Haiti's Long-Missing Independence Declaration Found

Haiti's long-missing declaration of independence was found by a Duke University graduate student. i

Duke University graduate student Julia Gaffield found what is believed to be the only surviving printed copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence while doing research at the British National Archives in London. Gerry Broome/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Gerry Broome/AP Photo
Haiti's long-missing declaration of independence was found by a Duke University graduate student.

Duke University graduate student Julia Gaffield found what is believed to be the only surviving printed copy of Haiti's Declaration of Independence while doing research at the British National Archives in London.

Gerry Broome/AP Photo

Very exciting news for all of us history buffs came out of Duke University on Thursday.

A graduate student there has evidently found the only known copy of what amounts to Haiti's Declaration of Independence.

Julia Gaffield was doing research at the British National Archives in February when she had her eureka moment.

From a Duke press release:

While researching the early independence of Haiti in February, Julia Gaffield found the document, an eight-page pamphlet dated Jan. 1, 1804, in the British National Archives in London. It is only the second declaration of its kind in the world, the first being the U.S. Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson and others.

Gaffield, who is researching early 19th century Haiti for her doctoral dissertation in history, said the document had been overlooked in the British archives, even as researchers spent decades searching for it in Haiti.

"I wasn't specifically looking for it, but I had an eye out for it because I knew it was missing," Gaffield said. "We figured there was an original somewhere, but didn't know if it still existed."

"I suspect there will be immense interest in this discovery," said Ian E. Wilson,
Librarian & Archivist of Canada Emeritus and 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. Julia's achievement in recognizing the significance of this printed document deserves high recognition."

Duke has a video interview with Gaffield who explains how once she made her incredible discovery, she had to contain herself since she was in a quiet reading room.

Haitian officials are excited by the possibilities, to say the least, according to the Associated Press:

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."

Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador in Washington, said that if the document found by Gaffield turns out to be authentic, it would provide the country with a boost at a desperate time, weeks after the earthquake that killed about 230,000 Haitians.

"It will help to build their pride," Joseph said in an interview with The Associated Press. "When people have pride in themselves and their country, they do great things."

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