Duke Unveils Own Copy of Haitian Declaration of Independence

Reading of Haitian Declaration of Independence

When a Duke graduate student unearthed in 2010 the only known government-issued copy of the 1804 Haitian Declaration of Independence at the British National Archives, historians hoped it might spur a discovery of other similar copies. 

It did, and now Duke has a copy of its own, one not produced by the Haitian revolutionary government, but one that appeared around the same time possibly written by a Haitian listening to a public reading of the print copy.

The Duke version was unveiled Tuesday at a ceremony in the John Hope Franklin Center following a roundtable discussion of the Haitian revolution and its Declaration of Independence. At the unveiling, Jacques Pierre, who teaches Creole and Creole studies at Duke, read from his scholarly translation into Creole (pictured above).

The copy will be permanently housed in the Rubenstein Library, which acquired it through the work of Will Hansen, assistant curator of collections.

The copy came to Duke's attention in the aftermath of graduate student Julia Gaffield's discovery.  In 2012, a French automotive employee sent Duke Professor Deborah Jenson photos of a handwritten copy of the Haitian Declaration, found in papers of the colonist Jean-Baptiste Colheux de Longpre, for authentication.

Featuring many phonetic spellings and irregular separations of words, the copy is believed to have been made at the time of the Haitian Independence in 1804, Duke experts say. Students in the "Caribbean at Duke: Exploring Archives" seminar are comparing Duke's versions to the handful of other known manuscript copies, gathered by Jenson and Gaffield, to understand how scribes in the new nation of Haiti participated in spreading and preserving the "birth certificate" of its identity.

UPDATE: As of Thursday, the original copy has been returned to the Rubenstein Library, where it can be viewed by arrangement. The display is still at the Franklin Center, but with facsimiles of the four pages of the declaration replacing the original.

Below, visitors observe Duke's copy of the Haitian Declaration of Independence Tuesday.  Photos by Geoffrey Mock.

At the unveiling of the Haitian Declaration of Independence