Did you know that a Haitian man by the name of William de Fleurville was the personal barber and confidant to future U.S. President Abraham Lincoln?
William de Fleurville was born in Cap Haitien, Haiti in 1807, and was nicknamed Billy the Barber.
Records indicate that he immigrated to the United States in 1820. What could have led him to do leave a brand new country of free black people to go to one, that was at this point, still under the yoke of black slavery in most of its parts?
Well, what was going on in Haiti in 1820? King Henri Christophe committed suicide in October of that year. De Fleurville, a native of Cap Haitian, where Christophe’s rule was based, may have had been part of the prominent families under the King’s protection perhaps?
In any case, he first went to Baltimore, Maryland to be with his godmother. No doubt searching for other opportunities, the entrepreneur hitchhiked his way to the state of Illinois.
By the time he met Lincoln in 1831, either because people were having issues with pronouncing his name, or whether he wanted to gain anonyminity in his adopted land, de Fleurville began to call himself Florville.
Lincoln is credited with giving him his first clients, according to historian Benjamin Quarles in the bookk The Negro In The Civil War. Mr. de Fleurville’s barbershop, according to historians, became a meeting place for Lincoln, and one of his favorite spots until his subsequent marriage to Mary Todd Lincoln in 1842. Furthermore, some historians speculate that many of the barber’s jokes and humor pieces found their way into Lincoln’s later speeches as president.
But de Fleurville’s barbershop wasn’t the only venture he had. Guess this Mr. de Fleurville was an early advocate of the multiple streams of income mentality so often proselytized by entrepreneurs, because, it turns out that he also had a catering business, and was a big investor in real estate. As a matter of fact, he had retained Lincoln as his lawyer and tax advisor in matters related to his real estate holdings.
Although a Catholic, he became one of the founders of the Saint John Baptist Church in Springfield, and gave back to the community, supporting several causes (particularly religious ones).
The president and Mr. de Fleurville kept in touch over the years. When Lincoln died, de Fleurville was listed as a pallbearer, but a skilled clarinet player and musician, he played in the funeral march instead.
In 1951, Jet magazine reported that a treasure trove of papers—including a letter exchanges between Lincoln and de Fleurville(Florville)—were among the papers released by the state of Illinois that year.
De Fleurville died in 1868, a host of descendants in the United States. He had married Phoebe Roundtree, a local girl. His funeral, asserts the book Black Pioneers: An Untold Story, was cited by a local newspaper as one of the largest and widely attended send-offs the town had ever seen.