Huguenots in American colonial history

During my pandemic cleaning, in other words, taking care of projects formerly on the back burner, I found several interesting publications amid the piles of accumulated data collected over the 35 years of proudly reporting about Franco-Americans.  (Yes, I have to update my webpage biography!)

A bicentennial publication

Two Hundred Years of Freedom by Le Canado-Americain

One particular publication, found in the pile I am sorting thru, was published for the American 1976, bicentennial. Madeleine Giguere, the founder of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine, Lewiston Auburn College, gave me the publication, along with a group of books. She was always delighted to share Franco-American history.

Information about the Huguenots was among the articles published in the book “Two Hundred Years of Freedom“, written by Le Canado-Americain, in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was the purpose of the commemorative book to be distributed to the public during the national bicentennial celebrations. In my experience, it is rare to read about the Huguenots in French-American history and I want to compliment those who composed the article. After all, it was the Huguenot Pierre Dugas (1560-1628), who was among the first to help Samuel Champlain in 1604, to settle the French colony of St. Croix Island, off the coast of Calais. (Check the link here.)

While America’s hard fought independence from Great Britain was certainly aided by reinforcements sent to help General George Washington to win the Revolutionary War, very little information is provided about how the Huguenots were among the colonial patriots, because many of them were already here.

Huguenots were the French Protestants of the 16th–17th centuries. Most of the Huguenots came to North America as refugees, because of anti-Protestant sentiment in France. When King Louis XIV of France made the consequential decision to revoke the protection of Protestants that they had achieved under the l’Edit de Nantes, the result caused 100,000 Huguenots to flee out of France. Those Huguenots who decideded to settle in New England were attracted by the Protestants who were settled in the English colonies and where they quickly assimilated into the population. “For the most part, the Huguenots in New England were wealthy and educated. Therefore, they were able to contribute economically and culturally to the development of the young colonies.” (As reported in the article.)

James Bowdoin portrait

James Bowdoin (1726-1790) was a descendant of Huguenots.

In Maine, perhaps the most famous of the Huguenots was James Bowdoin II, born August 7, 1726, in Boston to Hannah Portage Bowdoin and James Bowdoin, a wealthy Boston merchant. His grandfather was Pierre Baudouin, a Huguenot refugee from France. Young James attended the South Grammar School (now Boston Latin School), then graduated from Harvard College in 1745.  He died in Boston, on November 6, 1790.. Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine, is named after James Bowdoin. He is also famous for having been a politician and he founded the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest learned societies in the United States.

Moreover, as early as the 16th century, Huguenots came to America. In 1620, when the famous Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, there were French people on board, including Guillaume Molines and his family. (Check the Huguenot Refuge in America website at this site here.)

Among other the notable Huguenots who settled in New England were:

  • Philippe de la Noye, who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, who was an ancestor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • Nicolas Martiau, who was a maternal ancestor of President George Washington.
  • Paul Revere, who was the American Revolutionary patriot who descended from the French family of Rivoire de Romagneu.
  • Pierre-Charles L’Enfant, the man who drew up the street plan for Washington DC, based upon the map of Paris, France.

Although the Huguenots were in the colonies with the early French colonists, they apparently abandoned their heritage because of their refugee status. Nevertheless, they are certainly among the Franco-Americans who participated in creating the United States of America.

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.