Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 23, 2012

Huguenots and the Cape of Good Hope

It has consistently come up in my research that a rather large number of Huguenots fleeing the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the 1680s settled in South Africa. The notion has always seemed strange to me . . . dark and wild Africa, as Europeans viewed it at the time, was hardly a place for pious-minded individuals. Or was it? While one might think of Africa in terms of savannas, hidden tribes, and exotic animals, there were bundles of beautiful farmland ripe for the taking. Just what those who had implemented the “Protestant work ethic” needed most. Many have argued that the slaughter and exile of French Protestants was detrimental to France’s financial health, few at that time in history there were perhaps no harder-worker individuals whose earnestness and integrity in business dealings gave them a name even among their enemies.

The only problem with this seemingly-perfect solution was that few of the Huguenot settlers were farmers, and many were venturing into an area they had never before attempted. There were other professions to champion in South Africa, of course . . . medical positions, shoemaking, carpentry, vineyard-tending, teaching, etc.

So why here? Prior to the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, Huguenot travelers and businessmen developed a fascination for the Cape of Good Hope. Probably the first Huguenot in South Africa, Marie de la Quellerie, gained fame for settling at Table Bay. A portrait shows her as light-haired and plainly-dressed, with an unusual tab-fronted head-covering that marks her as a modest woman. Perhaps better known in the region was her husband, Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck. Their intercultural family setting was very common throughout the 1600s, as many Dutch Calvinists in New York and other areas married into Huguenot families.

Throughout the 1680s, both desiring colonists and knowing of the horrors French Protestants were facing, officials decided that South Africa would serve as a stab at religious freedom. Like many other regions in which the Huguenots settled, French was never elevated to the status of official tongue. The Dutch, who were proprietors of the Cape of Good Hope at that time, forbade any language but Dutch to be spoken professionally. Yet they looked upon the Huguenots --- fellow Calvinists --- fondly, and were quite generous with the land they bestowed. One particular region in South Africa where the Huguenots settled became known as “Franschhoek,” “French corner,” and today there is a large Huguenot memorial in that place.

At Franschhoek there is a large complex of memorials and museums. At the wine cellar complex, which symbolizes one of many trades in which the Huguenots flourished, there is a plaque that reads, “After darkness comes light.” In the later years of the 17th century (and indeed, throughout much of the 16th and 17th centuries) it must have seemed to the Huguenots as if there was nowhere to hide, as if they would eventually be funneled into the charnel-house of prejudice and intolerance.

I have randomly chosen a few of the family heads who settled in South Africa between the late 1600s and the mid-1700s: Pierre Dumont, an agriculturist, who was married to Cecile d’Atis; Jacques Naudé, a sailor, married to Suzanne Taillefert; Abraham Prévost, married to Anna van Marseveen; and Durand Sollier, a shoemaker, who was married first to Marthé Petel and secondly to Isabeau de Villiers. Interestingly, Abraham Prévost was born in 1670, thus he was only about eighteen when we arrived in South Africa. What an exciting life he must have led . . .

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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