The Huguenots of Colonial South Carolina

By Cohen, Sheldon S. | South Carolina Historical Magazine, April 2001 | Go to article overview

The Huguenots of Colonial South Carolina


Cohen, Sheldon S., South Carolina Historical Magazine


The Huguenots of Colonial South Carolina. By Arthur H. Hirsch. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Reprint 4th ed. Pp. xxxvii, 338. $24.95, paper.)

In the "new introduction" to this volume, Bertrand Van Ruymbeke provides support for this fourth reprinting of Arthur Hirsch's pioneering work. He notes that seventy years after its first publication [1928], "it is still the only monograph entirely devoted to the history of the Huguenots in South Carolina" (p. xix). Examining the work, and recognizing certain limitations, the scholar can better understand the pervasive effects that this emigre' group-"never representing more than fifteen percent of the white population"(p. xxx)-had on this province from the late seventeenth century through the American Revolution.

Hirsch begins with brief depictions of the religious origins of this French Protestant sect, and the religious turmoil in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe that drove them from the continent to Britain, and thereafter, to North America. Previous attempts to establish American colonies directly from France had failed, but Huguenot refugees, grateful to and supportive of Britain's established Episcopal order, capitalized on opportunities in the Carolina proprietorship charter of 1663. Many subsequently migrated to the lower portion of the extensive grant to settlements on the Santee River, Charles Town (Charleston), Goose Creek, Purrysburg, and Hillsboro. There, they benefited from generous land grants to establish burgeoning rice and indigo plantations, or use their lots in Charles Town to operate affluent commercial enterprises within an expanding British Empire.

Proceeding from this overview, Hirsch scrutinizes the features in the several colony churches founded by the Huguenots, and the subsequent assimilation of most of the congregants into the established (1706) Church of England. He describes differences in doctrine, form, and polity between the French and Episcopal churches, and remarks that while conflicts occurred following the aforementioned Establishment Act, "the rapid assimilation of the French in Carolina into the Anglican Church and their intermarriage with other nationalities are remarkable features of their early history" (p. 90). He also concludes that by the American Revolution, this process was largely completed, and, that in demographic terms, "there was little if any pure French blood left in the province" (p. 102). Similarly, he cites several of the forms through which the colony's disparate religious composition became intertwined with South Carolina's secular political struggles. Such political contentions revolved around numerous issues: Huguenot citizenship and suffrage rights; legislative battles involving issuances of paper money; tax laws; and, within the government itself, the lower house attempts to increase its powers at the expense of Royal governors.

The latter portion of this extensive work surveys several other aspects of the Huguenot presence in South Carolina prior to American Independence. Here, Hirsch relates the various ways in which this comparatively small group of French and Swiss emigres transplanted many of their Old World cultural features into their colonial Carolina environment. He cites for example, their accent on learning, including the establishment of various private venture schools, their private libraries, and the noteworthy instructional achievements of Anglican missionary-teachers such as the Huguenot SPG missionary, Francis Le Jau. …

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