French In America

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The French Huguenots

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The French Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France (or French Calvinists) from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Huguenots became known for their criticisms of worship as performed in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church fanatically opposed the Huguenots, attacking pastors and congregants as they attempted to meet in secret for worship. The height of this persecution was St. Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre, but was preceded by much slaughter before that date.

By 1562, the estimated number of Huguenots in France likely peaked in number at approximately two million, compared to approximately sixteen million Catholics during the same period. As the Huguenots gained influence and displayed their faith more openly, Roman Catholic hostility to them grew, even though the French crown offered increasingly liberal political concessions and edicts of toleration.

In 1561, the Edict of Orléans declared an end to the persecution, and the Edict of Saint-Germain of January 1562 formally recognized the Huguenots for the first time. The Huguenots transformed themselves into a definitive political movement, adding wealth and holdings to the Protestant strength, which at its height grew to sixty fortified cities, and posed a serious threat to the Catholic crown and Paris over the next three decades.

In what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 24 August – 3 October 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following. In 1685, Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes and declared Protestantism to be illegal in the Edict of Fontainebleau. After this, the Huguenots fled.

A group of Huguenots under the leadership of Jean Ribault in 1562 ended up establishing the small colony of Fort Caroline in 1564, on the banks of the St. Johns River, in what is today Jacksonville, Florida. Barred from settling in New France, many Huguenots nevertheless moved to North America, settling instead in the Dutch colony of New Netherland (later incorporated into New York and New Jersey), as well as the Thirteen Colonies of Great Britain and Nova Scotia.

Huguenot immigrants founded New Paltz, New York, which has the oldest street in the current United States of America with the original stone houses, and New Rochelle, New York (named after La Rochelle in France). Louis DuBois, son of Chretien DuBois, was one of the original Huguenot settlers in this area. There was Huguenot settlement on the south shore of Staten Island, New York in 1692. The present-day neighborhood of Huguenot was named those early settlers. Some Huguenot immigrants settled in Central Pennsylvania. There, they assimilated with the predominately Pennsylvania German settlers.

American Huguenots readily married outside their immediate French Huguenot communities, leading to rapid assimilation. They made an enormous contribution to American economic life, especially as merchants and artisans in the late Colonial and early Federal periods.

Eight American Presidents (George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson) had significant proven Huguenot ancestry, as did founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Paul Revere. Twelve other U.S. Presidents had credible but unproven claims to Huguenot ancestors.


Written by Jon Cronin

May 28, 2009 at 21:04

One Response

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  1. Thanks for mentioning Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. We are very proud of our heritage and the contributions that our founders made to America and the our area.

    Richard Heyl de Ortiz
    Director of Public Programs
    Historic Huguenot Street

    Richard Heyl de Ortiz

    May 29, 2009 at 02:24

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