Pierre was born a slave in Haiti, where he was baptized Catholic. He was brought to New York City, where he was apprenticed to a hairdresser. When offered his freedom, Toussaint refused so that he could continue to support his mistress financially. On her death he was freed and four years later married Juliette Noel. They adopted his niece, took in orphans, and had many foster sons. The Toussaints were philanthropists and leaders in the black community, helping to found the first Catholic school for black children in New York, establishing a credit bureau and employment agency, and nursing cholera patients. A daily communicant, Toussaint was the first layperson to be buried beneath the main altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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