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Brief History of Haiti

Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic the island located between Cuba and Puerto Rico. The word Haiti comes from an Indian word that means “high ground”. Christopher Columbus arrived on the island in 1492 and established a Spanish base. When the Spanish settlers learned that there was much gold on the island, they rushed, forced the Indians to mine and raise food for them. They treated all Indians so badly that by 1530 only a few were still alive. Then, they brought slaves from Africa to replace the Indian work force. The Spaniards became riche and moved to Peru, Mexico and neglected Haiti. French, English and Dutch pirates took over the northern and western coast of the island. France named its new colony Saint-Domingue.

By 1778, the 500,000 African slaves worked and made Haiti so prosperous that it became more important to France than its colony in Canada. During the French revolution in 1791, the African slaves took advantages of political instability and rebelled against their masters. They destroyed everything: towns, plantations, properties… Toussaint Louverture, a former slave took over the control of the government of the island. When Napoleon I took power in France in 1799, he sent an important army to Saint-Domingue to arrest and deport Toussaint to France where he was imprisoned and died. However, the slaves of Saint-Domingue continued their fight against the French army and general Jean-Jacques Dessalines became the leader of rebels and proclaimed Saint-Domingue independent on January 1st 1804. He named the country Haiti

Historical foundation of the Haitian community in New York City.
Dr. Duvalier was elected president of Haiti in 1957 and declared himself president for life in 1964. Before he died in 1971, he named his 19 year-old son Jean- Claude to replace him upon his death. Jean-Claude, like his father ruled as a dictator until 1986 when unrest forced him to abandon the power and flee to France in exile.

Since 1960’s thousands of Haitian realized that there was no hope under Duvalier. They started leaving the country to go to France, the United States, Canada and many other counties. Among those who have decided to come to the United States, many came to New York City and during the last three decades, they have formed a large Haitian community in the Big Apple.

This Haitian community in New York City continues to grow because after the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, Haiti became more unstable politically. A Catholic priest, the Reverend Jean Bertrand Aristide, was elected President of the country in December, 1990 and was ousted in October, 1991. He was the first freely elected President of the country since its independence in 1804. Sixty-seven percent of Haiti’s voters voted for him. He took office in February 1991 and left Haiti in October of the same year. More than 40,000 people have tried to enter the United States since 1986 and more than 10, 000 were eventually allowed into the United States to continue to pursue their claims for asylum. In June 1993, Lt.Gen. Raoul Cedras who represented the government of Haiti and the Ousted president Jean Bertrand Aristide met with Mr. Dante Caputo, the United Nation envoy, In New York City, to try to resolve the political and economic crisis. Aristide is back in power since October 1994. Haitians will continue to leave Haiti to come to the United States because the damages made to Haiti during four decades can not be repaired overnight. The First Haitian Missionary in New York City.

The American Baptist convention founded the first Baptist Seminary with the help of Pierre Ludovic St. Phard in 1947. St. Phard had just returned from Jamaica where he studied theology. When he was called to the ministry, there was no training school I Haiti. He became a well known minister in Haiti and served many churches. He left Haiti in 1960’s with his family when the Haitian exodus started. He joined the First Baptist Church of Brooklyn with his wife where David Morgan was pastor. Morgan and St. Phard had met years before in Jamaica as students at the same Bible Institute. St. Phard and his wife Emma became the first Haitian missionaries paid by the Home Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in New York City.

The First Haitian Baptist Church in New York City

The First Baptist Church of Brooklyn was a Southern Baptist Church. When St. Phard joined the church, he became a Southern Baptist minister. The membership of the First Baptist Church did not include only St. Phard as Haitian. Pastor Morgan asked St. Phard to form a Haitian congregation in the Haitian community in 1965. That congregation was born in living room of pastor and Mrs. St. Phard in February 1965, constituted in church in June 1966, incorporated in the state of New York in May 1967. In August 1965, the living room was too small; we rented a larger room in YMCA building located at 55 Hanson Place and bought our own building at 81 Hanson Place in 1968.

The New Leadership

Pastor St. Phard resigned in October 1969. Jean-Baptiste Thomas became pastor of the church the same month. From 1965 to 1969, he was the minister of Education of the mother church and pastor of the chapels at Asbury Park and in Manhattan. He is a graduate of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Haiti who attended the State University Law School of Haiti. He is also a graduate of the City University of New York who earned a Doctor of Ministry from Drew University of Madison, New Jersey. His wife Eliane who attended the School of Teachers in Haiti earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from the State University of New York. Both worked for Manufacturer Hanover trust Company, then the fourth largest Bank of America. After twenty years of service, he left the Bank as an Accountant Senior Analyst at the Comptroller Division and she left retirement, they become full time minister serving the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association, the Baptist Convention of New York, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, the National Leadership Conference of the Home Mission Board of Southern Baptist Convention and of course, the French Speaking Baptist Church (Eglise Baptiste d’Expression Française).

The labor was not in vain. 1978, we bought the big temple located at 209 Clermont Ave Clermont because 81 Hanson Place was too small. Our congregation has given birth to more than thirty churches in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, Missouri, and Haiti… In 1987, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has planted Boyce Bible Center directed by Dr. Jean-Baptiste into the Haitian Community of New York City. After seven year of service, we can find the graduates of Boyce as pastors, evangelist, teachers, speakers, writers in many states: Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania Florida, and Haiti… In Florida for example, many churches are pasturing by former members of our church. Among those competent leaders, we like to mention Rev. Wilfrid Lubin, Rev. Antoine Michaud, Rev. Maurice Louissaint, Rev. Jacques Dumornay, Rev. Yvon Delinois, Rev. Rene B. Jacques, Rev. George Daleus, Rev. Inginac Theodore, Rev. Emmanuel Cesar, Rev. Renaud Balzora…

In Chicago, we encourage the pastors to form an association of pastors and churches; In Nassau , Bahamas, we encourage the churches to establish a center for the Haitian community; in Paris, we minister with the Association of churches; in Haiti, more than eight centers are organized and managed by members of our churches.