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

Chapter 11

Remove to Taunton — Receive ordination — Keep a shop — Manufactory — Prosperity — Summoned before the mayor — Defense — Speech of recorder — Discharge.

I went over to Taunton, to look about me, for any prospect of improving my circumstances, and I was so far successful that I obtained a few pupils to instruct in the French language. At first I went there only for the day, three times a week, to give lessons, but after a while, I decided that it would be the most advantageous plan to remove my family there entirely, and keep a shop as we had done in Bridgewater, and I hoped that the addition of the profits, from teaching, to those from the shop, would maintain us all.

I went over to Taunton, to look about me, for any prospect of improving my circumstances, and I was so far successful that I obtained a few pupils to instruct in the French language. At first I went there only for the day, three times a week, to give lessons, but after a while, I decided that it would be the most advantageous plan to remove my family there entirely, and keep a shop as we had done in Bridgewater, and I hoped that the addition of the profits, from teaching, to those from the shop, would maintain us all.

I had been in the habit not only of having family worship, but of preaching to the circle of relatives who clustered around us. When I removed to Taunton, three or four French families wished to join us, and so form a small congregation. I then thought that I ought to receive that authority from man which I had already received from God.

I was aware that the Episcopalians possessed all the Church Benefices, and filled all the offices of trust throughout the kingdom, but I was not dazzled by their splendor. I preferred the simplicity of Divine worship, to which I had been accustomed from my childhood, to the grandeur and wealth of the Episcopalians.

Some of the Presbyterians with whom I had become acquainted, actually hated the Episcopalians, and they made me believe that the Church of England was a kind of Romanism. I held in abhorrence all the practices of the Papists, so I determined to have nothing to do with the skin of the beast, even though the beast itself had been rejected. I was attached to the leaves of the tree of life as well as to the trunk, branches and fruit; and in my exile I determined to join myself to that company of believers, who most nearly resembled those with whom I had suffered in my own country. I resolved rather to labor with my hands while I preached the pure doctrines of the Gospel, and admitted only the simplest ceremonies, than to wound my conscience by entering the Church which was upheld by the State.

I presented myself before the Protestant Synod assembled at Taunton. I produced the testimonials of my education, manner of life and sufferings, which I had brought with me from France. I then underwent an examination, and received Holy Orders from their hands on the 10th June, 1688, having an earnest desire to exercise the functions with all the Christian humility, zeal and affection of which I was capable.

After leaving Barnstaple I was never again so poor as to require charity. Mr. Travernier of Plymouth sent his son to be under my care for two years, and he lent me £100, without interest, for that length of time. I found the wholesale dealers in Bristol and Exeter very accommodating to me in granting credit. I paid for the goods as fast as I sold them, and I was then allowed to take a fresh supply on credit. In this way we gradually increased in our dealings until we had a stock of one thing or other to the amount of £400.

When I lived in Bridgewater two Frenchmen had applied to me for assistance, which I could not furnish myself, but I had obtained it from others, and when I gave them the money I said, “If you will follow my advice, and learn a trade at once, you will never be obliged to ask for charity again, but will become independent. There are in Bristol French manufacturers of light stuffs, to whom I would recommend you bind yourselves.” They followed my advice, and soon after I had established myself at Taunton, they called on me for the express purpose of returning their thanks. I did not recognise them int he least; the rags and tatters in which they had formerly appeared had given place to decent and respectable clothing. They were obliged to tell me that they were the persons whom I had formerly assisted, and recommended to learn a trade, and that they had done so, and now, all they wanted was a small advance of money from some one, and they would work for half the profits. They urged me to undertake it, and they said £20 would be amply sufficient to buy worsted, yarn and dyes, and that they themselves had wherewithal to buy tools. They said if I would make the necessary purchases for them they would work two years for me, and be contented with half the profit on the work. I consented to it, and as I was unwilling to cramp the business of the shop by taking money from it, I borrowed the £20 from Mrs. White, a widow, who dealt in tobacco, at Bridgewater.

Behold me now, not only a French teacher and a shop keeper, but a manufacturer also. The sea had been too cruel for me to think of being a merchant again.

One of these Frenchmen whom I took, as it were, into partnership with me, had formerly been a pickpocket in London, and had only given up the employment from fear of the consequences. He was a very skillful workman, he would accomplish more in a given time than any two others, and his work was always well finished. I knew nothing of his former habits of life, and he commended himself so much to me by his cleverness, that I made him the chief manager, and I used to send him to Exeter to make the purchases, and he was as skillful in making bargains as in working. I frequently trusted him with as much as £20 or £25 at once, for this purpose, and he was uniformly honest and correct in all his dealings with me. He told one of his fellow workmen that he often had been strongly tempted to run away with the money, and then he would say to himself, “What! steal from a man who has been so invariably kind to me! and who places such perfect confidence in me! No; I cannot do it.”

When he left me, I have understood that he returned to London, met with his old associates and fell into bad habits again.

At the end of three months I knew much more than the workmen did. I invented new patterns for the stuffs, which I showed them how to execute. The employment proved profitable, and I had insensibly put more and more capital into it, until at the end of a year I had £80 embarked in the manufactory, in place of the original £20 which was the estimate of the men. They quarrelled amongst themselves about the division of their share of the profits, and finally came to me to propose that I should pay them fixed wages, and carry on the business altogether on my own account.

Everything now seemed to prosper with me. I hired the handsomest shop in Taunton, opposite the cross in the Market Place. I was able to furnish it with so great a variety that it was always full of customers. My wife was kept very busy, though she had two boys, Travernier and Garạché, to help her. I manufactured stuffs in the upper part of the house which she sold, at a profit, in the lower part. I went to Bristol and Exeter, once a quarter, to lay in a fresh supply of groceries and pay off the old debt. I procured direct from Holland linens of various qualities, galloons, thread, needles, and tin and copper ware, manufactured there by French refugees. These articles cost me much less than if I had bought them in England. I was supplied with beaver hats from Exeter, where they were made by Frenchmen, who furnished them to no one in Taunton but myself. I sold French brandy, pure and unadulterated, whereas the Englishmen generally played tricks with theirs. I drew custom by selling Malaga and Alicant raisins, at the price retail that I paid for them by wholesale. I sold needles on the same terms. Every one knew the value of these articles, and the sale of them did not amount to any great sum. One would say to another, “You can buy beautiful raisins from the Frenchman at such a price,” and then they would come to see for themselves, buy some raisins, and probably ten or twelve shillings worth of other articles, upon which we made a profit, so we found our account in selling cheap raisins.

The other shopkeepers were very angry, and said I should most certainly be bankrupt soon, for I sold the raisins at the same price they paid in Bristol, without reckoning the cost of transportation and loss of weight. Their mode of talking about me only increased my sales, for the people came to get all they wanted before I was ruined. When my friends asked me privately why I sold so cheap, I told them that I found it to answer very well, and I repeated the common proverb, “Light gains make a heavy purse.”

Stranger, as I was, I had more custom than any other shop in the town. My competitors looked on patiently, expecting that it could not last much longer, and their day would come, when I had to put the key under the door. Instead of that, I became only more prosperous. I appeared to succeed in everything I undertook.

I had just begun to breathe freely, after all my trials, and to feel myself comfortable, when a prosecution was commenced, and I was summoned to appear before the Mayor and Court of Aldermen.

The Mayor was a wool-comber, who came to the town originally possessed of one single groat. He worked a long time as boy comber; he then married one of his master’s servants, scraped together a little money, and began business on his own account. At the age of thirty-six or thirty-seven years he learnt to read, and to write a little. In course of time he accumulated as much as £7000 or £8000, and thereby obtained the honors of the town, for this was the third time he had filled the office of Mayor.

The Aldermen were generally persons of the same class, men who had risen in the world, but who had received very little education. Some were woollen manufacturers, others were shopkeepers, and they all seemed to think that I had interfered with them, so they could scarcely be impartial judges in the case. I certainly had entered into competition with most of them, for I employed men to work for me in my little manufactory, and I sold in my shop most of the articles which they dealt in.

There was but one man in all this body, who had received a good education—the Recorder. He had consequently great influence over the others, and could govern the cohort very much as he pleased. I had every reason to believe that he regarded me with esteem, for I had frequently been in his company, and had had many interesting conversations with him upon philosophical and theological subjects.

When I appeared in answer to the summons I had received, I found the accusations were of a very multifarious character. They said I was a sharper, a Jack-of-all-trades. The manufacturers complained that I had the wool combed. I dyed it myself, had it spun and woven in my own house, and then I retailed it myself in my shop. The grocers brought forward their grievance, which was that I sold a better article retail than they could buy wholesale at the same price; and that I sold all sorts of things except apothecaries’ drugs. The dealers in tin and copper ware said I injured their trade so much, that they would have to give up, and go to the parish, if I did not soon shut up my shop. Those who dealt in brandy and vinegar, complained that they were left to sit quietly with their arms crossed all day long, while customers thronged my shop, so that the liquor could hardly be measured out as rapidly as it was inquired for. The hatters said their trade was broken up by the French beaver hats of various kinds, which I furnished at a lower price than it cost them to import them from France. The hosiers felt themselves injured by the stockings of St. Maixant, which I sold. The drapers were neglected by their old customers since I had introduced chamois leather, dyed of all colors, for making breeches—one pair of which outlasted three of cloth, and looked better. Added to all this, the stranger, who was pocketing the profits they thought they ought to have, was not liable to assessment for government taxes and town rates, as they were. He was also, they said, a Jesuit in disguise, who said mass in his own house every Sunday. One word would describe him as well as a thousand; he was a French dog, taking the bread out of the mouths of the English.

Anyone who had heard their accusation, would have supposed I was as rich as a Jew. I attended, to make my own defence, without the assistance of an attorney, and I had no fear for the result.

Mr. Mayor came to the point at once, and said to me, “Have you served an apprenticeship to all these trades?”

This question was quite to the purpose; for by law no man can carry on a trade to which he has not served an apprenticeship.

I rose without embarrassment to reply, and spoke in a tone loud enough to be heard throughout the court: “Gentlemen, in France a man is esteemed according to his qualifications; and men of letters and study are especially honored by every body, if they conduct themselves with propriety, even though they should not be worth a penny. All the nobility of the land, the lords, the marquises, and dukes take pleasure in the society of such persons. In fact, there, a man is thought fit for any honorable employment, if he be but learned; therefore, my father, who was a worthy minister of the Gospel, brought up four boys, of whom I was the youngest, in good manners and the liberal arts, hoping that wherever fortune might transport us, our education would serve instead of riches, and gain us honor among persons of honor. All the apprenticeship I have ever served, from the age of four years, has been to turn over the leaves of a book. I took the degree of Master of Arts at the age of twenty-two, and then devoted myself to the study of the Holy Scriptures. Hitherto, I had been thought worthy of the best company wherever I had been; but when I came to this town, I found that science without riches, was regarded as a cloud without water, or a tree without fruit; in a word, a thing worthy of supreme contempt; so much so, that if a poor ignorant wool comber, or a hawker, amassed money, he was honored by all, and looked up to as the first in the place. I have, therefore, gentlemen, renounced all speculative science; I have become a wool-comber, a dealer in pins and laces, hoping that I may one day attain wealth, and be also one of the first men in the town.”

When I ceased speaking, there was a general laugh throughout the assembly. The Mayor and some few of the Aldermen were exceptions. The Recorder himself lost his gravity for a few moments, and joined in the mirth. He recovered himself presently, and rose with a dignity that reminded me of the Town Clerk of Ephesus; there was a profound silence as soon as he stretched out his hand.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “King Charles II., of blessed memory, issued a declaration, of such a date, whereby he invited the poor Protestants who were persecuted in France for the cause of the Gospel, to take refuge in this kingdom, not, most assuredly, with the intention of suffering them to die of hunger, but rather that they might live in comfort amongst his subjects. Thus you see they are fully entitled to every privilege that we enjoy. Suppose Mr. Fontaine and his family had not the means of gaining a livelihood, and they were famishing in the midst of us, we should in that case be obliged to feed them. By law, the parish would be burdened with their maintenance; for you know you could not send him to his birth-place, therefore you must treat him as if he had been born in the place where he resides.

“Although Mr. Fontaine was brought up to nothing but study, yet in the desire he has to live independently, without being burdensome to any one, he humbles himself so far as to become a mechanic, a thing very rarely seen among learned men, such as I know him to be from my own conversations with him. Do not you think our parish is obliged to him for every morsel of bread he earns for his family? It would be perfect barbarity to pretend to put any obstacle in the way of his earning a livelihood. Are you, his accusers, disposed to raise a fund, and settle an annuity upon him and his family for life? Strangers are as much entitled to justice at our bands as our neighbor sare. I will answer for Mr. Fontaine, that if you will secure to him a moderate income, he will leave mechanical occupations, and gladly return to intellectual labor.”

He paused awhile and looked around the Court-room, but no one broke the silence, so he resumed:—“Is nobody disposed to come forward? It is a strange thing, gentlemen, you are not willing to let him earn his own bread, and yet none of you offer to give it to him. Shall it be said of us, that there are only one or two families of poor Refugees settled in our town, who have abandoned country, friends, property, and every thing sweet and agreeable in this life for their religion and the glory of the Gospel, and instead of cherishing these people, and treating them as the suffering members of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and providing for them tenderly and abundantly by our charities, we would even hinder them from gaining a living by their labor? There is not a Turk in Turkey so barbarous.”

He then turned around and addressed himself to me. “You may so away, there is no law that can disturb you, I will answer for it. We return you our thanks for the bread you earn. God bless you and your labor!”

I said, “May the Lord bless you also!”

The Court resounded with thousands “God bless you, Mr. Fontaine!”

This was the end of the law proceedings, but not of the malicious feeling that had caused the prosecution. The Mayor and his party hated me all the more for having contemned them in the face of the whole town. They continued to annoy me in every possible way. They exaggerated my profits very much, they magnified them to guineas when my gain was but in pennies, and consequently I was taxed to the utmost.

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)