Pierre Toussaint; A Citizen of Old New York
New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1955. First edition. Octavo, original navy cloth, original dust jacket. Book about-fine, dust jacket with a closed tear atop the front flap fold. A near-fine copy. Item #482
"'GO TO TOUSSAINT' PEOPLE WOULD SAY 'HE WILL KNOW WHAT TO DO'"
First edition of this novelistic biography of Pierre Toussaint, illustrated with a frontispiece portrait. Co-authored by a husband and wife; this copy was inscribed by Arthur Sheehan on the title page.
The hagiography feels almost quaint today but it is an engaging portrait of the Roman Catholic Church in Old New York. Toussaint was born a slave in the French colony of Haiti and brought to New York by his masters, the Berard family, in 1787. The Berards found the Anglo-Dutch city of New York to be quite different from their Caribbean home. The Catholic community in the city was huddled around several tiny parishes downtown, notably St. Peter's on Barclays Street and St. Patrick’s on Mott Street, surrounded by an often-hostile nativist Protestant majority. When his master died, Toussaint learned to be a hairdresser and developed a facility at interacting with the local gentry, all the while supporting his mistress and her household. He was freed shortly before his mistress died in 1807. He then purchased the freedom of his wife and together the Toussaint's became a driving force for personal charity and financial support for organizations like Mother Seton's Sisters of Charity. Toussaint died in June, 1853 and was buried in the church yard within the old brick wall at Old Saint Patrick’s, where he was once refused entry. The epilogue describes the dogged efforts of Father Charles H. McTeague to locate Toussaint's now-obscured headstone. Toussaint was honored by Cardinal Spellman's visit to Old St. Pat's in 1951 to bless a graveside plaque. In June, 1953 Toussaint was honored again with a pontifical Mass at Old St. Peter's on Barclay Street to commemorate the centenary of his death. Toussaint was declared Venerable in 1996 and he now rests in a crypt below the altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue. Acknowledgments, an extensive Bibliography, and an Index follow the text.