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Columbia University Archives-Columbiana Library

Pierre Toussaint

Pierre Toussaint (1776-1853) was born a slave in Saint Domingue. His owner migrated to New York with five slaves, including Toussaint and his younger sister, when the political situation became unstable. Working as a hairdresser, Toussaint supported his owners and made a small fortune. He was freed in 1807 and bought his sister's freedom in 1811. That same year, he also purchased the freedom of Mary Rose Juliette, a young woman from Haiti whom he married. Although he was wealthy enough to retire early, Toussaint continued to work so that he could help others. He bought the freedom of many men and women, helped Haitian refugees find jobs, supported the Catholic Orphan Asylum and the first Catholic school for black children in New York, and gave funds for the construction of the church of St. Vincent de Paul. He also gave money to the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious order of black nuns established by another Haitian in Baltimore. Toussaint died in 1853, and in 1990, his remains were interned in Saint Patrick's cathedral. He is the first person, other than an archbishop, to be buried there. The process to canonize him started in 1968.

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