A Brief History of the Manakin Huguenots
Reverend Wilbur M. Sims,
Lecture Presented October 30, 1993
Why were the Manakin Huguenots so late in arriving at their haven of peace and
religious freedom? After all, those who bought Manhattan Island for the equivalent
of twenty-four dollars arrived in 1623. Those who settled in New Paltz, New York
arrived in 1670, and the Charleston Huguenots arrived at that small but growing city
in 1680. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was registered on October 22, 1685,
and it was followed by a horrendous holocaust, yet those who became known to
history as the Manakin Huguenots did not arrive until the summer of 1700. Why? To
answer that question, we must look at Europe and the British Isles and consider the
rapid and kaleidoscopic events taking place during those times.
The French refugees who made it to Manakin, Virginia came from all over France.
Some had arrived in England some years before 1685 so that even heads of families,
and even more children, had not been born in France. These, reading the times,
escaped just ahead of the holocaust while others were able to escape to England soon
after. It would take much too long, even if it were possible, to trace even a few of the
families. We do know, however, that five families escaped at the time of the holocaust
from Sedan, and they seem to be more or less representative of the refugees who
made it to England. Let's trace their movements to see what happened in those years
between 1685 and 1700.
One of the five families was named Tipphané (Tiffany) and, though they came from
Sedan, they did not come to Virginia but rather made it to New York City where their
names became synonymous with jewelry. The names of the other four families who
came directly to Manakin were LeGrand, Rochet, Michaux, and Sublette (Soblet).
Sedan is an old city in Lorraine, only about five miles from Belgium, then the Spanish
Netherlands. These families escaped to the Spanish Netherlands just before or just
after 1685, and from there to the blessed Dutch Republic. That republic was headed
by Stadhalter William of Orange, a staunch Calvinist and coreligionist of the
Huguenots, and an implacable enemy of the supreme egotist and tyrant, the Roman
Catholic Louis XIV.
Meanwhile, in 1685, on February 6, Charles II, King of England, died. He had no
legitimate children, so his younger brother succeeded him to the throne as James II.
James had long since become a Roman Catholic with the ardor and zeal of a convert,
but his first wife, deceased, was Anne Hyde, a devout Protestant. Their two daughters
were each sincere Protestants, and each became Queen of England, first Mary, then
No sooner had James been enthroned as King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and
Wales, then he showed himself stupid enough to think that he could gradually turn
most of the Protestants in his domains into Roman Catholics! And that despite the
fact that England, Scotland, and Wales had been 95% Protestant for 150 years. Every
vacancy of high rank that occurred in the army or the navy, he would fill with a
Roman Catholic. He did the same in the civil government when high places became
vacant, and in some cases he created vacancies by discharging Protestants. The
people, rank and file, the nobility, and most of the royalty became very uneasy.
But the Grand Monarch, the great Sun King in France, was rejoicing. James II of
England was his protegé, and James looked upon Louis much as a twelve-year old
boy would look upon a great athlete. Was he not slowly, but surely turning England,
Scotland, and Wales to the one true religion of which the Grand Monarch was the
Grand Champion? And was this not the most opportune time, then, for the Grand
Champion of the one true faith to make his master stroke? "There are times which,
taken at the flood, do lead on to victory." Yes, it was just the time for Louis the Great
to revoke the Edict of Nantes. He said that there was no real justification for
cluttering up the statutes of Frances which had become meaningless since there were
practically no devotees of the Pretended Reformed Religion left.
But then there might just be a few left, but since the country just across the England
Channel was so fast turning back to Mother Church--well, the tiny few left would be
much less inclined to try to escape to England since they would not received any help
from the very Christian, i. e. Roman Catholic, monarch now on that country's throne.
And so the axe fell that year of important events, 1685, and on October 22, the edict
was revoked. What tiny bit of begrudged tolerance was left existed no more. Besides
all this, Louis' outrageously inhuman action would not look as heinous to the
Protestants of Germany, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and
Switzerland, since England was joining the crowd--or so his neurotic mind wanted to
That is not the way it turned out in England, however. The people of Britain
responded with a very great compassion for their outraged compatriots in their
Calvinist understanding of the Christian religion. Most of the refugees arrived in
England utterly destitute. After all, it was not a matter of leaving, but escaping with
your life and a few rags on your back--if one were so fortunate as to escape. More
were caught than escaped.
The needs of the refugees were so great and the compassion of the English for them
so strong, added to the sense of outrage at Louis XIV from both England and the
Protestant French, that all became aware of the absolute necessity of a nationally
organized offering for the refugee Huguenots. Such an effort required the approval of
the monarch. The feelings of the English people were so strong that King James II,
his position already becoming more insecure, almost have to give his consent. He
gave it, but with the greatest reluctance. The resulting fund, the Royal Bounty, was
anything but royal. It was the People's Bounty, those communicants of the Church of
England and Dissenters who called the Huguenots their brothers. Even a few Roman
Catholics in England gave to the fund.
After Anne Hyde died, James II married Mary of Modena, an ardent Catholic. Year
after year passed and no child arrived. The Protestant British consoled themselves
with the fact that James had no male successor, so that his persistent catholicizing of
his domains could not last forever. But then it happened: On June 10, 1688 a son was
born, not just a child, but a healthy son. Naturally many thought and hoped that
there was some imposture. The timing was just too favorable to the Catholic cause.
The Catholic succession was secured.
Something had to be done. The turbulence of the people lead to fears of a repetition
of the terrible times of the English Civil War. Thus it was that a cabal of British
leaders went to see William of Orange. He was the son of Elizabeth, the eldest
daughter of Charles I, and an ardent Calvinist Protestant. Once he had opened the
dikes of the Netherlands against the troops of Louis XIV. His wife was Mary, the
Protestant daughter of King James II and Anne Hyde. Would they come over and
take the throne of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales? They would. Thus came
about the grand and glorious, and best of all, the bloodless revolution of 1688.
No one exactly threw James out, but no one at all, not even the few Catholics in the
country, tried to get him to stay and fight. He left while the leaving was good, with
poor Mary and the baby leaving before him. The Sun King received all three with
William and Mary became co-regents of British, the only co-regents England has ever
had. As first cousins, each had equal right to the throne. William brought some Dutch
troops with him and three regiments of Huguenots so recently escaped from France.
Among these were some who would end their long and weary pilgrimage in Manakin
in the Colony of Virginia.
Thought the glorious revolution was bloodless in England, in Ireland it was not.
Louis greeted his protegé with more than open arms. He put a large body of French
Catholic troops at his disposal. James brought them to Catholic Ireland where they
were joined by many Irish fighters, and there the bloodless part of the revolution
William gathered his own forces, some from most of the Protestant countries of
Europe as well as his own Dutch and English troops. The three Huguenot regiments
were led by old Marshall Schomberg. Louis XIV, for once showing a little gratitude,
had told Schomberg that in view of his great services to France, he could stay in his
beloved country and retain his Pretended Reformed Religion, if he would just keep it
on a quiet, personal level. The seventy-year old marshall replied, "Thank you, sire,
but I will go with my people."
The war began with the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on July 12, 1690, with the old
Marshall standing at the head of his regiments and saying, "Venez, mes enfants; voila
vos persecuteurs!" [Come on boys, there are your persecutors.) Moments later he was
cut down, but it was an overwhelming victory for the Protestants.
Ex-king James ran to Dublin where he said to the lady of the castle of that city, "I see
your countrymen are great runners." "Yes," she replied, "And I see you won the race."
The battle of the Boyne is still being fought to this day, between the Catholic Irish
and the Ulster or Protestant Scotch-Irish. But that battle did mark the beginning of a
war that became known on the continent as the League of Augsburg. In England, it
was known as the War of the Grand Alliance, for it banded together practically all of
the Protestants on the continent and in the British Isles against France and Louis
XIV. In the British American colonies, this war was known as King William's War.
The Battle of the Boyne, although a decisive victory for the Protestant alliance, was
about the only battle which the Protestants won. Old Louis, however, was being worn
down. The Huguenots were sustained by their hope that Louis would be finally
or that the arrogant old tyrant would die. But he lived on for eighteen years
more, dying at the age of 77, a ripe old age for those times.
Among the hopes of many of the Huguenots was that with his death, they might be
permitted to return to their beloved homeland, even if only a limited toleration for
their religion was granted. Many had left considerable property behind, and they
hoped to be able to recover some or all of it.
Such hopes ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in the Netherlands. That
was in 1697, and now twelve of the fifteen years are accounted for. The only thing
that the treaty gave to the Protestants was the recognition by Louis of William as the
legitimate King of England.
We read so much of the arrogance, the selfishness, and the adulterous behavior of
kings and emperors and their utter disregard for the welfare of simple, working
people that it is refreshing to learn of a king who seems to have tried truly to live his
Protestant, Calvinist religion. William showed his sincere grace when he asked the
Huguenots, especially those who had fought for him so valiantly, how he could best
help them. They soon decided that many would be agreeable to going to some one of
the British American colonies, since it was now clear that returning to their beloved
France was out of the question.
This decision was made, not because the French were especially unhappy in England
or not because the British had not been kind to them. They had been more than kind.
The problem was that most of the French Protestants were the rising middle class,
looking to the coming industrial revolution. They were, for the most part, skilled
art6isans, master craftsmen, tradesmen who were experts, many artists even, in all
phases of textiles, ceramics, and metals. Neither England nor any other country
could e expected to absorb such a sudden influx of such master craftsmen, lace
makers, glovers, milliners, jewelers, workers in ceramics.
So King William agreed to see that his loyal friends and co-religionists got a new start
in Virginia where there was plenty of space for them. He would pay their passages to
the new country, give them land, and exempt them from all taxes for seven years. The
gift of free passage was no small thing. In those days a crossing in six weeks was the
shortest known, with two or two one-half months about average and three months
not uncommon. For a common laborer to be out of production so long was unheard
of, and for a skilled artisan, it was a great hardship. So most working people then
came to American as indentured servants. Their passage money was advanced, but it
took seven years to work off the debt, after their arrival. All this their grateful king,
with the help of his people, gave them and more besides, without stint.
This generosity extended to instructions to captains of the four vessels involved
about their diet, a touching account:
It is the intent and meaning of the said parties that they shall have
allowances as followeth: To every passenger above the age of six years,
seven pounds of bread each week, and to a mess, eight passengers to a
mess, and to have two pieces of pork, at two pounds each piece, five days a
week, with peas. And two days in the week to have two pound pieces of
beef with peas, or one four pound piece of beef with a pudding, and with
peas. And any time, if it should happen that they are not willing the kettle
should be boiled, or by bad weather cannot, in such case every passenger
shall have one pound of cheese every such day. And such children as are
under six years of age are to have such allowances of flour, oatmeal, fruit,
sugar, and butter as their overseers shall judge convenient for them.
That was quite a fine diet for those times! And again, we must praise good King
William. No wonder the Manakin Huguenots immediately named their parish King
William Parish in his honor and their sincere gratitude.
Four ships were placed at the disposal of the Huguenot pilgrims to Virginia; the
names of three were "Ye Peter and Ye Anthony," "Mary Anne," and the "Nassau." The
name of the fourth has been lost to history. According to the Cottrell family papers, it
landed in Mobjack Bay, although others say it landed near what is now Langley Field
and others the York River. In any case, it brought also the Rev. Louis Latané. The
Cottrells were "Dover" Huguenots, meaning that they received a grant of land on the
north shore of the James; the rest were on the southern or "Calais" side, with a grant
of ten thousand acres.
The travel weary refugees were as well received by the colonial Virginians as by the
England. The people of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and neighboring areas showered
them with gifts both of useful household articles and with money. The Governor,
Francis Nicholson, ordered a whole company of militia to escort them upriver to their
new home, and to help them get settled.
I, among others, have often wondered how they must have felt when, after a few
days, the militia left; they were alone in this then wilderness, alone with their
thoughts. But after what they had been through, perhaps being alone in a wilderness
so recently deserted by a primitive people did not frighten them. Surely many of
them said, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..." and sang "Praise God from
whom all blessings flow," that hymn written by their co-religionist Louis Bourgeois.
Our Calvinist friends from England who settled in New England called themselves
pilgrims and perhaps they were. But these pilgrims had gone from France, to the
Spanish Netherlands, to the Dutch Republic, to England, to Ireland, back to England,
and, at last, to Manakin, Virginia--how much more were our ancestors pilgrims! Yet
that word was not used. Apparently they were less inclined to glory themselves, and
that is altogether fitting, but how they deserved to be remembered, not just as
personal ancestors, but as a group for what they endured and for what they achieved.
They did have a germane saying, which they used frequently: "One never risks
anything by serving God"! Think of what they risked: death by burning, death by
hanging, women violated before their eyes, young children taken away, the living
death of the galley slave, the imprisonment of women, the separation from loved
ones--and much more. Yet those who made it to Manakin and risked them all could
affirm, "One never risks anything by serving God." They had fought the good fight
and kept the faith.
Baird, Charles W. History of the Huguenot Emigration. 1885 (1966, 1979).
Brock, R. A. Documents Relating to the Huguenot Emigration to Virginia and the
Settlement at Manakin-Town. 1886 (1962, 1966, 1973, 1979).
The Vestry Book of King William Parish, Virginia, 1707-1750.