From New Babylon to Eden: The Huguenots and Their Migration to Colonial South Carolina

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From New Babylon to Eden: The Huguenots and Their Migration to Colonial South Carolina. By Bertrand Van Ruymbeke. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xviii, 424; $49.95, cloth.)

Bertrand Van Ruymbeke provides a careful and authoritative study of the first French Protestant émigrés to South Carolina after 1680. He describes the various challenges they had to surmount, and how they responded to them. In doing so, he offers a history that, while unique in many ways, is also a classic American story of ethnic identity and assimilation.

From New Babylon to Eden is significant for at least two reasons. First, while there have been numerous studies of the Huguenot diaspora that occurred most significantly during the persecutorial reign of Louis XIV in France, these have tended to be simplistic and laudatory in nature. The historical treatments of "Ie Refuge," as it is often referred to, have generally championed these emigrants' piety and stoic determination as they settled, and prospered, in different parts of the Atlantic world. From New Babylon to Eden avoids the romantic approach that mars such earlier histories. Instead, Van Ruymbeke carefully analyzes the experience of his subjects in a context of early American colonial history, and the result is noteworthy. This is as much a book about what it means to be an American as it is about the identity of French Huguenots-and as he shows, these are not mutually exclusive.

Second, Van Ruymbeke has been able to study, in depth, Huguenots as both emigrants and immigrants. Many scholars, mostly Europeans, have looked at the process of Huguenot emigration out of France, while American scholars have examined the process of arrival and settlement in the New World. Seldom have the two perspectives been combined. From New Babylon to Eden essentially focuses on a single generation and its circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic. To do so effectively, the author has had to make thorough use of archival sources in America, France, and Great Britain, which has allowed him to present more complete and satisfying answers to the questions of who these people were and what they accomplished. One hopes that other scholars of colonial America-both American and otherwise-might take this fruitful approach of utilizing historical resources from both Europe and the United States together.

The focus is sharp here, on these first Huguenots who settled in the English proprietary colony first known as "Carolana," newly planted in the area surrounding the port of Charleston. English publicists promoted the colony as a lush and "Edenic" place of settlement, and several hundred French Huguenots, suffering under an increasingly severe series of edicts by King Louis XIV, were attracted by such promises. …