Reading Matters

The French Huguenots fled their homeland for the French Santee

Persecuted in their homeland, the French Protestants fled to England in the late 17th century. Some put down roots in London. Others, such as the ones in this intriguing, intensely researched new book, "French Santee: A Huguenot Settlement in Colonial South Carolina," by Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland, found safety, prosperity and religious freedom in the South Carolina Low Country.

If you’ve been in the Carolinas for more than a week, you will recognize many of the names of the early settlers: Benoit, Boisseau, Boyd, DuBose, Gaillard, Gendron, Horry, Jeanneret, Laurens, LeGrand, Manigault, Porcher, Ravenel and Thibout.

My good friend Julie Suk of Charlotte was a Gaillard before marriage, and her first cousin, Frye Gaillard, was a former colleague at the Observer. So it’s especially interesting to read about this family, who, beginning with Joachim Gaillard, left his substantial holdings in France and fled with his family. At age 64, he settled in the French Santee and soon bought land from Jean Francois Gignilliat.

Many of the fascinating tidbits in this 428-page book are in the wills of the settlers.

In his 1734 will, Benjamin Marion warned that if his wife "should happen to marry, she must depart with what I have given her, her horses and her furniture." And he asks: "Would it not be an unjust thing that a stranger should squander property that he had not earned?"

Indeed, Marie Marion did not marry, and 15 years later, made her own will. Her husband had given all his property to their sons. What Marie had left was "3 pr. Spectacles… a French prayer book," a ball of yard and a small quantity of thread with some knitting needles, among other items.

If you’re a genealogist, a traveler to the French Santee or merely a curious snoop, I think you’ll enjoy this "left-no-stone-unturned" compendium of the French Santee and its Huguenot settlers.

To order ($50 plus shipping): Call the Huguenot Society of South Carolina in Charleston: 843-723-3253 or The Village Museum in McClellanville, S.C.: 843-887-3030.

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