Michael Call, Jacob Ekins and Professor Byron Merrill, Ancient Scripture
French Protestants (also known as Huguenots) came under increasingly severe persecution by the monarchy during the last half of the seventeenth century, culminating in the revocation of all their religious rights in 1689. Condemned as heretics and traitors by the state and yet also forbidden by law to leave the country, the Huguenots fled by any method they could find to the neighboring Protestant countries of Germany, the Netherlands, and England. From there, many of them determined to leave Europe behind in an attempt to find a freer life in the New World.
The English colonies received an undetermined number of these emigrants, although they probably did not exceed 10,000 and were perhaps as few as 3,000 (Butler 47). United by language, religion, and culture, the Huguenots formed sizeable minorities in many of the major cities of the timeCBoston, New York, Charleston, etc. Moreover, their desire to preserve their unique identity motivated them to also found smaller settlements almost exclusively composed of French Protestants. Some of these, such as the Narragansett colony in Rhode Island, lasted only a short number of years, but others, like New Paltz, New York, endure to this day and still reflect their unique heritage.
Although the French Protestants remained a distinct ethnic group for a number of years, their relatively small numbers and easy integration into American society eventually led to their disappearance as they mixed with other groups, anglicized their family names, and adopted English as their language. This has contributed to their current status as one of the least-acknowledged ethnic groups to emigrate to the New World. It has also contributed to difficulties in identifying the individuals who took part in the movement.
To address this problem, we have undertaken the development of a database that would provide webbased access to the records of the Huguenots, facilitating genealogical and historical research. Although we have not as yet reached the end of our project, we have made significant inroads and anticipate bringing it to a greater state of completion in the next few months. Thanks to the help of Dr. Dan Olsen, Department of Computer Science, and his student assistants, the database program is complete and being operated from a server located in the Talmage Building. Although the search aspect of the program is not yet finished, the development is underway and we will work closely to make sure that it meets the needs of those who will use it.
A similar project is underway in regards to German emigrants, and we have been able to work with Lynda Lane who is developing a web site for this other project. In the end, the gateway website http:://immigrants.byu.edu will allow access to not only the German and French databases but other foreseen additions as well, making it a substantial resource for scholars and genealogists.
The first few months of our project were devoted to performing the necessary research, searching for censuses and lists of names from various regions of the American Colonies. This stage is largely complete and we have documentation containing the information for most of the major Huguenot settlements-the South Carolina towns, Manakintown, New York, Boston, Oxford, New Rochelle, New Paltz, and others. At this point, we are now devoting our time to entering the information that we have gathered thanks to the database program. At present, we have entered large sections of the New York French Church records, comprising several decades. We also have been working with the South Carolina property listings. Slated next for completion are the records of the Rhode Island settlement, the censuses of New Rochelle and New Paltz, and the list of French immigrants to Virginia.
Continued support from our faculty advisor has been much appreciated, and he has indicated that he will continue to help out through the final stages of the project. Although we cannot hope to identify every Huguenot who immigrated to the Colonies, through continued research we hope to find biographical information on enough to make this database a valuable resource. Although one of us will be unable to continue with the project, other students who are eager to be involved will provide additional help in data entry.
On the whole, the database has been extremely satisfying to this point, but it is far from complete. However, thanks to the support of all those with whom we=ve interacted, the project is on track to become a significant tool for increasing awareness of the Huguenots and their impact, as well as a help for those who discover Huguenot lineage as part of their ancestry.
- Butler, Jon. The Huguenots in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983