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The Early Haitian Presence in the United States

Black Caribbean Literature (BCL)
Zephir,Flore (Author)
Newspaper Article
Publication Date:
Jul 2004
Dorchester, MA
African American Research Center, Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject Term:
Caribbean area, History, United States, Blacks, Emigrants and immigration, Culture, Toussaint, Pierre, 1766-1853
Pierre Toussaint, considered the first American Black saint, is also of Saint-Domingan origin. He was born in 1778 of Haitian slaves in Saint-Domingue, and was owned by a well-educated French family, the Bérards, who brought him to New York with them in 1797 when they fled the slave uprising. While living with the family as a domestic slave, Toussaint learned to read and write and also learned how to be a hairstylist. It is said that he developed a devoted clientele among the city's social elite and was allowed to keep his earnings. Mrs. Bérard freed Toussaint before she died in 1807. Upon Mrs. Bérard's death, Toussaint married a woman from Haiti and, since they had no children of their own, they took in orphans, refugees, and other unfortunate people. In fact, he co-founded with Elizabeth Seton one of the first orphanages in New York City, and helped with fundraising for the city's first cathedral.