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Sebastien Lefresne letters

 Collection — Container: MS 7320
Call Number: MS 7320

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of eight letters written by Sebastien Lefresne, a French colonist in Saint-Domingue employed in the administration of the French military in Cap-Français. These letters, primarily written to members of his family, date from 1797 to 1803, and document the effects of both the Haitian revolution and the Napoleonic Wars on life in Saint-Domingue, including violence from both the rebels and the English as well as the results of the English blockade of the city. Included is a first-hand account of the burning of Cap-Français by the Haitian rebels in 1802, descriptions of the severe famine caused by the blockade, the financial struggles of the colonists, and the yellow fever epidemic affecting the French troops. Also included are Lefresne’s observations of the incompetence of the French commanders, especially Commander Rochambeau and his abandonment of Cap-Français in favor of Port-au-Prince, leaving the population subject to further attacks by the Haitian rebels. Of particular note are Lefresne's descriptions of Toussaint Louverture, Haitian commander of the rebel forces.


  • 1797-1803


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

French colonialism on the island of Hispaniola dates back to the mid-seventeenth century. The colony succeeded with little conflict until the 1790’s when the ideals of the French Revolution inspired the free men of color in Saint-Domingue to rebel, inciting the slave revolt led by Haitian commander Toussaint Louverture that began the Haitian Revolution. During this time, the Napoleonic Wars were also underway in Europe, and its effects were felt as far as Saint-Domingue.


8 Items

Language of Materials



The letters are arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Michael Brown, October 2014.

Related Materials

See the Haitian Collection for related materials documenting French colonialism and slavery in Saint Domingue and the Haitian revolution.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Former Title

Collection formerly known as Sebastien Lefresne Correspondence.

Guide to the Sebastien Lefresne Letters
Caitlin Culbertson
2015 January
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-01-30: To comply with Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) Version 2019.0.3, Crystal Rodgers, Archivist, adjusted the following field(s): title, finding aid filing title, finding aid date, scope and contents note, immediate source of acquisition note, arrangement note, processing information note, preferred citation, languages note, finding aid note, and related materials, and created the following field(s): EAD ID.

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