One of my favorite Victorian words, an English slang, is “bunce,” a fortuitous windfall from marginal prospects. Think of a pick pocket who has a big payday. A Scot, Richard Osborne, owned an island off West Africa which served as a major slave port; he called it Bunce Island and the name shows up in old print ads. His wild dream of fortune and riches had come true selling humans chained in coffled cargoes.
Henry Laurens, a wealthy South Carolina slave dealer and rice planter, was Bunce Island’s business agent in Charleston before the American Revolutionary War. After the war began, Laurens became the President of the Continental Congress. When the fighting ended, he was named one of the American Peace Commissioners who negotiated U.S. Independence under the Treaty of Paris. Amazingly, Richard Oswald, Bunce Island’s London-based owner, was appointed head of the British negotiating team in Paris. In other words, United States Independence was negotiated, in part, between Bunce Island’s British owner and his American business agent in South Carolina. The relationship between these two men reflects Bunce Island’s importance in the commerce that linked Britain, North America, and West Africa during the Colonial Period.
By and large, corporations still seek the bunce. And politics and power still have interdependent relationships. Profit doesn’t have the ego thrill, the adrenal rush, the swagger of the take down, the highjacked abundance of bunce. Cash franchises beckon, whether the strings of old roadside travel lodges bought up by the Patel clan or Herman Cain’s pizza foray. There are so many ways to transform real estate and cash through sales, financing, marketing, restructuring.
The labyrinth of business hides the working of these actions, but we see the results. One man’s bunce is another’s waste and pain.