News / Americas

Haiti's Declaration of Independence Found in British Archives

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Audit Finds US Housing Aid Program in Haiti Falls Short

Results show post-earthquake USAID program has delivered only a quarter of planned number of homes at nearly twice the budgeted cost
More

Mourning, Memories in Garcia Marquez's Languid Hometown

Nobel Prize-winning author's early years in Aracataca inspired characters, tales for major novel
More

Powerful Earthquake Rattles Mexico

US Geological Survey says quake measuring 7.5 on Richter scale, was centered in the western state of Guerrero, north of Acapulco beach resort
More

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support
More

Colombian Novelist Garcia Marquez Dies at 87

Author of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' won Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982
More

Salsa Legend Cheo Feliciano Dies in Car Crash

Police say singer was alone in his jaguar when he hit a post before sunrise Thursday
More