"A Tale Of The Huguenots Or Memoirs Of A French Refugee Family (De La Fontaine)", 1838 (Complete),  Jared Smith's Maternal Ancestry (Complete)

Chapter 8

Persecution of 1685 — Meeting of ministers and elders — My opinion opposed to the majority — Meeting of Protestants at Royan — Mr. Certani dissuades numbers from emigration — Interview with him — Gloomy forebodings — Departure of many persons — Dragoons appear — Leave home — Visit sisters — Traverse the country — Place betrothed in safety

The year 1685 opened with a bitter spirit of persecution, far beyond all that had proceeded it. There was no longer the slightest semblance of justice in the forms of proceeding, the dragoons ravaged and pillaged without mercy, resembling in their progress a lawless and victorious army in an enemy’s country. In the history of past ages we look in vain for any record of such cruelties as they inflicted upon the unoffending and unresisting Huguenots. They were accountable to nobody, for their acts, each dragoon was a sovereign judge and an executioner, and he who had ingenuity enough to invent any new species of torture was sure of applause, and even reward for his discovery.

Early in the year I received an invitation to attend a meeting of Ministers and Elders to consult upon what ought to be done at the present crisis. The number assembled was about twenty five. As I was only a Candidate and not a Minister, I had no right to be present, still less to give an opinion at such a meeting, but my deportment in prison had gained me so much reputation, that young as I was, the Ministers requested me to give them my views.

I pointed out to them the error I thought they had been guilty of, in preaching as they did, the doctrine of non- resistance from their pulpits, and I added that it appeared to me that our quiet submission to all the King’s grievous Declarations had encouraged him to go on. Obedience to one edict only paved the way to another still more intolerable, and that we might blame the timid policy of the day for much that we had suffered. I totally dissented from the generally received doctrine, that our lives and our property belonged to the King, and I looked upon it as reflecting discredit on our ancestors, who had obtained for us, sword in hand, the privileges which were now taken away. In short, I thought there was nothing left for us but to take up arms, and leave the issue to the Lord of Hosts.

I was listened to thus far with impatience, and they then rebuked me, telling me I had none of the Spirit of the Gospel, which was patient and long-suffering, and at the utmost extremity permitted nothing but flight.

I replied that we were men as well as Christians, and that as men, we had rights to maintain; and if a compact entered into with our fathers, in virtue of which they had laid down their arms, was broken, we were certainly called upon to enforce its fulfilment, if necessary, at the point of the sword. I entreated them to reflect that this immense Protestant population could not all flee.

I was again interrupted, but I begged they would allow me to say one word more; and I solemnly called upon them to think of the thousands of souls that would be eternally ruined, unable to support persecution they would yield to the tempter, but put arms in their hands and they would willingly hazard life for the truth. They looked upon me rather with compassion as an impetuous, headstrong, young man, and thought my advice altogether unworthy of consideration.

When the dragoons made their appearance in our Province, it was with orders to over-run all the other districts before they visited the coast, and the idea prevailed that sailors were to be spared.

The Intendant of Rochfort sent a letter to Royan recommending us to change without dragoons. A large meeting was held to deliberate upon a suitable answer to this smooth letter. My voice was in favour of resistance, and I said I was convinced we could possess ourselves of Rochfort and Brouage in one week.

They would not listen to me, and I verily believe, that nothing short of the general respect entertained for our family would have prevented some who heard me from giving information.

The answer returned was, that they would obey the King in every thing that was consistent with their duty to God, but nothing should induce them to change their religion.

They told a very different story when the dragoons really showed themselves amongst them, for the principal men proved arrant cowards, and trod upon one another, trying, who could get into the Church first, to make recantation. It was amongst the county people that the most unshaken faith was found. Before the dragoons appeared, a good many sailors embarked with their families, and crowds followed to the sea shore to accompany them if room could be found for them. It was on this occasion that a Mr. Certani, the Catholic Priest of Royan (a sensible and respectable man) went down to the shore and dissuaded many from embarking, promising that Royan should not be visited by dragoons, the King loving his brave seamen too well to allow them to be disturbed.

And to give additional weight to his advice, he added that if what he had said was not true, they were welcome to burn him alive in his house. Some allowed themselves to be persuaded to chance their plan. I was not at home on that day, and when I heard of it on my return, I went to Mr. le

Cure and told him I came to bid him farewell, for I was certain the dragoons would soon be in our parish, and I did not mean to trust myself to their tender mercies, if I could help it.

He urged me to do as many others had done, appear to change, which would answer every purpose.

I answered, that I could not lull my conscience sufficiently to take such a step as that.

He then told me in confidence that he was himself overwhelmed with grief at the state of affairs; he feared the just judgements of God would overtake the Catholics for forcing people to approach the altar without faith, and partake of that holy sacrament which should only be received by the sincere in heart.

“I fear,” said he, “war, famine, and pestilence! War! what is more probable than that the princes, with whom so many Huguenots have taken refuge should be aroused to avenge them of their persecutors? Famine! for who will cultivate our fields? all our young people are leaving us, and what an army may be raised for our adversaries out of these brave young men whom we are driving away. Pestilence may naturally be expected to tread on the heels of famine. And who can say that we do not deserve these scourges of the Almighty for our profanation of his Holy Altar.”

This prophecy of the Cure (priest) was literally fulfilled, though he did not live to see more than its commencement. The veteran army of France, formidable to the whole world, had been every where victorious till it made war upon the Saints, and then it experienced the most gloomy reverses. The soldiers appeared to be shorn of their strength and God took from them their ancient valour. The glory of Louis, whose ambition aspired to universal monarchy, departed from him when he raised his hand against God’s elect, and he lived to reap his reward in seeing himself despised as he deserved to he. Famine and poverty covered the land, the gold and the silver disappeared and its place was supplied by a species of enchanted paper, which still remains in their portfolios to remind them of all that they have lost. And pestilence also has overtaken that doomed and wretched nation. France! miserable France! my country, wilt thou never open thine eyes and unstop thine ears and understand, the language in which God has spoken to thee? So long as his faithful sevants were cherished in thy bosom, his blessing was upon thee, as it was upon Abinadab while the ark rested in his house; but thou hast driven them forth with cruelties unheard of. and thy prosperity has departed with them. The floods have gone over thee, O that thou wouldest return to the Almighty and confess thy sins, and cease to forbid his true and pure worship; and his blessing would return to thee, and thy days would be bright, and prosperity would again appear within thy borders.

Sympathy for my dear native land has carried me away from my conversation with Mr. Le Cure. To resume, I begged him not to draw upon himself the just indignation of an injured and infuriated community. He deceived himself, I told him, if he really believed as he had asserted that the dragoons would not come.

“If they do come,” said I. “recollect the penalty you will have to pay, you have given the people permission to burn you in your house. Now I solemnly declare to you, that I have this day heard a man (a stranger to me) swear by all that he held sacred, that if you had used deceit, he would roast you alive and carry the news to Holland.”

He turned pale at this, and said he had expressed himself so strongly, in consequence of the promise he had received from the Intendant of Rochfort that the dragoons should not come; and he took out his letter and gave it to me for perusal.

“Sir,” said I “how came you to make yourself answerable for the Intendant? Suppose he should not keep his word with you. Now as a friend I beseech you, go to the people before it is too late, and retract what you have said, show the letter to them, and they can attach what credit they like to it.”

He thanked me for my advice and availed himself of it, going down at once to the sea shore. During three days after this interview great numbers embarked, and on the fourth the dragoons made their appearance. All who were left and did not mean to recant, fled and concealed themselves in the woods.

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)