Excerpt from: The Huguenots, Samuel Smiles, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1972
290 SETTLEMENTS IN Ireland.
Other colonies of the refugees were established in the south of Ireland, where they carried on various branches of manufacture. William Crommelin, a brother of Louis, having been appointed one of his assistants, superintended the branch of the linen trade which was established at Kilkenny through the instrumentality of the Marquis of Ormonde. Another settlement of refugees was formed at Cork, where they congregated together in a quarter of the town forming part of the parish of St. Paul, the principal street in which is still called French Church Street. Though the principal refugees at Cork were merchants and traders, there was a sufficient number of them to begin the manufacture of woolen cloth, ginghams, and other fabrics, which they carried on for a time with considerable success.
The woolen manufacture at Cork was begun by James Fontaine, a member of the noble family of De la Fontaine, in France, a branch of which embraced Protestantism in the sixteenth century, and continued to adhere to it down to the period of the Revocation. The career of James Fontaine was singularly illustrative of the times in which he lived. His case was only one among thousands of others, in which persons of rank, wealth, and learning were suddenly stripped of their all, and compelled to become wanderers over the wide earth for conscience' sake. His life farther serves to show how a clever and agile Frenchman, thrown upon a foreign shore, a stranger to its people and its language, without any calling or resources, but full of energy and courage, could
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contrive to earn an honest living and achieve an honorable reputation.
James Fontaine was the son of a Protestant pastor of the same name, and was born at Royan in Saintonge, a famous Huguenot district. His father was the first of the family to drop the aristocratic prefix of " de la," which he did from motives of humility. When a child, Fontaine met with an accident through the carelessness of a nurse which rendered him lame for life. When only eight years old, his father died, and little was done for his education until he arrived at about the age of seventeen, when he was placed under a competent tutor, and eventually took the degree of M.A. with distinction at the College of Guienne when in his twenty-second year. Shortly after his mother died, and he became the possessor of her landed property near Pons, on the Charente.
Young Fontine's sister, Marie, had married a Protestant pastor named Forestier, of St. Mesme in Angoumois. Jacques went to live with them for a time, and study theology under the pastor. The persecutions having shortly set in, Forestier's church was closed, and he himself compelled to fly to England. The congregation of St. Mesme was consequently left without a minister. Young Fontaine, well knowing the risk he ran, nevertheless encouraged the Protestants to - assemble in the open air, and himself occasionally conducted their devotions. For this he was cited to appear before the local tribunals. He was charged with the crime of attending one of such meetings in 1684, contrary to law, and though he had not been present at the meeting specified, he was condemned and imprisoned. He appealed to the Parliament at Paris, whither he carried his plea of alibi, and was acquitted.
Early in 1685, the year of the Revocation, the dragoons were sent into the Huguenot district of Royan to carry out the mission of the " Most Christian King." In anticipation of their visit, shiploads of Huguenots had sailed for Holland and England a few days before, but Fontaine did not accompany them. He fled from his home, however, and remained
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concealed among his friends and relatives until he felt that he could no longer remain in France with safety. In the month of October, when the intelligence reached him that the Edict of Revocation was proclaimed, he at once determined to make his escape. A party of Protestant ladies had arranged to accompany him, consisting of Janette Forestier, the daughter of the pastor of St. Mesme (now a fugitive in England), his niece, and the two Mesdemoiselles Boursignot, to one of whom he was betrothed.
At Marennes, Fontaine found the captain of an English ship who was willing to give the party a passage to England. It was at first intended that they should rendezvous on the sands near Tremblade, and then proceed privily on shipboard. But the coast was very strictly guarded, especially between Royan and La Rochelle, where the Protestants of the interior were constantly seeking outlets for escape; and this part of the plan was given up. The search of vessels leaving the ports had become so strict, that the English captain feared that even if Fontaine and his ladies succeeded on getting on board, it would not be possible for him to conceal them or prevent their falling into the hands of the king's detectives. He therefore proposed that his ship should set sail, and that the fugitives should put to sea and wait for him to take them on board. It proved fortunate that this plan was adopted, for scarcely had the English merchantman left Tremblade than she was boarded and searched by a French frigate on the look-out for fugitive Protestants. No prisoners were found, and the captain of the merchantman was ordered to proceed at once on the straight course for England.
Meanwhile, the boat containing the fugitives having put to sea, as arranged, lay to waiting the approach of the English vessel. That they might not be descried from the frigate, which was close at hand, the boatman made them lie down in the bottom of his boat, covering them with an old sail. They all knew the penalties to which they were liable if detected in the attempt to escape _ Fontaine, the boatman,
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and his son, to condemnation to the galleys for life, and the three ladies to imprisonment for life. The frigate bore down upon the boat and hailed the boatman, who feigned drunkenness so well as completely to deceive the king's captain, who, seeing nothing but the old sail in the bottom of the boat, ordered the ship's head to be put about, when the frigate sailed away in the direction of Rochefort. Shortly after, while she was still in sight, though distant, the agreed signal was given by the boat to the merchantman (that of dropping the sail three times in the apparent attempt to hoist it), on which the English vessel lay to, and took the exiles on board. After a voyage of eleven days they reached the welcome asylum of England, and Fontaine and his party landed at Barnstaple, North Devon, his sole property consisting of twenty pistoles and six silver spoons, which had belonged to his father, and bore upon them his infantine initials, I. D. L. F. Jacques de la Fontaine.
Fontaine and the three ladies were hospitably received by Mr. Donne of Barnstaple, with whom they lived until a home could be prepared for their reception. One of the first things which occupied Fontaine's attention was how to earn a living for their support. A cabin biscuit, which he bought for a halfpenny, gave him his first hint. The biscuit would have cost twopence in France; and it at once occurred to him that, such being the case, grain might be shipped from England to France at a profit. Mr. Donne agreed to advance the money requisite for the purpose, taking half the profits. The first cargo of corn exported proved very profitable; but Fontaine's partner afterward insisting on changing the consignee, who proved dishonest, the speculation eventually proved unsuccessful.
Fontaine had by this time married the Huguenot lady to whom he was betrothed, and who had accompanied him in his flight to England. After the failure of the corn speculation he removed to Taunton in. Somerset, where with difficulty he made shift to live. He took pupils, dealt in provi
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signs, sold brandy, groceries, stockings, leather, tin copper wares, and carried on wool-combing, dyeing, and the making of calimancoes. In short, he was a " jack-of-all-trades ;" and his following so many callings occasioned so much jealousy in the place, that he was cited before the mayor and aldermen as an interloper, and required to give an account of himself.* This and other circumstances determined him to give up business in Taunton _ not, however, before he had contrived to save about L1000 by his industry _ and to enter on the life of a pastor. He had already been admitted to holy orders by the French Protestant synod at Taunton, and in 1694 he left that town for Ireland in search of a congregation.
Fontaine's adventures in Ireland were still more remarkable than those he had experienced in England. The French refugees established at Cork had formed themselves into a congregation, of which he was appointed pastor in January,
* When Fontaine was brought before the mayor (who was a wool-comber) he
was asked if he had served an apprenticeship to all the trades he carried on. Fontaine
replied, " 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 one penny....... All the apprenticeship I have ever served, from the age of four years, has been to turn over the pages 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 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."
The recorder laid down the law in favor of Fontaine: " If the poor refugees," said he, "who have abandoned country, friends, property, and every thing sweet and agreeable in this life for their religion and the glory of the Gospel _ if they had not the means of gaining a livelihood, the parish would be burdened with their maintenance, for you could not send them to their birthplace. The parish is obliged to Mr. Fontaine for every morsel of bread he earns for his family. In the desire he has to live independently, he humbles himself so far as to become a tradesman, a thing very rarely seen among learned men, such as I know him to be from my own conversation with him. There is no law that can disturb him."
Fontaine retired from the court amid showers of benedictions.
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1695. They were, however, as yet too poor to pay him any stipend; and, in order to support himself, as well as to turn to account the L1000 which he had saved by his industry and frugality at Taunton, he began a manufactory of broadcloth. This gave much welcome employment to the laboring poor of the city, besides contributing toward the increase of its general trade, in acknowledgment of which the corporation presented him with the freedom. He still continued to officiate as pastor; but one day, when expounding the text of " Thou shalt not steal," he preached so effectively as to make a personal enemy of a member of his congregation, who, unknown to him, had been engaged in a swindling transaction. The result was so much dissension in the congregation that he eventually gave up the charge.
To occupy his spare time _ for Fontaine was a man of an intensely active temperament, unhappy when unemployed _ he took a farm at Bearhaven, situated at the entrance to Bantry Bay, nearly at the extreme southwest point of Munster, the very Land's End of Ireland, for the purpose of founding a fishery. The idea occurred to him, as it has since to others, that there were many hungry people on land waiting to be fed, and shoals of fish at sea waiting to be caught, and that it would be a useful enterprise to form a fishing company, and induce the idle people to put to sea and catch the fish, selling to others the surplus beyond what was necessary to feed them. Fontaine succeeded in inducing some of the French merchants settled in London to join him in the venture, and he himself went to reside at Bearhaven to superintend the operations of the company.
Fontaine failed, as other Irish fishing companies have since failed. The people would rather starve than go to sea, for Celts are by nature averse to salt water; and the consequence was that the company made no progress. Fontaine had even to defend himself against the pillaging and plundering of the natives. He then brought some thirteen French refugee families to settle in the neighborhood, having previ
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ously taken small farms for them, including Dursey Island; but the Irish gave them no peace nor rest, and they left him before the end of three years. The local court would give Fontaine no redress when any injury was done to him. If his property was stolen, and he appealed to the court, his complaint was referred to a jury of papists, who invariably decided against him; whereas, if the natives made any claim upon him, they were sure to recover.
Notwithstanding these great discouragements, Fontaine held to his purpose, and determined, if possible, to establish his fishing station. He believed that time would work in his favor, and that it might yet be possible to educate the people into habits of industry. He was well supported by the government, who, observing his zealous efforts to establish a new branch of industry, and desirous of giving him increased influence in his neighborhood, appointed him justice of the peace. In this capacity he was found very useful in keeping down the "Tories,"* and breaking up the connections between them and the French privateers who then frequented the coast. Knowing his liability to attack, Fontaine converted his residence into a sod fort, and not without cause, as the result proved. In June, 1704, a French privateer entered Bantry Bay and proceeded to storm the sod fort. The lame Fontaine, by the courage and ability of his defense, showed himself a commander of no mean skill. John Macliney, a Scotchman, and Paul Roussier, a French refugee, showed great bravery on the occasion; while Madame Fontaine, who acted as aid-de-camp and surgeon, distinguished herself by her quiet courage. The engagement lasted from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, when the French decamped with the loss of three killed and seven wounded, spreading abroad a very wholesome fear of Fontaine and his sod fort.
* The Tories were Irish robbers or banditti who lived by plunder; the word being derived from the Irish word TORUIGHUIN, " to pursue for purposes of violence."
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When the refugee's gallant exploit was reported to the government, he was rewarded by a pension of five shillings a day for beating off the privateer, and supplied with five guns, which he was authorized to mount on his battery.
Fontaine was now allowed to hold his post unmolested. It was at the remotest corner of the island, far from any town, and surrounded by a hostile population, in league with the enemy, whose ships were constantly hovering about the coast. In the year following the above engagement, while Fontaine himself was absent in London, a French ship entered Bantry Bay and cautiously approached Bearhaven. Fontaine's wife was, however, on the look-out, and detected the foreigner. She had the guns loaded and one of them fired off to show that the little garrison was on the alert. The Frenchman- then veered off and made for Bear Island, where a party of the crew landed, stole some cattle, which they put on board, and sailed away again.
A more serious assault was made on the fort about two years later. A company of soldiers was then quartered at the Half Barony in the neighborhood, the captain of which boarded with the refugee family. On the 7th of October, 1708, during the temporary absence of Fontaine as well as the captain, a French privateer made his appearance in the haven, and hoisted English colors. The ensign residing in the fort at the time, deceived by the stratagem, went on board, when he was immediately made a prisoner. He was plied with drink and became intoxicated, when he revealed the fact that there was no officer in command of the fort. The crew of the privateer were principally Irish, and they determined to attack the place at midnight, for which purpose a party of them landed. Fontaine had, however, by this time returned, and was on the alert. He hailed the advancing party through a speaking-trumpet, and no answer being returned, he ordered fire to be opened on them. The assailants then divided into six detachments, one of which set fire to the offices and stables; the household servants, under the
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direction of Madame Fontaine, protecting the dwelling-house from conflagration. The men within fired from the windows and loopholes, but the smoke was so thick that they could only fire at random. Some of the privateer's men succeeded in making a breach with a crowbar in the wall of the house, but they were saluted with so rapid a fire through the opening that they suspected there must be a party of soldiers in the house, and they retired. They advanced again, and summoned the besieged to surrender, offering fair terms. Fontaine approached the French for the purpose of parley, when one of the Irish lieutenants took aim and fired at him. This treachery made the Fontaines resume the defensive, which they continued without intermission for some hours; when, no help arriving, Fontaine found himself under the necessity of surrendering, conditional upon himself and his two sons, with their two followers, marching out with the honors of war. No sooner, however, had the house been surrendered, than Fontaine, his sons, and their followers were at once made prisoners, and the dwelling was given up to plunder.
Fontaine protested against this violation of the treaty, but it was of no use. The leader of the French party said to him, " Your name has become so notorious among the privateers of St. Malo that I dare not return to the vessel without you. The captain's order was peremptory to bring you on board, dead or alive." Fontaine and his sons were accordingly taken on board as prisoners; and when he appeared on the deck, the crew set up a shout of " Vive le Roi" On this, Fontaine called out to them, " Gentlemen, how long is it since victories have become so rare in France that you need to make a triumph of such an affair as this? A glorious feat indeed! Eighty men, accustomed to war, have succeeded in compelling one poor pastor, four cowherds, and five children, to surrender upon terms !" Fontaine again expostulated with the captain, and informed him that, being held a prisoner in breach of the treaty under which he had surrendered, he must be prepared for the retaliation of the English government upon
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French prisoners of war. The captain would not, however, give up Fontaine without a ransom, and demanded _100. Madame Fontaine contrived to borrow _30, and sent it to the captain, with a promise of the remainder; but the captain could not wait, and he liberated Fontaine, but carried off his son Pierre to St. Malo as a hostage for the payment of the balance.
When the news of this attack of the fort at Bearhaven reached the English government, and they were informed of the violation of the conditions under which Fontaine had surrendered, they ordered the French officers at Kinsale and Plymouth to be put in irons until Fontaine's son was sent back. This produced an immediate effect. In the course of a few months Pierre Fontaine was set at liberty and returned to his parents, and the balance of the ransom was never claimed. The commander of the forces in Ireland made Fontaine an immediate grant of _100, to relieve him in the destitute state to which he had been reduced by the plunder of his dwelling; the county of Cork afterward paid him _800 as damages on its being proved that Irishmen had been principally concerned in the attack and robbery; and Fontaine's two sons were awarded the position and rights of half-pay officers, while his own pension was continued. The fort at Bearhaven, having been completely desolated, was abandoned; and Fontaine, with the grant made him by government, and the sum awarded him by the county, left the lawless neighborhood which he had so long labored to improve and to defend, and proceeded to Dublin, where he settled for the remainder of his life as a teacher of languages, mathematics, and fortification. The school proved highly successful, and he ended his days in peace. His noble wife died in 1721,and he himself followed her shortly after, respected and beloved by all who knew him.*
* Nearly all Fontaine's near relatives took refuge in England. His mother and three of his brothers were refugees in London. One of them afterward became a Protestant minister in Germany. One of his uncles, Peter, was pastor of the Pest House Chapel in London. Two aunts _ one a widow, the
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other married to a refugee merchant _ were also settled in London. Fontaine's sons and daughters mostly emigrated to Virginia, where their descendants are still to be found. His daughter Mary Anne married the Rev. James Maury, Fredericksville Parish, Louisa County, Virginia, from whom Matthew Fontaine Maury, LL.D., lately Captain in the Confederate States Navy, and author of The Physical Geography of the Sea, is lineally descended. The above facts are taken from the "Memoirs of a Huguenot Family, translated and compiled from the original Autobiography of the Rev. James Fontaine, and other family manuscripts, by ANN MAURY" (another of the descendants of Fontaine): New York, 1853.
434 THE HUGUENOTS IN AMERICA.
PENNSYLVANIA. MARYLAND. AND VIRGINIA.
Pennsylvania furnished an asylum for many hundreds of the French Protestants who had first established themselves in England, but who, when the ascent of James II. to the throne threatened their liberties, emigrated to America.
In 1690 Maryland also received quite a large number of Huguenots, and during the same year King William III. sent to the Virginia colony a body of these refugees who had followed him from Holland into England, and doubtless had also taken part in the Irish war. Lands were assigned to them twenty miles above Richmond, upon the southern bank of James River, near an old Indian place, " Mannikin, " after which they named their settlement, afterward known as the " Parish of King William. " About three hundred families in 1699, just escaped from France, greatly strengthened this infant colony, and was increased still more the next year by two hundred, and soon afterward by one hundred other French families. Claude Philippe de Richebourg, their pastor, had been driven from France by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and for a long time was the faithful guide and spiritual counselor of these expatriated Christians.
Our author, Mr. Smiles, refers to the romantic and noble life of James Fontaine, who was a striking example of a true Huguenot. About the year 1716 three of his sons, emigrating to the colony of Virginia, became eloquent and useful ministers in the Established Church. A grandson also, the Rev. James Maury, settled in St. Margaret's Parish, King William County, and from him descended Matthew Fontaine Maury, LL.D., late of the National Observatory, Washington, and author of " The Physical Geography of the
THE HUGUENOTS IN AMERICA. 435
Sea." From this Fontaine stock alone have descended hundreds of the best citizens in Virginia, and the late Dr. Hawks estimated their relations in the United States at not less than 2000.