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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Huon de Penanster, Charles Henry

< Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography

HUON DE PENANSTER, Charles Henry, French botanist, b. in Dinan in 1727; d. in Santo Domingo in 1771. He was descended from an ancient family of Brittany, and left the French navy in 1751 to devote himself to botany. He had seen in New Spain the cochineal insect, of which the Mexicans forbade the sale to foreigners, and, resolving to naturalize it in Santo Domingo, he went in 1752 to Mexico under the disguise of a Spanish physician. He remained three years in the country learning how to breed the insect, and also ascertaining the use of the nopal-plant, on which it feeds; and, having at last obtained specimens of both in 1755, he transported them, at great personal risk, to Santo Domingo, where their cultivation soon became a prosperous industry. Louis XV, made Huon knight of St. Louis, the governor-general of Santo Domingo granted him a large tract of land near the city of Cape François, and the inhabitants of the colony, through a public subscription, presented him with a gold medal in 1758. Huon never returned to the Spanish possessions, as the Mexicans were greatly incensed against him for depriving them of the tribute for cochineal from European countries. He made Santo Domingo his home, and devoted the remainder of his life to the welfare of the colony. He was pensioned as royal botanist in 1768, and founded in Cape Français the botanical society of the Philadelphes, establishing also a botanical garden, which is still one of the ornaments of the city and opening a museum of natural history, the contents of which he had himself collected. He published “Traité de culture du nopal” (Cape Français, 1758); “De l’éducation de la cochenille, et de leur acclimatation à Saint Domingue” (1767, reprinted in “Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences”), and “Voyage à Guaraxa dans la Nouvelle Espagne” (1761).