Amidst the Devastation, Haiti's Heritage Showcased in Postal History


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the tiny Caribbean nation of Haiti. Aside from the destruction of homes, businesses, municipal buildings and related infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are believed to be seriously injured or dead from the earthquake and its aftermath.

Haiti's Culture & National Pride On Display Through It's Postal History

Fifty-six years ago this month, Haiti celebrated the 150th anniversary of its independence from France. The postage stamps franking the envelope (cover) depicted below honor Haiti's historic and contemporary political heritage. The cover, from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's collection, was mailed on April 29, 1954 from Port-au-Prince, Haiti and delivered to Miami, Florida after passing through U.S. Customs.

The stamps used to pay the postage on the above cover honor early and contemporary Haitian national heritage. Every stamp used on this cover was issued on January 1, 1954, the official date of the 150th anniversary of Haiti's independence from France.

The two stamps at top right of the cover are Airmail stamps showcasing events during the Haitian struggle for independence including "Marie Jeanne and La Martiniere Leading Attack" and the Battle of Vertieres (these two stamps are enlarged below). The two 15-centimes stamps at the center of the cover honor a pivitol Haitian military commander from the Battle of Vertieres, Francois Capois "La Mort" (The Dead). Capois' fearless leadership of Haitian soldiers against the French at Vertieres was critical to Haiti's eventual independence from France.

two Haitain stamps

The 50-centimes stamp at bottom left of the cover depicts Toussaint L'Ouverture, a crucial leader of the Haitian independence movement in the 1790s. The woman prominently featured on the two 10-centimes orange stamps at top left is Madame Yolette Magloire, the wife of President Paul Magloire. Madame Magloire was well known for her charitable works for the Haitian people. The Magloire's were in power during the celebrations in 1954 for the 150th anniversary of Haitian Independence.

Decorative envelope with illustration of a woman, addressed to the USA from Haiti

As mentioned in our January 14, 2010 blog post, many of Haiti's most enduring historical buildings have also been destroyed by the January 12th earthquake including the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince. Fifty years ago, Haiti celebrated the 100th anniversary of Occide Jeanty's birthday. Jeanty is one of Haiti's most famous musical composers. One of several stamps issued on October 19, 1960 to honor Jeanty depicted the Presidential Palace in the background. Today, the Presidential Palace lies in ruins, a tragic reminder of the widespread and indiscriminate destruction caused by this natural disaster.

The cover shown above is franked by three of the Haitian stamps honoring Jeanty and canceled on their first day of issue, October 19, 1960. More importantly, the cover has a hand painted image of a Haitian woman walking with a basket. Though seemingly mundane, covers with nicely drawn or painted imagery like this one are unusual and particularly interesting as they provide a glimpse into the artistic viewpoint of another time period.

Illustration on an envelope of a woman carrying a basket

Learn more:

A Brief History of Haiti

Following Christopher Columbus' 1492 discovery of Hispaniola, the island on which present day Haiti is located, Spain dominated the island for over one hundred years. In the 1600s, the French began settling part of the island and in 1697, Spain ceded France the western area of the island (the area of present day Haiti). In 1804, the same year France sold the United States the Louisiana Territory, the population of slaves in Haiti rebelled against the French. The slaves' successful revolt led to the establishment of the first black republic to declare independence from a European power. Haiti is the second oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, behind the United States. In the twentieth century, Haiti experienced prolonged periods of conflict, foreign occupation and political turmoil. Currently the United States is by far Haiti's largest trading partner.

Learn more about how you can help the relief efforts for the victims of the January 12, 2010 earthquake: CNN List of Relief Funds.

Related content: Haiti

Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.