“A Huguenot;” Finding and Analyzing a Unique Piece of Memory

I’ve decided to write today on what has kept me from writing another blog post. Since July 18th, I’ve been working almost constantly on what I think is the key find for the summer. But rather than give anything away now, let me write how I found it first.

 

In the Fall of 2000, Joyce D. Goodfriend, a historian out of the University of Denver, published an article in The Journal of Presbyterian History on John Pintard, the last Huguenot of New York City. The article focusses on how in the last years of his life Pintard tried to preserve his Huguenot heritage and pass it on to his children. For context she briefly mentioned that “a denominational publication”, called The Presbyterian, “ran a series of articles on various aspect of Huguenot history in America during the years 1849 and 1850” (183), but she had yet to access the articles themselves. Instead, she cited their use in the book History of the French Protestant Refugees from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to our own Days, by M. Charles Weiss, from 1854. Curious, I decided that I would track them down.

Unfortunately, footnotes from 1854 do not exactly conform to modern Chicago style. All that Weiss gave was the title of the publication: “The Presbyterian” and the dates of each article cited; in total eight dates ranging from December of 1849 through March of 1850. Based on this, I could deduce that it was a weekly publication, as those dates appeared on irregular Saturdays of those months. Armed with this and a general idea of what each article was on, I began looking though databases to see what I can find.

What followed though, was two days of no luck. Various newspaper and 19th century databases either came up empty or had far too many hits. It turns out that there were dozens of papers called “The Presbyterian” in the 19th century, which meant any vague search came up with hundreds of results.

That’s when I contacted Martha Higgins, the then History Department’s contact at Swem Library. Thankfully, she found it (within 30 minutes in fact!) and that the full run was in William Smith Morton Library Special Collections at Union Presbyterian Seminary.  Dr. Paula Skreslet, the Archives manager there, located them and allowed me to look at them.

Once there, I found something much larger than I could have expected. What I thought was going to be eight interesting articles turned out to be a series of 33 articles covering what the author considered Huguenot history from the 6th century to the 18th, complete with the authors thoughts and personal convictions on the history. I ended up spending a whole two weeks transcribing them, and on top of my research trip to New York last week, I have been busy going through everything I found.

Full picture of front page of the elusive newspaper

Full picture of the front page of the elusive newspaper

This is fantastic for several reasons. First is their time of publication. 1849-1850 is theoretically twenty years after any living members of Huguenot churches and communities survived, and when most Huguenot-descendent families tried to preserve their identity. Yet this is almost thirty years before the next upswing of Huguenot identity in the late 1870’s and mid 1880’s. This means that it falls, in theory, in a dry spell for Huguenot publications. However, it is not isolated. The first article came on April 21st, 1849, almost two months after The Reformed Church of France began to reconstruct itself; and when reports from its Synod were published on the front page of The Presbyterian, on February 3rd, 10th, and 24th, 1849. Here we find a clue to why it was published: the readership was, or at least the publishers thought their readers were, interested in the Huguenots because they wanted context for the declarations published two months before. This would have kept the concept of a Huguenot in the public’s mind in this period, and open to modification and interpretation.

The authorship is also a point of interest: in leu of his name, the author signed “A Huguenot.” I have been wondering why he would chose to be anonymous, and have come up with two possibilities: he was either honest, and is a Huguenot (or is a descendent of Huguenots), or he is lying. If he is lying, it is probably to help increase the pieces legitimacy; who better to write a history of Huguenots than one of them?

An example of the author's signature. It appears near the bottom, above the next article title.

An example of the author’s signature. It appears near the bottom, above the next article title.

But I think he was not lying, and that he is really a descendant of, or maybe a living and real, Huguenot. Why? To research and write thirty-three articles on so many topics would take longer than just the eighteen months from first to last publication. He cites secondary sources and appears to be familiar with a large body of the scholarship, if only in English and French. More importantly is a clear bias for South Carolina.  Out of the thirty-three articles I’ve found so far, he spent ten of them completely focused on Huguenots in South Carolina, compared to five on those in France, four for England, two for Virginia and New York each, and one for Ireland, Great Britain, America, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts each. Almost a third of the articles on one colony, and half on one of three countries, is absurd. But he knew them the best because I think he was from there. While he occasionally cites secondary literature for most of the articles, and likely uses his own recollection for the majority of what is written, the South Carolina articles are the only ones that rely also on his own, original research, where he accessed the state archives himself. Specifically, he uses several wills and church archives from South Carolina to forward his argument.

One final point of interest is how his own views come across. He was clearly interested in the scholarship on the Huguenots, and cited numerous books and monographs on them, as well as a few family histories. But he also included his own opinions on how the historians and other authors performed, criticizing, and praising them when he feels justified. For example, in The Huguenots of South Carolina. No. XXXIII, A Huguenot called out one historian, Bancroft, for having “hazarded so unqualified an assertion” as to suggest that the Huguenots were enfranchised in 1691, and then goes on to argue how they were limited politically.

He also expresses his distaste towards Roman Catholics frequently, calling them “Papists” and so forth, reinforcing the old line begun by John Jay, John Pintard, and Ann Maury in their works. But what is different is he accuses the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church after 1776, of the same intolerance to Protestantism. And he also blames the Huguenots of other colonies, but never South Carolina, for abandoning their faith. While I find this interesting, I cannot offer a good explanation until I can do further research.

Unfortunately, the binding prevents some articles in the paper from being read. This prevented only two articles from being accessed in full.

Unfortunately, the binding prevents some articles in the paper from being read. This prevented only two articles from being accessed in full.

Here, then, we have a descendent who is actively researching and participating in the scholarship of his heritage, and even identifying himself with it in his signature. And while The Presbyterian is published in New York and Philadelphia, A Huguenot is likely originally from South Carolina, meaning the publishers had to either knew him and his heritage, or set out to find him specifically, or he wrote to the paper to specifically voice his ideas. This provides a prime opportunity to examine the views of one individual interested in preserving and sharing his heritage, and what might have motivated him to do so.

Comments

  1. What an interesting journey! The fact that your were able to find these articles and personally read them is amazing. I’m not familiar with this denomination, so I had to do some research and found that Huguenots are considered to be an ethnoreligious group. I’m really interested in what makes them so different from the other Protestant denominations and what constitutes as their ethnic traditions. In your previous post, you mentioned that some Huguenots during a shift were not able to keep up with some of these traditions. I was curious as to what these specific traditions were. This seems like a really interesting project. Are their not many Huguenots left?

  2. Geoff Ringlee says:

    Hey! Thanks for your reply! As to your first question, it is difficult to pin down. After the Wars of Religion in France and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (See my next post for a brief description) the Huguenot Church in France was driven underground, but re-emerged after the French Revolution. It exists today as the French Protestant Church, and presumably has similar traditions (albeit, changed over the centuries like every religion). As far as I know, historically their services were fairly similar to other protestant churches at the time; for example the Church of England, which many Huguenot priests joined after fleeing to England. Swem actually has a copy of the liturgy book translated into English from the 18th century, called Liturgy of the French Protestant Church (BX9458 .U5 C6 1869 ). That particular version was used by Huguenot churches in New York and South Carolina. Organizationally, it was most similar to the modern day Presbyterian Church, where leadership comes from a group of elders in each church and a group of priests at the national level called a synod, as opposed to a hierarchical system like that found with Bishops in the Roman Catholic and Anglo Catholic traditions. Interestingly, the biggest grievance A Huguenot had with the Anglican church was its hierarchical system with succession through the bishops.

    To your second question, it depends on how you define Huguenot (which is kind of what my research is on). If you consider someone still practicing the same faith, the answer is not many. By the end of the Wars of Religion, the Huguenot population had dropped from ~1 million to about 200,000 in total (losses due to warfare, persecution, conversion, and lapsing). Many would then leave to protestant countries such as the Netherlands, Prussia, Switzerland, and England (and then the colonies), so not many would be left in France. I haven’t studied the modern French Protestant Church, but it is presumably similar. I know of three churches that are Huguenot still in existence, one in Charleston, South Carolina called The French Protestant (Huguenot) Church, one in New York called The French Church Du Saint de Esprit, and one in Canterbury Cathedral, England called the Huguenot Chapel. Most converted to other denominations especially Church of England and later Episcopalian.

    However, scholarship on Huguenots through the 18th Century says they assimilated remarkably well (see John Butler, The Huguenots in North America). That’s also true for England, for example, 2/3 of the English population today have an ancestor that is a Huguenot. The number is probably similar for Americans descended from the English and French. In the late 19th century, some descendants started calling themselves “Huguenot Descendants” and emphasize the idea of blood/genetic heritage due to shared experiences, as opposed to religious inheritance. That is the origin of the modern Huguenot genealogical societies. Current Huguenot societies exist, there is a national one in New York with chapters in every state, and local ones in South Carolina and Virginia. However, they are genealogical societies and nominally secular (some require you to be a practicing protestant of any denomination).

    Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any more questions!

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