Second blue plaque for Caribbean Queen
UCLan’s Dr Nicole Willson and charity Black Butterfly mount heritage plaque on the home of Haiti’s first and only queen
A University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) academic has worked with a cultural heritage, social justice and wellbeing organisation to recognise Haiti’s first and only Queen.
Dr Nicole Willson and a Hastings-based charity Black Butterfly mounted a commemorative plaque on the Hastings residence of Marie-Louise Christophe, who lived in Britain with her daughters from 1821-1824.
She settled in Hastings in October 1822 and to mark the important bicentennial and Black History Month, the unveiling ceremony took place outside 5 Exmouth Place on 3 October.
Dr Willson partnered with Black Butterfly’s Dawn Dublin to commemorate Marie-Louise’s time in Hastings after she worked with the Nubian Jak Community Trust to add a heritage plaque on Marie-Louise’s London residence in February this year.
"Until recently, Marie-Louise’s story was relatively unknown, but now she has not just one but two heritage plaques to her name"— Dr Nicole Willson, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Researcher at UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research
Present at the unveiling celebrations were Guilaine Brutus, of the Haitian Heritage Group, Wilford Marous and Michelet Romulus, from the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, and Euvrard Saint-Amand, Haitian Ambassador to the United Kingdom. They were joined by members of Hastings Borough Council and supporters and champions from the local community.
Since 2019, Dr Willson, a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Researcher at UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research, has been working on a project on Haiti’s “Fanm Rebèl” (rebel women). After unearthing a copy of the original will of Marie-Louise Christophe in the UK National Archives, she made a series of interesting discoveries about the queen and her exile journey, following her footsteps across the UK.
As part of its mission to enhance the lives of Afrodescendant and displaced communities, Black Butterfly has sought to establish cultural, heritage and education networks engaged in the promotion and dissemination of hidden black histories and was eager to support this heritage project.
Dawn Dublin said of the collaboration: “Without flinching, we jumped on board. We were really happy to be part of this project, as heritage is really important to us anyway. This is only the launch-pad for a series of projects we’re going to be doing around the idea of ‘the unforgotten’; we want to ‘unforget’ these stories. There are a lot of hidden histories but also a lot of hidden herstories, so we want to focus on those ones, especially in Hastings.”
"We were really happy to be part of this project, as heritage is really important to us anyway"— Black Butterfly’s Dawn Dublin
Marie-Louise was queen-consort to Henry Christophe, the Haitian revolutionary general turned king who, after a rebel coup, took his own life in October 1820. Marie-Louise sought refuge in England with her two daughters. After a short stay with the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, they sought independent lodgings in Blackheath, Hastings and finally in Marylebone, London, before they departed for Europe in 1824. Marie-Louise’s two daughters tragically pre-deceased her and she died in Pisa in 1851.
Dr Willson said: “The heroic imprint that Haiti has left upon world history is an imprint that has nevertheless been overlooked by the western world. Until recently, Marie-Louise’s story was relatively unknown, but now she has not just one but two heritage plaques to her name. It is my hope that, with initiatives such as this, we can help to restore women such as Marie-Louise to their rightful place in our history.”
Guilaine Brutus added: “I am proud, as a Haitian, I am honoured, and as a person of African descent, I feel lifted. There is something extremely urgent about telling our stories and our truth and discovering new history. Not many people know about King Henry Christophe or Marie-Louise, but they set the bar very high when it came to legacy. My wish is that this plaque and these events make King Christophe and Marie-Louise topical in all academic and developmental spaces.”