Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, ending the French king's toleration of Protestants. Many of those French Protestants chose to stay in France and convert to the Catholic faith, but others fled to other countries that welcomed Protestants.
At the same time, English kings were struggling with their own choice of religion. Charles II was ostensibly a Protestant, but his brother and successor, James II, was overtly Catholic. (In 1688, James II would be ousted in the "Glorious Revolution" and replaced by a clearly-Protestant William and Mary.) However, Parliament was dominated by Protestants throughout this time, and England welcomed the French Protestants knows as Huguenots.
In England, the Huguenots were treated as temporary refugees, waiting until the policies in France changed again. In the New World, however, the colonies tried to recruit the Huguenots as permanent settlers. Virginia was land-rich and people-poor, and Protestant refugees were prime targets for expanding the local population.
It was hard to recruit the Huguenots, but Virginia did have some success.
One Huguenot traveler in Virginia during 1686 considered the colony to be too foreign for his taste. Durand de Dauphine fled France, rather than recant and profess to being a Catholic. While in France, he had already read propaganda from Carolina advertising why it was a good place for settlers. After fleeing to England, Durand de Dauphine determined that he preferred taking a chance and examine Charleston in the southern half of the Carolina colony, rather than live in exile in the big city of London.
He knew he was not the first to choose Carolina over Virginia - "All the French who have gone over have settled in the south."1 He also knew that the climate was different from France - "It is unhealthy for Frenchmen, which does not surprise me, for the southern provinces of Virginia four degrees further north are also very unhealthy."2
Murhy's Law certainly applied to the trip - in the end, after 19 rough weeks of sailing, Durand de Dauphine finally passed New Point Comfort and arrived at the North River separating Mathews and Gloucester counties on September 22, 1686. The idea of settling in Virginia was attractive to the French refugee:3
Durand de Dauphine had accumulated capital in France and managed to escape with money. He could have afforded to pay for the passage of an indentured servant, entitling him to 50 acres of land, or purchased land and slaves to work it. He considered the English to be lazy, noting that clothes were imported rather than woven in Virginia, where "not one woman in the whole country knows how to spin."4.
He also considered it wasteful to plant without ploughing, when the coastal soils were so free of stones. Durand de Dauphine thought the French Huguenots, accustomed to working hard to pay Louis XIV's heavy taxes, would thrive in Virginia:5
The Virginia Governor, Francis Howard of Effingham, and William Fitzhugh both failed to convince Durand de Dauphine to return to Europe and lead fellow Huguenots back to Virginia. Governor Howard promised to enlarge the standard 50 acre per person land grant (for those who paid their own passage across the Atlantic) to 500 acres for Durand de Dauphine, but the Frenchman noted:6
The Governor did promise that the French Protestants could have their own ministers, rather than be required to attend Anglican services:7
Another unsuccessful recruiter was Nicholas Hayward, who had purchased a large tract from Lord Culpeper. His land was valueless unless he could get settlers to purchase it or pay him rent. His brother Samuel Hayward formed a company with two other London speculators, Richard Foote and Robert Bristow, plus a local Virginian George Brent, and together they planned to establish Brent Town/Brenton and populate it with French-speaking Protestants. Durand de Dauphine noted, while visiting William Fitzhugh at his Bedford estate east of modern-day Fredericksburg:8
Fitzhugh also desired to settle Huguenots on his lands, but the Northern Virginians were unable to recruit enough French-speaking "early adopters" to make their area a desirable location for less-adventurous settlers.
Both North Carolina and Virginia landowners sought to recruit boatloads (literally) of Huguenots. At the end of the 17th Century, King William III rejected the proposal of William Byrd I to establish a new community near Richmond, and instead authorized Huguenot refugee settlement near Norfolk on lands owned by cout physician Daniel Coxe. However, when the French Huguenots reached Virginia in 1700, Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson directed them to settleabove the Fall Line at the former Monacan town of Mowhemencho, on a grant of 10,000 acres.
Nicholson cited the confusion regarding the Virginia-North Carolina border as one reason for ignoring the king's direction, but clearly William Byrd I was able to use his influence to overcome the king's oders. Virginia officials took advantage of the Chesapeake Bay being the point of entry for immigrants, to ensure the nerw workers stayed in Virginia rather than ended up in North Carolina.
Lieutenant Governor Nicholson, like Governor Spotswood later, saw immigrants as a potential buffer to be placed between existing colonial settlements and the threatening Native Americans on the western frontier. The Huguenots in 1700 expected to settle near the Atlantic Ocean, where they could manufacture cloth and other trading goods. Instead, the immigrants ended up being dispatched to new lands beyond existing English settlements and forced to earn a living as farmers:9