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The Huguenots, having sold their diminutive church in the year 1703, were authorized by an Act of the Legislature to purchase a building lot, and the site selected was that on the northeast corner of King1 and Nassau streets. In the following year they erected a stone edifice with a tower in the rear. Sir Henry Asshurst presented a bell to be hung in it.2 Over the portal of the church was a tablet bearing the inscription: "l'Eglise du St. Esprit Gall: Prot: Reform: fundat 1704: Peritus Reparat 1741."
This old church, for the first hundred years of its existence, was the place of worship for the Huguenot families of New York and environs. Those who had settled in New Rochelle also worshipped in it, although this act of piety obliged them to leave their homes before light, in order to reach it before services commenced.
Tradition points to an old building one and a half stories high, which stands near the Kingsbridge about a mile to the northward of Crosskeys tavern, or the place where it once stood, which bore for its sign a blue bell, from which it took its name. This it declares was the veritable place of rest where these men, of sterner stuff than now, were wont to halt over night on their weekly journeys from New Rochelle to New York for the sabbath services.
In the year 1724 some defection on the part of the minister gave great displeasure to the consistory and a part of the congregation, who consequently gave him his dismissal. He and the remaining portion of the congregation resisted; and the matter was laid before the governor, who decided in favor of the minister, and he was retained. This proved to be very prejudicial to the interests of the church, as most of the congregation left it for either the established
1 Pine St.
2 This old bell is now in New Rochelle.
church or that of the Dutch. It was consequently neglected and became sadly in need of repair.
In 1812, Bishop Hobart, of Trinity Church, offered to have the Huguenot church thoroughly repaired and set upon a firm footing, if the minister and congregation would enter the Episcopal communion and use its liturgy. The parties agreed to this proposal and the edifice was repaired, and a fair congregation seated. The old church was totally destroyed in the great fire of 1776, but had been rebuilt. It has since, changing its liturgy, removed to West Twenty-second Street, New York City.
LMOST two centuries have rolled on their course since André Freneau, the founder of
the family in America bade farewell to the quaint old city of La Rochelle in France to face the shores which were thenceforward to be his home.
The pitiless hands of time and fire have obliterated nearly every trace of his existence. The family records, along with much that was valuable in the way of letters and manuscripts, perished in the flames that consumed the family residence of Philip Freneau at Mount Pleasant (now Freneau) in Monmouth County, New Jersey, in the year 1818.
One old relic, piously rescued from the relentless flames, remains, and mutely seems to say, "I alone have escaped to tell you." This heirloom in the form of a Bible, published in Geneva in the year 1587, has been in the Freneau family, perhaps before, but certainly ever since the year 1590. The first record on its time-worn pages tells us that it was in that year it began its journey from father to son, as was the custom in the Huguenot families in France.
It alone remains to tell us of the hands it has passed through, until the present time, when, for want of male heirs, it has come into the possession of a great-granddaughter of Philip Freneau, the Poet of the Revolution.
Its record runneth thus:
Ce livre fut donné par Philip P. Fresneau à son unique fils Jacque. Janvier 3d 1590.
De Jacque Fresneau à son second fils Jacque Fresneau Janvier 1eme 1605.
De Jacque Fresneau à son second fils Thomas Fresneau Janvier 1re 1630.
De Thomas Fresneau à son frère Jean. Janvier 1653
De Jean Fresneau à son fils André Fresneau mon second Janvier 1re 1680
De And. Fresneau à son second fils André Fresneau Jan. 1re 1702
De André Fresneau à son second fils Pierre Fresneau Jan. 1re 1725
De Pierre Fresneau à son première fils Philip Fresneau Jan. 2d 1752 (O S)
Philip Morin Freneau reçoit ce livre de son père Pierre Freneau.
Philip Morin Freneau departed this life Dec. 18th 1830. aged 80 yrs. 11 mo. & 13 days.
It is a remarkable coincidence that its first and last possessors of the name of Freneau should have borne the name of Philip, and that of its nine owners they should be the only ones that bore that Christian name. This Bible, being a Protestant version, was expatriated along with its owners.
The family of de Fresneau belonged to La Rochelle, once famous in the history of the Huguenots - now so changed in their regard. This name, we are told, was of some note amongst the Rochellais, but how it happened that its members escaped the fate of so many of their compatriots, we are not told; the flames have guarded their secrets well.
That the family residence of André the refugee was named "Mont Plaisant" is the only fact of transatlantic days that has been transmitted to his descendants.
It must have been a dreary place, that La Rochelle, and like a city of the dead to those remaining there like the grapes left from the vintage! How all things around them must perforce have brought up sad memories of those who had once lived and loved amongst them, but were now wanderers on the face of the earth.
There was la Lanterne,' in which Gabriel Bernon and so many others had been imprisoned; and not far from it stood the former dwelling of Pierre Jay. The residence of Ester Le Roy still faced the king's palace, but the voice of Ester was no longer heard within its walls. Of the Bernons, one alone was left in the old mansion, so veiled in mystery, and in which the remaining Huguenots met for their secret services. The dwellings of the Allaires and Du Ponts, even if not entirely without occupants, yet lacked some of the former members of their families, who were now numbered amongst the aliens of the land of their birth.
There were yet to be seen the old Scriptural inscriptions, or verses from Marot, over the small, plain doorways that gave to the street, but opened inwardly into residences in which evidences of wealth, refinement, and elegance met the eye.
The narrow, crooked streets, where formerly the tokens of recognition were so frequently interchanged, were peopled with strange faces. No wonder, then, that hearts should sicken and desires awaken to leave these sadly suggestive spots, and that André Freneau should bid good-bye to his native land.
We may imagine the sentiments he experienced as the sombre towers of la Lanterne and Saint Nicolas faded from his view, and the receding shores of the isles of Ré and Oleron told him that he was henceforth a stranger to the land of his fathers.
We would infer from his age at the date of his death that at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, he was but ten years of age, and from the fact of the ancient Bible having been presented to him in the year 1702 it would seem like a parting gift from his father.
1 La Lanterne was built for a lighthouse, but was used as a prison during the persecution of the Huguenots.