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Manakin Town, Virginia

In 1700 four ships with some 700 to 800 French Huguenots arrived in Virginia. On "Ye First Shippe" was Charles Frederic de Bart (iml14). These men, women and children were only a few of the thousands of French Protestants who had fled the religious persecutions of Louis XIV to seek safety in England. The increasing number of exiles had placed a heavy strain upon the relief agencies which attempted to provide for them. Both the British authorities and the French Huguenot leaders turned to plans of resettlement in the English colonies to help alliviate the problem.

The settlers, by order of King William III, were to found their colony on the lands of Dr. Daniel Coxe (a court physician in England) located in Norfolk County which lay between Virginia and North Carolina. However, upon arrival Colonel Willliam Byrd and Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson directed the settlement north above the fall line of the James River, where there was an abandoned Monocan Indian village. William Byrd owned large tracts of land in the vicinity to which he wished to attract settlers. By settling the French at the old Indian town site he hoped to provide a buffer between his lands and marauding Indian tribes.

The Falls of the James was in 1700 the last outpost of western settlement in Virginia. Between that point and the site of the Monocan Indian village lay some twenty-five miles of virgin and virtually trackless forests. The inadequate diet, close confinement and crowded conditions of the long ocean voyage made the Huguenots ready victims of the fevers whcih afflicted so many during the sickly summer seasons in Virginia. Additionally, the majority of the French men had spent their lives in business, commerce and industry and knew nothing of farming under frontier conditions, leaving the group was largely unfit mentally and physically for a winter in the Virginia frontier.

Upon arrival the settlers went to work cutting underbrush, patching the decaying Indian huts and building crude shacks as temporary shelters, laying off streets, clearing the old Monocan fields and cutting a rough road through the twenty miles of forest to a mill on Fall Creek owned by William Byrd. Through the lingering warmth of Indian summer and the damp chill which signalled the approach of winter the Huguenots fought a grim struggle for survival. The inadequate supplies and the meagre funds were approching exhaustion as the year drew to a close, and the settlers were forced to sell their arms, clothes and other goods in order to purchase food.

Of the 700 to 800 French Huguenots who arrived in Virginia that year of 1700, approximately 390 persons had departed from Jamestown with the intention of settling at Manakin. In May of 1701 about 250 persons were still there, the others departing for other areas of Virginia. During his May 1701 visit William Byrd reported that "thought these people are very poor, yet they seem very cheerful and are (so far as we could learn) very healthy, all they seem to desire is that they might have bread enough." Byrd and his companions inspected --

... about seventy of their hutts, being, most of them, very mean; there being upwards of fourty of them betwixt the two creeks, which is about four miles along on the River, and have cleared all the old Monacan fields for near three miles together, toward the Lower Creeke, and done more worke than they that went thither first. They have, all of them, some Garden trade and have planted corne, but few of them had broke up their ground of wed [weeded] the same, wherupon I sent for most of them and told them they must not expect to enjoy the land unless they would endeavour to improve it, and if they make no corne for their subsistance next yeare they could not expect any further relief from the Country. Mon'r de Joux promised at their next meeting to acquaint them with what I said, and to endeavour to stirr them up to be diligent in weeding and secureing their corne and wheat, of which latter there are many small patches, but some is overrun with woods, and the horses (of which they have sevall, with some Cows) have spoiled more; most of them promise faire.... There are above 20 families seated for 4 or 5 miles below the Lower Creeke and have cleared small plantations, but few of them had broke up their grounds.... Wee lodged there that night and returned the new Road I caused to be marked, which is extraordinary Levell and dry way and leads either to the Falls or the mill, a very good well beaten path for carts.64

A Swiss traveller, Francis Louis Michel, who visited the town a year later, revealed the progress within the year with this description:

The captain or head of the place is a surgeon by profession, named Chaltin [Stephen Chastain], had long resided at Ifferton [Yverdon, Switzerland]. We went to the pastor, Mr. Dejoux [de Joux]. Since his house burnt down recently he lodged in the Church, which is still very small, but 200 pounds have been set aside to build a new church. Conditions have differed in every respect from those of other places. Things that are grown are there in such abundance that many Englishmen come a distance of 30 miles to get fruit, which they mostly exchange for cattle. Gardens are filled there with all kinds of fruit especially the garden of the man from Aagan [Agen]. The cattle are fat because of the abundant pasture. The soil is not sandy, as it is generally in Virginia, but it is a heavy rich soil. Each person takes 50 paces in width, the length extends as far as one cares to make it or is willing to work it.... Since that time [when the Monocan Indians lived here] trees have not grown very large, so that in a short time and with little effort a large place could be cleared for building purposes. I have seen the most awful wild grapevines, whose thickness and height are incredible.... It is much healthier there than towards the ocean. The country is full of game and fish. The Indians often visit there, bringing game, rum and other smaller things. There is a good opportunity to trade with skins. They [the Indians] often bring pottery and when desired fill it with corn. There are more the 60 [French] families there. They all live along the river.
Lately two wealthy gentlemen came and had buildings erected there, because of its convenient location.... About 400 dollars are necessary in order to set up a man properly, namely to enable him to buy two slaves, with whom in two years a beautiful farm can be cleared, because the trees are far apart. Afterwards the settler must be provided with cattle, a horse, costing at the usual price 4l 16s., a cow with calf 50 shillings, a mare [?] 10 shillings. Furniture and clothes, together with tools and provisions for a year, must also be on hand. It is indeed possible to begin with less and suceed, but then three or four years pass by before one gets into a good condition. The one who is not used to work in great heat, becomes sick and must suffer much before he can make progress by his work alone. By the above method a man is put into such a condition the first year, that he can be happy and enjoy life.... For two servants can raise a bigger crop than one needs, the cattle increase incredibly fast without trouble; fruit grows in abundance. When a tree or something else is planted one mut be surprised to see it grow up so soon and bear fruit. Besides, in the gardens grows whatever one desires. The cows are pasturing round about the house during the whole year. They yield enough butter, cheese and milk. In addition there is no lack of game and fish. Besides it is a quiet land devoted to our religion, and he who wants to enjoy honest exercise finds opportunities enough for it, especially the one who loves field work or hunting. It is, therefore, posible to make an honest life, quietly and contenedly. Much evil as absent there, because there is no opportunity for it.65

For several years the settlement preserved its individuality, its people using their own language, enjoying their own customs, directed spiritually by their own ministers, and governed by their own magistrates. Gradually at first and more rapidly as the years passed and a new generation grew to maturity, English supplanted the mother tongue of the Huguenots.

As the years passed, the frontier moved ever farther west, leaving behind the Manakin area. Farms and plantations replaced the wilderness which had once surrounded that village, and the French, now settled on their own farms, became indistinguishable from their English neighbors. Fewer and fewer inhabitants continued to live in the village itself until by 1750 or so it was completely deserted. Yet as late as 1783 sixty-four percent of the names in the Manakin census rolls were French.


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