Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 02, 2012

Huguenots and French Louisiana: No Love Affair

I have always found it ironic that although there were (1) Various French settlements in the New World throughout the 1600s and 1700s, and (2) there were many French Huguenots, the two groups rarely mixed. It is strange indeed that the French Protestants who came to America came not with their own countrymen but with the English, Germans, or Dutch. French officials ignored the fact that they were depriving their colonies of industrious and hardworking Huguenot settlers. Instead, the religious intolerance of the day proved a deadly hindrance.

Louisiana, named Louisiane after King Louis the Fourteenth, was such an example. Louis had been an absolute terror to his Protestant subjects. He had stripped them of citizenship, reneged on their rights, and either exiled, imprisoned, or sentenced to death anyone who refused conversion. The bright new opportunity of Louisiane could have been a way for him to somehow reconcile with his Huguenot countrymen. In allowing them to settle in these new territories, he might have given them a chance to start new lives after he had effectively stripped them of any semblance of normalcy in France. This decision would have helped his colonies prosper.

But Louis did not care about “playing nice.” When Protestants asked to settle in Louisiana, he supposedly said that he planned the colony to be “A dominion of true believers, not a republic for heretics.” (To be fair, this is one of those legendary sayings, but there is no question that he held this sort of opinion). Huguenots who did emigrate to what would become New Orleans faced a Catch 22: They could come, but, once there, they had to submit to Catholicism. Naturally there were some who bent the rules. Western Louisiana soon yielded homesteads to Huguenot emigr√©es who somehow managed to undertake such ventures under the authorities’ noses.

To quote the book “French Colonial Louisiana and the Atlantic World” by Bradley G. Bond: “. . . the Louisiana Code Noir of 1724, opposed to its Caribbean predecessor of 1685, did not regulate the presence of Huguenots in the colony but simply stated that ‘la Religion Catholique Apostolique & Romaine’ was the official religion of Louisiana.” That clever play of words suggests that even if French officials did not support Huguenot emigration here and there, they most likely had knowledge of it. It was not until the early 1800s and American occupation that Protestantism was socially accepted in places such as New Orleans, and even then, due to old French families in the area, there must have been some friction.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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