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April 2020

Our Eleventh Birthday - In Quarantine!

11th Birthday under lockdown pink

Ah, Dear Readers, many predicted this but could any of us have imagined life under quarantine? When we began our series about researching American mariners on the twenty-second of January, the press contained a few reports of an epidemic of some concern in far away China. By the time the series came to an end, a couple of weeks ago, the entire world was battling a pandemic and most of us in quarantine at home.  Like everyone else, The FGB is soldiering on as best as possible, doing French genealogical research.

In truth, much as we adore visiting the currently shut archives of France, we also take great pleasure in online research. For any of you who have been with us since the beginning, you will know that part of our mission is to explain to you, in English, how to research your French ancestors online. What better time than now to do an update on our favourite sites? 


The index to the finding aids of the Archives nationales

Forever being updated, so always worth checking again and again, this is one of the first places to begin researching any French, especially Parisian, ancestor. It is not only for the prominent. All kinds of people from all parts of the country crop up here. Our post here explains how to log on.


Ancestry is not particularly useful for French research but it is excellent for tracing all possible documentation on a French ancestor who went to another country, in that country. Immigrant records of the USA, Australia and the UK about a French ancestor's new life can be excellent in finding all versions of the person's name, his or her birthdate and birth place. The same holds true for MyHeritage.


The site has more and more French records scanned but the indexing than a kindergarten crafts room when the children have just left it. Use with grave caution or only when you know exactly what you seek and where it should be.


This and the next are France's largest and most important commercial genealogy research sites. Généanet has a messy, outdated interface but is a superb resource, especially for original documents from Paris and especially for people of the eighteenth century.


Filae is better for researching people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of particular value are two national censuses that have been indexed, that of 1872 and that of 1906. Additionally, the French office of statistics (INSEE) death records are, in many cases, the only way to find a death that occurred after 1902. With access in English.


Check your surname here. French names were contorted, some beyond recognition, in anglophone countries. Once you start researching French records, you need to have the correct name. Playing with your variations on Geopatronyme will help you to see what is and what is not possible. Read our original post about this site here.



Begin with the websites of the Departmental Archives relative to the department where your French ancestor lived. See the links in the column to the left. Recall that many large cities have their own websites. Marseille, Brest, Paris, Lyon and many more have digitized documentation not found on the websites of the Departmental Archives. To find the sites, search, or google, the city name and "archives municipales".


For ancestors who lived in the French colonies, overseas territories or overseas departments, the Archives nationales d'outre-mer are the best place to begin. Read our report on a talk about this service by the archivist here.


If your ancestors said they were from Alsace-Lorraine, this website has listed the names of those who, from outside the region in 1872, claimed French nationality. Read our first post about the Optants here.

Projet Familles Parisiennes

This superb site is a treasure of documentation on eighteenth century Parisian families. The index links to digitized documents from the National Archives hosted on the website of Généanet but are free to view. Read our post about the project here.



We will list more good sites in our next post.

During this time of confinement for the public good, perhaps we all can extend our French genealogy networks. Take very good care, Dear Readers.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy


Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 16 - The Case Study Narrative

Researching Mariners

Peleg Bunker

© 2020 Anne Morddel

By the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the town of Nantucket, which had remained neutral, was impoverished and its economy was struggling, in part because its Quaker seafarers were suspected of having traded with the British throughout the war.[1] On the other side of the Atlantic, the fishing fleet based at the French port of Dunkirk had just received royal permission to establish a whaling base on the coast of Brazil, a fishing ground that was unfamiliar to the French but that the Nantucket whalers knew well.[2]

Positioned in the far north of France, on the Channel but facing the North Sea more than England, Dunkirk at that time had some 27,000 people, about six times more than the population of Nantucket. The city's medieval fortifications had been dismantled long before and the influence of the large Flemish and Spanish communities could be seen in the new houses being built by prosperous and cosmopolitan merchants, and their presence seen in the civil registrations, where more names were Flemish than French. Unlike Nantucket, Dunkirk had a healthy economy, based on the fishing and whaling industries and on the commerce derived from a variety of imports, such as sugar and cotton, from France's colonies.[3]

A Dunkirk ship owner and official translator, François Coffyn, had the idea of hiring expert whalers from Nantucket to help develop Dunkirk's whaling industry and expertise the better to exploit the new opportunities in the waters off Brazil. Remarkably, this man apparently is of no relation to the numerous Coffins of Nantucket and New Bedford, [4] but the happy coincidence of the similarity of his name may have acted in his favour when he made his proposal. William Rotch, a canny businessman of Nantucket, had been seeking ways to expand his whaling business. He had already established some of his whaling men and ships in Halifax, Nova Scotia but had failed in his negotiations to do the same in England. He readily agreed a deal with Coffyn to bring a number of American whalers to Dunkirk.[5]

With the supervision of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote many calculations as to the financial viability of the enterprise,[6] and with the aid and advice of Benjamin Franklin, who was representing America in France at the time, the deal was approved by both the French and the American governments. The whalers were granted the freedom to worship as Quakers in Catholic France, and were promised full exemption from military service. They were to receive a bounty per ton per ship, and were guaranteed the duty-free entry of their whale oil into France. They also won the privilege that every one of their vessels, though it might be manned by men from Dunkirk, would be captained by one of the "Nantucket men".[7]

Peleg Bunker, a Quaker in his late thirties, was among those "Nantuckois", as they became known to the French, who moved to Dunkirk, along with his son, Obed. They were leaving behind Peleg's wife, Lydia Gardner, and some ten children in their house on Trader's Lane in Nantucket.[8] For about nine years, both men sailed on whaling expeditions around the world, Peleg as captain of the Ardent, and Obed as captain of the Leverette.[9]

The events of the French Revolution and especially the Terror soon overwhelmed the pacifist Quakers. William Rotch and his son, Benjamin, along with one of France's few home-grown Quakers, Jean de Marsillac Lecointe, together wrote a petition to the French National Assembly in 1791 suggesting, rather naively, a non-violent approach to revolution and, practically, seeking to have their religious practices and privileges protected.

On the whole, their practical request was granted and their philosphy rejected. As the Revolution progressed to the Terror, life for dissenters, even those who were foreign, to any aspect of the Revolution became exceedingly dangerous.[10] Rotch the businessman may also have noted that the French revolutionary currency, the assignat, was worth only twenty per cent of its face value and of no value at all outside of France.[11] This would have devalued his business significantly if the bounties and oil purchases were paid in assignats. He and many of the Nantucketers abandoned Dunkirk to establish a new outpost in Wales with a business base in London, for he had finally succeeded in making a deal with Britain. Some of the group decided to return to Nantucket while some remained in France, but not Peleg. He went with Rotch to Britain.

From 1793, Peleg Bunker was sailing as the captain of the whaler, Falkland[12]. Though Bunker was living in and sailing from London in the employ of Rotch at the time,[13] his ship seems to have been registered with Rotch's business in Halifax.[14] Every voyage would have carried the risks of dangers not only from whaling and the elements but from Europe's wars that extended out onto the high seas.

The French Atlantic fleet had been much reduced by its loss in the sea battle that the victors call the "Glorious First of June" but her privateers were numerous and highly successful in their attacks on British shipping. The British Royal Navy kept a blockade of the French Atlantic coast, especially around the harbour of Brest, yet French naval vessels and privateers often managed to slip through the blockade. On every voyage out of and into the Channel, Peleg Bunker would have had to negotiate waters full of patrolling Royal Navy squadrons and the many French privateers that had slipped through the blockade. Almost certainly, he would have been stopped at sea often by Royal Navy vessels and would have had to show his ship's papers. To be caught by the French, however, meant being taken prisoner and sent to the nearest French port with his ship being sold as a prize.

Peleg Bunker must have been quite a skilled sailor as he was never caught by the French during the Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802). He may have had sets of ship's registration papers and flags from different nations, perhaps both American and British papers. After his many years in France, it is reasonable to assume that he spoke French and knew her seafaring customs thoroughly. It is also reasonable to suspect that he had retained a set or two of French papers and flags as well. Showing false flags and carrying false papers was not at all condoned by the maritime laws of the day, yet it is hard to find an account of a vessel, whether contemporary, historical, or fictional, that did not have them.

In March of 1802, France and Britain signed the Treaty of Amiens, known generally at the time as "The Peace". It brought relief from the trials of war to the population of Britain, and many rushed to Paris to see just how much it had been changed by the Revolution. It would seem that Peleg Bunker had been visiting his family in Nantucket in about 1801. In early 1802, he sailed on a ship (whose name is lost) from the United States to Britain, where the owner then sold the ship.[15] In July, Bunker took a job as the chief mate on the William Bruce, an American snow built in 1798,[16] and registered in London.[17] She headed to the South Sea Whale Fishery, but the captain, Francis Baxter, died on the outward voyage and Bunker took command. The William Bruce worked the fishery for a year or more.[18] With a full cargo of oil, the William Bruce began the voyage back to London, under Captain Peleg Bunker. Like many who had been long at sea and in a region remote from Europe, he may not have known that The Peace had ended when the Treaty of Amiens expired in May of 1803, and France and Britain were again at war.

As the William Bruce sailed north (at 48.5N 15W, in the Atlantic, west of the Celtic Sea), she was captured, in October 1803, by the French privateer, the Vaillant, Captain Etienne, of Bordeaux, and was taken in to the Spanish port of Cadiz.[19] The Vaillant had had a successful cruise. She had left Bordeaux with a crew of 278 men and armed with twenty-two 18-pounder cannons and six 4-pounders. Her Letter of Marque was for six months. She captured the William Douglas, the Union, Bunker's William Bruce, and the valuable Cleopatra. [20]

It is not clear how Bunker arrived at Bordeaux; he may have been taken onto the capturing Vaillant or held on the William Bruce, which was taken from Cadiz to Bordeaux and sold. From there, he and his crew were marched to the prison depots, the crew to Givet and Bunker to Verdun.[21] Bunker's great-granddaughter wrote that they were marched "like cattle". The distance to Verdun was over 850 kilometers and would have taken about a month, marching under guard and with other prisoners, through the rain and snow as they worked their way north in the late autumn and early winter.

These brutal marches have been described by a number of British prisoners of war who afterward wrote accounts of their time in France.[22] The prisoners were marched from dawn to dusk, often chained together and occasionally with convicted felons being sent elsewhere. The marches were done in stages that were rather short in the beginning, until the prisoners became more used to walking all day, then grew longer. They rested at midday but there was not always food. They slept in local jails, dungeons or barns along the way. They were not given clothes or shoes and their own often wore out so that, when they arrived, they were in rags and barefoot. That December, Peleg Bunker turned fifty-six. Though he had lived a mariner's life and was certainly hardened to the elements, the march most likely weakened his health.[23]

Peleg Bunker was sent to Verdun, which held most British merchant captains. Almost immediately after Bunker arrived at Verdun, the American representative in Paris tried to help him. The United States Minister Plenipotentiary at the time was Robert Livingston, a wealthy New Yorker who had been very involved in the arrangements for the purchase of France's Louisiana territory by the United States. He wrote to the French Minister for War in March of 1804, asking that Bunker be removed from the list of English prisoners of war and released, on the grounds that he was a citizen of a country not at war with France.

He included a notarized copy of Peleg’s Seaman's Protection Certificate. The website of the Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea explains the importance of these certificates to their bearers: "In response to the impressment of American seamen by British ships, Congress passed an “Act for the Relief and Protection of American Seamen” in 1796. The Act required customs collectors to maintain a record of all United States citizens serving on United States vessels. Each seaman, once registered with the customs collector, was given a Seaman’s Protection Certificate. These certificates vouched for the citizenship of the individual and included identifying information such as age, height, complexion, place of birth, and in some cases eye and hair color. The intention of these certificates was to discourage impressment."[24] Bunker's Seaman's Protection Certificate, part of which survives in translation, states that he was born in Sherborn, Nantucket County, Massachusetts and was a citizen of the United States of America and that, in 1795, he was forty-seven years old.[25]

The French Minster for War responded to Livingston, writing that Captain Bunker “was captured on an enemy ship, on which he was working in the service of England" and that he must therefore "be considered a prisoner of war."[26] Bunker had sailed from London, in a vessel registered in London, and was returning with cargo bound for London. His nationality did not matter; in working for and trading with the enemy, he was -- so far as France was concerned -- the enemy. He remained a prisoner at Verdun.

During his captivity, he attempted to help at least one other American to gain his release having signed, in 1804, an affidavit confirming the American nationality of a Job LePrevost, of Philadelphia.[27] LePrevost had been the mate on the same Union that had been captured by the Vaillant shortly before she took the William Bruce. It is probable that LePrevost and Bunker had made the long and arduous march to Verdun together. Bunker's efforts came to nothing, for LePrevost was sent to a harsher prison at Sarrelibre (now Saarlouis).[28]

Peleg Bunker encountered a relative at Verdun, Christopher Bunker, also a merchant captain caught sailing a British whaler, the Kent. [29] Though the Bunkers had surely seen many sins in their travels, Verdun, that town of gambling and partying English detainees, or détenus (British civilians in France who had been rounded up and interned when hostilities broke out again in 1803), may yet have shocked the Quakers. Though the town itself was insignificant and fairly small, it then held hundreds of wealthy British gentry, their families, and their servants as well as an even larger number of British naval and merchant-service officers and seamen. The gentry, with their money and boredom, had inspired the locals to establish casinos, restaurants, cafes and brothels for the English. There were duels and balls, gentlemen's clubs and an endless supply of wine. The commandant in charge, Wirion, was outrageously corrupt, demanding bribes from all, punishing those who did not pay with solitary confinement or transfer to a more brutal prison. It took years for the numerous letters of complaint about him finally to be read by the Minister for War and proceedings against him were begun in 1810. Before they could proceed, Wirion shot himself.[30] The wealth brought to the people of Verdun by the prisoners was so great that other towns requested that they have a prison depot also.

In his two letters home, transcribed by his great-granddaughter, Lydia Bunker Gardner, Peleg Bunker spared his wife and made no mention of the people or conditions at Verdun. He wrote of his longing for release, for news of his family, and of his need for money. Two years after his capture, on the 22nd of December 1805, Peleg wrote to his "Dear Loving Wife" to say that he "had been very ill for five weeks with the fever and ague" but that he was well again. Illness weakened many of the prisoners. He went on to write that "Christopher Bunker hath been in the hospital for 6 weeks, but hath got the better of it and returned to the prison again."[31] (No letters home from Christopher Bunker have surfaced.) He wrote that the letters he had received from his sons, Obed and Tristram, gave him great consolation.

At some point, he was given permission to live in town, rather than in the overcrowded dungeons of the stone fortress, and he resided in rue de la Patrie, with a young tanner, Jean Joseph Nicolas.[32] On the 21st of January 1806, he wrote to one of his sons, identified only as "Captain Bunker" who had also been taken prisoner in France, saying that he was well, had received the money sent, and asking after others. A month later, he was dead.

He died in the tanner's house on the 24th of February 1806. His wife was named on his French death registration as Lidey [Lydia] Gardner. His place of origin was given as "Antiquet [Nantucket] en amérique" and his age as sixty-one. His parents are not named.[33] Afterward, his belongings were given to Christopher Bunker, identified by the French as "a relative of his".[34]  He had been a mariner and whaler all of his life, sailing from Nantucket, from France, from Great Britain and from Brazil. A merchant captain and a Quaker pacifist, he died far from home, a prisoner of a war in which his native country was not engaged.


(N.B. I would like to thank Professor Peter Clark and Dr. Brian Cooper for their invaluable assistance with research in British records and publications, and Gil Bunker for permission to reprint this article, much of which first appeared in the “Bunker Banner”.)


[1] Greene, Ralph, "Timothy Folger, 1732-1814 : Whaling Captain, Merchant, Loyalist", Newsletter of the Canadian Friends Historical Association, November 1978, no. 23, pp1-10,, accessed 27 April 2017.

[2] de Saint-Léger, A., La Flandre maritime et Dunkerque Sous la Domination Française (1659-1789) : Thèse de Doctorat Présentée à la Faculté des Lettres de l'Université de Lille, Paris : Tallandier, 1900, pp376-7 (e-book on The Internet Archive)

[3] Christian Pfister and Christine Harbion, "Le Siècle des Lumières", Dunkerque et Vous",, accessed 27 April 2017, no date.

[4] He was born in Dunkirk on the 6th of February 1742 to Joseph Coffyn and to Anne Jacqueline Vanacker, both "natives of this city". (See Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil (Parish and Civil Registers), microfilm no. 5 MI 027 R 018, "Dunkerque. Baptêmes 1741-1751", online image no. 118, Archives départementales du Nord:

[5] Van Hille, Jean-Marc. "Les baleiniers quakers du Nantucket à Dunkerque en 1786, un pionnier :William Rotch" (Synthèse d’une conférence faite à Bruxelles le 24 mai 2014) Acta Macionica, Vol. 24, 2014, p.3, ( : accessed 26 April 2017)

[6] See "Jefferson's Memoranda Concerning the American, British and French Fisheries", The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, eds. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney (Charlottesville, Virginia, 2008), accessed 26 April 2017.

[7] Wyer, Henry Sherman, ed; Hart, Joseph C, Spun-yarn from old Nantucket : consisting mainly of extracts from books now out of print, with a few additions, Nantucket : The Inquirer and Mirror Press, 1914, p170, (Read on The Internet Archive)

[8] Gardner, Lydia Bunker, undated manuscript biography of Peleg Bunker, Edouard Stackpole Collection, Nantucket Historical Association Research Library and Archives, Nantucket, Massachusetts, hereinafter Gardner manuscript.

[9] Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers : And Their Voyages from 1815 to 1870, Nan-tucket : Hussey & Robinson, printers and publishers, 1876, p53. See also Du Pasquier, Jean-Thierry, Les baleiniers français de Louis XVI à Napoléon, Paris: H. Veyrier, 1990, p172.

[10] Louis, Jeanne H., "The Nantucket Quakers' Message as an Alternative to Benjamin Franklin's Message to the French Revolution", Quaker Studies, vol 5 issue1, article 2, pp15-16,, accessed 27 April 2017.

[11] Andress, David, The Terror: Civil War in the French Revolution, Abacus, Little, Brown, 2005, p64.

[12] Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers, p172. See also, the Gardner manuscript.

[13] Gardner manuscript.

[14] Du Pasquier, Les baleiniers français , p170.

[15] Peleg Bunker dossier, Prisonniers de Guerre anglais (English Prisoners of War), Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, hereinafter POW dossier.

[16] "A snow... is a square rigged vessel with two masts, complemented by a snow- or trysail-mast stepped immediately abaft (behind) the main mast." See Wikipedia, referencing Hans Haalmeijer: Pinassen, fluiten en galjassen Uitgeverij De Alk B.V., Alkmaar, the Netherlands 2009.

[17] Clayton, Jane M., Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815, Hastings : Berforts Group Ltd, 2014, p246.

[18] There is a discrepancy on the dates; Clayton, p246, has the William Bruce in the South Seas until 1804, but Du Pasquier, p120, has her capture in October of 1803. Bunker was certainly in Verdun by March 1804, the date of the earliest document in his prisoner of war file.

[19] E-mail message from Brian Cooper, who discovered the Lloyd's Register mention of the capture, dated 20 December 1803, and in the Morning Post dated 21 December 1803.

[20] "Armenents en Courses, 5ème Arrondissement", code FF2/12, Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[21] E-mail message from Professor Peter Clark, creator of the database, "British Prisoners of Napoleon", 1 May 2017.

[22] See Donat Henchy O'Brien, My Adventures During the Late War..., New York : Edward Arnold, 1902, and John Tregerthen Short and Thomas Williams, Prisoners of War in France from 1804 to 1814..., London: Duckworth, 1914, (e-books on The Internet Archive)

[23] It must have been among the worst of such marches. Of the six seamen from the William Bruce, all sent to Givet, three died in the spring of 1804: Robert Osborn and Edward Kendle, both of Cornwall, and Richard Richardson of Norfolk. William (surname unknown), the only American, died in April of 1806. The remaining two, James Barnet of Gravesend and William Rabsen, seem to have survived. I am indebted to Professor Peter Clark for this information from his database, "British Prisoners of Napoleon", quoting the Admiralty files in The National Archives (Kew) nos. ADM 103/467/1 and 2. The French records do not confirm these deaths for online deaths registers of Givet do not show them.

[24] Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea, Collections & Research, Registers of Seamen’s Protection Certificates,

[25] Peleg Bunker POW dossier

[26] Peleg Bunker POW dossier and the Gardner manuscript.

[27] Job LePrevost dossier, Prisonniers de Guerre anglais (English Prisoners of War), Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[28] Prisonniers de Guerre Anglais, code: Yj29, Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes.

[29] "Tribunal de Commerce - Armements en Course, Liquidations Particulières, 1804-1814", code 6U1/247, Archives départementales de la Seine-Maritime, Rouen.

[30] Lewis, Michael, Napoleon and His British Captives, London : George Allen & Unwin, 1962, pp 126-134.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Verdun. Meuse, Registres paroissiaux et d'état civil (Parish and Civil Registers), 1806, décès de Peleg Bunker (death of Peleg Bunker) 25 février 1806 (25 February 1806), code 2E558 (52), digital image, Archives départementales de la Meuse,, accessed 6 April 2017.

[33] Ibid.

[34] "Etat des effets et argent Provenant l'inventaire d'officiers ou autres prisonniers de guerre anglais décédés en France" (List of effects and money Belonging to officers or others English prisoners who died in France), Prises et Prisonniers de Guerre, (Prizes and Prisoners of War) FF2, SHD.

[35] Gardner manuscript.

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 15 - The Case Study

Researching Mariners

Peleg Bunker


French Documentation

As might be expected, the French had a great deal of documentation on Peleg Bunker and on the capture of his vessel. Firstly, the naval records in the Archives de la Marine record the capture by the Vaillant, in a large table of privateers sent out from Bordeaux between the month of prairial Year XI and prairial Year XIII [May 1803 to May 1805], detailing their owners, costs and captures, if any.


Armements of Privateers

Source: Armements en Courses, 5e arrondissement, Quartier de Bordeaux. Archives de la Marine. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes, FF2/11

Vaillant closeup

In the closeup above, it can be seen that the Vaillant, Captain Etienne, captured four English vessels:

  • the William Douglas
  • the Union
  • the William Bruce
  • the Cleopatra

This supports the British Times list that also gave Peleg Bunker's vessel as the William Bruce.


Bunker - file cover

Source: Dossier Peleg Bunker, Prisonniers de guerre anglais, Archives de la Ministre de Guerre. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes Yj40

The Ministry of War maintained a file on the prisoner Peleg Bunker, though it contains only six documents, including a French translation of the notarized copy of his Seaman's Protection Certificate, shown here and followed by the English version found in the U.S. Minister to Paris Diplomatic Dispatches, which had been returned to the Minister, Livingston, by Dejean, when he wrote that permission to release Peleg Bunker had been refused.

P Bunker SPC FrenchSource: Dossier Peleg Bunker, Prisonniers de guerre anglais, Archives de la Ministre de Guerre. Service Historique de la Défense, Vincennes Yj40

P Bunker SPC English 1

P Bunker SPC English 2Source: United States Department of State, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789-1906, Vol. 9. Microfilm copy, 1958, roll 250 Mi 5. (Seen in the Archives nationales de France, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine), Letter dated 30 April 1804

It states that "Captain Peleg Bunker" was

  • Aged forty-seven "December last"
  • A native of Cherborn [Sherborne] in the county of Nantucket, Massachusetts
  • A subject of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • A citizen of the United States of America

It is signed by Abner Coffin or Coffyn, notary public in Sherborn, on the 27th of April 1795.

The other documents in the dossier include a letter from Livingston, requesting Bunker's release, and the Ministry of War memos discussing the response.


Civil registrations were fairly new in France at that time, having been instituted about fifteen years earlier, but they were thorough. Peleg Bunker's death registration can be found online on the website of the Departmental Archives of Meuse, where Verdun and its prison were located.

1806 Bunker death registrationSource:  Verdun,  Actes d’état civil,  Décès 1806, no. 161.  AD Meuse,

While French death registrations almost never give a cause of death, they do give a fair amount of information for the purposes of identity, much of it very useful to the genealogist. The death registration above states that Peleg Bunker, English prisoner of war:

  • Died on the 24th of February 1806 at Verdun
  • Was aged sixty-one
  • Was born in "Antiquet" [Nantucket] in America
  • Was the spouse of Lydie Gardner
  • Was a captain of a merchant vessel


Scattered among the French naval records are various loose lists about the British prisoners of war. One of these, dated 1810, four years after Peleg Bunker died, has his name on it.

1810 List of deceasedSource: "Etat des effets et d’argent en provenance....."Archives de la Marine. Service Historique de la Défense Vincennes FF2/10

It gives his name, date of death, place of birth, profession, all as stated in the other documents. Additionally, it states that his personal effects were given to another prisoner, a Christopher Bunker, who was "a relative". 

This concludes the case study. The narrative of Peleg Bunker's life, captivity and death, based on this and more general research, will appear in the next post and ends this series. 

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy

Researching Early American Mariners of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 14 - The Case Study

Researching Mariners


Peleg Bunker

Peleg Bunker was a Quaker from Nantucket and one of the whalers who worked for William Rotch. He is not obscure, so mentions of him in published works appear on Internet searches, including but not limited to the following:

Published Sources

  • Nantucket Doorways by Edward A. Stackpole and Christopher B. Summerfield, 1992
  • Why Nantucket Quakers? by Robert J. Leach and Willard C. Heiss, 1979
  • The History of Nantucket: county, island, and town, including... by Alexander Starbuck, 1969
  • Catalogue of Nantucket Whalers: and Their Voyages from 1815 to 1870, Hussey & Robinson, printers, 1876
  • Whales and Destiny: the Rivalry Between America, France and Britain... by Edward A. Stackpole, 1972
  • Les Baleiniers français, de Louis XVI à Napoléon by Thierry Du Pasquier, 1990
  • Ships Employed in the South Sea Whale Fishery from Britain: 1775-1815... by Jane M. Clayton

American Documentation

Edward A. Stackpole Collection, 1750-1990 (the author of two of the above books)
Manuscripts Collection
Research Library & Archives
Nantucket Historical Association

The main source for biographical information is the “sketch” of his life by Peleg Bunker's great-granddaughter, Lydia Bunker Gardner. However, the letters from Peleg are her copies and the account of his capture by the French is hers, as told to her and written many years after the fact.

Peleg Bunker LetterSource: Edward A. Stackpole Collection, 1750-1990, Manuscripts Collection, Research Library & Archives, Nantucket Historical Association

Lydia Bunker Gardner wrote in her sketch that:

  • Peleg Bunker was a whaling captain from Nantucket
  • During the American Revolution, Bunker took his family to New York state, and returned to Nantucket and to whaling when the war ended
  • He then worked for William Rotch in London
  • During the Napoleonic Wars, while sailing the Falkland, an English whaler, Bunker was "captured in the English Channel by the French"
  • He was marched to Verdun prisoner of war camp with the Falkland's officers and men
  • He spent five years in the camp
  • The United States government made "every effort...for their release"
  • "Appeals were sent to Bonaparte from the Friends Society, of which Peleg Bunker was a member" for his release
  • Upon receiving the news of his release, "the joy of it... was too much for Peleg Bunker...and he died instantly...."

The copied letters, one to Peleg's wife and one to an unnamed son, are dated 1805 and 1806; both are from Verdun. They mention:

  • A Christopher Bunker who had been in hospital but was recovered and returned to prison
  • That Peleg had received two letters from his sons, Obed and Tristan
  • That Benjamin Hussey in Dunkirk was the person through whom Peleg's wife could send letters to him

This is a lovely summary of his life, career, capture and death but, as will be seen, there are a couple of discrepancies. Yet, this is the source used by the authors of some of the published materials that mention Peleg Bunker.


Peleg Bunker 1804 letter p1

Peleg Bunker 1804 letter p2

Source: United States Department of State, Despatches from United States Ministers to France, 1789-1906, Vol. 9. Microfilm copy, 1958, roll 250 Mi 5. (Seen in the Archives nationales de France, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine), Letter dated 4 March 1804

Among the microfilmed diplomatic dispatches, we find  copies of letters from Peleg Bunker himself, asking the American Minister to France to intercede on his behalf. In the letter above, Bunker states that:

  • He arrived in England from America during the Peace [of Amiens, 1802-3]
  • The ship he had arrived on was sold [leaving him with no return voyage]
  • He took a job as Chief Mate on an English ship sailing to the South Seas
  • During the voyage, the Master died and he assumed command
  • He was captured on the return voyage as his ship was entering the English Channel, by the French privateer, the Vaillant, of Bordeaux
  • He encloses a notarized copy of his Seaman's Protection Certificate by way of proof of his American nationality [not filmed at this point but later]

Captain Bunker is bending the truth a bit here, as we shall see. He implies that he was a mate and seaman, when he had been a master for some years. He implies that he had simply taken a job on an English vessel when he had been sailing for Rotch's English whaling companies exclusively for at least ten years. It is true that the master on his vessel died and he assumed command, and it is true that his ship was captured by the Vaillant.

It is apparent that the Minister in Paris, Robert R. Livingston, wrote to the French authorities claiming Peleg Bunker as an American citizen who should be released, for the reply, dated the 30th of April, appears in the dispatches. The Director of Administration in the Ministry of War wrote to Livingston: 

"As Captain Bunker...was taken while sailing under the British flag and in the service of England, it is the intention of the First Consul [Napoleon] that he be considered as a prisoner of war." 

From this, it would appear that Peleg's great-granddaughter was mistaken that he died of joy at having been released.

British Documentation

Though American by birth, Bunker was sailing a British vessel, he was considered to be a British prisoner of war by the French. He was also considered to be one of their own by the British,  and appears in some British documentation. The Times newspaper lists him, as do the Admiralty records on prisoners in France.

Peleg Bunker in the TimesSource: The Times, London, England, 5 June 1804, no. 6041, p. 3, col. 3, ;

The Times printed a list on the 5th of June 1804 of masters of British vessels who were alive and well in French prisons (above). It included a P. Bunker, master of the vessel William Bruce, of London, not the Falkland. In fact, no Falkland appears on the list.


Bunker death in ADM registerSource : Register of Deaths for British POWs 1794-1814, ADM 103/631 frame 278, TNA,

The Admiralty received reports from the French about the deaths of prisoners of war. These are available on The page above shows the death of Peleg Bunker, capitaine marchand, or captain in the merchant marine, at Verdun on the 24th or 25th of February 1806. 


Bunker closeup


The next post continues the case study with the French documentation on Peleg Bunker.

©2020 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy