Trading Races: Joseph and Marie Bunel, a Diplomat and a Merchant in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue and Philadelphia

Posted in Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, History, New Media, United Kingdom, United States on 2010-08-23 18:15Z by Steven

Trading Races: Joseph and Marie Bunel, a Diplomat and a Merchant in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue and Philadelphia

Journal of the Early Republic
Volume 30, Number 3, Fall 2010
pages 351-376
E-ISSN: 1553-0620
Print ISSN: 0275-1275

Philippe R. Girard, Associate Professor of History
McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Based on extensive research in French, British, and U.S. archives, the article focuses on Joseph Bunel, a diplomatic and commercial envoy for Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and his wife Marie Bunel (Fanchette Estève), who spent her adult life as a merchant in Cap Français (Cap Haïtien) and Philadelphia. Joseph and Marie Bunel were a white Frenchman and a free black Creole, but their careers were shaped more by their social and monetary ambitions than by their racial background. After spending a few years in prerevolutionary Saint-Domingue (Haiti) as a merchant and a plantation manager, Joseph Bunel played an important administrative role in Louverture’s regime after 1798, first as a diplomatic envoy charged with drafting treaties of commerce and non-aggression with the United States and England during the Quasi-War, then as Louverture’s paymaster. Because of his closeness to the regime, he was deported to France during the Leclerc expedition. After moving to Philadelphia in 1803, he became a noted exporter of war contraband to Dessalines’ Haiti and in 1807 settled permanently in this country as a merchant. Marie Bunel, a prosperous free-colored merchant from Cap Français before the outbreak of the Haitian Revolution, continued her mercantile activities throughout the revolutionary period. Though personally close to notable figures like Louverture and Henri Christophe, her political involvement in the revolutionary struggle was limited. Persecuted along with her husband during the Leclerc expedition, she moved to Philadelphia, where she lived as an independent merchant long after Haiti had declared its independence. It was not until 1810 that for personal reasons she moved back to Haiti, where little evidence is available to retrace the end of the Bunels’ eventful lives.

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