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These imperfect notices are all that we have been able to discover, of the time and the manner of the transportation of the French Protestants to New England. How long they continued on their plantation, what were their occupations, and what their progress in improvements, we have not been able precisely to ascertain. It appears, however, that the united body of settlers continued ten years at least, on the plantation ; that they erected fortifications upon it; that they sat up a grist mill and a malt mill; that they planted vineyards and orchards-remains of which are still to be seen; and that they acquired the right of representation in the provincial legislature. Of this last fact, the public records preserve the evidence; for in the year 1693, an act was passed by the Massachusetts government, empowering Oxford to send a representative to the General Court.*
Every thing concerning this interesting colony of exiles has bitherto been learnt from tradition, with the illustrations derived from scanty records and original manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts, which are generally written in the French language, were in the possession of Mr. Andrew Sigourney, of Oxford, and the rest were principally procured by Mr. Sigourney for the compilation of this Memoir.t
The oldest Manuscript that I have seen, is an original paper, containing “ Articles of Agreement between Caleb Church of Wa. tertown, mill-wright, and Gabriel Bernon of Boston, merchant,” concluded in March, 1689, by which the said Church covenants, and agrees to “ erect a corn or grist mill, in the village of Oxford.” This instrument was sealed and delivered in presence of J. Ber. rand Du Tuffeau.
6 Tho. DUDLEY."
Church's acknowledgment of a receipt " in full following our bargain," is signed at “Boston, 4th Februarii, 1689_ the witnesses of which were Peter Basset and Gabriel Depont.
* Mr. Whitney, who takes a very slight notice of the French settlement in Oxford, mentions this act, as appearing" by the records in Secretary's office of the Commonwealth.”
* Mr. Andrew Sigourney is a descendant from the first of that name who was among the original French settlers of Oxford. To his kindness I am indebted for nearly all my materials for this part of the Memoir. After giving me every facility at Oxford, in aid of my inquiries and researches, he made a journey to Providence for the sole purpose of procuring for me the Bernon papers, which he brought to me at Cambridge. These papers were in the possession of Philip Allen, Esq. of Providence, who married into the Bernon family; and who has since indulged me with the MSS. to the extent of my wishes.
per is endorsed, “ Contract de Mr. Church pour le Moulin de New Oxford.”
We can clearly trace the French plantation down to the year 1696 ; at which time it was broken up by an incursion of the Indians. By original manuscripts, dated that year and at subsequent periods, it appears, that Gabriel Bernon, a merchant, of an ancient and respectable family in Rochelle, was undertaker for the Planta tion, and expended large sums for its accommodation and improvement. An original paper in French, signed at Boston, in 1696, by the principal settlers, certifies this fact in behalf of Mr. Bernon ; and subjoins a declaration, that the massacre of Mr. Johnson, and of his three children by the lodians was the melancholy cause of his losses, and of the abandonment of the place.
Upon the dispersion of the French settlers from Oxford, it appears, that many, if not most of them, came to Boston. From the distinction which many of the families attained in the metropolis it may be fairly inferred, that they approved themselves to the citizens, whose hospitality they experienced, and to whose encouragement and patronage they must have been greatly indebted for their subsequent prosperity. They appear to have adhered to the principles, and, so far as they were able, to have maintained the institutions of religion, according to the Reformed church in France. It was for their religion that they suffered in their native country; and to enjoy its privileges, unmolested, they fled into the wilderness. Wbile at Oxford, they enjoyed the ministrations of a French Protestant minister.for their religious affairs, however, we have no distinct account, until their settlement in Boston, after the Indian Massacre in 1696.
It is well known that the French refugees had a church of their own in Boston, where they, for many years, attended divine service. The Rev. Peter Daille was their first minister; and he was bighly esteemed. He was succeeded by the Rev. Andrew Le Mercier, who is described as “ a worthy character.” He was the author of “The Church History of Geneva, and a Political and Geographical Account of that Republic,” printed at Boston, in 1732. By intermarriages and otherwise, it appears that, in process of time, the French families became so blended with the other inhabitants of the town, as to render a separate and distinct religious service either unnecessary, or impracticable ; for, in the life time of Mr.
See APPENDIX, C.
See APPENDIX, D.
Le Merceir, their church was, for some years, unoccupied, and at length, sold for the use of a new Congregational church.*
Whether the French exiles never dared to return to the plantation from which they fled in such terror and dismay, or wbether they became so advantageously settled in Boston as not to wish to return, or whatever were the cause, they never did, as a body return to Oxford. Permanent inhabitance, it may be presumed, had been a condition of the grant; for the lands of that township reverted to the original proprietors. By the Records of the town, under the date of 1713, it appears that the French settlers had “ many years since wholly left and deseried their settlements in the said village;" that, upon public proclamation, they had refused to return; and that most of them had voluntarily surrendered their lands. The proprietors having recited these facts, and farther stated, that there were sundry good families of her majesty's subjects within this province, who offer themselves to go and resettle the said village, whereby they may be serviceable to the province, and the end and design of the original grant aforesaid be answered and attained,” proceed to grant and convey these lands to several persons and others, their associates, “ so as their number amouut to thirty at least.” The instrument of this conditional grant is dated the Sth of July, 1713. The requisite number of associates was obtained; and, about a year and a half after the above date, a distribution was made by lot among the thirty families.
There are but few relicks, or memorials, of the French settlement, now to be found in Oxford. Of these the most interesting are to be seen on a very high hill which lies in the southwest part of the town, and commands a beautiful and extensive prospect. The village of Oxford beneath, and the rural scenery around, are delightful. The hill is about a mile south of that part of the viilage, at which is the junction of two great roads leading from Boston, one through Westborough and Sutton, and the other through Marlborough and Worcester; and, after uniting in one at Oxford, passing through Dudley, Woodstock, Brooklyn, and other towns, to Norwich, in Connecticut. It is called Mayo's Hill, and sometimes Fort Hill, from a fort, built on its summit by the French Protestants. The farm, on which the remains of the fort are, is owned by Mr. John Mayo, whose grandfather, of Roxbury, was the original purchaser. The fort is a few rods from the dwelling bouse. It was evidently constructed in the regular form, with basSee APPENDIX, E.
+ See APPENDIX, F.
tions, and had a well within its enclosure. Grape vines, in 1819, were growing luxuriantly along the line of the fort; and these, together with currant bushes, roses, and other shrubbery, nearly formed a hedge arouod it. There were some remains of an apple orchard. The current and asparagus were still growing there. These, with the peach, were of spontaneous growth from the French plantation ; but the last of the peach trees were destroyed by the memorable gale of 1815.
Of the French refugees, who settled in the other American colonies, we have but imperfect accounts. It is well known that many of them, at the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and afterwards, settled in New York, Virginia, and Carolina.*
New Rochelle, in the state of New York, was settled by French Protestant emigrants from Rochelle, in France. A French Protes. tant Episcopal church was founded in the city of New York by the French Huguenots, soon after the Revocation. Between these refugees and those who came to Massachusetts, it appears by the Bernon papers, there was some correspondence. The historian of New York, about the middle of the last century, says, “The French church, by the contentions in 1724, and the disuse of the lauguage, is now reduced to an inconsiderable handful. The building, which is of stone, nearly a square, plain both within and without. It is fenced from the street, has a steeple and a bell, the latter of which was the gift of Sir Henry Ashurst of London."7 M. Pierre Antonie Albert was a rector of this church 'io our day. He died in 1806, in the forty first year of his age.
In 1690, king William sent a large body of French Protestants to Virginia ; to whom were assigned lands on the banks of James river, which they soon improved into excellent estates.
Among the colonies in America, which reaped advantage from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Carolina had a large share. Many of the French refugees, having purchased lands from :he proprietors, embarked with their families for that colony, and proved to be some of its best and most industrious inhabitants.
*See Note V.
These purchasers made a settlement on Santee river; others, whe were merchants aud mechanics, took up their residence in Charleston, and followed their different occupations. Carolina had begun to be settled but fifteen years before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; and these new settlers were a great acquisition to that colony. It is worthy of remark, that, more than a century before, Admiral Coligny had attempted a settlement of French Protestants in the territory now called Carolina, then Florida ; and that, at length, under the auspices of the English, this same country became an asylum for them, as it had been originally intended by Coligny.
It should heighten our respect for the French emigrants, and our interest in their bistory, to be reminded of the distinguished services, which their descendants have rendered to our country, and to the cause of civil and religious liberty. Gabriel Manigault, of South Carolina, assisted this country, which had been the asylum of bis parents, with a loan of $220,000 for carrying on its revolutionary struggle for liberty and independence. This was done at an early period of the contest, when no man was certa:o, whether it would terminate in a revolution or rebellion." Of the nine presidents of the old congress, which conducted the United States through the revolutionary war, three were descendants of French Protestant refugees, who had emigrated to America in consequence of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. These were, Henry Laurens, of South Carolina, John Jay, of New York, and Elias Boudinot, of New Jersey.
ADDITIONAL NOTICES. The lapse of a century since the resettlement of Oxford, by the ancestors of its present inhabitants, has nearly obliterated the remembrance of the fact of its original settlement by the French. A river, which runs through the town, does indeed bear up their name; but why it was so called, if known there, is scarcely known in the vicinity. The river runs about three quarters of a mile west of the great road that leads over Oxford plain, and falls into the Quinebaug in the town of Thompson, in Connecticut. The Quinebaug I had known from early life, as passing through Oxford, and Thompson, and joining the Shetucket at Norwich; but
tSmith Hist. New York. Allen's Biog. Dict. Art. ALBERT. Beverly's Hist, of Virginia. Hewatt's S. Carolina, i. 94. Ramsay's Hist. S. Carolina, i. 10.