The life-size figures didn't resemble at all the young soldiers who fought in the Siege of Savannah in 1779. They were, well, dead ringers of two middle-age men who made the statues possible: Rudolph Moise, who donated $120,000, and Daniel Fils-Aime, who led the almost decade-long effort to build the monument.
"I was very surprised about the resemblance," said Marleine Bastien, a community leader who attended the ceremony. "I expected the faces of the volunteer soldiers."
That the statues bear a striking resemblance to Moise and Fils-Aime has triggered Internet and radio buzz and a lot of vitriol over what some in South Florida's tight-knit Haitian community label a vanity project. The controversy - coming as a congressional campaign gets under way - has also overshadowed the celebration of Haiti's contribution to American independence.
Moise, a Miami physician who recently launched a congressional campaign, is one of four Haitian-Americans seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Miami), who is running for Senate.
Also announcing their bid: Bastien, Florida House Rep. Yolly Roberson and her ex-husband, Philip Brutus, a Haitian-American lawyer and former state legislator whose invective-heavy e-mails about the statues' likeness ignited the controversy. Brutus charges that the statues are "tantamount to sacrilege."
"We will not rest until the historical accuracy is restored," Brutus said. "We need to have the face of Mr. Fils-Aime removed and the face of Dr. Moise removed."
Moise and Fils-Aime say the statues are the products of the commissioned artist's imagination and that neither of them exerted pressure to see their faces molded onto the bronze statues.
"Those are anonymous soldiers," said Moise, who posed in the artist's home in Morningside. "It's not me up there. It's a model up there."
One statue features Moise's movie-star good looks, the other Fils-Aime's chubby cheeks. Observers say the resemblance is too obvious.
"It definitely depicts Daniel," said Alderman Clifton Jones Jr., of Savannah about the Fils-Aime statue. "The artist did a fine job of making it look like him."
James Mastin, the sculptor who designed the Haitian Memorial Monument, said he did so on his own accord. He said he picked Moise and Fils-Aime because of their distinct facial features.
"I chose them," Mastin said. "They didn't choose to be up there."
The statues are among four others Mastin built in Jackson Square in downtown Savannah's historic district. The life-size, military-clad troops are intended to represent the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue, the legion of more than 500 free blacks who fought on Oct. 9, 1779, otherwise known as the Siege of Savannah.
The black volunteers who joined forces with the American and French failed to turn away the British, but the battle proved historic in other ways. The soldiers were the largest unit of troops of African descent to fight in the battle. And the veterans went on to help secure the independence of Haiti from France in 1804.
One statue represents Henri Christophe, the future king of independent Haiti. In 1779, he may have served with the French forces as a drummer boy in the American Revolution.
Fils-Aime's group, the Haitian American Historical Society, spent the past nine years lobbying Savannah leaders to support the monument - the city approved it in 2005 - and raising about $800,000 to pay for it. Four of the six statues were completed two years ago, but the group still needed funds to finish the additional statues.
Moise - philanthropist, pediatrician, attorney, amateur Haitian movie star - stepped in. He put up the $120,000 needed to complete the remaining two statues.
"He's been very supportive," said Mastin, who won a competition to design the Savannah monument and has done sculptures of other Haitian heroes.
Mastin said he drew inspiration from several sources. He consulted Haitian history books, historic societies and historians. He said he did so to capture such telling details as how the soldiers carried themselves on the battlefield and how they held their muskets.
He also photographed Moise and Fils-Aime.
"'Tell me what I can do to help,'" Moise said, recounting his role in the monument. "This is in the spirit that I accepted to do this."