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Lost & Found

At first glance, the 1854 house flying the French flag at 2306 Esplanade Avenue is unremarkable in a town teeming with antebellum homes trimmed with cast-iron galleries, but its story is far richer than most. Events within these walls rocked the international art world after a visit from Edgar Degas, the only nineteenth-century French Impressionist to ever work in America. “He drowsed in the vibrant sunlight until the carriage halted before the Musson home. Through bleary eyes, he admired a handsome, three-storied house with generous galleries and dependencies and, here and there, cousin Désirée’s promised sweet olive trees.” –Creole Son Degas (1834-1917) was born in Paris to a French father, Auguste Degas, and a New Orleans-born mother, Célestine Musson. In...

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The Black Pharaoh

Henri Christophe was a man in a hurry. Born a slave in 1767, he grew up in the French colony of Sainte-Domingue (Haiti) where he worked hard to secure his freedom in a world where man’s inhumanity to man was the rule. The French were among history’s harshest taskmasters, importing African slaves to be worked to death, usually within three years, in the sugar cane fields.  By 1789, Sainte-Domingue was the most lucrative colony in the world. With half a million black slaves, 32,000 whites and 25,000 people of mixed blood, it was also a time bomb of racial outrage. The inevitable slave uprising came in 1791, and Henri, at age 24, quickly joined the rebellion led by Toussaint L’Ouverture. A courageous soldier with superb leadership skills, Henri’s rise through the...

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Voyage Into History

In celebration of Black History Month, I salute Robert Smalls (1839-1915), a man of uncommon courage who, with one bold move, altered his destiny and changed American history. Born a slave in Beaufort, SC, Smalls was greatly favored by his white owner, John McKee, who may also have been his father. Concerned that the carefree youth was being shielded from the realities of the slave world, his mother Lydia, a house servant, made certain he saw field hands toiling in the cotton fields.  Smalls was so horrified and outraged that his mother averted trouble by convincing McKee to send the twelve-year-old to work in Charleston. Hired as a lamplighter in the bustling port city, Smalls was fascinated by the waterfront and quickly developed a love for the sea. As an...

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