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What are Huguenots?

Brief history of the French Huguenots.


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When I was very new to genealogy I ran across the term "French Huguenot". Not being familiar with this phrase, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I started researching.

The origins of the Huguenots began around 1517 when Martin Luther published his 95 theses against corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. This was the origin of the Protestant movement. By 1536 a French Protestant by the name of John Calvin was enjoying a wide following by the peoples of Switzerland, Scotland, France, and the Netherlands. The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposed the followers of the Huguenot movement, seeing it as both a challenge to the might of the King and a threat to the power of the Church. An edict which allowed the extermination of the Huguenots was issued in 1536 in France. In 1562 Catholics killed about 1200 Huguenots at a large gathering beginning the Wars of religion which would tear apart and financially ruin France for 30 years.

The origins of the Huguenot name are not certain but are believed to come from the term Hugeon which means "to walk at night". During the early years of the movement the only safe places to worship were in dark caves or in secret gatherings at night. The early usage of the name was considered to be defamatory and abusive and was banned by Henry IV who was himself a Huguenot. There was no limit to the various types of persecutions that befell the Huguenots.

As early as 1562 French Huguenot Explorers landed in America and Claimed Florida in the name of France. Two years latter another group of Huguenots established a fort at the St. John's River then called the River of May. The Settlement was named La Caroline.

After may generations of wanderings from country to country in search of peace and religious freedom, the Huguenots began to settle in America around 1618. They began in the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, New England and New York. They brought with them the skills and trades that they had learned through the centuries: blacksmithing, barrel making, gunsmithing, farming, and various other early forms of the manufacture arts.

These French speaking people rapidly integrated themselves into the American way of life. Among them were young people who showed courage in braving the ocean voyage to escape the abusive European existence.

John Sevier the first Governor of Tennessee and briefly the Governor of the independent state of Franklin was of Huguenot ancestry. Surname lists of Huguenot ancestry can be found at and at

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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