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New Paltz Huguenots

"The mountains hem us in. Beyond the mountains lies the world-a turbulent world of storm and struggle and opportunity. But the sturdy Shawangunks lift up their blue barrier and hold it back so that we in little old New Paltz can sleep on beside the drowsy Wallkill almost as we slept two hundred years ago." - "The Story of the Paltz" by Cornelia E. Dubois & Elizabeth LeFevre 1915

Who is a Huguenot?
. . . a humanist who turned to the Bible to get his inspiration and learn the meaning of life. He was a thinking person who, because of his religion, had a keen zest for life for it had a purpose, and this made him an individualist who resented dictation. "The Trail of the Huguenots" by Reaman.

Our Huguenot Forefathers

The World in which our early New Paltz Huguenot forefathers lived was one of political strife, treachery, intrigue, and lack of religious toleration. A new culture was emerging and change was evident in all spheres of society. It was a turbulent world which would remain so throughout their lives. The lives and fortunes of political and religious dissenters meant very little to those in power. The Huguenot was often a pawn in a royal game of intrigue.

The French Huguenots were all exiles and had been forced to leave France because of their religious beliefs. The Huguenots were constantly aware of the danger of remaining in Europe, and many were striving to find a place to go. You can divide their settlements into two classes: those of choice (1555 - 1664); and those of necessity (1664 - 1740).

The Huguenots of New Paltz came by way of Germany. All of them had financial means which they must have brought out of Europe. They probably belonged to the merchant class, or lesser nobility. They all understood the English language, and some spoke Dutch. They all preferred to speak French.

It would appear that all of the members of the New Paltz group had common ties in France. They were educated and fairly comfortable in worldly goods. They all were wise enough to leave France before it was too late, and they took money and possessions with them. They arrived in America between the years 1660 - 1675).

The "Duzine"

After having problems with the Indians, raids and kidnappings occurring intermittently, Louis DuBois and eleven other heads of Huguenot families banded together with mutual plans to migrate farther inland. The original Patentees of New Paltz were: Louis Bevier, Pierre Deyo, Christian Deyo, Antoine Crispell, Louis DuBois, Abraham DuBois, Isaac Dubois, Hugo Freer, Abraham Hasbrouck, Jean Hasbrouck, Andries LeFevre, and Simon LeFevre.

The continuous threat of the French in the New World was most likely the reason for their early period of retirement from centers of population. They set up a type of government that is unique in the annals of United States history, or for that matter, the history of the Americas. It was called the "Duzine" the rule of the elders and later evolved into a popular election of one representative from each of the twelve families. Their settlement was controlled by the rulings of the Duzine until 1823.

The Patentees

All twelve Patentees were Huguenot refugees who had migrated to Mannheim, or its environs before subsequently seeking a permanent haven in North America. As to who comprised the New Paltz "Duzine" ("Twelve Men"), it was a homogeneous group. Actually, each of the ten older men of the twelve Patentees was a leader in his own right, but Louis DuBois was the acknowledged head of the group when they obtained their Indian Deed in 1677. Simon and Andries LeFevre, brothers and very much alike, were most likely the scholars of the group. From the records we would assume them to be quiet, somewhat withdrawn, giving the group of Patentees a touch of refinement, which love of books and study can bring. They were not fond of labor like some of the group, but did their share because it was the honorable thing to do. Both brothers died before old age came, so that we must draw most of our records from the children of Simon. Andries never married. By nature easy-going, they believed in peace and harmony. There has always been a tendency toward frugality. By tradition, the ancestors of the LeFevre family were scholars and most closely allied with royalty by blood and position.

None of the Patentees ever placed the name of his mother or father in his family bible, although some left a space for them at the top of the page. Why was this so? It is quite evident that they still feared the government of France. Canada was not very far away and during their time, England and France were vying for position in the New World. The Patentees and their children were not sure of the outcome, therefore it appeared most unwise to take chances and leave a family record that would only bring about their downfall should the French gain control of the English Colonies. It was best to begin anew in this world and leave the records of the old unrecorded. This, of course, would lead us to assume that the parents of the Patentees were quite prominent on the Huguenot lists acquired by the French king.

One finds in the documentary history of New York that in 1697 the French government sent a message to the English government as follows: "His Majesty will send to France the French refugees when he will find them, particularly those of the pretended French religion."

Purchase of Land

In 1677, the Duzine united by religious and family ties, purchased a large tract of land from the Esopus Indians on terms of such generosity and mutual respect as to guarantee to the Patentees the peaceful home which they had sought through years of exile from their native France. They named their lands for the temporary refuge they had found in "die Pfalz", the Rhine-Palatinate. The purchase price:

  • 40 kettles
  • 40 axes
  • 40 adzes
  • 40 shirts
  • 300 fathoms of black network
  • 400 fathoms of white network
  • 60 pairs of stockings
  • 100 bars of lead
  • 1 keg of powder
 
  • 100 knives
  • 4 kegs of wine
  • 40 oars
  • 40 pieces of "duffie" cloth
  • 60 blankets
  • 100 needles
  • 100 awls
  • 1 measure of tobacco
  • 2 horses (stallion & mare)

Their Homes

By 1692 they had begun to replace their original log huts with sturdy stone dwellings which today constitute the oldest street, Huguenot Street, in the United States with its original houses.

The first one-room houses were enlarged as the next generation grew and prospered but for over 250 years, five of the six original houses remained virtually unchanged and occupied by descendants of the builders.

The furnishing of the ancient houses show the continuity of the Huguenot settlement by including treasures brought by the Patentees, from France, but also those purchased after they came to America, and items acquired by early generations of their descendents.

The primitive wooden church which became too small to accommodate the increased population was replaced in 1717 by a stone one, large enough to suffice until a considerably larger one had to be built. The French Church has been restored, as it once stood, by descendants of Antoine Crispell. The church was strong and has remained a part of Huguenot Street.

New Paltz & Huguenot Street
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Huguenot Memorial Monument
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How has Huguenot Street, with its houses, survived?

  • The houses built by the New Paltz Patentees were of stone. They were strong and durable - built to withstand the elements. The people who built them had a sense of simplicity. They were conservative people who did not believe in wasting money.
  • Succeeding generations were content to live in the houses.
  • There has always been a group of descendants and interested people who have had a feeling of sentimentality toward the houses, or appreciated them for their architectural value.

Through the efforts of the Huguenot Historical Society, New Paltz, NY, and its family associations, these houses are maintained as a unique historic and educational experience for this and future generations and a monument to the integrity, industry, and independence of the founders.

Note: The statements above are excerpts from a speech by Mr. Kenneth E. Hasbrouck, President of the Huguenot Historical Society, New Paltz NY, given at its annual dinner held on November 7, 1969, at the Hfarvard Club, New York City. These statements were contained in the book "Huguenot Refugees in the Settling of Colonial America", edited by Peter Steven Gannon, published by The Huguenot Society of America, 122 East 58th Street, NY, NY 10022, copyrighted by The Huguenot Society of America, second printing 1987.