Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12, 2012

Frenchmen in Carolina

In my post of October 21, I mentioned that many American states had at least a small Huguenot population and that North Carolina was one of those unlikely places. I’ve recently been missing those beautiful southern states and wanted to focus on the French Protestants of New Bern and outlying regions. The year was 1709 . . . this was the year many Huguenots and German Palatines sailed to America, as the combination of Old World strife and the welcome of Protestant England’s American colonies made it only natural to do so. 

In 1709, there was no “North” and “South” Carolina. Both colonies were named simply Carolina, and the distinctive boundaries would not come about until later. Huguenots were rushed to the Neuse River region. Some intrepid Frenchmen had arrived years earlier, however, from the lovely colony called Virginia. In 1707 there were Huguenots settling what would become known as New Bern, enjoying the natural resources of the Trent River. Doubtless the French of 1709 must have felt lucky to hear their own language being spoken. One of the North Carolina cities connected with these early settlers is the venerable Beaufort.

Though French Protestants were usually happy to find that they had left behind the chaos of Europe for a work-filled but generally persecution-free life, the settlers of North Carolina, those who lived near modern-day Beaufort, were not so lucky. Tuscarora Indians had not taken kindly to intrusions and decided to rampage against the new settlement, including the homes of the French so recently arrived in America. The Huguenots accustomed to persecution simply due to their Protestant faith were now forced to endure violence simply because of their ethnicity and where they had chosen to live. 

I imagine that to the French, the English government must have very often seemed like saviors in disguise. This much-persecuted church had been ravaged so many times in its own homeland that escape must have often seemed impossible. Beautiful lands like Virginia, “Carolina,” and, further north, New York, were blessings to a hardworking people who only wanted to practice the faith they loved without giving up their basic rights. North Carolina provided freedom to many of these men, women, and children. Its contributions to Huguenot history may not be well-known, but they are exceedingly important.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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