Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Juste Chanlatte, 13 September 1803

From Juste Chanlatte

Baltimore 13 Septembre 1803.

Monsieur Le président

Pardonnés si ma foible voix s’élance jusques vers votre personne importante, pour lui témoigner, en quittant ce païs heureux & où l’hospitalité s’éxerce aussi humainement, mon regret de ne pouvoir pas l’habiter; mais je conserverai éternéllement en ma mémoire le souvenir de la bonté de ce climat et de ses habitants. il me reste, Monsieur Le président, à vous donner l’assurance que j’adresserai des vœux à la providence pour la conservation de vos précieux jours, nécessaires à une nation qui les îdolatres à de si justes tîtres!

Excusé aussi, Monsieur Le président, de la liberté que je prends de vous distraire de vos éminants, penibles et Salutaires traveaux, pour uniquement vous offrir ce gage de mon admiration, pour vôtre intégrité, vos vertus comme mon inaltérable & profond respect.

Chanlatte aîné

Editors’ Translation

Baltimore, 13 Sep. 1803

Mister President,

As I leave this happy country where hospitality is so humanely offered, forgive my feeble voice reaching out to your important person, to express regret that I cannot live here. I shall forever remember the goodness of this country and its inhabitants. All that remains, Mister President, is to assure you that I will pray to Providence to preserve your precious days which are necessary to a nation that rightly idolizes them.

Please forgive as well, Mister President, my taking the liberty of distracting you from your worthwhile, painful, and salutary tasks, simply to offer you this sign of my admiration for your integrity and character along with my deep, unwavering respect.

Chanlatte the elder

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ, who misread the name as Charlotte Amé, as received 16 Sep. and so recorded in SJL.

Juste Chanlatte (1766-1828) was a native of Saint-Domingue of mixed European and African ancestry. He received an excellent education in Paris, then became involved in the movements in Saint-Domingue for emancipation and independence. He sat on the “intermediate commission” that Léger Félicité Sonthonax established in the fall of 1792 to replace the colonial assembly. Political changes forced Chanlatte, with the assistance of merchants at Port-au-Prince, to seek refuge in the United States in 1797. A list of letters to be picked up at the post office in Baltimore in 1801 and the “aîné” he attached to his signature in the letter printed above suggest that his younger brother, François Desrivières Chanlatte, who was also well educated and later became a government official and writer, accompanied him. TJ’s mistaking of Chanlatte’s name in the endorsement and in his epistolary register may indicate that the two had never met. After returning to Saint-Domingue, Chanlatte became secretary general of the government under Jean Jacques Dessalines. In that capacity, which he continued under Dessalines’s successor, Henri Christophe, Chanlatte played a key role in drafting the Haitian declaration of independence in 1804 and constitution of 1805. From Christophe he received a title of nobility, becoming the Comte des Rosiers. Chanlatte composed plays and verse, edited the Haitian government’s official gazette, and wrote tracts on Haiti and race, including Le Cri de la nature (Cap-Haitien, 1810), which he called, in its subtitle, an hommage haytien to Henri Grégoire (Ertha Pascal Trouillot and Ernst Trouillot, Encyclopédie Biographique d’Haïti, 1 vol. to date [Montreal, 2001], 1:211-13; Joseph Saint-Rémy, Pétion et Haïti: Étude monographique et historique, 2d ed., 5 vols. in one [Paris, 1956], 4:11, 19-21; David Nicholls, “Race, couleur et indépendance en Haiti [1804-1825],” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine [1954- ], 25 [1978], 185-6, 189, 201; Doris Y. Kadish, “Haiti and Abolitionism in 1825: The Example of Sophie Doin,” Yale French Studies, 107 [2005], 111, 121-4; Albert Valdman, “Haitian Creole at the Dawn of Independence,” same, 151-3, 156-7; Thomas O. Ott, The Haitian Revolution, 1789-1804 [Knoxville, Tenn., 1973], 66; Baltimore Federal Gazette, 16 June 1801).

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