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The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia 

By "Jack" Gibson

There are four national Huguenot Societies in the United States. This one isn't the
oldest (being founded in 1922), but it certainly has the longest formal name. Can you
imagine a member writing that name on his annual dues check? For that and other
reasons, many of us simply call it the "Manakin Huguenot Society" for short. It is
related to Huguenots who emigrated to the Colony of Virginia, but more about that
later after a brief review of Huguenot history. (In the English language, the word
"Huguenot" is pronounced hu'-geh-not.)

In France in the early 1500s, a number of clergymen and laymen became so
concerned for the worldliness, self-indulgence, and other trends within the
Established Church of France that they tried to bring about internal reforms. These
attempts at reform failed, and they began to quit the Established Church and form
congregations which they felt came closer to their understandings of biblical
teachings. In the very earliest days, some of these reformers held considerable
political power and the French King even sponsored colonization expeditions for
them, under the French flag, to what is now the State of Florida. There for several
years, starting in 1564 (43 years before the founding of Jamestown in 1607), the
Colony of Fort Caroline existed close to the mouth of the St. Johns River, near
present day Jacksonville. It remained under French control until the Spanish
captured the place, killed most of the French colonists, and occupied the fort for

A few years later, the French Royal Court and the Established Church became much
stronger allies, conspired, and then jointly decreed that the reformers and breakaway
churchgoers, then called "Lutherans," were heretics. Persecutions began and soon
became so severe that thousands fled to other countries rather than give up their new
found faith. Persecution grew from simple acts of beatings, extortion, and floggings,
to torture, midnight raids, robbery, mutilation, house burning, imprisonment,
property appropriation, galley slavery, rape, "ordinary" murder, hanging,
dismemberment, drowning, and burning at the stake.

After several particularly widespread and tragic massacres (including men, women,
and children) of commoners and aristocrats who were among the "heretic" groups,
the French King granted them the Edict of Nantes in 1598 giving them limited
religious and civil liberties. However, after his death in 1610, some persecution
resumed. In 1685, the Edict of Nantes itself was revoked, thus totally outlawing the
"heretics", who by now were referred to by the epithet "Huguenots." No one knows
for certain today exactly what it means, but it was a derogatory name devised by the
French persecutors.

Most people today are quite familiar with the Spanish Inquisition, which was the

same sort of "heretic" genocide as the French Huguenot Persecutions, but the French
events are not as well known although they were, if anything, more horrifying and
widespread. Many thousands of Huguenot refugees escaped to other friendly
European countries, and some eventually reached the American Colonies and a few
other areas of the world. The English word "refugee" was first used then in reference
to the French word "refugie" for the Huguenots. Then, as today, descendants of
Huguenots revere the name "Huguenot" and consider it a "badge of honor." For
them, the mere mention of the name conjures up the history and memory of the
tragic original families and their sufferings, and now suggests strength, stamina, and
courage under persecution.

In the year 1699, King William of England, and other prominent leaders in London
who were concerned with the welfare of the Huguenot refugees who had reached
England, made it possible for some Huguenots to emigrate to the English Colony of
Virginia. The first of these refugees came on four ships at different times during the
year 1700. The Virginia House of Burgesses granted them 10,000 acres for homes
and farms on the south side of the James River, about 25 miles west of present day
Richmond. This area was designated King William Parish, and the church established
was the Manakin Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church was relatively close to the
Huguenot faith in its teachings, and the designation as "Episcopal" was a part of the
land agreement with the Colony of Virginia. The name "Manakin" was apparently the
early settlers mispronunciation and misspelling of the word "Monacan" for the
Monacan Indians who had previously occupied the settlement area. The Huguenots
called the "town" part of their settlement, "Manakintowne." The Manakin Episcopal
Church has operated continuously there to this day, although in its fifth building on
the original site in Manakintowne.

On April 17, 1922, a group of descendants of Manakin Huguenots in the state of
California formed "The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony
of Virginia." In the 1920s, Huguenots and their history were little known in this
country. The new society's goals were: to promote interest in the study of Huguenots
who settled in and around Manakintowne, Virginia, and the family lines descended
therefrom; to erect a lasting memorial at Manakintowne in memory of its valiant
refugee settlers; to collect existing documents relating to Manakintowne and its
settlers to be placed in the Society's Library for use in Huguenot research; to
encourage the preparation of fully documented papers and essays on the Manakin
Huguenots and their ancestry for deposit in the Society's Library, and for publication
in The Huguenot, the biennial journal of the Society; and to sponsor yearly
scholarships, based on written essays, for the education and development of
outstanding students.

Some years after its formation, the Society changed the membership requirements
from just being a Manakin Huguenot descendant, to include descendants of all
Virginia émigré Huguenots up to the year 1786. Likewise, the aims of the Society
expanded to include these additional Virginia Huguenots. The very first Huguenots
to come to the Colony of Virginia did so in the year 1620. The author's Huguenot
ancestor is in this other-than-Manakin category, having come to Virginia's
Shenandoah Valley from England in 1740.

Today the Society maintains a modern research library, gift/bookstore, and
headquarters building adjacent to the Manakin Episcopal Church. The Society also
owns 400 acres of adjacent timber land, which when periodically harvested, provides
a moderate income for the society. The first annual national convention, called the

National Assembly, was held in 1932 and has convened annually ever since. The
Society's governing body is its Board of Management, made up of its officers and
certain committee chairmen. State societies, called Branches, are active in many
states today, and a few Branches have Chapters as further subdivisions.
State Branches have their own projects and events to better the aims of the Society.
The Georgia Branch's most recent project was to publish a book of previously
unpublished stories of member's Huguenot ancestor adventures, major events, or
lives in general. This project supports the educational and research goals of the
Society. The books are not only available for members, but are being placed in
genealogical and historical research libraries all over the southeastern states, and to
anyone else who would like to purchase a copy. Other Branches have additional
scholarships, cemetery upkeep, and charitable programs to fit the needs of the time.
All Branches participate in marking the gravestones of Huguenot ancestors and
descendants with bronze Society emblems.

There is one positive and lasting legacy of the Huguenots to this country that affects
us all. While many citizens today are vaguely aware or totally unaware of the
Huguenots and their tragic experiences, the Founding Fathers of the United States
were much closer to them in time (some were even contemporaries) and were very
well aware of them and the reason for their horrifying experiences - the conspiracy
and collusion of a national government and a chosen national church! They wanted
to avoid any such calamity in the new USA and addressed the subject in "The Bill of
Rights," Amendment I to the US Constitution: "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..."
(The author, "Jack" Gibson, is finishing up his second and final year as President of
The Georgia Branch of the "Manakin Huguenot Society." He is in his second term as
National By-Laws Chairman and first term as National Chaplain. Jack was President
of the John Collins Chapter SAR in 2002. His three SAR ancestors of record, all
Seviers, were Huguenot descendants. In fact, a total of eight "Huguenot" Seviers
from this same extended family fought in the Revolution. There were thousands of
other Huguenots and Huguenot descendants who fought, for example, Paul Revere.)

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