Pierre Toussaint

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circa 1825


Anthony Meucci


The New-York Historical Society
Pierre Toussaint was one of the slaves that the Berards, a former grand blanc slaveholding family from St. Domingue, brought with them to New York when they fled the Haitian revolution. Emancipated in 1807, Toussaint became a hairdresser, built a thriving business, and bought property. He invested his profits in several of the city’s fire insurance companies and, when the great fire of 1835 struck, he lost ninety-five percent of his net worth, as much as $900,000 in today’s money. He slowly and patiently rebuilt all he had lost.

Toussaint was successful because he was a beneficiary of considerable white largesse. Despite the fact that he had been their slave, Toussaint remained loyal to the Berards and their circle of friends. In turn, they introduced him to many of the city's prominent families and he converted these relationships into a veritable money-making machine. Although Toussaint did work out of the salon in his home, the most lucrative part of his work came from home visits to elite families where he cut and styled their hair. As contract clients, they paid him a fixed annual sum for weekly visits. In his waning years, it’s possible that Toussaint wanted to pass on some of his specialized knowledge to a younger man like Peter Guignon.


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Anthony Meucci, “Pierre Toussaint,” Black Gotham Archive, accessed July 10, 2018, https://archive.blackgothamarchive.org/items/show/42/.