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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Memoir of Pierre Toussaint (1854)

Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Memoir of Pierre Toussaint (1854)

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Abstract

First published in Boston in 1854, The Memoir of Pierre Toussaint is Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee's account of the life of Toussaint.  He was born a slave in Haiti, and moved to New York City with the Bérard family of France. He was eventually granted emancipation, and continued to live and work in New York.  Sawyer Lee, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, was a popular author of biographies, and educational and domestically themed novels. In his own biography of Toussaint, Arthur Jones explains that Lee relied on notes and letters written by her sister, Mary Anna Sawyer Schulyer, for the majority of her source material for the Memoir, as Schulyer was a close friend of Toussaint.

Introduction

The Memoir of Pierre Toussaint by Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee was published in Boston in 1854, a year after Pierre Toussaint’s death. Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, was a popular author of biographies, and educational and domestically themed novels. Arthur Jones explains in his biography of Toussaint that Lee relied on notes and letters written by her sister, Mary Anna Sawyer Schulyer, for the majority of her source material for the Memoir, as Schulyer was a close friend of Toussaint. According to Lee’s Memoir, Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti in 1766 and relocated to New York City in 1787 while enslaved to the Bérard family. In New York City he became a hairdresser, attending mostly to elite, white clients. Lee also relates the history of Toussaint’s emancipation from slavery after Madame Bérard’s death, his devotion to his white hairdressing clientele as a free man of color, and his allegiance to the Catholic church.

All three editions of the Memoir were published by Crosby, Nichols, and Company in Boston. Contemporary reviewers of Lee’s Memoir drew comparisons between Toussaint and the character Uncle Tom, as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1851, three years prior to Lee’s Memoir. An 1854 review in The Christian Reformer noted that the Memoir aided in the abolitionist movement because of its Christian rendering of an enslaved person. Conversely, the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator critiqued Lee in a review from November 1853 for her sympathetic portrayal of slavery: “Her own mind is still enveloped in a pro-slavery mist, and poisoned by colorphobia.”

The majority of secondary scholarship pertaining to The Memoir of Pierre Toussaint consists of biographical studies of Toussaint, most recently Arthur Jones’ 2003 biography. Critical scholarship is notably lacking on Lee’s Memoir. Pierre Toussaint is a figure of research within religious studies, especially Catholic studies, as Toussaint has been a candidate for canonization by the Catholic Church since the early 1990s. In 1990 his remains were exhumed by the church and relocated to the main altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City, from his original burial in the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on 260-264 Mulberry Street, also in New York City. Pope John Paul II declared Pierre Toussaint venerable in 1996.

Other works by Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee: Three Experiments of Living (1836); Elinor Fulton (1837); “Notices in Continuation,” The Memoir of Miss Hannah Adams (1832); The Life and Times of Martin Luther (1839).

 

Notes

Bibliography

Works Cited

Jones, Arthur. Pierre Toussaint. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

Secondary Bibliography

Artiano, Emily Lauren. “Vexed Tongues: A Translingual Approach to Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Literature.” Ph.D. Northeastern University, 2015. ProQuest.

Bristol, Douglas W. Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Tarry, Ellen. The Other Toussaint: A Modern Biography of Pierre Toussaint, a Post-Revolutionary Black. Boston, Mass.: St. Paul Editions, 1981.

 

 

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