- Thomas J. Shelley
Toussaint, Pierre (1766–30 June 1853), businessman and philanthropist, was born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti). Little is known of his early life except that, like his mother and maternal grandmother, he spent his youth as a house slave on a plantation in the Artibonite Valley in central Haiti near the port of Saint Marc. In the library of the plantation owner, Pierre Bérard, young Toussaint discovered the works of classical French preachers such as Bossuet and Massillon. Apparently it was from his reading of these sermons, rather than from any contact with the notoriously corrupt local clergy, that Toussaint developed his deep devotion to the Catholic faith.
In 1787 as political conditions on the island deteriorated Jean Jacques Bérard who had inherited his father s estate left Saint Domingue for New York accompanied by his wife Pierre Toussaint and four other slaves ...
A version of this article originally appeared in American National Biography.