Religion has been an historic motivator of our family to emigrate to the US. The Pilgrims (and Huguenots of this story) were Calvinists who left their European homes to escape religious persecution. Our family includes the emigration of Henry Mershon. Dr. Oliver Francis
Mershon told the story of the Mershon emigration:
Our ancestral study now brings me to . . . Great-grandfather Henry Mershon II, and … Great- grandfather Henri Marchand, son and father, our Mershon progenitors in America. I regret that our story cannot go into France for finding their antecedent history, but all efforts over a long period of years on the part of descendant visitors to that country have failed to connect them with any of the earlier branches of the Marchand family. The real reason for this doubtless is the same as that which had brought this father and son to America, namely, the terrible struggles between the Catholic and Protestant factions of France.
The French Protestants came to be called “Huguenots,” a term probably from the German meaning oath- confederate and applied by the Catholics to this “heretical” group. As the Huguenots increased in numbers and power, their opposition increased and finally came to climax in the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, when many thousands of these French Protestants were put to death. Such martyrdom, however, instead of suppressing Protestant zeal, had the opposite effect. Finally, one of the leading Huguenots, Henry of Navarre, renounced his faith, became a Catholic in name, and obtained the French throne. One of his first acts was the issuing of the famous Edict of Nantes in 1598 which gave the Huguenots almost entire religious and political freedom. This, however, was short-lived, for Henry was assassinated, and Cardinal Richelieu, who a few years later was made chief minister by Henry’s son, Louis XIII, resolved to crush the political power of the Huguenots. (Note: The conflict forms the historical background for the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.) In the warfare which ensued, England allied with the French Protestant nobles, but Richelieu’s forces so prevailed that the political power of the Protestants was crushed. The following year, 1629, a treaty of peace called the “Edict of Grace” left the Huguenots freedom of worship, however, as provided in the Edict of Nantes.
Not many years after this, Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII died barely six months apart, and in a few years young Louis XIV was in full power in France. He set out on a policy of conquest, waging war on four neighboring countries at one time. Among these were Holland, where in defense of their land in some sections dykes were opened and the invaders buried beneath the ocean. In the Palatinate of Germany Louis XIV ordered that the country be turned into a desert; churches, palaces and cottages, villas and cities were burned. In his own country and upon his own Protestant countrymen he perpetrated his terrible outrages. He ordered every Huguenot who refused to embrace the Catholic faith to be outlawed, and every Protestant church to be closed. In beautiful Normandy, the locality of special interest in our Marchand history, he carried out perhaps his greatest devastation. In the Huguenot Emigration to America, Baird says: “The city of Caen in Normandy was one of the strongest and most influential in the kingdom. The temple of the Huguenots, erected in 1612, was a building of vast proportions . . . and the congregation was distinguished for the so- cial standing of its members. … In the course of repressive legislation that prepared the way for the revocation of the Edict of Nantes this important church was first deprived of its ministers, then closed, and finally on June 25, 1685, its destruction was commenced, at the sound of trumpets, accompanied by the shouts of the rabble at Caen.” . . .
You see, according to our well-established tradition, somewhere in what was once that delightful Normandy, among the groups of families bearing the name “Marchand” common in that province, was one of especial interest to us. They lived in the vicinity of Caen— Henri Marchand, his wife, their oldest son Henry and the other children. There is reason to believe that they were people of education and high estate and, because of this, the more reason had they to fear for their safety. Henry, their son and heir, should be made secure. A momentous decision it was, that the father should bring the son to this haven of America, whence many of his co-religionists had already found safety in South Carolina. Henri, however, would see how suitable was the more northerly location about New York, where the Dutch, English and some Huguenots were already so well settled. He would not subject all of his family to the rigors of this new country until he himself had investigated.
Accordingly, we are told, that awful year of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France, 1685, found Henri, Sr., with his thirteen-year-old son Henry on American soil. We can only conclude that his hopes for this land were fulfilled, for we are told that he left his child “with friends” and set out to bring the others of his family. The remaining history of this stouthearted ancestor and of his wife and little flock, whom presumably he had left in as safe a place as possible, we shall never know. Perhaps Henri failed to get back to his family or, returning, he and they may not have been able to escape. Baird tells of “The wife of Pierre Bayeux of Caen who was arrested with others in 1687 on the coast of Normandy in the attempt to escape from France by sea.” She was imprisoned and condemned to be shaved and put into a cloister. . . . Whatever, therefore, may have been the fate of Henri and his family, we know only that they never were united with the young lad who expectantly awaited them in this country.
In all probability this son, whom we call Henry II, was left with ample financial provision by his father, for while those who fled from their homes could not salvage their landed estates, they usually managed to secrete funds or family jewels which could be turned into money. We know that Henry II learned the art of weaving, that he grew up probably at Newtown, Long Island, and that he married before 1698.
This entry from:
My folks; story of the forefathers of Oliver Francis Mershon, …Mershon, Oliver Francis, b. 1873.
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One Reply to “Huguenots struggle led to the emigration of Henry Mershon”
Any more from Europe? What of the intermarriage of these French people with Italian refugees from Lucca who had fled to Geneva?