Huguenot History

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

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Beginning in 1562, Protestants and Catholics waged a series of wars throughout France. That year, a group of Huguenots — also known as French Calvinists — left to settle Fort Caroline in Florida. The colony was short-lived: An attack on nearby St. Augustine backfired, and the Spanish wiped out Fort Caroline in 1565.

In 1572, trying to end the conflict in France, the Catholic Catherine de Medici (queen consort of France’s King Henry II) arranged for her daughter, Marguerite de Valois, to marry the Protestant Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV. Catholics didn’t approve of the Aug. 18 union. Six days later, during the Feast of St. Bartholomew, a massacre of Huguenots began in Paris and spread across France. Many Huguenot leaders, in Paris for the celebration, were killed. The exact number of fatalities is unknown — anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 Huguenots died.

In 1598, Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes granting Huguenots the civil rights of their Catholic countrymen. But in 1685, his grandson Louis XIV renounced the edict and declared Protestantism illegal, ordering Huguenot churches destroyed and schools closed. The bloody fighting didn’t resume, though many Huguenots fled France.

It’s unlikely these immigrants went directly to the United States. Begin searching in the Protestant countries of Great Britain, Prussia, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Once in the United States, a Huguenot might have reported his origins as his last residence prior to departure, not his original French village.

Protestants were barred from settling in French territories in North America. Many headed for the Dutch colony of New Netherland (later New York and New Jersey) and for the British Colonies, primarily Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. There, they frequently merged with other Protestant denominations.
From the July 2008 Family Tree Magazine.