Growing up in New York City caused me to be a product of that city’s educational system. Thankfully, it was long before the turn toward the Bloombergian model of education. Growing up in New York City however did give me a great environment wherein I could develop a love for history, or more specifically, niche history. History oozes out of every neighborhood in NYC, and there’s enough of it around in any one of the neighborhoods to keep you busy and researching for a lifetime or two.
As rich as that history is, it wasn’t the school system that created the connective tissue between area history and the desire to independently delve deeper. Local history was taught purely textbook style and quickly rolled you over from the Dutch and English to learning about some of the mayors of the city, with short stops at Ellis Island and some whitewashed political history along with homage being paid to The Statue of Liberty, The United Nations, and Grant’s Tomb. In other words, I missed a good deal of history learning history.
Upon my forced migration to the Hudson River Valley many of the NYC historical entities walked point for me. Native Americans, old Henry Hudson and his Half Moon (complete with crew and legends), the Dutch, English and Quakers, and even George Washington and his boys had arrived a bit before me and were there waiting to engage me. However, there were several other groups that cropped up that to me had been phantoms appearing here and there in my NYC history readings and then quickly disappearing from the pages. These spectral groups had names such as Huguenots, Palatines, Shakers, and Moravians. With names like those, how could I not be drawn inward?
For those of you who are intellectually squinting and trying to get a clearer image, here’s a better view of one of these groups, The Huguenots.
The Huguenots were French Protestants most of whom eventually came to follow the teachings of John Calvin, and who, due to religious persecution, were forced to flee France to other countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some remained, practicing their Faith in secret.
The Protestant Reformation began by Martin Luther in Germany about 1517, spread rapidly in France, especially among those having grievances against the established order of government. As Protestantism grew and developed in France it generally abandoned the Lutheran form, and took the shape of Calvinism. Followers of this new Protestantism were soon accused of heresy against the Catholic government and the established religion of France, and a General Edict urging extermination of these heretics (Huguenots) was issued in 1536. In 1562, some 1200 Huguenots were slain at Vassey, France, thus igniting the French Wars of Religion which would devastate France for the next thirty-five years.
Since the Huguenots of France were in large part artisans, craftsmen, and professional people, they were usually well-received in the countries to which they fled for refuge when religious discrimination or overt persecution caused them to leave France. Most of them went initially to Germany, the Netherlands, and England, although some found their way eventually to places as remote as South Africa. Considerable numbers of Huguenots migrated to British North America, especially to the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Their character and talents in the arts, sciences, and industry were such that they are generally felt to have been a substantial loss to the French society from which they had been forced to withdraw, and a corresponding gain to the communities and nations into which they settled.