Pierre Toussaint Pays His Noble Mistress’s Debts With the Fruit of His Own Labor

July 20, 2023

Portrait of Pierre Toussaint with autograph

At another time, the hairdresser of whom Toussaint had learnt his trade called on Madame Bérard for the stipulated sum. Toussaint heard her reply, with faltering voice, “It was not in her power to pay him; he must wait.” Toussaint followed him out, and entered into an engagement to pay the sum himself, by installments, and at length received an acquittal, which he presented to his mistress. She was at first alarmed, and said, “O Toussaint, where can you have gotten all this money to pay my debts!” “I have got some customers, Madame,” said he; “they are not very fashionable, but Mr. Merchant very good, he lets me have them; and besides, I have all the money that you give me, my New Year presents—I have saved it all.” She was much surprised, and told him she did not know when she should be able to repay it. He told her it was all hers, that he never wanted that money again; that he had already good customers, and expected every day more and more. “My poor mistress,” said Toussaint, “cry very much.”

From this time he considered his earnings as belonging to Madame Bérard, except a small deduction, which he regularly set aside, since he had a purpose to execute which he communicated to no one. His industry was unceasing—every hour of the day was employed; when released, his first thought was his mistress, to hasten home and try to cheer her.

A typical lady of New York’s high society in the early 19th century.

In this way he alleviated the burden of her troubles; his affectionate, loving heart sympathized in all her sorrows. His great object was to serve her. He was perfectly contented with his condition. Though surrounded in New York by free men of his own color, he said that he was born a slave—God had thus cast his lot, and there his duty lay.

Hannah Sawyer Lee, Memoir of Pierre Toussaint, Born a Slave in St. Domingo, 2nd rev. ed. (Sunbury, Penn.: Western Hemisphere Cultural Society, Inc., 1992), 29–30.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 887


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