Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 09, 2012

Huguenots of Martinique: Their Unique Situation

The phrase “you learn something new every day” applies to history and religious studies very well. Just when you think you’ve exhausted the study of 16th century clothing or 17th century religious thought, you come upon something new and interesting. My Protestant Reformation studies have always been that way --- never a dull moment.

While doing some Huguenot studies, I discovered that there was apparently a large collection of French Huguenots in a place you wouldn’t expect . . . the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was known as part of the French West Indies. It was fortunate for these Protestant settlers that there was little religious authority in the Antilles during the early-to-mid 17th century, as the rules on Protestants immigrating were rather lax. As a result, a few brave Huguenot souls decided to mix the mundane hardships of homesteading with the beautiful views and tropical island vibes we still imagine when we dream of the Caribbean.

This is not to say that the Huguenots were not without opposition. King Louis XIV, known for the Edict of Fontainebleau that denied his Protestant subjects even the simplest of rights, was greatly incensed that many of the men successfully accumulating wealth were “heretics.” Beginning in 1686, the Huguenots’ image of Martinique changed entirely. No longer was it a tentative opportunity for religious equality. Instead, Louis set it up as a sort of “prison” where recalcitrant Protestants were dropped off until they could learn to “play nice,” i.e. convert to the Catholic faith.

This intolerance on the part of King Louis XIV and his associates stunted Martinique’s financial growth. In the 1680s, most of the previous Huguenot patrons and their more recent, persecuted coreligionists sought British territories where they might be permitted to practice their faith. As I enjoy “pulling out” names of those men and women who bravely lived their beliefs and settled new frontiers, I was pleased to discover some of the Protestant colonists who enjoyed a brief period of colonization in Martinique. One such man was named Philippe Casier.

Philippe was about twenty-one years of age when he came to Martinique, and his occupation was listed as farmer. He and his wife Marie had at least eight children, two of whom, a son and daughter, were born on the island. According to family tales, Philippe originally settled in St. Christopher, another Caribbean locale, but came to Martinique around 1635 with other enterprising men. No one is certain why the Casiers returned to France in the 1640s. With the strangling Edict of Fontainebleau still 25 years in the future, perhaps they felt safe enough to do so.

 At any rate, the beautiful island of Martinique still echoes with the memories of brave Protestant souls like Philippe Casier and many others . . . those who put their backs to the tasks at hand and thrived, those who were brought by force, and those who endured. Surely even the most difficult tasks must have seemed easier, surrounded by waving palms, wide open shores, and emerald seas . . .

One can only hope they at least had peace in that.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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