226 years late, Haitian fighters closer to tribute
Savannah planners approved a $500,000 monument to Haitian soldiers who fought in the American Revolution's bloody siege of the city. Haiti's prime minister is lending his support.
BY RUSS BYNUM
SAVANNAH, Ga. - City planners approved a $500,000 monument Friday to Haitian soldiers who fought in the American Revolution's bloody siege of Savannah, just as Haiti's prime minister planned a weekend visit to help raise money for the project.
Supporters hope to unveil the bronze monument in October, 226 years after more than 500 Haitian troops joined American colonists and French soldiers in an unsuccessful attempt to drive the British from Savannah.
Haitians made up the largest unit to fight in the 1779 siege.
Savannah's Historic Sites and Monuments Commission approved the monument unanimously Friday. It now goes to the City Council, which is expected to give final approval.
''I'm excited and I know our dream will come true with the help of Savannah,'' said Daniel Fils-Aime, chairman of the Miami-based Haitian-American Historical Society, which has lobbied for the project since 2001.
Haiti's role in fighting for American independence may not be well known in the U.S. But it's a point of national pride for Haitians, whose Revolutionary War veterans led the rebellion that drove out French colonists in 1804.
Haitian Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue planned to fly to Savannah today from Rome, where he attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II, for a fundraising dinner.
The Haitian-American Historical Society needs to raise $542,633 to pay for the monument and a required escrow account for maintenance. So far, the group has raised only about $100,000. Fils-Aime said Latortue's appearance should change that.
''By him coming here, it will show people he has faith, he believes in us,'' Fils-Aime said. ``It will make a big difference.''
The monument will include six life-size bronze soldiers on an octagonal pedestal 14-feet in diameter. It will be placed beneath a canopy of live oaks in Franklin Square near Savannah's downtown riverfront.
Haitian records from that era were destroyed by a fire in the 1830s, so it's unclear exactly how Haitian troops contributed to the battle at Savannah, said Scott Smith, director of Savannah's Coastal Heritage Society, which is developing a 9.5-acre park on the battlefield site.
But existing records show that 545 Haitian troops sailed to Savannah in 1779 -- making them the largest military unit of the Savannah battle, Smith said.
After returning home, Haitian veterans of the Revolutionary War led their own rebellion that established Haiti's independence from France in 1804.