French Presence in Georgia
In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, distinct populations of French immigrants arrived in Georgia—Huguenots, Acadians, refugees from the French Revolution, and colonists in flight from slave rebellion in Haiti.
The Huguenots were French Calvinists who fled religious persecution under Louis XIV; they came to Georgia via South Carolina. A large Huguenot community in South Carolina dates from the 1680s, and some of its members crossed into Georgia as early as the 1730s. Lacking a French Protestant church in Georgia, Huguenots often affiliated with Anglican congregations. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, reported visiting a French-speaking village near Savannah in 1737. By 1745 an Anglican priest in Savannah offered to hold services in French for their benefit.
The Acadians arrived in Savannah as unwilling emigrants. Acadia, the original French
With the outbreak of revolution in France, a stream of French immigrants came to America, mainly between 1790 and 1793. In Georgia the largest communities of refugees were located in Savannah and Augusta, but pockets of French settlers found their way to Wilkes County, as well as to the barrier islands of Sapelo, Jekyll, and Cumberland. Merging with the wave of emigrants from France were those from Haiti. A slave uprising in 1791 sparked an exodus of colonists from Saint Domingue, as Haiti was then called. Some immigrants arrived in Savannah early in the 1790s, but others came to Georgia as late as 1809 after intermediate stops in Baltimore or Philadelphia. A sizeable contingent of Haitian refugees settled in Augusta, while a small but visible group lived in St. Marys.
The increasing number of French Catholic refugees in Georgia at the end of the eighteenth century led to a stronger presence of the Catholic Church in the state. A French-speaking congregation received a trust lot in Savannah in 1799 to build a Catholic church. The small wooden chapel
The French identity was still intact in 1825 when Lafayette received delegations of French descendants in Savannah and Augusta during his tour of Georgia. By mid-century this identity had largely disappeared through assimilation.
E. Merton Coulter, "The Acadians in Georgia," Georgia Historical Quarterly 47 (spring 1963).
Martha L. Keber, Georgia College and State University
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