Barbel House, 2009
BARBEL, MARIE-ANNE (Fornel), merchant and entrepreneur; b. 26 Aug. 1704 at Quebec, daughter of Jacques Barbel* and Marie-Anne Le Picard; m. 31 Dec. 1723 Louis Fornel*; seven of their 14 children survived infancy; d. 16 Nov. 1793 at Quebec.
Marie-Anne Barbel’s father had risen swiftly from garrison sergeant of Quebec to officeholder, but he ended his life overwhelmed by debts. Barbel was an upstart, something not rare in the colony, and at the time of Marie-Anne’s marriage his career was in the ascendant. The Fornel family, into which she married, was more stable; in the marriage contract signed by the governor and the intendant, both her prospective husband and his father are designated merchants and bourgeois of Quebec. Her future brother-in-law, Joachim Fornel*, was soon to be named a canon of the Quebec cathedral chapter.
The life of Marie-Anne Barbel is of historical interest in part because of what it reveals of the role of women in the merchant class. Her business knowledge and her continuation in trade after her husband’s death were typical. Although the business role of a wife under the custom of Paris is difficult to trace, Louis Fornel’s delegation to Marie-Anne on 15 May 1743 of full power of attorney over his affairs during his absence on the Labrador coast demonstrates that she was informed of his activities and considered capable of business decisions. Nevertheless, in the period of her marriage, the bearing and raising of children and the managing of her household would have been the focus of her life. This emphasis changed in 1745 when her husband died.
The couple’s “community of property” was not dissolved after Louis Fornel’s death, his rights devolving instead upon his heirs. Mme Fornel administered this property, carrying on the family business and extending it in size and in new directions. She continued to enjoy friendship and close business relations with François Havy* and Jean Lefebvre*, two Huguenot merchants who had been her husband’s partners in several enterprises, including the Labrador sealing industry. She was unable to continue exploitation of their sealing station at Chateau Bay, which after the War of the Austrian Succession was granted to Jean-François Gaultier*, but she had more success with Baie des Esquimaux (Hamilton Inlet), a site Fornel had discovered in 1743 and renamed Baie Saint-Louis. At the time of his death he had been petitioning for a monopoly of its trade. Intendant Hocquart planned instead to unite it with the Tadoussac trading posts (sometimes called the king’s posts), so that it would not adversely affect their business; however, his successor, Bigot, granted the Baie Saint-Louis monopoly to Mme Fornel on 20 Sept. 1749. He noted that she would be developing it in company with Havy and Lefebvre, her share being only one-third. Bigot may have made the grant as part of a general strategy of thwarting his predecessor’s clients, in this case the farmer of the Tadoussac trading posts, François-Étienne Cugnet*, for Cugnet’s lease on them was not renewed. Instead they too were leased to Mme Fornel in 1749. “Widow Fornel has a company,” Bigot explained to the minister of Marine, “and nothing whatever will be lacking at the post of Tadoussac and . . . the king will be well paid each year.” Circumstantial evidence suggests that Havy and Lefebvre were her active partners in this venture as well, although they remained in the background, perhaps because of Governor Jacques-Pierre de Taffanel* de La Jonquière’s abhorrence of Protestants.
As her husband had done before her, Mme Fornel invested part of her profits in the relative security of real estate. The most original venture of her career was the establishment of a pottery to meet the demand arising from wartime shortages. As Havy and Lefebvre explained in a letter of 1746, “no earthenware is coming from France and it appears that as long as the war lasts it will be the same, but the country has a resource in Mademoiselle Fornel who has established its manufacture. She has a very good craftsman and her earth proves good.” The pottery, finished with lead and copper glazes, was immediately successful and was even taken for the French product. The shop remained in operation until at least 1752. In that year François Jacquet signed a three-year contract with her which is revealing of the conditions of labour at the time: he was to be paid on a piece-work basis, she would provide stove wood and lighting, and, curiously, each was to hire a man and provide his food and wages. Jacquet worked in the “Briqueterie,” a dilapidated building in the Lower Town.
The war of the conquest hastened Marie-Anne Fornel’s withdrawal from trade. Her north shore and Labrador posts were liabilities in wartime. She made no effort to renew the lease on the Tadoussac trading posts which expired in 1755, and it is doubtful whether she was still operating at Baie Saint-Louis when her monopoly expired in 1761. Her numerous buildings in Quebec’s Lower Town were destroyed in the bombardment of the city in 1759, and nothing more is heard of the pottery. In 1764 she and the Fornel heirs agreed to settle accounts with the Havy and Lefebvre heirs by paying them the sum of 12,000 livres, the last payment being made in 1769. An inventory of the Fornels’ community property made the following year indicates a history of solid bourgeois comfort, but also considerable indebtedness resulting from wartime reversals. Between 1765 and 1771 Mme Fornel laboured to pay her debts, rebuild many of her houses, and consolidate her assets. In 1777 the Fornel property was divided among the heirs, and Mme Fornel entered into the last phase of her life, that of retirement, which lasted until her death in 1793.
AN, Col., B, 91, f.276; C11A, 85, ff.21, 375; 92, ff.229, 358–59; 93, ff.229, 241, 257; 96, f.101; 100, f.337; 101, f.398. ANQ-Q, AP-P-753; Greffe de Claude Barolet, 20 déc. 1752; Greffe de P.-L. Descheneaux, 1er mars 1794; Greffe de C.-H. Du Laurent, 15 mai 1743, 15 oct. 1750, 31 mai 1752; Greffe de Claude Louet, 10 mai 1765; Greffe de J.-C. Louet, 31 déc. 1723; Greffe de J.-C. Panet, 10 oct. 1764. PAC, MG 24, L3, pp.872–76, 886–90, 1144–45. Inv. de pièces du Labrador (P.-G. Roy), I, 90–91, 99; II, 88, 255–60. P.-G. Roy, Inv. jug. et délib., 1717–60. Tanguay, Dictionnaire, I, 24; IV, 84. Lilianne Plamondon, “Une femme d’affaires en Nouvelle-France, Marie-Anne Barbel” (thèse de ma, université Laval, Québec, 1976).