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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

More Americas News

Video US, Cuba Make Progress in Restoring Diplomatic Ties

Friday's session focuses solely on opening embassies in Washington and Havana as quickly as possible
More

Mexico Arrests Drug Lord 'La Tuta'

Mexican federal police captured Knights Templar drug cartel leader Servando 'La Tuta' Gomez, one of the country's most wanted fugitives
More

Embassy Reopenings Top Americans' List in Cuba Talks

Cuba has said it will be linking embassy issue to whether US drops it from State Department's list of sponsors of terrorism
More

Argentina Passes Bill to Revamp Spy Agency After Prosecutor's Death

President Cristina Fernandez says new state security body will be more accountable but government opponents say legislation does little more than change name of spy agency
More

US, Cuba Set for 2nd Round of Talks on Diplomatic Ties

Negotiations in Washington, which follow initial meeting in Havana in January, to include discussion on reopening embassies
More

Obama Defends Immigration Plan

During Town Hall at Spanish language station Telemundo in Miami, US president insists he was within his rights to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation
More