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Deborah Jenson

president of Haiti from 1818 to 1843, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, though no definitive date exists for his birth. It may have been in 1776 (notably on any of several possible dates within the month of February that year), or 1780, or some point in between; the frequently cited date of 1775 appears to derive from an early faulty transcription of the 1776 date. Boyer’s white father was a prosperous storekeeper and tailor in Port-au-Prince. Boyer’s mother was consistently identified as African—often as Congolese—which suggests that she came to Saint-Domingue late enough in life to retain a “foreign” cultural status. Boyer himself was described as relatively dark-skinned for the “mulatto” class. His father’s trade and his mother’s African identity signal the large variety of socioeconomic and socioethnic backgrounds encompassed by the term “mulatto” in his time. Boyer may have been educated in France as a boy.

Boyer ...

Article

Gregory Freeland

Many of the details about Henri Christophe's early life are unclear, but it is thought that he was born a slave on the British-ruled island of Grenada. At a young age he ran away and eventually became the property of a French naval officer and then of a planter on what was then the French-ruled island of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). In 1779 Christophe was part of an armed group sent by the French to assist Americans in defending Savannah, Georgia, against the British. Christophe, at that time a slave orderly, may have fought in a battalion led by the Marquis du Rouvrary; he was wounded in a conflict in Savannah, Georgia, in October 1779. Christophe then returned to Saint-Domingue, and some time during this period he purchased his freedom. By 1790 Christophe was part of a French militia force that overcame two Haitian rebel forces ...

Article

Guerrero was born in Tixtla, now a part of Guerrero, the state in Mexico named for him after his death. He was of mixed race, probably descended from Africans, Spaniards, and Native Americans. His dark complexion earned him the nickname El Negro. For most of his early life he lived in the region where he was born and worked as a wage laborer and a teamster.

In 1810 Mexico's war of independence erupted. Guerrero sympathized with rebel demands, including an end to the restrictive caste system. In December 1810, when José María Morelos y Pavón called for troops in south central New Spain (present-day Mexico) to join him in the revolt, Guerrero enlisted in the rebel forces. He soon was leading troops in the field and by 1812 had become a lieutenant colonel. During 1812 he attacked port towns on the Pacific coast and helped capture ...

Article

Paulette Poujol-Oriol

Alexandre Sabès Pétion was the son of a French colonist and a freeborn mulatto (of African and European descent) woman. It is unclear why he used the name Pétion instead of his father's surname, Sabès. The name Pétion was derived from the nickname “Pitchoun” (little lad). Pétion's father did not recognize his son as his own because of the boy's dark skin, but did send Pétion to France to be educated.

At the age of eighteen Pétion joined the colonial militia, and in 1791, with the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, he joined the rebellion sparked by the slave rebel Boukman. Pétion initially fought under the black forces led by François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, which managed to expel a British invasion of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic and eventually assume complete control over the island After this victory however discord ...

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Raymond Pierre Hylton

college administrator, entrepreneur, and first and sixth president of Liberia, was born either in Norfolk, Portsmouth, or Petersburg, Virginia, the son of James Roberts and Amelia (maiden name unknown). A persistent rumor that his father was an unidentified white man remains no more than mere speculation. James Roberts and his wife were freed people and had seven surviving children. The family ran a boat and trading business that plied the James River. The Robertses probably lived for a while in Norfolk and later moved to Petersburg, where Joseph alternately worked for his father and in a barbershop owned by the Reverend William Nelson Colson, an African American minister and businessman. The Colson business was located at Wythe and Sycamore streets—an historical marker indicates the actual site.

By 1829 James Roberts had died leaving considerable financial assets and property in Petersburg Joseph as the eldest child ...

Article

Peter J. Duignan

fifth president of the Republic of Liberia, was born in Newark, Ohio, the son of John Roye, a wealthy merchant. His mother's name is unknown. His father died in 1829, leaving some personal property and land to Roye. He went to public schools in Ohio, attended Oberlin College, and taught for a few years in Chillicothe. He also tried his hand as a sheep trader and shopkeeper in various parts of the Midwest. After his mother died in 1840 he was influenced by the emigration movement to escape American prejudice. He rejected the idea of going to Haiti and instead traveled to Liberia in 1846 just before an independent republic was installed there in July 1847, taking with him a stock of goods.

At the time of Roye s arrival the new republic faced a variety of ills The dominant Americo Liberians remained a small minority threatened ...