The Memoirs of Jaques de la Fontaine provides an excellent historical and literary narrative which exemplifies the Huguenots’ plight. The Memoirs first provide a detailed account of Jaques’ childhood life and education in Jenouillé and Jaffe, his apprenticeship, and his flight from Rochelle, France, to Barnstaple, England, in December 1685. He and his fiancée, Anne Elisabeth Boursiquot, were married in Barnstaple on February 8, 1686, where their first child, James, was born in October 1686.
After living in southeastern England, mostly in Taunton, for some years, the Fontaines in 1694 emigrated to the city of Cork in southern Ireland, where he was minister to a small Huguenot congregation in the center of the city. He began using the Anglicized name “James.” A few years later, James and his family moved to the Beara Peninsula, a remote location in southern Ireland, where he engaged in commercial fishing. It was here that he built a house and fort. Admittedly, James had little success in this business venture, and the remote location on the Beara was visited little else except by French corsairs.
After the failure of his commercial fishing venture, defending his home and family against two separate pirate attacks, and paying a heavy ransom for the return of his son Peter who had been held hostage, James had experienced enough adventure on the Beara Peninsula. For his service defending Ireland against the French corsairs, James received a government pension. With this money he moved his family to a small house he leased on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin and operated a small school in the town section where Huguenot refugees and other immigrants lived.
Both James and his wife Elisabeth lived in Dublin until their deaths, hers in January 1720/21 and his in May 1728. Both are buried in the Huguenot Cemetery which is located on Merrion Row across from the northeastern corner of St. Stephen’s Green. Their home is believed to have been located directly across from the cemetery where the offices for a branch of the Bank of Ireland now stand. The exact burial location of James and Elizabeth within the Huguenot Cemetery are unknown, but a monument was erected and dedicated in 1999 by The Fontaine Maury Society and the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland in commemoration of their lives and their steadfast dedication to family (see photos of the monument on the Photos page). Located nearby is a large plaque which lists all of the Huguenots who immigrated to Dublin during the era of persecutions in the 17th century. None of Fontaines’ children are buried here because many of them emigrated to Virginia or back to England and Wales.
James’ sons were all educated in downtown Dublin at nearby Trinity College. One of James’ older sons, John, was the first to travel to Virginia and scout out locations of land for sale on behalf of the family. John recorded all of his observations in a journal. Upon his arrival in the Virginia colony, the reader follows John to Williamsburg and the reader meets a host of powerful and influential gentlemen farmers of the time. In 1715, John befriended Governor Alexander Spottswood, the Virginia colony’s governor, and he accompanies the governor and a small group of men on a trip to survey the Virginia wilderness. Spottswood, who was the colony’s political and economic architect, was chiefly responsible for attracting a large number of immigrants to the colony.
Spottswood was also a land speculator and promoter. He used heavy promotional efforts to attract lower- and middle-class groups to the colony who became indentured servants to the large landed gentlemen farmers. It was in Spottswood’s financial and economic interest to attract enough cheap labor so these gentlemen farmers could cheaply produce, export, and sell tobacco and other agricultural crops at a profit. Spottswood’s heavy promotional efforts attracted a large number of German immigrants who founded the settlement in Orange County, Virginia, on what was then the Virginia colony’s western frontier. Initially, the colony was founded to guard the frontier against Indian attacks, but a small supply of iron was found in the area and the colony turned to mining for its economy. John’s journal provides a descriptive account of the settlers, fort, and living conditions at the Germanna settlement.
From Germanna, John describes the expedition of the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe,” a gentleman’s journey, account, and promotion of the wonders of the North American frontier. The members of the expedition acquired this unusual nickname became the governor provided all of the participants gold-plated horseshoes at the end of the journey. Though the descriptions in John Fontaine’s “Horseshoe” expedition read like an exploratory essay, it was not the first. Other western exploratory expeditions had transpired, but none of them promoted the American wilderness as Fontaine’s descriptions. Elaborate descriptions of the wilds of America, the open vastness, the abundance of natural resources, and the plentiful wildlife would attract immigrants to the Virginia frontier. No doubt, John was hoping that his services to the governor as the expedition’s chronicler would garner him special favors in the form of land grants. John did receive a land grant, and his account would attract Huguenot immigrants to Virginia who settled at what became the Mannakin-Town settlement. And what became of the other of the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe?”
One of the members of the expedition was a gentleman named Robert Beverley. Beverley was another vast gentleman land holder and speculator who tried to sell a vast parcel to John with a 99-year lease. John kindly rejected Beverley’s offer, explaining that the parcel of land did not front enough of the river. But Beverley managed to sell land. A few years later, he sold land to Peter Madison, the grandfather of James Madison. The latter Madison constructed his home on the same land. Following his expedition with the governor, John’s journal continues to New York where he met with the governor. From there, the journal begins to grow thin and spotty. This indicates that John was kept quite busy establishing colonial political and economic ties to pave the way for his siblings’ immigration.
John Fontaine’s journal has provided historians with a rich, interesting, and valuable historical narrative of colonial Virginia. Excerpts from his journal have also been used by path-making historians like Marcus Rediker, whose work, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, used excerpts from Fontaine’s trans-oceanic voyage on The Dove as a narrative backdrop to describe 18th century maritime life. But perhaps John’s biggest legacy lies in the fact that he paved the way for his siblings to emigrate from Ireland to Virginia. Ironically, John never returned to Virginia. Eventually, he settled in Wales.
The following information on James Fontaine’s family comes from his Memoirs:
Jaques (James) Fontaine, born April 7, 1658, in Jenouillé, France. Married on February 24, 1685/6, in Barnstaple, England, with Annie Elisabeth Boursiquot of Taillesbourg, Saintonge, France, daughter of Aaron Boursiquot and Jeanne Guillot. James died in May 1728, in Dublin, Ireland, and is buried in the Huguenot Cemetery, St. Stephen’s Green. 8 children:
1. James Fontaine, born October 10, 1686, in Barnstaple, England. Married twice, first in 1711 with Lucretia Desjarrie in the Diocese of Cork and Ross, Ireland, and second ca. 1737-1738 with Elizabeth Harcum in Virginia.
2. Aaron Fontaine, born 1688 in Taunton, England, and died in 1699 in Cork, Ireland.
3. Mary Ann Fontaine, born April 12, 1690, in Taunton. Married on October 20, 1715, with Matthew Maury in Dublin. Died on December 30, 1755, in Charles City County, Virginia.
4. Peter Fontaine, born December 1, 1691, in Taunton. Married twice, first on March 29, 1714, with Elizabeth Fourreau in Dublin, and second with Sarah Wade, daughter of Joseph Wade. The Reverend Peter Fontaine died in August 1757 in Charles City County, Virginia.
5. John Fontaine, born April 28, 1693, in Taunton. Married in 1728 with Mary Magdalen Sabatier in London. Died in November 1767 near Newchurch, Wales.
6. Moses Fontaine, born October 15, 1694, in Taunton, died unmarried in February 1766 near Newchurch, Wales.
7. Francis Fontaine, born September 16, 1697, in Cork, Ireland. Married twice, first on January 4, 1721, with Marie Glenisson in London and second around 1735 with Susanna Brush in Virginia. The Reverend Francis Fontaine died in 1749 in York County, Virginia.
8. Elizabeth Fontaine, born August 3, 1701, in Bearhaven, Ireland. Married on October 31, 1729, with Daniel Torin in London. She died around 1764.
A copy of the 1853 first edition of Ann Maury’s English translation of the Memoirs was kindly donated to the Society by long-time members Harriet and the late William Scott at the Society’s annual meeting in 2006. The first edition carries a hand-written inscription by Ann Maury, which she signed with her initials. The Society extends its thanks to the Scotts for their donation and all that they have done for the Society!
For more information on the Fontaine family, see the Society’s library and bibliography listings.
Updated March 2014