Historiography of the Huguenots and Moving Forward

Hi all. My apologies for a delayed first blog post; these last several weeks have been filled with secondary literature reviews, archive visits, and lots of driving! In total, I have driven just over 1000 miles in 10 days to visit archives.

To summarize the secondary literature review, most research on Huguenots in both the US and England focus on the longevity of their institutions. For example, Jon Butler in his The Huguenots in America surveys individual Huguenot parishes and how they survived and kept a distinct identity. He then uses marriage and baptismal records in those parishes and in churches of other denominations to demonstrate that Huguenots and their descendants were slowly shifting away from their parishes by marrying outside of the Huguenot church and to non-Huguenots. This led to a much earlier corroding of their collective identity and society homogeneity much sooner than when churches in New York, Boston, and South Carolina closed. Roughly, societies were in decay by 1750, and completely closed by 1830.

However, a few scholars have taken different approaches to studying continued Huguenot identity, specifically in England. Bertrand Van Ruymbeke and Randy J. Sparks note in their book Memory and Identity that, while original Huguenot immigrants were focused on maintaining an identity based on “church organization, language, kinship, and, in the sixteenth century, by regional origins (Huguenots from France as opposed to Walloons from the southern Netherlands)” (7). Many descendants of the next two generations rejected this and chose to fully assimilate and forget their previous community for complete acceptance into British or Colonial American society. However, some preferred an “emotional, and personal, tie” to their ancestor’s experience in fleeing France, as opposed to preserving the religion their ancestors had suffered so much for (9). This shift is important because it marks an attempt by a few individuals who either choose to not, or simply could not, maintain a specific tradition or religion financially or spiritually, but wanted to keep some connection.

This interest was probably present not just in the second or third generation, but in later ones into the 19th Century. And it is entirely possible that individuals whose parents or grandparents chose to abandon their Huguenot ties could re-discover them through genealogy, and then long for a connection to them. As Robin Gwynn notes in Huguenot Heritage “A modern English member of a distinguished Huguenot family like Le Fanu or Lefroy, Minet or Ouvry might well act in a particular way or within a particular framework as the conscious or subconscious result of an acute awareness of his family’s past” (203-204).

However, a thorough study focusing on that continued interest has yet to be conducted for the United States, as most work focusing on history and memory has focused on England. Some historians have considered John Pintard and the Jay family of New York, as well as the Faneuil’s of Boston. But these individual studies focus on how the family itself was either remembered within its descendants, or by its community, but not together, and ignore larger national trends that could have influenced it. As I go forward I will be focusing on Virginia, specifically the Fontaine-Maury family, and several national trends. My next blog post, which should follow in a week or two, will update on what I have found in the month of June and the next two weeks.