News / Americas

Haiti's Declaration of Independence Found in British Archives

The only known copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence has been discovered by a Canadian graduate student in Britain's National Archives. In the 1950s historians tried and failed to find the declaration for Haiti's 150th anniversary.

On January 1, 1804, former slaves proclaimed the independence of their country Saint-Domingue from France, declaring the new nation be named Haïti. Though it was known that documents declaring the country's emancipation were printed, none had ever been found.

That's until a Canadian graduate student tracked it down recently, tucked away in Britain's National Archives.

Duke University graduate student Julia Gaffield was doing research in France and in Haiti, and found reference to a printed declaration in a Jamaican library. Jamaica was then a British Colony, so she came here to London, to search the British archives.

"I didn't quite expect to find it because, you know, obviously there have been no copies anywhere else, but I knew there was a chance and I guess I was just hoping," she said.

When she turned the pages in the bound letter book that held documents from 1804 she found a cover letter from the governor of Jamaica and Haiti's Declaration of Independence.

"I was slightly surprised by what it looked like because it was in pamphlet form rather than a large proclamation that would be posted up in a public space, so you know it's this very grandiose and spectacular document, but the presentation of it was kind of underwhelming I guess," she said.

Historian Alex von Tunzelmann says the discovery is important because it gives a look into  the only country in the Western Hemisphere where slaves successfully revolted to gain national independence.

"This was a slave colony that had risen up and defeated the white colonial rule and then become independent, the first real successful really slave revolt in history," he explained.

Gaffield says it set a precedent. "It is the second declaration of independence ever issued and in a way set the standard for what would come," she said. "The American declaration was the first, but since Haiti followed suit it then became the typical thing you do when you become independent, you issue an official declaration of independence."

The seven-page document is in French and starts with the words Liberty or Death, echoing the battle cry of the American Revolution, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." It concludes by asking the people of Haiti to take an oath to "live free or die, to uphold the independence of Haiti until their last breaths."

While historians had already known the contents of the document, Gaffield says it was still moving.

"It's an emotional document, it's a poetic document," she stated. "I often think of it as a call to arms and an expression of the fact that the fight for independence was not over yet."

Gaffield says one measure of success of that fight is that Haiti exists today. In the wake of the country's devastating earthquake In January, she says finding this document is even more special.

"So much has been lost in Haiti right now and it's a wonderful feeling to be able give something back," she said. "And to remind Haitians and the world that Haiti has a pretty great history that was very powerful and world changing."

Gaffield is a couple of years from finishing her doctoral dissertation that led her to find Haiti's Declaration of Independence. She says there could still be a lot of documents about the country's history yet to be found.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Relatives Doubt 42 Men Died in Mexico Ranch Shootout

The lopsided death toll and photographs from the scene in which bodies appeared to have been moved have raised questions
More

Pope Beatifies Murdered Salvadoran Archbishop

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers converge on Salvadoran capital to witness papal declaration for late Oscar Romero - now one step from Roman Catholic sainthood
More

Scores Killed in Western Mexico Gunfight

Officials say almost every person killed in Michoacan state shootout was a suspected gang member
More

Latest US-Cuban Talks Ends in Washington

Both sides cite progress on restoring diplomatic ties, but no final agreement reached
More

Tutu Lends Support to Age Campaign

Help Age International has launched Action 2015 campaign
More

Colombia Kills 18 FARC Rebels

The bombing raid took place in the Cauca region of western Colombia
More