- Thomas J. Shelley
hairdresser, businessman, and philanthropist, was born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (later Haiti). The names of his parents are unknown. 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 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. The main source for information on Toussaint's life is his autobiography, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in Saint Domingo, which was published anonymously by Hannah Lee Sawyer a contemporary ...
A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.