Pierre’s Journey: Some History and Some Speculation

The Rhine

The Rhine

Now that I’ve confirmed Pierre’s route to Germany, the chapters on Switzerland in Poole’s history have taken on fresh meaning. For instance:

In the Huguenot dispersion Switzerland is of chief interest as giving a thoroughfare to those who sought shelter in Germany; the actual settlement was of minor consequence. For the immediate influx was greatly swollen on account of the laxity with which the Swiss frontier, as compared with the Flemish or the seacoast, was guarded. Moreover, across the border, the fugitives were met by a people, friendly with the friendship of an intense religious sympathy, who did all in their power to counterwork the vigilance of the patrols. Thus, says the historian of the Genevese church (J. Gaberel), “among the forests of the towns of Nyon, Rolle, Morges, Yverdun, set woodmen and shepherds under cover of the labours of their estate, to watch the byways and guide the travelers through.”

How desperate was Pierre’s flight from France? How fraught with danger? Was he aided by these Swiss shepherds and woodsmen? Clearly, we’ll never know the exact details but histories like these can help us develop a general picture.

Poole goes on to mention the impressive collection of funds that were raised by the Swiss to help the refugees. (This must be where I first read about the charity registers.) According to Poole, the Huguenot inundation of Switzerland began in 1682 and lasted for forty years. For decades, the Swiss poured vast resources into aiding them. He quotes from an unknown refugee’s diary praising their generosity:

It should seem that the walls of their chambers dilated at will, so ready are they to entertain new-comers, come though they may in dense throngs, and though they must be put up twenty in a room. Sickness and the sufferings of the road make sad havoc among us, and the wards of the hospital will not contain all our comrades, few of whom dare hope for recovery.

Geneva, the Rome of the Reformed movement, was one of the most generous of the Swiss cities. At one point, after many of the more prosperous Protestants of Lyons had fled to Geneva, Louis XIV, wanting his citizens back, ordered this foreign city to expel the refugees. Geneva responded by moving the Huguenots outside of the city for a day but then allowing them back in that same night (hey, technically they did expel them). Not amused, Louis harassed Geneva with threats of war, but he soon learned that Geneva was backed by Bern, Zurich, Basel, and Schaffhausen, bringing with them 30,000 soldiers. This, along with other foreign entanglements at the time, prevented the French king from responding to Geneva’s show of contempt.

It wasn’t long before Switzerland became overwhelmed by the mass exodus of the French Protestants. The below is a passage from the journal of Jacques Flournoy, a Huguenot, while in Geneva.

There comes an amazing multitude…Scarce a week, it has been remarked, but we have as many as three hundred; and so it has been since the end of winter. Some days there come as many as 120 in sundry throngs; the more part craftsman, but persons of quality not a few…They come principally from Dauphiné. Days have been known when seven or eight hundred fugitives have come in. It is affirmed that in the five weeks ending with the 1st of September, nearly eight thousand arrived; so that although they daily take their departure by the lake, there are commonly more than three thousand together present in the city.

Again, I wonder where Pierre was in all of this. Surely he experienced similar scenes of confusion.

The overwhelmed Swiss began seeking assistance from other countries. In response, the Landgrave (or Prince) of Hessen-Kassel in Germany sent representatives inviting some of the refugees to settle in his lands.

When the fugitives left, on the road to Germany, they were taken charge of by the protestant cantons, who had made an arrangement by which Bern, Zurich, Basel, Schaffhausen, and Sankt Gallen, should meet a certain proportion of the charges of relief. From Schaffhausen they were supported down the Rhine until they reached Mainz. But here began the great confusion. Who was to pay for the six hours’ sail to Frankfurt, which had the effect of thoroughly disorganizing all the good arrangements of the previous voyage (to Mainz). The immigrants moreover came in such numbers and in such rapid succession, that it was really impossible to feed them, much less to give them conveyance into Hessen-Cassel…

Pierre was in Schaffhausen in early 1687. Did he follow this route and sail down the Rhine on his way to the Hessen-Kassel Province? Was he among those immigrants who lacked food while waiting for the authorities to organize the continuation of their journey? Did he meet any of the other refugees who eventually settled with him in Louisendorf and Schwabendorf? Did he know of the Gautiers from l’Albenc in the Dauphiné whose daughter he would marry?

Below, I quote passages from the chapter on the refugees once they reached Hesse, Germany (of which I also quoted from in a post last Summer, lest you think, in my old age, I’m repeating myself unknowingly). (Footnotes of interest are included.)

Karlsdorf and Mariendorf soon filled; and new colonies were planted in the province of Upper Hesse…and the colonisation of Frauenberg and Louisendorf went together. Louisendorf represents Hammonshausen, a village ruined and without inhabitants; when now revived, it was named afresh after a princess of Hesse. But it did not flourish at once. The French¹ could not be happy in the rough huts which were all they had for dwelling; they resolved to seek a new home in some other country. The landgrave however forestalled them, and built them houses².

The colonies grew quietly for some years, and the villages, as they became too crowded, sent out offshoots to wastelands near. The only hindrance they had to contend with was the countrymen’s tenacity of their mark-rights; and this in many instances drove them to found new villages in the open country³. The settlers reclaimed moors; they improved the meadows and the art of gardening. They bred cattle and opened mines of coal.

¹ They came principally from Die in Dauphiné: Uebersicht der Wanderungen, 85.

² A similar case occurred at Schwabendorf near by. The stocking weavers were discontented; and some in fact dispersed in 1690. But the rest reasonably concluded that the cost of travelling might equal the expense of building good houses; which they carried into effect. The colony had been founded, June 30 1687: its church opened in 1711: Koehler, Réfugiés in Preuseen und Kurhessen, 96.

³ Of such an origin was Kelse: Koehler, 73. At Schwabendorf they had to fell a thousand oaks before they could begin building: pp. 96.

Although Pierre was first know to be in Hesse, Germany in 1687, I have no definite record of which village until 1692, when he was residing in Louisendorf. Was he there when the colony was first established in 1688, living in a stone hut? Was he among those who considered moving on to another country before the Hessian Prince built houses for them?

Events could have unfolded much differently. If Pierre had been captured fleeing France, I wouldn’t be here. If he had moved on from Germany to another country, his ancestors, escaping high taxes and looking for cheaper farmland, may never have emigrated to America in 1860.

These are just a few of the countless thoughts and questions that develop and overwhelm me as I read. My eyes, riveted to the pages of Poole’s book, scan eagerly for familiar town names, locations, and events. What may have, a few years ago, been just a dry bit of history is now a vivid story inextricably linked with my family. Family history is history. Our ancestors didn’t live in a vacuum. They were shaped by, and their paths largely determined by, the whims of history. I’ve never fully grasped that until now.

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