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Early French Huguenots in Virginia

     Account of the emigration, copied from In River Time: The Way of the James, by Ann Matthews
     Woodlief (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1985), pp. 82-84. Major source of information: Richard P.
     Maury's "The Huguenots in Virginia" and "The French Huguenot Frontier Settlement of Manakin
     Town," James L. Bugg, Jr. in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, V. 61, Oct. 1953,
     359-94.


     "In 1700 the frontier was still just upstream a ways, in the more hostile world of granite, islands, and
     rapids above the tidewater. In July a ship sailed into Hampton filled with 207 Huguenots, exiled for
     years from their cozy, prosperous villages in France, who hoped to build a French Protestant town in
     the Norfolk area. They were welcomed by Governor Nicholson with disturbing news; their
     destination had been changed and they were to go up the James. William Byrd I, inheritor of land in
     the Falls area and influential in the colony, had had the last word on their fate. They were to settle in
     the wilderness above the Fall Line, securing that land for the white man.

     The omens were all foreboding at Jamestown where the prospective settlers had to transfer to
     smaller boats that could negotiate the curls. The town had recently burned for the third time and so
     had been abandoned as a capital. Sickness was still prevalent, and many of the French proved as
     vulnerable as the earlier settlers. As they learned more details about the requirements of survival on
     the frontier, especially without a navigable waterway, they became even more apprehensive, for
     their skills were those of business, not farming. Not surprisingly, many chose to desert here. Only
     120 trusted themselves to the small boats and the currents of the James. Almost immediately a boat
     that was filled with goods sank, claimed by the rough waters.

     This last leg of the voyage, overcast by dread and illness, must have been the worst. They passed
     the site of an earlier settlement called World's End, made the left turn into the Fall zone, and landed
     at the tiny trading outpost of rude houses around Shockoe Creek. Loading what was left of their
     supplies onto borrowed wagons, they trudged through the thick forests, following a faint path more
     than twenty miles into land long ago cleared by the Monacan Indians on the south bank of the river.
     Their ears still rang with the rushing of water over granite that would block their boats from the
     outside world of commerce. But the key to their survival lay in the unusually fertile floodplain of that
     same river.

     It was a desperate fall and winter as the ill-prepared settlers used up their meager supplies,
     especially when another group of more than a hundred Huguenots arrived in October expecting to
     find a thriving town. Friction developed between the leaders, meaning that the new group had to
     hack out a settlement several miles downstream. Soon, though, Byrd and Governor Nicholson
     proved their support by soliciting charitable donations throughout the colony. The ensuing generosity
     proved justified, for within a year the French had learned to be adept farmers, growing fruit and fat
     cattle on their bottom land, and establishing trade, not warfare, with neighboring Indians.

     Although plans had been drawn for a French-style village around a central square, with outlying
     farmland along the river, these never proved practical. The fertility of the piedmont floodplain
     encouraged the Huguenots, like the Monacans before them, to live more separately than they had
     intended, becoming a segmented agrarian society which stretched back from five miles of river
     bank. In time, they too lost their cohesive identity by intermarrying and moving to other rivers. They
     opened the way for settlement of the piedmont, but today there is as little trace of their half century of
     settlement as there is of the Monacans' longer tenure."

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