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John Relly Beard
Born 1800 (1800)
Died 1876 (1876)

John Relly Beard (1800–1876) was an English Unitarian minister who wrote more than thirty books in his lifetime.



He was born in Portsmouth on the 4th August 1800 the first child of a tradesman, John Beard and his wife Ann Paine. Afer schooling in Portsmouth and in France he went joined Manchester College, York, in 1820. After his training he became a Unitarian minister at Greengate, Salford in 1825. This congregation migrated to Bridge Street, Strangeways in 1842 and Beard was to remain there as minister until 1864, when he moved to his last ministry at Sale, Cheshire. He retired in 1874 and died on the 22nd November 1876 in his 76th year at the Meadows, Ashton upon Mersey.


His works included The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture (1853) and several reference volumes on a variety of topics. He wrote in simple language and attempted to translate complicated foreign affairs—such as the Haitian struggle for independence—into terms that every reader could understand. Beard's biography of Toussaint Louverture was first published in London on the fiftieth anniversary of Toussaint Louverture's death. Ten years later, in 1863, Boston publishers reissued Beard's biography, replacing a brief history of Haiti's fight for independence after Louverture's exile with the first English translation of a thirty-five page autobiography written by L'Ouverture and other related documents, including a transcript of his post-mortem examination. Beard's biography remained the authoritative English-language history of Louverture's life until the late twentieth century.

In explaining his reasons for writing about Louverture, Beard frankly admits in the 1853 volume that he does so in order to "supply the clearest evidence that there is no insuperable barrier between the light and the dark-coloured tribes of our common human species." Throughout the text, Beard compares Louverture to famously successful white generals and argues for Louverture supremacy. Louverture is superior to George Washington, Beard writes, because Louverture could have seized absolute power more easily than Washington, and "[t]he greater the opportunity the greater the temptation; nor can he be accounted the inferior man who overcame in the severer trial." Similarly, Beard argues that Louverture is a better man than Napoleon Bonaparte because "the two differed in that which is the dividing line between the happy and the wretched; for while, with Bonaparte, God was a name, with Toussaint Louverture, God was at once the sole reality and the sovereign good." For Beard, Louverture's ultimate failure to liberate Haiti and his untimely death are the product of unfortunate circumstances—not an indictment of his character or leadership abilities.


  • Bell, Madison Smartt, Toussaint Louverture, New York: Pantheon Books, 2007
  • Ruston, Alan, "Beard, John Relly," The Dictionary of National Biography, London: Oxford University Press, 1953

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