Haiti declaration of independence found in UK archives

London, England (CNN) -- A Canadian graduate student has found the only known printed copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence, tucked away in Britain's National Archives, researchers said. Duke University student Julia Gaffield found the eight-page pamphlet, dated January 1, 1804, while researching Haiti's early independence, Duke said in a statement Thursday. The discovery sheds light on the early history of Haiti and the relations it had with its Caribbean neighbors at the time, Gaffield and Duke Professor Deborah Jenson said.

Gaffield is researching early 19th-century Haiti for her doctoral dissertation in history, Duke said. She did research in France, Haiti and Jamaica, where she saw a handwritten copy of the declaration in the papers of Jamaica's governor at the time, George Nugent.

It indicated there was a printed version somewhere, but it wasn't enclosed.

In late January, Gaffield went to London for research at the National Archives, where she found the printed declaration.

"I wasn't specifically looking for it, but I had an eye out for it because I knew it was missing," Gaffield said. "We figured there was an original somewhere, but didn't know if it still existed."

The declaration had not been misplaced and had been in the archives for a long time, Gaffield said. The period had simply not been studied in detail, and Gaffield said she figures people who saw the document before probably didn't realize what they had.

Gaffield said she was thrilled by the discovery, but had to wait until the end of the day to notify her advisers at Duke, in North Carolina.

"The archives are not the place to make a big scene," she said.

Haiti's declaration is only the second of its kind in the world, the first being the U.S. Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson and others, Duke said.

The pamphlet, written in French, has three distinct parts, the National Archives said. The first two pages are titled "Liberte ou La Mort," which translates to "Freedom or Death," in which the generals of the Haitian army sign their names to an oath swearing to renounce forever the French yoke or die rather than live under its domination.

Next, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the general-in-chief, addresses the citizens of Haiti in an impassioned defense of independence and the destiny of the nation.

On the final page, Haitian army generals proclaim Dessalines governor-general for life and swear to obey without question laws issued under his authority.

"To bring this document to light in Haiti's darkest hour may be seen as a symbol of renewal and rejuvenation, helping Haiti rebuild its national spirit following the recent earthquake," said Ian Wilson, president of the International Council on Archives. "Julia's achievement in recognizing the significance of this printed document deserves high recognition."

Oliver Morley, the acting chief executive of the National Archives, said they were pleased to play a role in the discovery.

"It's incredible that the long search for this important document should finally end at the National Archives," Morley said. "This declaration sent to the British government by Haiti's first independent leader is of great historical importance to both Haiti and the British people, and provides unique insight into the first successful slave rebellion of modern times."

Jenson, a professor of French studies at Duke who has researched the U.S. publication of Haiti's independence documents, said the discovery also shows Haiti had a fully functional printing apparatus at every moment of the new nation's independence.

Researchers had looked for the printed declaration before, without success, said Laurent Dubois, a Duke professor of French studies and history and one of Gaffield's advisers.

In 1952, Haiti asked intellectual Edmond Mangones to find an original or printed copy so it could be displayed for the nation's 150th anniversary, Dubois said. Mangones searched in many archives in Haiti and elsewhere before writing with exasperation that all his searching had been "in vain," Dubois said.

"It is really beyond belief," Mangones said at the time, "that not even a copy of the original printed version has been found in France, or in England, or in the United States."

Gaffield's discovery, Dubois said, "has finally changed that."

Documents from Haiti's early history have not been well preserved and are scattered in various places, said Dubois, who is working with other historians to rehabilitate Haiti's archives after the January 12 earthquake.

Dubois and Gaffield consulted Patrick Tardieu, a noted Haitian archivist at Brown University, to confirm the document's authenticity.

"I was so happy to find out it was true," Tardieu said. "It is an important document, and its discovery is important news for Haiti's scholarly community and more broadly for the people of Haiti."

Gaffield said she hopes the discovery will remind historians, Haitians and the world about the early history of the only country in the Western Hemisphere where slaves successfully revolted to gain national independence.

"The Haitian Revolution was of immense consequence to Jamaica and other colonies in the Caribbean, as well as to the United States," Gaffield said. "This find is further evidence that there was contact and negotiations going on between them. Haiti was not isolated after independence and it played a complicated role in a world based on colonialism and slavery."


From slavery to Sarkozy in Haiti

Editor's note: Peniel E. Joseph, a Haitian-American, teaches history at Tufts University. His latest book is "Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama." Patrick Sylvain is a Haitian language and culture instructor at Brown University and a language coach at Harvard. His latest bilingual poetry collection is "Love, Lust & Loss."

(CNN) -- Haiti's emergence as the first free black republic, forged against the backdrop of Caribbean and North American slavery, is pivotal to today's discussions of citizenship, democracy, and freedom.

Now, 206 years after its declaration of independence, Haiti's dire poverty, the earthquake and its massive death toll have triggered yet another global "first," one with potentially major geopolitical consequences.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently visited Haiti, the first French president to set foot on Haitian soil. His historic trip recalled long-standing colonial wounds, even as he graciously offered much-needed economic assistance to a ravaged Port-au-Prince. The visit also offered a glimpse of the Caribbean republic's paradoxical relationship with its former colonial master.

A country once known as the "Pearl of the Antilles," Haiti 's downfall was not of its own making. Its tragic poverty stems from a brutal history of colonial subjugation, one that caused an unexpected and globally shattering revolution that toppled the colonial rule of France, an imperial power that Alexander Hamilton had dreamed of dismantling in the Americas.

Haiti's war of independence, from 1791 to 1803, was won through a combination of bravado and a political self-determination embodied in the bracing personality and ingenuity of Toussaint L'Ouverture. Toussaint was helped by U.S. President John Adams, who saw in him a temporary ally in the quasi-war against France, from 1798 to 1801.

The young United States sought to muster its strength through naval expansion and indirectly curtail France's power in the Caribbean. In 1799, the United States lifted the embargo against Haiti (Saint-Domingue) by providing it with arms, food supplies and naval intelligence that aided Toussaint's war against the pro-French elites.

But positive U.S. policies toward Haiti and the political gains orchestrated by Toussaint L'Ouverture under the Adams administration were dramatically reversed under Thomas Jefferson. He supported the punishing French blockade of Haiti and allowed the French naval power to rise under the leadership of Napoleon, which culminated in the arrest and deportation of Toussaint to France.

The French blockage and closing of U.S. ports to Haiti stunted the embryonic republic's economic growth. France demanded reparations from Haiti of 150 million francs -- about $21 billion in today's money. This forced debt crippled Haiti's economy and took 122 years to repay.

So, on the one hand, President Sarkozy's visit to Haiti initiated a new chapter between that country and France. Indeed, according to Sarkozy, "Haiti must set the conditions for a national consensus on which to base a national project. Haiti for the Haitians."

In a very real sense, Sarkozy's visit offered a glimpse of a more promising future for Haiti, one marked by cooperation with former colonial rulers, in which prosperity replaces endemic poverty.

Haiti's proud and resilient citizens, who have endured a seemingly endless series of setbacks since independence in 1804, remain hopeful that Sarkozy's visit ushers in a long-overdue political alliance with France. But they are also aware that the nations' contentious history cannot be repaired by a single visit from a French president.

Although global observers may interpret French promises of economic aid to Haiti as a gesture of goodwill to the earthquake-stricken nation, Haitians will take a more complex view.

Some observers may also interpret France's assistance as just another in a long line of handouts, but students of Haitian history know better. That assistance has been paid for many times over in the blood of countless unknown Haitians who toiled and died under French rule.

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