rainsford enjoyed the city for three weeks, taking care to keep up his appearance of being American. Rainsford marvels at how productive the people are, labouring with no coersion or punishment aside from "a sense of shame produced by slight confinement." (p 17) Given the geographical defenses of the city, the spirit of unity, and the impressive military display he has seen, Rainsford guesses that at least fifty thousand men would be required to subdue the population, and that many more required to maintain any advantage.

On pp. 21-22, Rainsford offers this description of Toussaint: "Born a Slave, in which capacity he continued till the revolution, it is hostile to received opinions to consider him in any other light than as a fortunate Brigand; but chance has directed that the present writer hould be constrained to acknowlege [sic] -- he is worth of imitation sa [sic] a man -- he excites admiration as a governor -- and as a general, he is yet unsubdued without the probability of subjection! His regard for the unfortunate appears the love of human kind; an, dreaded by different nations, he is the foe of none. --To the English he is by no means inimical, and, in possession of many of the blessings of humanity, he courts the acceptance of the world.

"He is a perfect black, at present about fifty-five years of age -- of a venerable appearance, but possessed of uncommon discernment. Of great suavity of manners, he was not at all concerned in the perpetration of the massacres, or in the conflagration.

"He is stiled the General en Chef, and is always attended by four Aids-de-Camp. He wears as a uniform, a kind of blue spencer, with a large red cape falling over his houlders, and red cuffs with eight rows of lace on his arms, and a pair of large gold epaulettes thrown back on his shoulders; a scarlet waiscoat, pantaloons and half-boots; a round hat with a red feather and national cockade; and an extreme large sward is suspended from his side. He receives a voluntary respect from every description of his countrymen, which is more than returned by the affability of his behaviour, and the goodness of his heart. Of his civilities to myself, I have sufficient reason to be proud.

"I met him frequently, during my stay in his dominions, and had no occasion of complaint, even from human errors."

Rainsford, his ship having finally been repaired, sets sail from the Cape, but the ship springs a leak, and putting in at "Fort Dauphine, now called Fort Egalite", Rainsford on suspicion of being an English spy is "arrested by four Blacks, and a Mulatto Officer of great ferocity." The Captain is tried and sentenced to death, and spends two weeks in a cell waiting for Toussaint to affirm the verdict.

"At the expiration of that period, the answer of Toussaint arrived; but, instead of confirming my sentence, that truly great man, although I have since been convinced he had ascertained the fact of my being a British Officer, disdained to triumph over an individual whom misfortune had thrown in his way. he ordered me to be released and suffered to proceed on my voyage, with the greatest magnanimity adding, "You must never return to this island, without the proper passports!"

Immensely relieved, Rainsford leaves port as soon as possible, sailing for St. Thomas and finally reaching the island of Martinique where he rejoins his unit.

Book Information
Title Memoir of Transactions that took place in St. Domingo...
Author Marcus Rainsford
ISBN n/a (call number at John Carter Brown Library: D862 R159m
Publisher R. B. Scott
Date unknown
Place London
Date published 1802
Pages 31