Jared Smith's Maternal Ancestry (Complete),  Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family, 1872 (Complete)

Chapter 10

Singular proposal from a lady — Marriage — Mode of living — Removal to Bridgwater — Assistance from Committee — Why discontinued — Application for relief — Unkindness — Attempt to recover property.

I have already mentioned that I had been hospitably received into the house of a Mr. Downe at Barnstaple. This gentleman was a bachelor of some forty years of age, and he had an unmarried sister living with him, who was about thirty-three or thirty-four years old. They were kindness itself, and I was as completely domesticated with them as if I had been a brother. They were in easy circumstances. Miss Downe was worth about £3000, and her brother had an estate near Minehead, worth £10,000.

The poor lady most unfortunately took a great fancy to me, and she persuaded herself that it would be greatly for the benefit of all concerned if she were to be married to me, and her brother to my intended. I should have supposed it an easy matter for any one to have fallen in love with your dear mother in those days, for she was very beautiful, her skin was delicately fair, she had a brilliant color in her cheeks, a high forehead, a remarkably intellectual expression of countenance; her bust was fine, rather inclined to embonpoint, and she had a very dignified carriage, which some persons condemned as haughty, but I always thought it peculiarly becoming to one of her beauty. The charms of her mind and disposition were no way inferior to those of her person, so that altogether she seemed formed to captivate the most indifferent, yet I am almost sure that Mr. Downe only yielded to the solicitations of his sister, and had really no love in his heart.

Miss Downe opened her project to me one day by observing that she thought we must be two fools, to think of being married to each other, when our only portion would be beggary. I did not at first comprehend her, but she persevered in her attacks upon me at every opportunity, and began to give me broad hints that if I would only open my eyes, I might plainly see where I could do much better for myself. I then discovered her meaning, but I was determined not to appear to understand it, and our languages being different, made it very easy for me to appear as ignorant as I pleased. However, it so happened that her brother entered the room one day when she was trying to drive it into me, that a more suitable match was within my power than the one I was in tending to make. She turned to him and begged he would make the explanation for her, which, from our mutual knowledge of Latin, and his slight acquaintance with the French language, he was well able to do. The request his sister had made evidently embarrassed him a good deal; he was not nearly so much taken with your dear mother as Miss Downe was with me, which seemed most strange, for I am sure he had much more reason to be smitten than she had. After a little hesitation and clearing of his throat, he told me that the plain truth of the matter was this: “My sister wishes to marry you, and if you will agree to it, I have promised to help to remove the difficulty, we see in the way, by taking for my wife, your intended lady, whom you brought with you from France.” I should mention that there was nothing attractive, but rather the reverse, in the personal appearance of Miss Downe; she was short, thin, sallow, and marked with the small pox. Mr. Downe was by no means handsome, but he was much better looking for a man that his sister for a woman. In answer to the above most singular offer, I said not a word, but drew from my pocket a paper which I gave him to read. It contained a solemn promise of mutual constancy, and your mother and I had each signed it. We had executed two such documents, and each kept one. After Mr. Downe had read it, I said to him: “My love is so strong and so sincere that, even now, if I thought the dear object of my devoted attachment would be more happy in being the wife of a rich man, I feel that I am equal to making the sacrifice of my own happiness and releasing her from every promise; but if I may judge of her feelings by mine, I think she would not give one up to become the possessor of untold wealth. I will give you this strong proof of the sincerity of my assertion, I will promise to deliver your message faithfully to her.”

Accordingly I went that very evening to the house of Mr. Fraine where she was staying, and I executed the delicate commission with which I had been charged. To tell the truth, I was not altogether sorry that so good an opportunity should offer itself for discovering whether her love was equal to mine. As soon as she had heard the message, she burst into tears; she evidently thought I was attracted by the fortune of Miss Downe, and wished to break off my engagement with her. She continued to weep in silence, so I repeated the offer over again, and added that she would have altogether the best of the bargain, because the fortune of Mr. Downe was three times as large as that of his sister. She then made a great effort to speak with composure, and scarcely raising her eyes, she said, slowly and distinctly, “You are free, I release you absolutely and entirely from every promise that you have ever made to me. I feel deeply sensible of the great weight of my obligation to you for having rescued me from persecution and brought me to this country. I shall be for ever grateful to you for it; and I will not make you such an unkind return for those favors as holding you to your contract would be, and thus condemning you to poverty for life. Think no more of me; I am contented to remain as I am; only be so good as convey to Mr. Downe a request not to repeat to me himself that which I have heard from you, for I never will be his wife.”

This answer was quite too much for me; it was now my turn to weep, and our tears flowed together. When I had somewhat recovered from the effect of her words, I spoke to her with much solemnity: “Think you, dearest, that you could live contentedly with me? Could you resolve to help me to labor for our living, and for the support of those whom God might give us? Remember!poverty is a hard, grinding mistress, and one under whom we shall probably be obliged to work all the days of our lives. For my part, I have a strong confidence that God will not suffer us to know actual want, and I am ready to encounter the difficulties and hardships that may stand in the way with you for my partner through them all. If you dare venture to run the risk, say so; and I assure you I shall think myself infinitely happier with prospect of laboring with my hands, earning bread for you to eat, with the sweat of my brow, than if I were going to wed the wealthiest of women. I can live single; but I will be the husband of none but you on the face of the earth.

She replied to this with much animation of countenance, and said, “Every word you say finds its answering echo in my breast.”

That evening, which had begun with tears, ended most joyfully. We had thought, until then, that we would defer our marriage until we had some visible means of maintaining ourselves; but now, prudential considerations were laid aside, and were solved to become one by the laws of God and man, as we already were in heart, without delay, and thus prevent any future attempt to separate us.

I returned with a light heart to my host and hostess, and gave such an answer as might have been expected under the circumstances. I endeavored to make them comprehend the strength of our affection, and how impossible it would be to break off an engagement of such long standing as ours, and cemented by so much joint anxiety and suffering. Our mutual vows were to be binding until death, under all imaginable change of circumstances, with the exception only of apostasy on either side, of which now, thanks be to God, there was no longer any danger.

Mr. Downe was a man of good sense and kind feelings, and I verily believe he was relieved by the issue of the negotiation. It was otherwise with his sister; she was displeased and aggrieved, and made no secret that she was so.

We were married on the 8th February, 1686, at the Parish Church of Barnstaple, by Mr. Wood, the Rector.

My wife had lived at the house of Mr. Fraine, since the day after our landing, and he took upon himself the furnishing of a wedding-feast for us, to which he invited almost all the French Refugees in the neighborhood.

Mr. Downe invited the same party to a similar entertainment at his house the day following.

Our funds were as low as they well could be, for I had paid £5 for the insurance of my merchandise, and I had been obliged to pay £3 for the purchase of a wedding ring, and procuring the license for our marriage. You may judge of our mutual affection, by our having refused to marry persons of wealth. You should also observe the strong confidence we had in the good Providence of God; and blessed be his name! We have never had reason to repent.

We lived for a month or two in a furnished room; then I received from France a feather-bed, and several coverlets, which my former valet, Manseau, had contrived to save from my house. My sister Forestier sent me some household linen from London, and with these grand additions to our possessions, we ventured upon hiring a small house in a back street. The French Refugees had talked about our marriage, and our poverty, which caused some of the inhabitants of the town to come and see us; and they added to our stock all the articles of furniture that were necessary to the comfort of a small family; so we were furnished with all we could desire, without having spent one farthing upon it from our own very small purse. The liberality shown to us did not stop there, for every market day meat, poultry, and grain poured upon us in such abundance, that during the six or eight months we lived there, I only bought one bushel of wheat; and we had two bushels left when we removed. All this was done in the true spirit of Christian charity; we never knew from whom any of these things came.

Our good cheer costing us little or nothing, we were glad to share it with our fellow Refugees, who did not meet with the same generous kindness. Many of them, too, had a distaste for English cookery, and they liked exceedingly to partake of my soup and bread. They came to assist in the cooking first, and then in eating the food.

This mode of living might be very agreeable to some persons, but it did not suit my wife or me. Each gift reminded us of our painful dependence; and we looked eagerly around, hoping to discover some mode by which we could maintain ourselves without charity.

I had occasion to go to Bridgewater, on some business connected with the second cargo that was sent to France; and while I was there, Mr. Hoare, an alderman of the borough, and a very upright, worthy man, introduced me to Sir Halsewell Tynte, who lived about two miles from Bridgewater, which led to my making an arrangement to live in his family, and render certain services, for which I was to receive £20 per annum; and as I was to live at his table, I thought the sum would be sufficient for the support of my wife. It was on the 18th September, that I went to live at a distance from her, in the hope of supporting her independently, but I found the separation so grievous, that I determined to fetch her to Bridgewater, where I took a small house. Early in the year 1687 I went for her, and brought also my sister-in-law, Elizabeth Boursiquot, who had fled from France with us, and our infant son, who had been born during my absence, and been baptized by Mr. Mausy, the French minister, and presented for that sacrament by Mr. Fraine, Mr. Juliot, and his aunt Elizabeth.

Even after I had brought your another so near to me that I could visit her frequently, I found it a great trial not to be with her constantly, and she also felt the privation so painfully, that I determined to give up my employment and return to her. I preferred the coarsest food with her for my companion to the continual feasts of which I partook at Sir Halsewell’s.

Poverty stared us in the face, and exertion of some kind was absolutely necessary. We tried to keep a small shop in Bridgewater, but our efforts were not crowned with success.

You may be surprised that in my difficulties I received no assistance from the fund, collected for distribution among the suffering French Refugees, so I will tell you how it happened. I must begin the story at a period dating about the time of my arrival in England. As soon as my friends in London heard of my being in the country, they brought my case, unknown to me, before the committee for dispensing the fund. Mr. Maureau, my advocate at Saintes, drew such a picture of my zeal and constancy that there was no opposition made to place my name on the list of ministers, although I was only a candidate, and I was to receive £30 per annum. The first I knew of what was done was by the receipt of a letter from Mr. Maureau, congratulating me on my escape, and enclosing to me the sum of £710s. As the first quarter of a pension that the committee had granted me. He further requested me to send him a certificate of my having received the Communion according to the rites of the Church of England, which it would be necessary to produce to the committee before I could receive the second quarter.

I, who had but just escaped from the Tempter, felt alarmed at this mode of entitling myself to receive charity. Before this communication reached me I had communed most cordially with the English, after the manner of the Established Church, without the least scruple of conscience, but when it became the condition upon which I was to receive the charities of the Kingdom, the case was altered. I looked upon the Communion as one of the most sacred mysteries of our holy religion, one which it was unlawful to approach with any other view than to receive thereby the benefits of the sacrifice of the death of Christ. When I saw it imposed upon me to gain pecuniary advantages, I doubted very much whether any spiritual benefit could be derived from a communion received forth express purpose of procuring a pension. It seemed come a very papistical sort of proceeding, much like what I had seen in France, “Come to mass and you shall be exempted from dragoons.”

I had hitherto found nothing whatever to offend me in the service of the Church of England. I then studied it very carefully, and I heartily embraced all its doctrines as set forth in the thirty-nine articles; but the Church Government, especially the point so much insisted upon of Episcopacy by divine right, seemed to me to bear too strong a resemblance to Popery.

I might have gotten over these objections, perhaps, if I had not learnt their cruel persecution of their brother Protestants, the Calvinists, only for differing on the subject of Episcopacy,[1] and some ceremonies which were, in themselves, of no great importance. I found that the poor Presbyterians had been imprisoned, fined, and deprived of their employments, because they would not consent to receive Episcopal ordination, in conformity with the laws passed in the reign of Charles II., and furthermore, I was told by the Presbyterians, that the unfortunate people who had been executed after the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion, a few days before our arrival, and whose heads and quarters I saw exposed on all the towers, gates and cross-roads, looking absolutely like butchers’ shambles, had many of them been guilty of no crime but that of being Presbyterians.[2]

I confess that all these circumstances combined to give me a prejudice against the Established Church, and the use, which it was proposed to me to make of the Holy Sacrament, went so much against my conscience, that I have never yet sent the certificate to qualify me for receiving the second quarter of my pension.

The committee, appointed for distributing the money, were guilty of a flagrant error in my judgment. The money placed under their control arose from the voluntary contributions of the whole English nation, and I honestly believe, that the Nonconformists had been as liberal as the Episcopalians, and yet from this fund no relief was given to any one who did not hand in a certificate of his being a member of the Church of England, and surely this was unjust.

I was at one time so ground down by poverty, and my spirit was so humbled, that I actually made a journey to London for the purpose of making personal application to this committee. My friends told me that the best plan would be for me to call upon certain Deans and other high dignitaries, the most influential members of the committee. I followed their advice, but my garments were old and shabby, and I found it very difficult to obtain an entrance at any of the great houses. The usual ordeal through which I passed was that the footman who opened the door would leave me to wait a long time in the hall, as though I were a common beggar, and, at last, return to tell me that his Reverence was not at leisure to speak to me. I called again and again, until the servant was so weary of opening the door, that to avoid further importunity, he would obtain for me the desired audience. He would accompany me through divers richly furnished apartments, watching me the while to see that I did not steal any of the plate, piled up on the sideboards, and finally usher me into the private apartment where the Dean was sitting. He would inquire my business without so much as offering the poor beggar a seat. In as few words as possible, I would tell him of my situation and sufferings, and be proceeding to open my papers that he might judge for himself. I was stopped at once, “No, no, I have no time to read any testimonials, fold them up again. I shall hear all about it when your case comes before the committee.”

The urgent necessities of those who were dearer to me than life itself, had so subdued my pride, that I made, not one or two only, but around of such visits as these. It was all to no purpose, the money was for Episcopalians only. My friend, Mr. Maureau, held the office of Secretary to the Committee; he took up my cause with much warmth, and said, “You will not, I trust, suffer so worthy a man to be reduced to extreme want, without affording him any assistance; a man who has shown that he counted his life as nothing when the glory of God was in question, and who voluntarily and generously exposed himself to uphold the faith of a number of poor country people. Perhaps there are not four ministers who have received the charity of the committee, who have done so much for the cause of true religion as he had done.”

He could say nothing that would help my cause with this committee, so long as the fact remained without contradiction, that I was a Presbyterian.

Some of them said, “He is a young man, let him get a situation as a servant; his wife can do the same; and they may send their two children to us, and we will have them taken care of in the house we have provided for the purpose.”

After the meeting, I was directed to go to the Grand Almoner, to receive the answer, which was couched in much the same language as that given abově. My eyes filled with tears, and I felt so indignant that I spoke hastily, and said: “You ought to follow the directions in the New Testament, and put yourself in my place, before giving such cruel advice.” His wife was present at the time, and turning to her, I said: “Madam, I pity you most sincerely, for being united to a man who can speak with so much indifference of the separation of husband and wife.” I knew that they had no children, and I went on: “I adore the wisdom of God, who has not thought fit to bestow the blessing of children upon one, who feels it so trifling a matter for a parent to part with them. Before I would place mine under your guardianship, or give up the spouse whom I consider as one of the choicest blessings God has be stowed upon me, I would dig the ground all day as a common laborer, in order to share with my wife and children, at night, the bread I had earned by the sweat of my brow.’

The committee bestowed upon me the sum of three pounds, which I was told was all that I should ever receive from that source. I returned home very much cast down by the result of my humiliating application, for I had expended between seven and eight pounds upon travelling and its necessary accompaniments.

Some charitable Presbyterians heard of my distress, and of the refusal of any aid from the fund collected for the relief of suffering French Protestant Refugees, and they kindly volunteered to make a collection for me in their congregation, which was a most seasonable help in my need.

You may suppose my feelings were still more soured towards Episcopalians by their treatment of me. I now realized, by bitter experience, that opposition and unkindness, for difference of opinion, have a much greater tendency to widen the breach than to bring opponents to one way of thinking.

At a time when I was greatly in want of money, I found by accident, among my papers which I had brought from France, half a sheet of stamped paper, entirely blank. It occurred to me instantly, that it might be the means of recovering for me something, from the sale of the property I had left in France. My cousin, Peter Robin, had acted the part of a faithful agent in his management of the cargo of wheat which Mr. Downe and I had consigned to him, and he was therefore the person whom I fixed upon to act for me now. I signed my name at the foot of the sheet, and sent it to him. I told him I wished him to make use of it, so as to obtain money for me for the sale or lease of my estate. I desired him to take care that he affixed, to the deed he executed, a date previous to that of my leaving France. The latter precaution was necessary to prevent the King seizing the property. I never had a word from him in reply; but I have reason to know that he, the said Peter Robin, went to live at my house after he received my letter, and from that day he considered it was his own. He took advantage of the confidence I placed in him when I put my name to the stamped paper and sent it to him. He has cheated me and my heirs after me, for no claim could now be made, because he would at once defeat it, by producing a deed of sale, signed by my own hand.

I would have you look upon the moral furnished by this proceeding. I was miserable enough to desire that he should execute a false deed for me, in order that I might obtain something from the property I had left in France. He did execute the false deed, in the way I had pointed out, but he did it for his own advantage, not for mine! I recognise in this, as in all other things, the justice and the mercy of the just Judge of the universe. I was punished, as I deserved to be; God directs all things for the good of those who love him, and who serve him with faith and humility, and mingles mercies with the punishment of his children; and in this case, Ι think I see plainly the great benefit to my family that he has extracted from my sin. It has removed all temptation out of the way of my descendants, that might have seduced them into returning to the Babylon whence he had withdrawn me, in the hope of recovering my estate. The children of some Huguenot Refugees, unworthy of their parents, have returned to France from similar inducements. My children can never do so; the property is irrecoverably lost. When I rejoice that the temptation is removed, you are not to suppose that I imagine any of my children would ever have been seduced into returning to idolatry for the sake of money. I think better things of you; and I have a strong confidence that you also will so instruct your children, that the love of God and of his true religion may be perpetuated in our family to the remotest generation.

[1] It is not surprising that a foreigner should confound the conscientious members of the Church of England with the disguised Papists who were so numerous in the days of Charles II. And James II., by whom the Calvinists were persecuted.
[2] This has evidently been a party statement, and according to history must have been untrue, for Monmouth’s rebellion was an effort to subvert ho government, without religious object.

James Fontaine (1658) was the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of Jared Smith (Editor of the AHB). He wrote an autobiography, the material of which was compiled and published by some of his descendants. The first publication is called, ”A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)” (1838). The second publication is called, “Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family” (1872).

"A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)", 1838 (Complete)
Memoirs Of A Huguenot Family, 1872 (Complete)