The Journey to Manakin Town, Virginia, in 1700
Account of the emigration, copied with permission from In River
Time: The Way of the James, by Ann Matthews Woodlief (Chapel
Hill: Algonquin Books, 1985), pp. 82-84. Major sources of
information: Richard P. Maury's "The Huguenots in Virginia" and
"The French Huguenot Frontier Settlement of Manakin Town,"
James L. Bugg, Jr. in The Virginia Magazine of History and
Biography, V. 61, Oct. 1953, 359-94. More recently published is The
Diligence and the Disappearance of Manakintowne's Huguenots by
Allison Wehr Elterich).
"In 1700 the frontier was still just upstream a ways, in the more hostile world of
granite, islands, and rapids above the tidewater. In July a ship [the Mary Ann] sailed
into Hampton filled with 207 Huguenots, exiled for years from their cozy, prosperous
villages in France, who hoped to build a French Protestant town in the Norfolk area.
They were welcomed by Governor Nicholson with disturbing news; their destination
had been changed and they were to go up the James. William Byrd I, inheritor of
land in the Falls area and influential in the colony, had had the last word on their
fate. They were to settle in the wilderness above the Fall Line, securing that land for
the white man.
The omens were all foreboding at Jamestown where the prospective settlers had to
transfer to smaller boats that could negotiate the curls. The town had recently burned
for the third time and so had been abandoned as a capital. Sickness was still
prevalent, and many of the French proved as vulnerable as the earlier settlers. As
they learned more details about the requirements of survival on the frontier,
especially without a navigable waterway, they became even more apprehensive, for
their skills were those of business, not farming. Not surprisingly, many chose to
desert here. Only 120 trusted themselves to the small boats and the currents of the
James. Almost immediately a boat that was filled with goods sank, claimed by the
This last leg of the voyage, overcast by dread and illness, must have been the worst.
They passed the site of an earlier settlement called World's End, made the left turn
into the Fall zone, and landed at the tiny trading outpost of rude houses around
Shockoe Creek. Loading what was left of their supplies onto borrowed wagons, they
trudged through the thick forests, following a faint path more than twenty miles into
land long ago cleared by the Monacan Indians on the south bank of the river. Their
ears still rang with the rushing of water over granite that would block their boats
from the outside world of commerce. But the key to their survival lay in the unusually
fertile floodplain of that same river.
It was a desperate fall and winter as the ill-prepared settlers used up their meager
supplies, especially when another group of more than a hundred Huguenots arrived
in October expecting to find a thriving town. [Three other ships arrived on the James
and the Rappahannock Rivers: the Peter and Anthony, the Nassau, and one whose
name is not known. All told, 500 prospective settlers boarded, but far fewer settled at
Manakin Town.] ]Friction developed between the leaders, meaning that the new
group had to hack out a settlement several miles downstream. Soon, though, Byrd
and Governor Nicholson proved their support by soliciting charitable donations
throughout the colony. The ensuing generosity proved justified, for within a year the
French had learned to be adept farmers, growing fruit and fat cattle on their bottom
land, and establishing trade, not warfare, with neighboring Indians.
Although plans had been drawn for a French-style village around a central square,
with outlying farmland along the river, these never proved practical. The fertility of
the piedmont floodplain encouraged the Huguenots, like the Monacans before them,
to live more separately than they had intended, becoming a segmented agrarian
society which stretched back from five miles of river bank. In time, they too lost their
cohesive identity by intermarrying and moving to other rivers."