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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton


In my last blog I said I would next write about the global diaspora of Huguenots.

When these people left their homeland often their destination would be based upon the proximity of the border. For example, people living in Brittany would often choose to flee to the Channel Islands, those living in north-eastern France would seek a new life over the border in the Netherlands. However, there were many who sought a new life, a new beginning far from their homeland and this group, is the one, I shall primarily focus on in this first blog about - Huguenots and the new world:

The Huguenots in America

As early as the 16th century many Protestants took part in the expeditions to Brazil, Florida or South Carolina. It was a dream of French royal power and led by the admiral of Coligny to establish an Antarctic France. But the ideal was short lived as the upper hand was gained by the mighty Catholic Kingdom of Spain.

Moving onto the 17th Century, in 1620 when the famous Mayflower arrived in Plymouth there were French people on board. Many Huguenots living in La Rochelle sent a petition in 1622 to the governor of Massachusetts asking for permission to settle there and “live with the English”. The reception was friendly, 150 families are estimated to have settled and soon anglicised their names in order to blend into the established community, but this did not mean that they did not have an input into their new community, they most certainly did.

After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes the number of refugees seeking a new life in America increased. The main routes were either directly from France or through Holland or England. All the Huguenots proved very adaptable and loyal to their new homeland and, in some cases, would go on to play an important role in the future of their adopted homeland.

Figure 1 Postage stamp depicting the puritans boarding the Mayflower in 1620 © Private Sammlung

The city of New Rochelle was founded by the Huguenots between New York and Boston in about 1688, in memory of the city so many refugees had fled from. The inhabitants of this new town increasingly adopted English and the Anglican rite. However, they chose to retain a French Church called Trinity church, which received a charter from Georges III dated 1762.

The Huguenots held education to be of great importance, no doubt due to their reforming ideals of worship, and thus played an important role in creating schools in particular to encourage girls’ education.

Figure 2 Map of great Acadian migrations during the 17th and 18th centuries

All the English colonies on the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Florida, saw French Huguenots arrive in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Like all the refugees who fled there, they proved to be without doubt loyal beyond question to England, which was still under British rule [1]

Among the places the Refugees settled was the city of Manakin, close to Richmond on the James River, where 700 Huguenots chose to put down roots. Manakin kept its original Indian name though. They also chose to settle in Charleston, South Carolina where the ship “Richmond” arrived with about fifty families on board. The journey had been funded by the crown of England, as they wanted loyal settlers to work the land in that area to develop the culture of vines, mulberry trees and olive trees. The Huguenots created model farms, carried out land clearing and developed agriculture.

Figure 3 Jean Ribault. Painting by Calvin Bryant

Figure 4 © 2018 J Hampton The Memorial to Jean Ribault Dieppe

Figure 5 © 2018 Tim Filmon

Jean Ribault (see fig 3) was a French naval officer, navigator, and a colonizer of a part of America that would eventually become the southeastern United States. He was a key figure in the French attempts to colonize Florida. Jean was a Huguenot and an officer under Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Jean Ribault led an expedition to the New World in 1562 that founded the outpost of Charlesfort on Parris Island in South Carolina. Two years later, he took over command of the French colony of Fort Caroline, present-day Jacksonville, Florida. He and many of his followers were massacred by Spanish soldiers near St Augustine. A Memorial to these brave men and women was unveiled on the 7th July 1935, in the grounds of the chateau of Dieppe, as a mark of friendship between French and American peoples. There is a similar memorial marker (see fig 5) in South Carolina.

[1] British America comprised the colonial territories of the English Empire, which after the 1707 union of the Kingdom of England with the Kingdom of Scotland to form the Kingdom of Great Britain became the British Empire, in the Americas from 1607 to 1783.

Further reading

BIRNSTIEL Eckart (textes réunis par), La Diaspora des Huguenots. Les Réfugiés protestants de France et leur dispersion dans le monde (XVIe-XVIIIe siècles), Champion, Paris, 2001

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Myrna Jeannette Hayter
Myrna Jeannette Hayter
10 de nov. de 2022

Fascinating ... and so much more to explore. Don't forget the Walloons, early settlers of influence too.

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