Study with Mr. Forestier — His persecutions — His wife’s firmness — Return home — Pray with neighbors — Absent at Easter — Poor people assemble in the woods — A spy — Warrants issued — A mason taken up — Recantation — Repentance — My return home — Warrant against me — Grand Provost and archers appear — Prison — Permitted to pray.
Having made all necessary arrangements for the management of my property, I went once more to the house of my brother in-law, Mr. Forestier, at St. Mesme in Anguomois. I knew that I should find in him an able and willing friend, to help me in the prosecution of my theological studies. My sole wish now was to dedicate all the talents, God had bestowed on me, to his glory.
I spent a year with Mr. Forestier, during which time he took great pains with me. He taught me to prepare sermons, and showed me how far it was desirable to use Commentaries for such purposes. When he thought me qualified, he allowed me to preach sometimes in his church.
While I was with him, a complaint was lodged against him that he had received a Papist into the communion of the Protestant Church, contrary to the king’s edict. Upon this accusation, he was seized and carried to prison with much degradation: he was placed on horseback, with his legs tied together under the horse’s belly.
If you had but seen the Papists of Angouleme collected upon the road to enjoy the spectacle! They were in such numbers that I may say they were literally piled up by the way-side; and they were uttering the most horrible maledictions and imprecations, and throwing stones at those who accompanied him to the prison-door. I say, if you had seen them, you would have concluded the prisoner could have been guilty of no less a crime than murdering his father, committing violence on his mother, or attempting the life of the king.
Oh! my God! To what a horrid pitch of barbarity can mankind be borne by the blind zeal of superstition and idolatry.
Through her many severe trials my sister was always resigned to the will of her Heavenly Father, who, she felt assured, ordered all things for the best.
Mr. Forestier had a tedious imprisonment, which was attended with great loss and inconvenience to him, because it obliged him to give up his school. At length he appealed to the Parliament of Paris, and obtained an acquittal.
The church of St. Mesme soon shared the fate of others, and was condemned. The Synod then removed him to Coses, in Saintonge; and though it is rather anticipating events, I think I had better proceed with his history, before returning to the memoirs of my own life.
The church at Coses had its turn, and was condemned be forelong. The Papists in the neighborhood had not patience to wait for the day appointed for its demolition, but desired to put a stop to the religious exercises at once. To accomplish this end, they made some frivolous complaint of Protestants who had recanted, having been seen there, and procured a warrant to arrest Mr. Forestier upon this charge. The plot became known by accident to Colonel Boisron, who was at Saintes, and he set off immediately, and rode all night, in the hope of arriving before the Archers, and giving him notice in time to conceal himself.
He reached Coses on Sunday morning, just as Mr. Forestier was going to church. He instantly made known his errand, and begged him not to make his appearance in the church.
Mr. Forestier said: “Can we change the decrees of the Eternal God? No!I hold myself in readiness, therefore, to do my duty, and submit to whatever he thinks fit to bring upon me.”
Colonel Boisron still urged him. “Only think, my dear friend,” said he,“ of the suffering you would bring upon your wife and children, if you should be taken from them.”
My sister then came forward, and the Colonel asked her to use her influence to dissuade her husband from showing himself, where he would inevitably be seized by the Archers. With a composed and firm tone she said, “It is the duty of Mr. Forestier to preach to his flock, and it is for God to do as seemeth him good.”
Mr. Forestier turned round in triumph, and said to his friend, “You see, sir, we have no Eve here.”
He then went forward, with his family around him, to the church. He gave no sign of emotion, he preached with his accustomed energy, and had just concluded the service, and was descending from the pulpit, when the Archers entered, laid hold on him, and carried him off to Saintes. He was confined in the prison at that place for a time, and then he was transferred to La Reolle, where the Parliament of Bourdeaux held its sittings. He was a truly faithful servant of God, and was by him most mercifully preserved through many dangers, and at last brought in safety to England, with his wife and younger children. My sister was near her confinement, and gave birth to a daughter on board the vessel. It is difficult which to admire most, the husband or the wife; the faith of both shone so triumphantly on these trying occasions. I can assure you that my sister’s firmness was the result of principle, and did not proceed, as those who were not well acquainted with her, might have supposed, from deficiency of sensibility. She had very warm feelings, strong affections, and great love for her husband and children, but her love to God was even stronger; and when his glory was in question, she held nothing dear in comparison.
Happy couple! Their treasure was laid up in heaven, and they could well afford to despise this present life, and its short-lived enjoyments.
I now resume my own history. Soon after the imprison ment of Mr. Forestier, I went to reside at Saintes, in order to avail myself of the assistance of two able and pious ministers, who were settled there, in completing my preparation for the ministry. It is but a repetition of the same story. These two good men, Mr. Mainard and Mr. Borillak were shortly cast into prison likewise, and I returned to my lonely home.
I was not idle there, as you will presently see. My brother Peter had succeeded my father at Vaux, and continued there until about this time, when he was seized, under a “lettre de cachet,” and confined in the castle of Oleron. The church at Vaux was levelled with the ground; most of the Protestant places of worship in our province had shared the same fate. My neighbors could not get to any church without difficulty and extreme fatigue, and I felt compassion for them, as sheep without a shepherd, and considered it my duty to invite them to join me in my family devotions.They came most gladly, and the number increased until it reached one hundred and fifty. I then recommended them not to come daily, as they were in the habit of doing, but to come two or three times a week, which would give me more time to make suitable preparation for preaching and expounding the Scriptures to them. I also suggested to them that each family should only come once a week, and thus our meetings, being less numerous, would be less likely to attract attention, and yet each would have their turn. I frequently changed our days of assembling, giving previous notice to the people, with the view of escaping observation, and we continued this endearing intercourse without interruption, during the whole winter. All who joined in these religious exercises were known to me and to each other, and we were all equally interested in keeping the secret. My house stood entirely alone, which was a circumstance much in our favor.
At length, however, a rumor got abroad that meetings were held in our parish, and that I was the preacher. We had no traitor in our ranks, and all things were conducted so quietly that the Papists were unable to discover any thing, with sufficient certainty, to found action upon it. Some of my friends, with more of policy than of piety, recommended me to cease before we were discovered, but I believed I was in the path of duty, and therefore I did not hearken to their counsel, but persevered in leading the services.
Our holy meetings continued without molestation or drawback of any sort till Palm Sunday, 1684. Being only a candidate, and not a regularly authorized minister, I judged it best to advise my people to go to some of the few remaining churches, in order to receive the Communion with their brethren. I wished to partake of that holy sacrament myself, and for the purpose I went to the other side of the province, and tarried with friends there, with whom I received the Communion, both on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and remained until ten or twelve days after Easter.
On Palm Sunday, some of the neighbors came to my house as usual, and finding that I was not there, they retired to a wood behind the house for religious worship, and one of their number, a mason by trade, who could read very well, officiated as pastor. He read several chapters from the Bible, the prayers of the Church, and a sermon; and some psalms were sung. This meeting having taken place openly, the report of it was noised abroad, and on Holy Thursday from seven to eight hundred assembled on the same spot, the mason again the pastor. On Easter Sunday the number in creased to a thousand.
In the neighborhood there lived a miserable pettifogging attorney, named Agoust, a base deceitful man, who had been a Protestant, but had abjured his religion to retain his employment. His house was within four hundred paces of the high road, by which many persons returned from the meeting, and he seated himself at his window to watch the passers-by, hoping to be able to give information by which he might ingratiate himself with those in power. The services had continued until after dusk, therefore it was too dark to recognize individuals at that distance; nevertheless, he made out a list of sixty persons, and amongst the names were some who had, and others who had not, been there, and at the head he placed Mr. Mouillère and myself. He could form a very good idea from the general character of his neighbors, of those who would be likely to attend such a meeting, and that was about as much as he really did know. On the deposition of this single witness—a man of indifferent character at best—before the Seneschal of Saintes, warrants were issued against us.
Two or three days before my return home, the Grand Provost and his Archers were sent in search of us. The country people had had timely notice of their approach, and had concealed themselves so effectually in the woods that after scouring the country in all directions, the Archers returned with but one prisoner. They found them a son who had officiated, and no one else. They seized him, fastened him securely to the tail of a horse, and thus dragged him all the way to Saintes, a distance of fifteen miles. They took great delight in frightening him by the way, telling him all that would be done to him for his crime. The least he could expect would be to be hanged as soon as they reached the town.
It was late when they arrived, and they said that nothing but the lateness of the hour saved him from execution that night, which fortunately left him a solitary chance for life. “If,” said one of the Archers, “you recant without delay, you may yet escape, but once get within the prison wall, and a hundred religions will not save you from death. All that is asked of you is to renounce the errors of Calvin, and do not you see how easily you can do that, without wounding your conscience, be it ever so tender? You only swear to renounce errors: if Calvin had none, you renounce nothing, it is a mere ceremony, and if he had errors you would not surely object to renouncing them.” Those who surrounded him saw that the specious arguments made an impression, and they followed it up with others based upon his duty to his wife and children, who would be left destitute if he was taken from them. The poor fellow was over powered by their crafty reasoning, he had no one near to strengthen his weakness, and it is not to be wondered at that he should at last have yielded to the tempter, abjured the errors of Calvin, and obtained life and liberty as the reward. The wakeful monitor, conscience, had slumbered for a short space, but she soon awakened and resumed her power most fearfully. After the recantation, the mason became a prey to the most frightful re morse; he was so wretched that he could not rest or sleep by night or day.
As soon as he heard of my return home, he hastened to me, threw himself at my feet, wept like a child, and declared that he had damned his soul by his weakness. He then related all the circumstances to me; he said it would be impossible to describe to me the torments he had endured, and that he could not pray for himself, but he implored me to pray for him. He looked upon his crime with such utter abhorrence, and was plunged into such depths of despair, that I clearly perceived it was my duty rather to comfort than reprove the sinner. I endeavored to convince him that the mercy of God was open to him, and I urged him to go at once to the Fountain for sin and uncleanness. I drew a parallel between his case and that of St. Peter, from which I thought he might draw consolation, as he had imitated the apostle in his bitter tears of repentance as well as in his fall.
He abjured once more, and this time it was the abjuring of his abjuration. His penitence was so sincere, that he felt no humiliation too great, and he asked forgiveness of every one he met for the scandal he had brought upon their holy religion. God brought good out of evil on this occasion, for he made the remorse of this unhappy man the means of strengthening the faith of many others, who saw, by his melancholy example, that man,with all his cruelty, can inflict no such torture as God causes to the consciousness if those, who deny him before men.
I was deeply grieved that I had not been upon the spot when this poor man was taken up, for I thought I might have accompanied him and prevented his recantation; and it determined me to do what I could to confirm the faith of the other members of my flock. I was told that there was a warrant out for my apprehension, so I rode over to Saintes to inquire into the truth of the report, and I determined to give myself up to the authorities, if it should be required.
I called upon the Lieutenant-General or Seneschal of the Presidency of Saintes to ascertain the fact, and he was malicious enough to deny that there was any such warrant out, though he was himself the very person who had issued it. He wished me to return home in ignorance of the truth, for the purpose of inflicting upon me the ignominy and mortification, that he supposed would be the result of making me a public spectacle, dragged to prison by the Grand Provost and his Archers. I had a shrewd suspicion that it was so, and therefore went home with the determination to make the most of my time for the benefit of my poor neighbors. During the week I visited from house to house, prayed, and exhorted to the best of my ability.
At length I was informed that the Provost and his Archers were on the road to our village, and that they were spending the night at Saujon, within two leagues of my house. I sent messengers to warn the people in the surrounding villages, in order that they might hide themselves in the woods. For my own part, my resolution was formed, not to shrink from the threatened danger, be it what it might, but rather to walk boldly forward to justify that which I had done in the fear of God. Some of my friends came to give me notice of the approach of the Archers, and at the same time to offer me their houses as an asylum until the storm had passed over, but I declined their kind offers. I said to them,“It was I who induced the poor people to jeopard their lives for our holy religion. I invited them to my house to join in religious worship, and having acted as their leader when no danger threatened, ought I not to continue at their head in the hour of peril? If I were now to flee, I should consider myself like the shepherd, who is described in the Gospel as an hireling, who fled at the sight of the wolf. Example, my friends, is more powerful than precept. I am determined to share the risks of my poor neighbors, for if I were absent from them, and they abjured their faith for want of the countenance and support that I, as their leader, could give them, I should forever feel that the sin rested upon my shoulder.”
Seeing me so determined, my friends ceased to urge me to go with them, and when they left me I set to work to prepare for the morrow. I gave full directions to my servants for their conduct during my absence. I prepared a bundle of clothing and other necessaries to take with me to the prison, and then before retiring to rest, I knelt down and prayed earnestly to God to give me grace and strength to support and guide me in the step I was taking, and in which
I believed I had a single eye to his glory. My mind became so perfectly composed after this, that I went to bed and fell asleep almost immediately, and I slept so soundly that I did not waken until I heard the sound of the Provost and Archers knocking at the door for admittance. The day was just breaking when I opened my eyes, and being yet only half awake, I trembled from head to foot, and felt a vague sort of alarm at I knew not what, and the thought actually crossed my mind that I would defend myself with the fire arms which I had in my room.
Presently I collected my scattered senses, and knew what the noise meant, and then I called to mind the thoughts with which I had retired the night before, and I again implored the aid of my heavenly Father, which was granted me on the instant, for I felt tranquillized almost immediately. I was displeased to hear my servants telling the Archers that I was not in the house, and I opened the window, and put my head out to tell them that I should soon be ready for them, having made my preparations overnight. Upon this they retreated a little, being afraid that I was going to fire upon them ,and I heard the Provost give orders to his Archers to be upon their guard. I told him he need not fear the weapons I had for my defence; I relied upon my innocence for protection, and I hoped to conquer by my constancy. I begged him to wait patiently a few minutes and I would accompany him. As soon as I had dressed myself I opened the door to him, and showed him my little bundle which I had prepared the night before.
The Provost proceeded to perform what he considered to be his duty, and he gave me an exhortation, to the effect that I ought to obey the orders of the king, and make a prompt recantation. He then gave me in charge of tow of his Archers, and he went with the rest to look for the other persons, against whom he held warrants. They scoured the country in all directions without finding any of my accomplices in prayer. They seized upon a poor ploughman, whose zeal had never been warm enough to carry him to any illegal assembly, and he felt both pained and embarrassed to be suffering persecution without the consolation of having deserved it. He was tied to the tail of a horse, and sent forward to the place of rendezvous, with an Archer for his guard, who was one of that tribe of booted missionaries who strove to make converts to his religion by oaths, threats and cruelties. He frightened his poor ignorant prisoner exceedingly, who, when he saw me, cried out: “Alas! sir, are you also in the power of these cruel men?”
To which I replied, “I feel it an honor to be esteemed worthy of suffering in such a cause.”
Hearing that no more prisoners were likely to be brought in, we were ordered to proceed on our way. I had gained some favor with the Archers who had me in charge, by giving them money, and I was thus able to persuade them to indulge my companion, by lengthening his rope sufficiently for him to walk abreast with my horse. They also showed me personal consideration, for, as we were approaching the capital, they told me that they had received positive orders to tie my legs together under the horse, but that they would dispense with it, if I would let my cloak drop low enough to conceal my feet entirely.
We entered the town of Saintes at five o’clock in the afternoon of a day, near the end of April, 1684. We drew around us a crowd composed of two very different classes; the one clapped their hands, jumped for joy, and cried out in loud tones, “Hang them! Hang them!” The others felt for us deeply, they stood aloof and wept.
My companion was greatly alarmed; I tried to impart comfort by speaking kindly, and taking his hand and pressing it affectionately, which seemed to give him courage, but it made the papists very angry, for when they noticed it they redoubled their threats. We were taken straight to the prison, where many of the principal Protestants came that very evening to show their compassionate interest. They were without any minister at the time, both of theirs being in confinement at La Reolle.
I told the good people they would probably soon have an opportunity of showing the strength of their sympathy by action, but, in the meantime, I felt grateful for their kind words. I then told them that I felt assured it would not be long before my poor neighbors would be my companions in prison, and then I should look to them for contributions towards their support. After they had left me, I made a bargain with the jailer to pay him so much a day for a bed for myself, and for the use of his private apartment.
I could easily have avoided imprisonment, by flight, but I had resolved to stand my ground, for the benefit of the poor people to whom I had ministered. I thought that by sharing their confinement I might be able to prevent those who should be hereafter brought to prison from changing their religion. I determined, without loss of time, and before suspicion of my object could be aroused, to make the only arrangement by which I could hope to be useful to them , and that was, to obtain permission to pray aloud night and morning in the prison, an undertaking which hitherto, so far as I knew, no minister had dared to attempt.
After supper I entered into conversation with the jailer, and told him that there was one thing I wished to mention to him, namely, that it was my habit to pray aloud to God, night and morning, and that it had become so necessary to me that I had no peace of mind, if I were debarred from it, and he would find me in such a case à most morose, unhappy, disagreeable inmate; but if I were allowed to follow my usual practice he would find me a cheerful companion, and one who would give him no trouble. I said to him that I wished to show him all possible respect, and had not the least idea of annoying him by praying in our joint apartment; therefore, if he saw no objection to it, I would select as my altar the corner of the common prison, behind the door that led to our room.
He was disposed to be facetious, and said, I should find him, like the devil, not quite so black as he had been painted, but that all my holy water would not make him drop the keys out of his hand.
“Very well,” said I, “I am glad to find that we agree so well; you may retain possession of the key of the prison, and I will endeavor to obtain that of eternal happiness.”
I went directly to the corner I had named, knelt down and began to pray aloud; I did not call any one to join me, but as I had expected, my companion threw himself on his knees at my side, and a poor Protestant who was imprisoned for debt was glad to avail himself of the privilege and knelt also. My prayer was chiefly composed of thanksgiving to Almighty God, that amongst his many faithful followers, he had been pleased to select me to suffer persecution for the truth of his Gospel, and I implored his grace to enable me to do my duty in this new sphere. I did not forget to make mention of the choice of Moses, rather to suffer persecution with the people of God than to sit upon the throne of Pharaoh. I also named, as an example, the zealous protestations of St. Paul, that neither death nor life, nor principalities nor powers, should be able to separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I also prayed for the king, that it might please God, in whose hand is the heart of the king, as the rivers of water, that he turneth it whithersoever he will, to incline his heart to examine for himself the pure faith against which he had issued so many edicts, and that he might be turned from its persecutor into its nurse and father.
I went on the following morning to pray aloud in the same corner, and continued regularly night and morning, by which means the poor ploughman became confirmed in his faith, and felt bold enough to disregard alike the promises and threats of the papists. The jailer and his wife had been accustomed to have haughty, turbulent spirits to dealwith, and mine was so different, that they could only suppose I was disordered in my intellects, when they found that I considered it a privilege to be imprisoned.
 There were ten Parliaments in the kingdom of France. They were superior courts of judicature, to which appeal was made from the decision of inferior tribunals. They had no legislative functions but that of registering and publishing the Royal Decrees, to which they very rarely raised any objection.
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).