The first surge of French Huguenots came to South Carolina in the late 1670’s into the 1680s. This first group established a settlement on the Santee River north of Charles Town (Charleston), and other areas in the lowcountry. French Huguenot churches were established at Jamestown, Goose Creek, and Charles Town. The French Huguenots quickly arose to own large plantations and businesses, and were among the elite of the South Carolina lowcountry. As the Huguenots married locals who were British, they adopted British ways quickly.
The Calvinist Huguenots came into being about 1550 when ministers brought Bibles to France from Switzerland. Within five years the new church were holding their first service.
This brought about much conflict, the Roman Catholic Church was concerned it would lose control over souls and the government feared Protestant demands for local rule. The government concerns appeared justified when powerful nobles such as the Condés attempted to employ Protestants to strengthen their own political advancement against the powerful Guise family.
War broke out in 1562 when a number of Huguenots were massacred by the Guises in a church at Vassy. The Huguenots were only a twentieth of the total French population, yet fought so fiercely they were able to win concessions from the Roman Catholic majority.
Catherine de Medici, the authority behind the French throne, ordered the assassination of the brilliant Huguenot Admiral Coligny. The attempt left him wounded but not dead. Catherine panicked and ordered the massacre of all Huguenots, including Coligny. The carnage began in Paris on the evening of St. Bartholomew’s Day and spread to the countryside on the following days. Between 40,000 and 100,000 Huguenots were slaughtered in cold blood. This is known today as the St. Bartholomew Massacre.
Remaining Huguenots fled to areas of safety. An exhausted series of wars followed until the Huguenot prince, Henry of Navarre, became heir-elect to the throne of France. But, to gain the throne, Henry eventually learned he must convert to Catholicism. After he did convert the Huguenots viewed this as a betrayal. To silent their fears, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, this protected Huguenot rights.
The Huguenots continued to defend themselves with arms when necessary, but eventually leaders of the Huguenots decided that it is better to suffer than to fight. Consequently, the rebellion called “the Fronde” came about, as the Huguenots declined to join their natural allies but instead favored the young Louis XIV. He in turn acknowledged their loyalty and confirmed the Edict of Nantes protecting the rights of the Huguenots
At the same time Louis XIV did not want France divided in faith. So, he began to give in to the churchmen who called for Huguenot privileges to be taken away. Laws were passed making it hard for Protestants to participate in any organizations. If a child of fourteen converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, the child could leave its Huguenot parents, Huguenots were forbidden to form new colleges. Even if a Huguenot attempted to leave France they would be punished, but if any Huguenot converted to Catholicism they were paid an endowment.
In 1682 Louis XIV threatened the Huguenots with terrible evils if they did not convert. His religious training, strict upbringing, along with his brutal advisers led him to believe he could not be saved unless he wiped out the Huguenot beliefs. He destroyed 570 of the 815 churches and those Huguenots who met secretly in the woods were exposed to savage punishments or immediate death.
As the Huguenots found safety in Great Britain they also discovered they wanted to move to a new land where they could start a brand new life. It was in 1679, King Charles II sent two shiploads of French Huguenots to South Carolina, in order to introduce the cultivation of grapes, olives and the silkworm. In 1694, Baron de Luttichaw petitioned for permission to import 200 Protestant families that totaled some 1,000 people.
Subsequently, these families settled on the banks of the Santee River, they extended from the lower ferry at South Santee (Mazyck’s Ferry) which was about two miles below Wambaw Creek, in St. James Parish. These families gradually spread themselves out so as to encompass the spacious tract of country stretching to the Winyah Bay and to have access to the Cooper River.
The English settlement embraced within the Parish of St. Stephens, was designated as English Santee, while that below, composed of Huguenots in the Parish of St. James, was called French Santee.