First black nation’s freedom declaration papers traced

April 2nd, 2010 - 3:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, April 2 (IANS) A Canadian student has found the missing printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence from France more than 200 years ago. Haiti, the Caribbean nation in news because of January’s devastating earthquake, was the first black nation to gain independence from colonial powers way back in 1804.
But the problem was that the original printed copy of the Declaration of Independence announced by Haiti’s freedom fighter Jean-Jacques Dessalines Jan 1, 1804, was missing. Historians have been trying to locate that document for long.

But Toronto student Julia Gaffield stumbled upon the rare document while researching the British National Archives in London in February, according to Canadian media outlets.

When Gaffield opened a bound book of documents from 1804, she unearthed the only known printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence, wrote the Globe and Mail.

“I was surrounded by complete strangers who were all very wrapped up in their own work. Inside I was bursting with excitement, but I’m not sure if anyone else in there would have been interested,” the newspaper quoted the 26-year-old student as saying.

Currently, she is in her third of her PhD research at Duke University in North Carolina.

As part of her Ph.D, she was researching the National Archives of Jamaica last year when she found a letter from a British colonial official in 1804, which referred to an enclosed copy of the Haitian declaration not “one hour from the press.”

But the included copy of the declaration was handwritten, and Gaffield suspected the original was held elsewhere, according to the newspaper. She said she found the original declaration while searching through Jamaican colonial records in London where it was part of the documents sent from Jamaican Governor George Nugent to Lord Robert Hobart on March 10, 1804.

“It has been incredible. My life is not usually quite as exciting as Indiana Jones,” the paper quoted her saying. Gaffield said she was fascinated by Haiti’s history after a visit to that country and decided to focus its early years of independence after her master’s degree from York University in Toronto.

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