There is no prouder moment in Haiti’s history than Jan. 1, 1804, when a band of statesmen-warriors declared independence from France, casting off colonialism and slavery to become the world’s first black republic.

They proclaimed their freedom boldly — “we must live independent or die,” they wrote — but for decades, Haiti lacked its own official copy of those words. Its Declaration of Independence existed only in handwritten duplicate or in newspapers. Until now.

A Canadian graduate student at Duke University, Julia Gaffield, has unearthed from the British National Archives the first known, government-issued version of Haiti’s founding document. The eight-page pamphlet, now visible online, gives scholars new insights into a period with few primary sources. But for Haitian intellectuals, the discovery has taken on even broader significance.

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