Benoit Joseph André Rigaud (1761 – 18 September 1811) was the leading mulatto military leader during the Haitian Revolution. Among his protégés were Alexandre Pétion and Jean-Pierre Boyer, both future presidents of Haïti.
|Died||18 September 1811|
|Known for||Revolutionary military leader and General; proclaimed Presidency of the southern state of Haiti in opposition to his protégé, Alexandre Pétion|
Rigaud was born on 17 January 1761 in Les Cayes, Saint-Domingue, to André Rigaud, a wealthy French planter, and Rose Bossy Depa, a slave woman. His father acknowledged the mixed-race (mulatto) boy as his at a young age, and sent him to Bordeaux, where he was trained as a goldsmith.
After returning to Saint-Domingue from France, Rigaud became active in politics; he was a successor to Vincent Ogé and Julien Raimond as a champion of the interests of free people of color in Saint-Domingue (as colonial Haïti was known). Rigaud aligned himself with revolutionary France and with an interpretation of the Rights of Man that ensured the civil equality of all free people.
By the mid-1790s with slave uprisings in the North, Rigaud was leading an army, a force in the Ouest and Sud departments. He was given authority to govern by Étienne Polverel, one of the three French Civil Commissioners who had abolished slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1793. Rigaud's power came from his influence with the mulatto planters, found mostly in the South. They were fearful of the masses of former slaves; Rigaud's army also contained blacks and whites.
In the South and West, from 1793 to 1798, Rigaud helped defeat a British invasion and re-establish the plantation economy. Although Rigaud respected Toussaint Louverture, the leading general of the former black slaves of the North, and his superior rank in the French Revolutionary Army, he did not want to concede power in the South to him. Rigaud continued to believe in Saint-Domingue's race-based caste system which put mulattoes just below whites while leaving blacks at the bottom, a belief that put him at odds with Toussaint. This led to the bitter "War of Knives" (La Guerre des Couteaux) in June 1799, when Toussaint's army invaded Rigaud's territory. Comte d'Hédouville, sent by France to govern the island, encouraged Rigaud's rivalry with Toussaint. In 1800, Rigaud left Saint-Domingue for France after his defeat by Toussaint Louverture. On 1 October 1800, while bound for France aboard the French schooner Diana, Rigaud became a prisoner of war when the Diana was captured by the USS Experiment. He was subsequently detained in Saint Kitts by the Americans and held there until he was released.
Rigaud returned to Saint-Domingue in 1802 with the expedition of General Charles Leclerc, Napoleon's brother-in-law. He was sent to unseat Toussaint and re-establish French colonial rule and slavery in Saint-Domingue. After the First French Republic abolished slavery in the colony in 1794, following the first slave uprising, the colonial system based on exports of commodities from sugar cane and coffee plantations had been undermined. Sugar production fell markedly, and many surviving white and mulatto planters left the island as refugees. Many emigrated to the United States, where they settled in southern cities such as Charleston, or to the Spanish colonies of Cuba or New Orleans. LeClerc was initially successful, capturing and deporting Toussaint, but Toussaint's officers led the opposition by Haitian indigenous troops; they fought on for two more years. Defeated by disease as well as Haitian resistance, France withdrew its 7,000 surviving troops in November 1803; they were less than one-third of the forces that had been sent there. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a black from the North, led Saint-Domingue to victory and independence, declaring Haiti the new name of the nation. He ultimately declared himself emperor.
Rigaud returned to France after the failure of the expedition in 1802-1803. For a time he was held a prisoner in Fort de Joux, the same fortress as his rival Toussaint, where the latter died in 1803.
Rigaud returned to Haiti a third time in December 1810. He established himself as President of the State of the South, in opposition to both Alexandre Pétion, a mulatto and former ally in the South, and Henri Christophe, a black who took power in the North. Shortly after Rigaud's death the following year, Pétion recovered power over the South. Rigaud's tomb is on a small hill between Camp-Perrin and Les Cayes, which is now split in half to make a new road to ease transport.
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