Louise Livingston - Frontier Sophisticate

Louise Livingston


Frontier Sophisticate

Louise’s adventurous and dramatic life began far from New York’s Hudson River Valley.

Marie Louise Valentine D’Avezac y Castera was born in Haiti, then called Saint-Domingue. Her parents were wealthy plantation owners. In 1794, at age 13, Louise married a much older man and moved to his Jamaican plantation. Life was not easy. Within three years, her husband and three infant children were dead. She returned to her childhood home on Saint-Domingue.

But the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) changed things forever. This bloody political insurrection led by François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, in which free and enslaved people of color overthrew the French colonial government, forced Louise and her relatives to flee the island. With her elderly grandmother, other female relatives including small children, and family slaves, Louise went on foot through tropical forest toward the shore, where a boat from a British frigate was supposed to meet them and bring them to the ship lying offshore. The party waited through a night and a day in the forest before the boat came under cover of darkness. Revolutionaries on the shore fired upon them in the boat as they made their way to the frigate, killing Louise's grandmother and a slave. The harrowing tale of their escape in 1800 was a story that the family told again and again as one they felt defined Louise’s personality.

Toussaint Louverture; Chef des Noirs Insurgés de Saint Domingue, by Jean de Beauvais. Ink and paint on paper lithograph, c. 1802. Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor Lenox and Tilden Foundations.

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