Wednesday, November 4, 2015

1687 French Huguenot tells of life in Puritan Boston

Henri, duc de Rohan 1579-1638 a leader of the Huguenot rebellions in France.

A French Protestant Immigrant's Impression of in Boston, 1687

This French Huguenot arrived in Massachusetts with 30 families in the fall of 1687. Thousands of French Protestants fled first to England; and from there, many sailed for the British American colonies. The colonies offered plenty of inexpensive land for the newcomers, who could supply labor & expertise for colonial enterprises.

By the goodness of God, I arrived in this favored land in perfect health on the seventeenth of last month, after a passage of fifty-three days counting from the day we left the Downs, sixty miles from London, to that day we reached Boston...

The impression that advantages are granted to the refugees is one that needs to be dispelled. At first, indeed, some supplies were given them, but at present, nothing is to be hoped for in behalf of those who bring nothing. At Nipmuck, as I have before stated, lands are given away; and at Narragansett they have to be bought at twenty to twenty-five pounds sterling per hundred acres, so that he who brings nothing hither finds nothing.

It is quite true that here is very good living here, and that with a very little, once can keep house very comfortably. A family of three or four persons can keep house very nicely upon fifty pistoles: but nothing less would suffice...

One can come to this country and return just as in Europe. One is entirely free here, and lives without any constraint. Those who wish to come to this country should become naturalized in London in order to be at liberty to engage in traffic of all kinds, and to voyage among the English islands; without this it cannot be done...

There are several French families here that have bought them on very reasonable terms. M de Bonrepos, our minister’s brother, has purchased one at a distance of fifteen miles from this place, and within one league of a very pretty town, having a considerable trade, which they call Salem...

The house is very pretty, and was never built for fifty pistoles. There are seventeen acres of land, completely cleared, and a small orchard.

M. Légaré, a French merchant--a goldsmith--has purchased a property twelve miles south of this place, on the sea-coast, where he has a very pretty house, and twelve acres and a half of land, for eighty pistoles of ten livres of France each.

Besides, he has his share in the common lands, to which he can send his cattle for pasture, and where he can cut wood for his own use, and to sell here, as he can readily send it by sea. Similar opportunities occur daily; and of farms on lease, as many as are wanted may be had, and at low prices...

If our poor refugee brethren who understand farming should come here, they could not fail to live very comfortably and gain property; for the English are very lazy, and are proficient only in raising their Indian corn and cattle.

There are not over twenty French families here in Boston, and they are diminishing in number every day, because they go off into the country to buy or lease lands and attempt a settlement. Others are expected this spring from every quarter.

Two young men have just arrived from Carolina, who give some account of the country. In the first place, they say, they have never before seen so miserable a country, nor an atmosphere so unhealthy. Fevers prevail all the year, from which those who are attacked seldom recover...

They bring us also the tidings that, before their departure, a ship had arrived from London with one hundred and thirty persons on board, including the crew; of whom one hundred and fifteen died so soon as they landed, all from malignant fevers which spread among them. Some eighty persons are coming from Carolina to settle here, or in New York. M. Gaillard, whom my father knows, has arrived in Carolina with his whole family; also, M. Brie, of Montpelier...

The English who inhabit these countries are, as elsewhere, good and bad; but one see more of the latter than of the former class, and to tell it to you in few words, there are all kinds, and consequently all kinds of life and manners. it is not that strife and quarrels occur among them, but it is that they do not lead a good life.

There are some that practice no other formality of marriage than that of taking each other by the hand; and they live together peaceably; there are others, sixty years of age, who have not yet been baptized, because they are not members...

There is nothing to fear from the savages, for there are very few of them. The last wars they had with the English, twelve years ago, reduced them to a small number, and consequently they are not in a condition to defend themselves.


  1. I have followed the Huguenots on their involuntary and later voluntary wanderings out of France, and think they were very fortunate to a] survive the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and b] find nations who would welcome them.

    But Boston is new to me as a Huguenot settlement. I think going to an already organised Huguenot community would have given the new arrivals a strong sense of community, their own church, their own school, perhaps cousins close by. Charleston South Carolina perhaps or near Richmond Virginia.

    Your recent arrival must have been lonely. He noted "there are not over twenty French families here in Boston, and they are diminishing in number every day, because they go off into the country,... to attempt a settlement".

  2. He probably was "lonely." His observations are anecdotal, of course, but quite interesting.