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Piccioni, Francois
Correspondence and Documents of Francois Piccioni and his nephew Vincent Piccioni, of Pino and Bastia, Corsica and Saint Thomas, to Sebastian and Catherine Mattei, also of Pino, Corsica, 1835-1849

18 letters, 33 manuscript pp., plus 7 documents, 12 manuscript pp., written in French, Italian, and Spanish, dated 1837-1849.

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Eight letters are written in French by Francois Piccioni and another eight letters are written in French by his nephew Vincent Piccioni. They both write separately to either Sebastian Mattei, or Catherine Mattei. The Piccionis and the Matteis, but they appear to be related as one letter indicates that they may be cousins. They are also both merchants. Eleven of the letters are addressed to the Matteis at Pino, Corsica. These sixteen letters are posted from either Saint Thomas, or from Bastia, Corsica. Most of Francois Piccioni's letters are addressed from the island of Saint Thomas, and most of Vincent Piccioni's letters are addressed from Bastia. These letters are written between the years 1842 to 1849.

     The letters and documents deal with business matters, detailing the Corsica – St. Thomas dealings of the Piccioni and Mattei families, and their connections to merchants elsewhere in the Caribbean and in South America.

      Two of the letters are not written by either Piccioni, but from others who wrote to Sebastian Mattei spelling his name as Matey and Mattey. One of these non Piccioni letters is written from Camana, Peru in 1838. This letter is written in Spanish. The other non Piccioni letter was written in 1837 and is also written in Spanish. These letters are addressed to Sebastian Mattei on Saint Thomas.

     The seven documents in the collection include two legal documents (4 pp.), one in English, being a power of attorney for Sebastian Mattei, and five financial accounts (8 pp.) for Sebastian Mattei with various merchants, including the Piccioni family. One of these financial accounts is in English, the others are in French and are dated between 1835-1842.

Francois Piccioni (1762-1846) and Vincent Piccioni (1812-1897), of Pino and Bastia, Corsica and the island of St. Thomas

     After Santi Bartolomei Lange, the most prominent Corsican merchant to establish a permanent business in Saint Thomas, was François Piccioni (1762-1846) from Pino. He first arrived in Saint Thomas in 1813, probably from another place in the region, and took the burgher oath on 21 April 1815. Evidently well-funded from the start, he bought the property at Regjeringsgade 8 in 1818 from James Sargenton. Until his death Piccioni continued to invest in property in the lower part of the Savan sector

      Francois Piccioni appears to have been the son of Sebastian Piccioni, a companion in arms of Filippo Antonio Pasquale di Paoli (1725-1807). Paoli was a Corsican patriot and leader, the president of the Executive Council of the General Diet of the People of Corsica. Paoli designed and wrote the Constitution of the state of Corsica. Following the French conquest of Corsica in 1768, Paoli oversaw the Corsican resistance. Following the defeat of Corsican forces at the Battle of Ponte Novu he was forced into exile in Britain where he was a celebrated figure. He returned after the French Revolution which he was initially supportive of. He later broke with the revolutionaries and helped to create the Anglo-Corsican Kingdom which lasted between 1794 and 1796. After the island was re-occupied by France he again went into exile in Britain where he died in 1807.

      Piccioni maintained an extensive network of contacts in the region and functioned as a link to other Corsicans travelling in the area. He was engaged in a variety of business activities. He likely participated in the regional slave trade. He availed himself of both resident and travelling agents of Corsican descent. One such representative was Francisco María Tristani, who had lived in Puerto Rico since 1813 and owned a shop in Ponce since 1819, while also being a burgher of Saint Thomas since at least 1816. Tristani's successful business, which also included the importation of enslaved persons, enabled him to develop a sugar plantation in Barrio Capitanejo that in 1835 was valued at 100,000 pesos. His daughter Eudoxie became the matriarch of an extensive clan of Lucchettis and Blasinis.

     Francois Piccioni is known to be the uncle of Vincent Piccioni (1812-1897), a French politician. Vincent's parents were Jean Marie Piccioni (1757-1834) and Brigitte Blasini (1772-1827), wealthy Corsican proprietors.  The Piccioni family was from Pino, Haute-Corse, on the island of Corsica, and was an ancient and important Catholic family with Genoese origins.

             Vincent Piccioni, Francois' nephew, was a lawyer in Bastia in 1840. He spent six years on the island of Saint-Thomas, at the head of a business house. This business house was in collaboration with his uncle Francois Piccioni. Francois Piccioni had previously been at Saint Thomas, and was joined by his nephew. However, upon Vincent’s arrival in St. Thomas, Francois soon died; forcing Vincent to head up the business for the next six years. Vincent also held the post of vice-consul of France. Vincent returned to Corsica in 1852, where he was General Councilor of Corsica and Mayor of Bastia in 1854. He settled in Haute-Garonne in 1861 and became general councilor of the canton of Revel and deputy of the Haute-Garonne from 1863 to 1870. He sat in the majority supporting the Second Empire.

       Félix Ribeyre wrote about Vincent Piccioni in his book Biographies of Deputies:

"Family interests called him to the West Indies (the Danish islands of St. Thomas), where he served for some time and in a patriotic manner as vice-consul of France. Mr. Piccioni spent six years in this distant country, directing to Saint Thomas Island the richest French settlement in the colony, a settlement founded for half a century by his family..."

         In St. Thomas, Vincent Piccioni, and Francois before him, built their personal fortunes in trade and the arming of ships. Later in 1859 Vincent Piccioni financed the restoration of the Bluebeard Tower, as the "Journal des Débats" states in an article on the history of St. Thomas Island, published on June 30, 1906. Piccioni was the owner of the tower.

       For the trading ventures Francois employed two clerks, Jean Semidei from Centuri and Antoine Blasini from Pino. Both of them spent time in Puerto Rico on short and long assignments. Semidei had obtained domicile in Ponce in 1820, and in 1830 when he applied for naturalization he stated that for many years he had travelled to and fro, trading with friendly neighboring islands. Blasini, for his part, was engaged in trade with Guayanilla in 1841. By 1846 both men had settled in Saint Thomas as Piccioni's clerks. However, after the firm was reorganized following François Piccioni's death in that year they became independent shopkeepers (from 1850). The next few years proved difficult in their business and personal lives. However, the arrival in 1855 of a relative, François Blasini, evidently helped to stabilize their situation, so that they could purchase Regjeringsgade 8 in the following year, assemble their children with local women under one roof and go on with retail operations. François Blasini married Eudoxie Tristani, then a widow, and established himself in Ponce as a successful businessman and later a French vice consul.

      In addition to Ponce, François Piccioni traded with Guayama and Guayanilla, where several Corsican families were established. For example, the Piccioni firm, then headed by his nephew Vincent, imported from Guayama in 1848 one shipload valued at 12,021 pesos, three shipments from the same port in the following year worth 43,270 pesos, and three cargoes from Guayanilla valued at 31,688 pesos during the first eight months of 1850. As had become current practice, the shipments were forwarded directly to buyers in the United States and Europe, instead of passing through Saint Thomas. It was estimated in 1850 that about one-fourth of Puerto Rico's produce was purchased by Saint Thomas merchants, such as Piccioni, thus revealing their extensive involvement in Puerto Rico's export economy. Consumer goods were still distributed from the freeport, to the vexation of certain interest groups that promoted direct importation.

    Francois Piccioni never married and when he reached the age of 94, his nephew Vincent Piccioni arrived with this wife Ericie, to represent the uncle's interests. He gave the burgher oath on 11 June 1846. He had recently bought from his uncle Regieringsgade 8 and Princessegade 6 with all furnishings, free of mortgage. In his will, dated 2 Dec 1846, Francois freed his servile charge Cesar and named as executors his nephew Vincent and Jean Blasini, Antoine Blasini, Santa Dusbeterre and Dominici. His heirs were three nephews, Vincent, Sebastian and Antoine Piccioni.

      After Francois Piccioni died on 12 Dec 1846, Vincent, as his attorney, took over the business and proceeded to reorganize it over the next five years, certainly in response to the changing market conditions after the international crisis in 1847 and 1848. The retail operation was separated from the transit trade. Semidei and Blasini left the firm before 1850, and Piccioni brought out as a clerk a relative, Mathieu Lucchetti Piccioni, from Ajaccio, the son of his cousin Catherine.

        The creation and development of the firm founded by François Piccioni closely reflected the shifts in the international business climate and the importance of maintaining family connections to Corsica. By taking advantage of Saint Thomas' strategic location, at a time when freeport privileges and neutrality were crucial to a successful operation, he developed contacts with the islands that underwent economic transformation and already had Corsican pioneers established. He maintained a network of contacts with his relatives and countrymen. By not marrying he retained control over his business, so that his relative Lucchetti Piccioni could take over and give it a new direction. But, as mentioned, his employees Semidei and Blasini suffered from the transformation.

     As the reorganization of his uncle's business began, Vincent Piccioni purchased for himself on 25 September 1848 a building at Princessegade 29A, where he lived with his French wife Ericie; a maid from Berelle, her hometown; and Mathieu Lucchetti Piccioni, his relative, as his clerk. While continuing the commercial operations, he started to dispose of the properties, one after the other. Meanwhile, in the early fifties, two more family members had arrived to work in the business, Antoine Lucchetti Piccioni from Rogliani and his brother Sosthenes Lucchetti Piccioni, born in Toulon, France. A fourth brother, Eugene, also from Rogliani, arrived before 1860.

While disposing of the urban properties Vincent invested the proceeds in a country estate named Fredriksberg, located on Taarnebjerg, a hill east of Charlotte Amalie. In a final transaction on 20 April 1856 he sold his residence at Princessegade 29A and returned to Corsica. The firm's offices were relocated to Fredriksberg, thereby completing the shift from retail and transit trade to forwarding and commission in response to new market conditions. It is not known whether their European offices were located in Corsica or elsewhere.

     The Lucchetti Piccioni brothers immigrated to Saint Thomas in a period of severe structural transformations in the international market. The history of their careers illustrates how these Corsican merchants maneuvered to salvage a great fortune created in the import-export trade by shifting to more flexible forwarding and commission businesses. The move to Fredriksberg, probably in 1857, took place during a commercial downturn following the boom of 1855-1856; several important Saint Thomas firms failed.

      The next fifteen years or so were crucial for the island's role in the region. International events in America and at home, as well as a disastrous hurricane and earthquake in 1867 and another storm in 1872, threatened the colony's commercial hegemony and hastened the structural transformation to direct forwarding between buyer and seller of tropical produce and manufactured goods. New cable connections made it unnecessary to even call at the port for market news and prices. But Saint Thomas retained its strategic importance, which led to an unsuccessful effort to sell it to the United States.

      The difficulties of the port of Saint Thomas showed clearly when the British Royal Mail Line abandoned it in 1871, at least for some years, and finally in 1885 when they moved headquarters to Barbados. However, both the French Compagnie Général Transatlantique and the German Hamburg-Amerika Line established offices in Saint Thomas, so that the latter firm, particularly, became influential in the island's business community. The French line eventually moved its headquarters to Martinique in 1887 but the Germans, lacking a colony of their own, stayed on. From 1870 the port thus functioned as a redistribution and coaling center from which smaller steamship lines connected to the regional destinations.

       In 1878 the Corsican element in the Saint Thomas society and business elite had been basically reduced to the descendants of the Bartolomei-Lange and Lucchetti families. Of the Lucchetti Piccioni brothers, Mathieu was in charge of the family's commission business, M. Lucchetti & Co.