Monday, November 23, 2009

Kindred Spirits

Two faithful saints of old, who made brief but profound impressions upon the sands of time, are the Marquis Olivier de la Musse (Muce) and his sister Marguerite. Theirs was a family known as one of the first of French nobility to embrace the Protestant religion. Their grandfather, Marquis David de la Musse, presided over the 1621 political assembly of Huguenots at La Rochelle.

In 1681, young Marguerite died of illness. She must have been young in the body but wise in the ways of the Lord. Her death-bed sayings were recorded and later published and translated: More edifiante, ou Recits des dernieres heures de Mademoiselle (1684); translated as The Triumphs of Grace, or The Last Words and Edifying Death of the Lady Margaret de la Musse, a noble French lady aged but sixteen years in May 1681 (1687). Her final words comprised the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2.29): "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word."

Jonathan Edwards had a "Catalogue of Reading," or "a notebook he kept of books of interest, especially titles he hoped to acquire, and entries from his “Account Book,” a ledger in which he noted books loaned to family, parishioners, and fellow clergy," both of which together have been published by Yale University as the final volume (#26) of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. In it, Marguerite's book of death-bed sayings is listed as item #36 in Edwards' "Catalogue of Reading." It was a popular devotional work in its day, though harder to come by today.

Marguerite's mother, however, renounced Protestantism at the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, though some Catholics complained that her "conversion" was questionable. There was no questioning her son Olivier's convictions; he would not renounce his faith, though his lost his estate and title. An elder in the Reformed Church of Nantes, Olivier attempted to flee France, but was arrested on the Île de Ré before he could cross over to England. He was imprisoned for two years, first in La Rochelle, then at the Castle of Nantes, where every unsuccessful effort was made to force him to recant. Finally, the order was given to expel him from France as an "obstinate heretic," but in a further act of cruelty, when he was put aboard the ship that would take him to England, he was not told of his destination until the last moment, leaving him in suspense as to whether he faced slavery in the West Indies or some other terrible end.

He made friends in London during the receptive reign of King William III, whose army in Ireland had included many Huguenots. John Quick (1636-1706), the famous nonconformist historian, would write: "Here [in London] is a Marquis de La Musse, a faithful confessor for Christ, having forsaken his estate and embraced the cross, rather than part with his religion." One of those friends was Daniel Coxe, who had a plan to facilitate the settlement of a Huguenot colony in America. After initially proposing a site on the Gulf of Mexico, it was finally decided that a group of Huguenot refugees would be settled near Norfolk, Virginia. With his partner Charles de Sailly, and pastor Claude Philippe de Richebourg, Olivier led the Huguenot party of over 200 souls (a large number of these were Waldensians, including Pastor Benjamin De Joux) to Hampton, Virginia in 1700, by way of the British vessel Mary Ann, where the ship docked in Hampton, Virginia. There, William Byrd directed them, not to Norfolk, but up the James River, to the frontier, where he owned lands adjacent to an abandoned Monacan Indian settlement, where the Huguenots established their own colony called Manakin-towne (west of present-day Richmond, where the French Huguenot church still exists in Episcopal form, and so does the French Huguenot Society of Virginia, which tells the story of the colony's founding much better here). Three additional shiploads of Huguenot and Waldensian settlers followed, comprising over 700 Manakin colonists in the aggregate.

Charles Baird says of this Huguenot colonial expedition that "[i]t may be safely said that no more interesting body of colonists than that conducted by Oliver de la Muce, had crossed the ocean within the last half of the century then coming to a close" (History of the Huguenot Emigration to America, Vol. 2, p. 178).

Olivier helped the colonists through a difficult first winter but he must have returned to England and his footsteps, though faintly evident to us, were lost in the sands of time. It is not known (to me, at any rate) what became of Olivier after this expedition. But to him, and other brave kindred spirits, we are indebted to the witness of the French Huguenot faithful on both shores of the Atlantic.


  1. A very interesting snippet, thanks Andrew. I haven't been reading your stuff long enough to know your own history, but I imagine your own ancestory is interesting.
    (Love that Edwards kept a list of loaned books. I wish we had thought to do that years ago. I always have to trust that some where, some one is reading and using them to God's glory.)

  2. Ruby, Yes, Edwards had a lot of good ideas like that (such as his "blank Bible," for example).

    Here is a past blog post concerning part of my family tree that you might find interesting: