April 2, 2010 in Nation/World

Student uncovers Haitian papers

Emery P. Dalesio Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. – For years, Haiti’s government has sought out the pamphlets on which the country’s founders declared that they had thrown off their colonial masters, ended slavery and created the world’s first black republic. Now historians say a graduate student has found what could be the only copy left.

The leaders of Haiti’s revolution sent their Declaration of Independence to other governments in the days after the island country’s 1804 birth. But copies from that original printing have been lost in the centuries since, and the country’s national archivist said he’s traveled abroad looking for any that might have survived.

Duke University said Thursday a graduate history student found what could be the only surviving copy. Julia Gaffield made the discovery in February while combing through early 19th century correspondence collected in Great Britain’s National Archives in London, the archives and Duke said.

The director-general of Haiti’s National Archives, Wilfrid Bertrand, said that he was not aware of any surviving official originals of the declaration, not even in the possession of the government in Port-au-Prince. An original copy had been rumored to exist in London, Bertrand said, but he could not find it when he went looking himself about 10 years ago.

If the document proves to be authentic, Bertrand said he would like to see it returned to Haiti.

“It is a very important document for our country,” said Bertrand, who first learned about the find on Thursday. “It has every bit the same importance as the American Declaration of Independence.”

Historians believe that in the aftermath of Haiti’s violent birth, preserving copies of the declaration was low on the list of priorities. Its leaders were busy worrying about the possibility of new invasions and internal unrest.

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