Thursday, April 1, 2010

Haiti’s Only Known Founding Document Found in London

Julia Gaffield discovered an original copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence in the British National Archive.

DURHAM - When Julia Gaffield made her once-in-a-lifetime discovery, she couldn't scream, laugh or even pump her fists in triumph.

Visitors to the British National Archives just don't behave that way.

On Feb. 2, while thumbing through some early 19th- century documents, the Duke University graduate student stumbled upon what is thought to be the only known, printed copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence.

The document that had eluded historians for two centuries sat at the 26-year-old's fingertips, an unassuming eight-page pamphlet in French, declaring this former slave colony's intentions to be free.

"It was an odd moment," said Gaffield, a doctoral student in history. "I'm smiling to myself and bursting with excitement but at the same time trying to keep my composure."

Gaffield's discovery, which Duke will announce formally today, has created a buzz among scholars of Haiti, the Caribbean and rare documents. The document, dated Jan. 1, 1804, was a stubborn statement of freedom from a new nation that would struggle for years for recognition from world powers.

Many copies were likely printed, but none was known to have survived until Gaffield's discovery while researching the early days of Haitian independence. It was an unlikely find; the document was in a book of correspondence between Jamaica and Great Britain. Jamaica was a British colony at the time, and when the Haitians printed the document, a copy was likely given to Jamaican authorities, who then sent it to Great Britain.

The discovery comes on the heels of the devastating earthquake in Haiti that focused worldwide interest on the island nation.

"I suspect there will be immense interest in this discovery," said Ian E. Wilson, president of the International Council on Archives. "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."

The contents of Haiti's declaration have long been known because of hand-written transcriptions. The value of Gaffield's discovery lies in the symbolism of a nation regaining an important artifact.

There's also value in reading the document in its original form, said Laurent Dubois, Gaffield's adviser at Duke. The document was created after a slave uprising, and Haiti was an upstart nation demanding - not begging for - recognition on the world stage, Dubois said.

"The document is a very fiery denunciation of French rule on the island," he said. "In sending this out, they're reaching out to other countries in hopes that other countries will recognize their right to independence."

France eventually acknowledged Haiti's independence in 1825. The United States didn't follow suit until 1862.

Haiti's Declaration of Independence, discovered in the British National Archives. or 919-932-2008


Source: CharlotteObserver

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