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New Paltz in the Light of European History: A Partial View

Alfred H. Marks, Historian, Town of New Paltz

For much of what I say below, I am indebted to the work on New Paltz history carried out by two French scholars: Francois Batisse, of Bas-Colombes, near Paris, and Francis DeVos, of Hazebrouck, France. Both men have given active assistance to the three contingents of people who have visited England, France and Germany under the auspices of the Huguenot Historical Society in the past four years. They have also written many articles in French and English on Huguenots in general and New Paltz in particular, all of which have helped me to see New Paltz history against the background of a Europe I did not know existed, and to correct many of the misconceptions that I think still cloud the vision of many of us vis-a-vis sixteenth and seventeenth century Huguenot history.

To understand the history of our Huguenots, we have to begin back at the end of the 15th century, in 1477, with the marriage of Mary, daughter of the duke of Burgundy, known as Charles the Bold, to Archduke Maximilian, of the house of Hapsburg. He became Maximilian I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1486. Burgundy was at that time of feudal states including the area we know
ow as the Netherlands and Belgium and stretching south to include the area of what is now northern France where the ancestors of our Huguenot families lived. Burgundy had not been French for about eighty years.

Mary died early, in 1482, and her estates passed to her son, named Philip, who married Joanna, third child of Ferdinand and Isabella, of Spain. When Philip died, in even though I know it is not likely to pay my expenses of travel, buying books, copying, keeping a computer going.1506, his son Charles acquired Burgundy, and, in 1518, two years after his father, Maximilian I, died, Charles became Carlos I, of Spain. Thus Burgundy passed into the domains of Spain and soon, in 1520, when Charles became emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, passed into the control of that great body politic. Thus Charles V, familiarly known as Charles Quint, with all of his powers and property including his possessions in Burgundy -- the site of the busy commercial cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Leyden, Antwerp, Lille, Armentieres, Ghent, Bruges -- had become the richest, most powerful man in Europe.

Charles presided when Martin Luther appeared before the Diet of Worms, in 1521, and allowed Luther to flee in defiance. He was no friend of Protestantism, but a strong Catholic. Nevertheless he longed for a formula by which the troubles of his church would be healed without a permanent rupture. Yet the new religion grew rapidly under his tenure. Finally, in 1555, tired of running half the world and anxious to preserve Hapsburg family control, he voluntarily abdicated and handed over the crown of Emperor to his brother Ferdinand and the crown of Spain to his son Philip, then, the next year, rule over the Netherlands. And then, one might say, almost without metaphor, all hell broke loose.

Philip II was at that time married to Queen Mary of England, who managed to earn in the five or so years she spent on the English throne the nickname "Bloody Mary." Her husband was similarly thirsty for protestant blood. Protestant power, however, grew tremendously in the Netherlands in the 1560's. The European equivalent of revival meetings, what they called "hedge preaching" brought out thousands of enthusiastic participants. Attacks on Catholic churches, burnings and defiling of images of Jesus and murders of priests became commonplace. Town governments were taken over. The Netherlands was fast becoming a nation of two religions. Then Philip II replaced his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as governor-general of the region, and sent Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alva, one of Spain's great generals, with 10,000 troops into Brussels. Before they had finished they had tried and decapitated two of the greatest lords of the Burgundy nobility, the Earls of Egmont and Hoorn, Knights of the Golden Fleece and lords of Armentieres and Hondschote. Refugees flooded into England, to London, Colchester, Sandwich, Norwich and Dover. Another of the great men of the region, the first to bear the distinguished name William of Orange, separated himself from the other two and made his way to safety in his home in Nassau, underlining the aptness of his nickname, William the Silent. He lived to be an important force in the separation of the northern provinces and development of a new nation.

The Netherlands of a few years earlier was made up of 17 provinces, sometimes called the "Circle of Burgundy." It included four duchies: Brabant, Gelderland, Limburg, and Luxembourg; seven counties: Flanders, Artois, Hainaut, Holland, Zeeland, Namur, and Zutphen; and five lordships: Friesland, Mechlin, Utrecht, Overijssel, and Groningen. On January 6, 1579, long after Charles had passed from the scene, three of the southern provinces, Artois, Hainaut and Douai, united in the pact called the Union of Arras in order to defend the catholic faith. On the 23rd, however, seven of the northern provinces, specifically Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel, Groningen, and Friesland (strongly Calvinist) united to form the confederation known as the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the modern Netherlands.

The battle for the new nation was not an easy one, and resulted in the assassination of Stadtholder William of Orange in 1584 and the destruction of Antwerp in 1585. The rallying cry of the conflict was the insult gueux, meaning "beggars," that had been hurled at the unfortunate Egmont and Hoorne and which Netherlands patriots now attached to themselves in joyous defiance. Particularly active were the gueux de la mer, the "sea beggars," who made life so difficult for the Spaniards that they sent out an armada to destroy them while destroying the English, with results many of us are familiar with. Spain did not enter into a truce with the Dutch republic until 1609 and did not formally recognize it until the treaty of Westphalia, of 1648.

The overview that has preceded may serve to emphasize certain important points: France may have done great direct harm to other Huguenots, but our Huguenots - those in the Lys Valley - who were not in France but the Spanish Netherlands, were affected primarily by the actions of Spanish authorities. There in the 17 provinces, under the rule of Charles Quint, born in Ghent and speaking their language, they felt a strong kinship with the other Netherlanders, a mix of peoples that would eventually settle what we know as Ulster County. As for French persecution, even in the Palatinate in the seventeenth century, it was only a distant threat until the last of New Paltz's twelve men had departed for America.

In his essay entitled, in English, "On the Trail of the Ancestors of the Community Known as New Paltz, U.S.A" Francis DeVos describes New Paltz's origins in the Spanish Netherlands, in particular the valley of the Lys River, which he calls the Pays de L'Alleou, using an old Viking name for some of the towns near Hazebrouck. The Lys valley in the sixteenth century nourished a textile industry that was one of the wonders of the world, with great plantings of flax and busy woolen mills using yarns from England, an industry particularly active and profitable, with centers in Armentieres and Antwerp, the great commercial city which was one of the largest in Europe until it was besieged and destroyed by Spanish troops in 1585.

We know that many of the first New Paltz patentees came from the Lys Valley area: Hugo Frere perhaps from Herly, near the source of the Lys, Christian Deyo perhaps from St. Pol sur Ternoise, nearby, Matthew Blanchan from Neuville au Cornetz, not far away, Antoine Crispell from Sainghin en Weppes, near Armentieres, Louis du Bois from Wicres, not far away from that, and Louis Bevier from Lille.

The European background, however, is not Francis Devos's primary concern, which is that of tracing the ancestry of New Paltz's founders. He begins with the names of New Paltz's twelve men, and those of their in-laws. Then he takes the step family genealogy students may be squeamish about -- to penal records: church defilements, murders of priests, banishments, executions and trials. This step is, however, the logical one to take when town records and the like have been officially destroyed and the original families avoided dealing with personal information for reasons of self preservation.

Devos makes long lists of names, like DuBois, Doye (his spelling of Deyo), Le Febvre, Le Conte, Le Roy, Montaigne, de la Haye, Boidin, Hayart, Descamps, Le Gillon, Joire, Guemaer, De Maretz, Du Mont, Brouck, and Crespel, all New Paltz names or names associated with New Paltz names and draws up charts of involvement of those names in various of the revivals, the uprisings, the penal listings of the Lys Valley in the seventeenth century and suggests strongly at times that family relationships exist with families who populated New Amsterdam or New Paltz.

One of the most compelling of Francis DeVos's conclusions is his connection of Jeanne Verbau, wife of Christian Deyo, with the minister Joris Wybo, alias Sylvanus, who in 1560 served a congregation in Cassel, near Hazebrouck and later served in Antwerp and in the Friar's Church, in London. He seems to have died in Dordrecht, leaving behind, among other things, a little book of hymns, in Dutch, written by himself. DeVos has also written a study of relationships with the Billiou family, related by marriage to Louis DuBois, and as a personal gift to a friend, completed a study of the early ancestry of the Le Maistre, or Delamater family, of local fame.

Both Francois Batisse and Francis Devos surprised me with their interest in a person I had never heard of, one Jesse de Forest, and his project, known as the Round Robin, a petition signed by 56 Walloon family heads addressed to the English ambassador to the Netherlands in the early 1620's requesting funds to sail to "Virginia" -- meaning the East coast of North America -- to start a colony. Their petition was refused, but de Forest and a number of the group sailed to Guiana, where he died, but one man who went with him to Guiana, named Jean Moustier de la Montagne, returned to Europe and then to the New World, where he became a confidant of Peter Stuyvesant and Vice Director at Fort Orange. He married Rachelle de Forest, daughter of Jesse, and their daughter, Rachelle, was one of the captives so well known in New Paltz prehistory. Walleram Montagne, in fact, was one of the witnesses to the New Paltz Indian deed. He also signed the wills of Christian Deyo and Matthew Blanchan. Thus far I have not been able to find out as much as I would like about Montagne family history, but it is a promising avenue of research that might turn up much new material on early New York history.

I have had in my possession for some time a document xeroxed in the University library in Mannheim in 1993, entitled Huguenotten in der Pfalz. It is about 120 pages long and has detailed maps of communities on both sides of the Rhine near Mannheim between the years 1650 to 1689, taken from documents saved in the Cathedral at Speyer. I had started to do some work using it late last year and was delighted earlier this year when Mr. De Vos wrote that he had found it on his own. The only part of its contents I will mention at this time is the material that delighted Mr. DeVos most. Earlier in these pages I mentioned the Lys River valley and DeVos's reference to it as the Pays de Alloeu. On September 18th of this year he wrote me that he had discovered in that document the existence in the Palatinate of the 1650's of a small town named Alloeu Nouveau. We in New Paltz, once known to our Huguenots as Le Nouveau Palatinat, can appreciate and share Francis DeVos's delight in finding after a long search something that seemed to be waiting for his eyes alone.