Revocation of the Edict of Nantes — Preparations for flight — Difficulties and dangers of embarkation — Land in England — Cheapness of bread — Speculation in grain — Cruelty of a captain of a vessel.

In the month of October, 1685, the edict of Nantes was actually revoked[1] by that great persecutor, Louis the 14th. Of course no choice was now left for Protestants; flight was the only alternative.

I went to Marennes to make preparations in good earnest, and I was so fortunate as to find an English captain of a vessel, with whom I was able to make a bargain. He agreed to take me, and four or five persons with me, to England, at the rate of ten pistoles each, and it was arranged that we should assemble at Tremblade for embarkation. I went im mediately to fetch your dear mother, Anne Elizabeth Boursiquot, and her sister Elizabeth, and my niece Janette Forestier; the latter was my god-daughter, and I felt it incumbent upon me to provide for her safety.

I mentioned the plan to some few persons, and I expected they would have rejoiced at the prospect of getting away, but their fears were stronger than their hopes, and they dared not venture to encounter so many dangers. The coast was carefully guarded both by sea and land to prevent emigration.

We went to Tremblade to be ready, and took up our abode in the house of a man who was to act as our pilot be cause he could speak English. He was a very imprudent as well as a drunken man, which made our situation very dangerous while under his roof.

After several days of cruel suspense, the Captain sent us word that he should be ready to sail the next day, and he wished us to be in readiness also. He said that he should pass between the Isle of Oleron and the main-land, and that if we would be on the sands near the Forest of Arvert, he would send a boat ashore for us.

We set off during the night, and had two horses to carry the few little possessions we were able to take with us. In the course of the following day, upwards of fifty persons assembled on the sands, with the hope that they might be taken on board the vessel, and make their escape with us. Most of them were very young, and they had not taken due precaution to conceal their intentions, so the Papists became aware of what was going on, and they gave information of it, upon which the Custom House detained the vessel. We waited anxiously all day, in utter ignorance of the cause of delay, and while we were in this painful state of suspense, I called the people around me and addressed them; then we all knelt upon the shore, and I offered up a prayer suited to our distressing condition. You will find a copy among my papers, and I am sure when you read it you will be convinced that it was a prayer of the heart as well as the lips.

The Cure of Tremblade had heard that a number of persons were collected on the shore, and he had the curiosity to come down and see for himself. He brought with him a man who had formerly been a sort of juggler. They were once so near to us that we actually saw their little dog, which was rather in advance of them, when they were providentially met by two fishermen, who had seen us, and whose sympathies were enlisted in our favor, and they purposely misled them. They enlarged to them also upon the great danger they were in of losing themselves amongst the sand hills, and they offered to act as guides, and led them to a path by which they would be sure not to stumble upon us.

At night some of our friends sent horses down for us to return to Tremblade. Fifteen or twenty of us were taken in by a man who had changed his religion. He did it unwillingly and was in a dreadful fright all the time, for there was a fine of 1000 crowns laid upon any one who was discovered to have harbored a Protestant: and houses were liable to be searched at any moment upon the slightest suspicion. After concealing us during the whole day, his fear got the better of his humanity, and towards night he turned us all out of his house, saying to us: “I have damned my own soul to save my property, and I am not going to run the risk of losing it for you. Take your chance elsewhere, or do as I have done.” We were much depressed by this unkind treatment, but we knew not what was best for us, and it turned out that we had great reason to thank God that we were not allowed to spend the night where we had passed the day. Some one had given information that led the magistrate to suspect the place of our concealment, and we had not quitted the house more than half an hour, before a Justice of the Peace and some soldiers went to it, and examined every part most carefully in search of secreted Protestants, but found none.

Tremblade is a very populous place, and before it was visited by the dragoons it did not contain more than twenty Papists, but all the Protestants had recanted whọ remained there. We did the best we could amongst them, one finding shelter here, another there, and I must acknowledge that we experienced much more of humanity and Christian hospitality amongst the wives of the poor fishermen than we did with the comparatively affluent. We passed the next four or five days in the cottages of the former.

At last the Captain of the English vessel came to La Tremblade, to tell me that he was afraid he should not be able to take us on board. However, he said he meant to go sea the next day, and he should pass between the islands of Ré and Oleron, and if we were disposed to run the risk of going out there in small boats, he might receive us on board after he had got rid of all visitors, custom -house officers and others, and that he could not possibly assist us in any other way. That very evening, the 30th November, 1685 (French or new style), we embarked in a little shallop as soon as it was dusk. Our party consisted of your dear mother, your aunt Elizabeth, Janette Forestier, myself, two young men from Bourdeaux, and six young women from Marennes, twelve in all, in place of the fifty who were ready to embark a few days before. Undercover of the night we passed, without being observed, all the pinnaces that were keeping guard, as well as the Fort of Oleron. At ten o’clock next morning we dropped our anchor to wait for the ship. We had instructed our boatmen that in case of being pursued, they were immediately to run the boat ashore, abandon her, and then “sauve qui peut.”

I was as usual well armed to meet any emergency, and I had resolved to defend myself to the last gasp, and never to be taken alive. Thanks be to God, our merciful guide and preserver, I was not put to the trial, for he watched over us and blinded the eyes of our enemies.

We had agreed with the English captain that when we saw him, we should make ourselves known by hoisting a sail and letting it fall three times. About three o’clock in the afternoon we first espied the vessel, but she had the official visitors and pilot still on board. We watched her movements with intense anxiety, and we saw her cast anchor when she reached the extreme point of the Isle of Oleron, then she put out the visitors and pilot, took her boat on board again, got under way and sailed towards us. It was a joyful sight; we felt confident that we had surmounted every difficulty, and we expected in a very few minutes to be under full sail for England. Our joy was of short duration, for at that moment one of the King’s frigates hove in sight and gradually approached us. She was one of the vessels constantly employed on the coast to prevent Protestants leaving the kingdom; and all who were found were seized, and the men sent to the galleys, the women to convents. No language can describe our consternation at this sudden change in our prospects; a moment before the cup of happiness was at our lips and now dashed to the ground.

We were at the distance of a cannon-shot from the frigate, and what would she think of us? We were in a little bit of a boat, at anchor, in a place which did not afford safe anchorage even for large shipping. She cast anchor, ordered the English vessel to do the like, boarded her, and searched every nook and corner, without finding any French Protestants on board except Mr. Mausy, the minister, whose departure was authorized by law, and his family, who were with him, and had passports. What a blessing that we were not on board at this time! Had the frigate been only one hour later in appearing, we should all have been lost. After the search, the English man was ordered to sail instantly. The wind was favorable, so he could make no excuse, and we had the misery of seeing him leave us behind. He could not even see us, for the frigate was between him and our boat.

Our situation was deplorable, we were in a state of perfect despair and knew not what to do, for danger stared us in the face alike in every direction. If we remained where we were, we should certainly excite suspicion, and the frigate would send to over haul us. If we attempted to return to Tremblade, the chances were a hundred to one against our succeeding. To add to our dismay, our poor boatman seemed incapable of exertion, he did nothing but cry and lament over his infatuation, that he should have allowed himself to be persuaded to take us on board. He and his son, who was also with us; had been Protestants, and they had abjured under compulsion. He knew well that nothing short of a halter awaited them, if caught in the act of aiding Protestants to make their escape. I may truly say, that prayer has been my resource in all difficulties through the whole course of my life. I betook myself to it on this occasion, and I felt a strong persuasion that God would not suffer us to fall into the hands of his enemice and ours, but open a way for our escape.

All at once I thought of a feint which, thank God, proved successful, and effected our deliverance. Having considered that the wind was fair to Rochelle and contrary to Tremblade, I said to the boatman, “Cover us all up, in the bottom of the boat, with an old sail, then hoist your sail and go right towards the frigate, pretending to endeavor to gain Tremblade; and if they should hail you from the frigate, you must say, you are from Rochelle, and going to Tremblade. If they ask what you have on board, say nothing but ballast; and it would be well for you and your son to counterfeit drunkenness, tumbling about in the boat, and then you can, as if by accident, let the sail fall three times, and so inform the English captain who we are.”

He determined to abide by my counsel, and he immediately covered us all up with a sail, and actually went within pistol-shot of the frigate. As I had expected, she hailed him, asked whence he came, whither he was going, and what he had on board, to all which he replied as I had instructed him.

“But what made you cast anchor?” said they.

“I was in hopes,” he said, “that the wind would change, and I might make Tremblade, but it is still too strong for me.”

At that moment the son fell down in the boat and dropped the sail, his father left the helm, and, instead of hoisting the sail at once, took a rope’s-end and pretended to chastise him, the hard blows falling on the wood and making a great noise. The son cried out lustily, and the people in the frigate threatened that if the father had not more patience with his son, they would be with him directly, and treat him in the same way. He made excuses for himself by saying, that his son was as drunk as a hog. He then ordered him to hoist the sail again, and he resumed his station at the helm. The son let it fall a second time, almost as soon as he had raised it, and repeated the same manæuvre a third time, and thus we managed to give the English captain information of who we were, without exciting the suspicions of the officers in the frigate. They were so fearful of some accident happening, that they called out to our boatman not to think of making Tremblade, for night was fast approaching, the wind contrary, and he would inevitably be lost. They advised him to return to Rochelle with the fair wind, which was exactly the advice we wished to receive from the frigate. Our course was instantly altered, the boat was put before the wind, and we bade them adieu very cordially in our hearts, but we still remained closely covered at the bottom of the boat.

In the mean time, the English vessel had answered our signal, but she was getting fairly out to sea, and we dared not follow her for fear of the frigate, which still remained at anchor. About twilight the boatman said we must make the attempt while it was yet not quite dark, or we should be swallowed up by the waves. We had no sooner altered our course, then we observed the frigate take up her anchor and set her sails. We naturally thought that she had noticed us and was preparing to pursue us, and we again turned towards Rochelle, in great agony of mind. We should all have preferred instant death to capture, for we were aware of our own weakness and frailty, and we feared persecution might destroy our constancy. A few minutes put an end to our anxiety, for we saw the frigate steering towards Rochefort, and we again changed our course and made for the English vessel, which slackened her rate to allow us to overtake her. We went on board with the frigate still in sight. A blessed and ever-memorable day for us, who then effected our escape from our cruel enemies, who were not so much to be feared be cause they had power to kill the body, but the rather from the pains they took to destroy the souls of their victims:

I bless God for the multitude of his mercies in earthly enjoyments also. He allowed me to bring to England the dear one whom I loved better than myself, and she willingly gave up relations, friends and wealth to be the sharer of my poverty in a strange land, where we could worship God according to the dictates of conscience. I here testify that we have fully experienced the truth of that promise of our Blessed Saviour, to give an hundred fold more, even in this present life, to those who leave all and follow him. We have never wanted for anything, we have not only been supplied with necessaries, but comforts, and oftentimes luxuries also. Certain it is, that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth, but in the enjoyment he has of them, and it is in this sense that I would be understood, when I say that we have received the hundred fold promised in the Gospel; for we have had infinitely more joy and satisfaction in having abandoned our property for the glory of God, than they can have had who took possession of it.

We had contrary winds, and were eleven days on the voyage. We suffered a little from shortness of provisions, especially water, but we could not venture in to any French port for a supply.

We landed on the first day of December 1685, English or old style—at Appledore, a small town in the British Channel, below the river Taw, which goes up to Barnstaple. After paying passage money for the party I had only twenty gold pistoles left. God had not conducted us in safety to a haven there to leave us to perish with hunger. The good people of Barnstaple were full of compassion, they took us into their houses and treated us with the greatest kindness; thus God raised up for us fathers and mothers, and brothers and sisters in a strange land.

The first thing that struck me on my arrival in England was the extreme cheapness of bread. What with sea-sickness, and shortness of provisions on board ship, we had suffered a good deal, and we were very anxious for something to eat as soon as we landed.

The first act after getting out of the vessel, was to return thanks to God for his merciful goodness in having brought us safely to the shores of England; the second was to ask for bread. We were supplied with very large biscuits, such as in France would have cost twopence each, and to my surprise I was told that here they only cost one half-penny. I was doubtful of the fact, thinking I might be mişled by my ignorance of the English language, so I gave a penny to a little girl and asked her to buy me some bread. She went to a baker, and sure enough, she brought me back two of these large biscuits. It instantly occurred to me that any one who could buy grain here, and ship it to France, must realize a large profit, but alas! I had no money. I knew that there were some French Protestant refugees living at Plymouth, who had brought considerable property over with them, and perhaps if I were to suggest this plan to them, they might be willing to lend me some money to join them in an adventure. But I wished to be perfectly well informed on the subject before speaking to them; so having learnt that a corn market would be held next day at Biddeford, I walked over there and took a man, understanding both French and English, to act as interpreter. I found that the finest description of wheat could be bought at the rate of two shillings and sixpence, or three shillings at the outside for such a sack as in France would cost two crowns.

I then made inquiries about export duties upon grain, and I ascertained, that, on the contrary, a drawback was allowed at the Custom House on the exportation of grain, when the price was as low as it was at this time.

In four or five days after our landing I was taken into the house of a most kind and charitable gentleman, a Mr. Downe. I requested him to lend me a horse to ride over to Plymouth, to confer with my friends and fellow-countrymen there. I found upon opening my plans to their that they had, like me, been struck with the low price of grain, and had invested all their money in it already to ship to France, so I had my trouble for nothing, and I returned to Baru Etaple in rather a pensive mood.

After revolving the matter in my mind during a sleepless night, I decided that it would be right to let my host have the benefit of my knowledge, as a small return for his hospitality, for it was possible he might be disposed to send some corn to France. He entered into my plan very readily, the more so from having been engaged in trade in his youth. He had been to Spain as supercargo of a vessel on one occasion, so my project was quite in his way. He said he would willingly risk as much as £300 or £400 upon it, and he most generously offered to give me half the profit. I hesitated about the propriety of accepting it, because loss was possible, though profit was probable, and if it should be loss, how could I pay my share of it? Upon further consideration I made up my mind to accept his offer, but to provide against loss by effecting an insurance upon my half, for which I paid a premium of two and a half percent, to insure a loss both in going and returning.

The whole of my personal property consisted of twenty pistoles in gold, six silver spoons, one of them a very hand some silver gilt, with the initials I. D. L. F. engraved upon it. I had great value for that spoon, it having been used by my father when he was upon his travels before he was married, and my mother gave it to me in the same case he had carried it in. I had also a silver watch, and a rose diamond worth ten or twelve pistoles. My intended wife had a gold chain for the neck, a pearl necklace, an emerald, and a diamond worth five pistoles. If any loss occurred which was not covered by the insurance, I thought that we could pay for it by the sale of our possessions, enumerated above. You observe I have put your mother’s articles in the list, for though not yet united by marriage, we felt our interests were one and the same from our mutual vows, our affection and our confidence.

Mr. Downe chartered a vessel of about 50 tons burthen, loaded her without delay, and consigned her to Mr. Boursiquot, a brother of your mother, and to Peter Robin, a distant cousin of mine. You may guess their astonishment at receiving such a consignment from their relation, whom they had pronounced to be a madman, to abandon his country, forfeit his property and go to a foreign land, as they predicted to die of hunger. They would scarcely have lent him five sous, and in less than five weeks after his departure from home, he sends to them a vessel laden with corn of the value of 6 or 7000 livres. It appeared absolutely incredible.

The profit would have been very great if it could have been sold instantly, but the king had sent for corn from foreign countries, which arrived about the same time mine did, and that which belonged to the Royal speculator was ordered to be all sold before the cargoes of private individuals could be touched. Nevertheless, the profit was considerable, and the return cargo, nine tons and three hogsheads of Bourdeaux wine, some chestnuts, and salt also sold to advantage.

Mr. Downe prepared to make a second shipment, and he was persuaded by some friends that the first cargo would have done better had it been consigned to a regular merchant—the English seldom know when they are well off and I, from a foolish diffidence, did not stand up for my cousin as I ought to have done. The vessel was therefore, much to my sorrow and to our great loss, sent to a merchant at Marennes, who understood merchandise rather too well for us. He swallowed all the profits in his enormous charges, and then instead of returning as we had instructed him to do, the best Bourdeaux wines, he shipped the “Vin du Pays” which he had received in the way of trade from the peasants, and he invoiced it to us at the price of real good wine.

We mades till another adventure, and ordered the return cargo to be in salt. I lost by this more than all I had gained, and I was saddled with debts besides. I will give the particulars.

After the Captain had taken in his cargo, he was applied to by several Protestants to give them a passage to England, which he agreed to do most cheerfully. They were some of a numerous class, those who had made abjuration in the hope of being free from disturbance, and gaining time to turn all their property into cash, and then to watch an opportunity for escaping with it. In this case they placed mistaken confidence in the integrity of the Captain, and put their money into his hands for safe keeping. The sight of the treasure was a temptation beyond his powers of resistance, and he determined in some way or other to make it his own. He let one or two of the sailors into his confidence, and arranged with them to take the vessel to Spain. The Captain told the passengers that the wind was contrary, and they might require to shelter the vessel in some port, and as they would run great risk by going into a French port, he intended to stretch over to the coast of Spain. When between Bilboa and St. Sebastian, with every sail set, the wind and tide favoring their wicked purposes, they ran the vessel upon the beach and shew as a complete wreck. Here was an end of our cargo of salt; it returned to the sea whence it came.

The most horrible part of the story is yet to come. The Captain and crew jumped into the boat with the treasure, and left the passengers to be drowned, for every wave washed completely over the wreck. One of their number, a lady of quality, who owned the largest part of the treasure, wore a thick quilted petticoat, which buoyed her up so entirely that she might have floated ashore, had not the Captain espied her and prevented it. He put off towards her in his boat, as though he were going to assist her, but when he got within reach, he plunged her under the water with a boat-hook, and held her down for so long a time that the petticoat which had in the first instance resisted the water, becoming saturated, prevented her rising. Auri sacra fames pectora cogis.

After having thus barbarously drowned those who had placed unlimited confidence in him, he went to Cadiz with his ill-gotten wealth, bought a share in a Spanish privateer, of which he took command, and that is the last I ever heard of him.

My losses were so heavy that I was obliged to dispose of my watch, gold chain, and silver spoons, and still something remained unpaid. These various transactions occupied several months, but as the commencement occurred immediately after my arrival, I have thought it best to continue the account to its winding up, so as not to break the thread of the history.

[1] Surely this act has been incorrectly termed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. All its provisions had been repealed long ago by royal edicts and ordinances, except the bare toleration of Protestantism in some few towns and districts. The edict of the 22d October,1685, forbade all exercise of the reformed religion, ordered the clergy to expatriate themselves within a fortnight, unless they would recant, and in that case their incomes were to be increased one-third, and continued to their wives. All infants were required to receive popish baptism, and every one caught in the attempt to escape (unless he was a minister) was condemned to the galleys for life.
In 1686, the enactments were still more severe. A Protestant taken in the act of public worship was punished with death, and all Protestant clergy men, whether natives or foreigners, were to be executed. To increase the vigilance of the soldiery, a reward of three or four pistoles was given for every Protestant, that was taken up.
In spite of the care with which the coast and frontiers were guarded, it is believed that not less than 50,000 families made their escape, and they enriched every land that received them, carrying arts and manufactures and industry in their train; and it has been remarked by close observers that their descendants, up to this day, continue to be distinguished for virtue and respectability.


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