The “I” in History: A Self-Indulgent Foray into Family History

The Calvet’s From France to the American Frontier


J. Calvitt Clarke III

Jacksonville University



I grew up in what we then called the “Far West End” of Richmond, Virginia, not many miles and just across the James River from Huguenot High School, a sports rival.  I only vaguely understood the school had been named after a group of French who had settled in the region. More consuming for me was the heritage implied by my own high school—Douglas S. Freeman—named after the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Robert E. Lee. Richmond, after all, had been the capital of the Confederacy and historic battlefields ring the city. Only recently did I discover that one of my direct ancestors, Jean Calvet and the source of my middle name of “Calvitt,” was one of the original frontier settlers of Manakin Town, the Huguenot settlement near Richmond.


Pierre Calvet: Huguenot Merchant in Lacaune, France

I have been able to trace the “Calvet” connection back to Pierre Calvet, born in France about 1630. He was a merchant in the little town of Lacaune, in the “Huguenot Valley,” some miles east of Toulouse in the district of Tarn in southern France. His first wife, Isabeau Pagés, bore three children before dying in 1656. Pierre died in Lacaune on October 3, 1682, three short years before King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) ended Catholic toleration of Protestantism in France by revoking the Edict of Nantes. We know little of them, because the original records of Tarn containing the registers of baptisms, weddings, and burials of the Reformed Church of Lacaune (1675-1685) have been lost or destroyed. 

The children of the two sons of Pierre and Isabeau Pagés brought the Calvet family into Colonial America: Raymond's son Pierre to South Carolina and Jean's son Jean to Virginia.[1]  I am interested in Jean.


Pastor Jean Calvet Flees Catholic Repression to England

Jean Calvet, born in 1652 in Lacaune, became a Protestant minister in a time of social upheaval and religious strife in France.[2] During the intermittent periods of government toleration in the seventeenth century, Protestants had set up at least eight academies in France. One by one, however, Catholics closed, demolished, or simply took them over. The Academy of Montauban taught students from 1598 to 1659, until its faculty moved what remained to Puylaurens near Castres, where it existed from 1660 to 1685.  The renamed academy was among the last of the schools to close, only seven short months before Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes.[3]

Jean Calvet entered the Protestant Academy of Puylaurens in 1673 to begin his studies for the ministry. By 1676, he was ministering to the Church of Sablayrolles. The following year in November, Jean attended the Synod of Haut Languedoc held in Brassac. Released from his responsibilities at the Church of Sablayrolles, he accepted a new position at the Church of Saint Rome de Tarn. He was at the Synod of Haut Languedoc held at Saverdun in September 1678. As pastor of Saint Rome de Tarn, Jean Calvet attended at least two more of these important Synods of Haut Languedoc, one at Realmont in 1679 and the other in St. Antonin in 1682.[4]

Catholics regularly invaded, desecrated, closed, tore down, or simply took over Huguenot temples. Many defiant Huguenot congregations continued to meet until the state made it a crime even to hold services atop the rubble of their destroyed houses of worship. The temples at Lacaune and Sablayrolles were among the churches the Catholics tore down.[5]

In response, many Huguenots fled France, most shortly before and after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes—anywhere from 300,000 to one million. Others died in prison, were hanged, or were condemned to the galleys. France began losing skilled weavers, glass and papermakers, and metal and leather workers. These thrifty, temperate, educated, skilled, industrious, and tolerant Huguenots lived simply, believed deeply, and endured tenaciously. In their flight, they enriched the modernizing economies of the Netherlands, England, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Russia, and the German States as much as their departure weakened France’s.[6]

For Pastor Jean Calvet, the crucial moment came on 22 January, 1685, when dragoons invaded and destroyed the table of the Last Supper, the pulpit, the pews, and the galleries at his church at Saint Rome de Tarn. They tore down the liturgical insignia gracing the doors and windows, and expelled the congregation from their temple. On 2 March, Jean Calvet signed a receipt for his last salary as minister of the Church at Saint Rome de Tarn. He then forsook all his assets including the 350 livres creditors owed him. Soon afterward, he, his wife Suzanne, and their family fled France—probably from La Rochelle—to arrive penniless in Plymouth, England.[7]

Not everyone fled into exile. On 13 September, 1685, 101 Protestants assembled in Saint-Rome. They publicly proclaimed that they wanted to enter “the heart of the Catholic Church, apostolic and Roman” in which they wanted “to live and die.” In that year, 201 families, representing 1,000 Protestants, renounced their faith so “there was but one man left to convert.”[8] Thus, many families, including part of the Calvet family, abjured their Protestant faith and remained in Lacaune, although some merely feigned abjuring until they could safely send their families out of the country.[9]

In England, Jean Calvet faced frustrations, and like most of his compatriots, he arrived destitute. Their need plus outrage at Louis XIV was so great that the English organized a national offering, the Royal Bounty, for the refugee Huguenots. The position of England’s Catholic king, James II (r. 1685-88) had become so insecure that he had to consent, and communicants of the Church of England, Dissenters, and even a few Roman Catholics gave to the fund. In September, 1685, the Reverend Jean H. Calvet was in the Plymouth, England, seeking help from the Commissioners of Customs and asking about the delay in responding to his petition for passage for several French Protestant families to “New Yorke Plantation.” Unsuccessful in his efforts, between 1686 and 1687, Jean Calvet was on the “Royal Bounty,” receiving a pension of six pounds for clothes. He received at least three such pensions.[10]

Soon, he established himself. Near Plymouth in Stonehouse where many Huguenots resided, Jean and another minister set up a Huguenot chapel on 9 September, 1689. In 1698, Jean was an officiating minister at Glass House Street Chapel, which was one of three new congregations formed in London's West End to minister to the newly-arriving Protestants. He continued to serve this congregation after it moved to Leicester Fields. Because of the large influx of ministers among the many Protestant refugees, there were not enough French churches to employ all the pastors. Several ministers therefore would share a church pulpit, carrying out pastoral duties at many different churches. It seems that Jean served several churches, most importantly the Treadneedle Street Church in the French Colony of the London suburbs, ministering mainly in marriages and baptisms.[11]

By 1708, Jean Calvet had retired when he served as a godfather rather than as minister at a baptism. In 1711, about age 59, he was an “unsalaried as a pastor” and likely infirm. Jean again qualified for the Royal Bounty. He probably died sometime around 1711 or 1712, never having made it to the New World.[12]

Jean Calvet and his wife Suzanne had four documented children, three daughters and one son: Anne, Sara, Suzanne, and Jean Calvet, all most likely born in Lacaune.  Presumably, the three daughters remained in England. Jean, on the other hand, left England for the Virginia colony to help father the Calvet, Colvett, and Calvit families in America.[13]


Huguenots Go to the New World

As skilled artisans, master craftsmen, and tradesmen, many Huguenots could not find enough work even in economically advanced England. With the Virginia colony actively seeking settlers, King William III (r. 1689-1702) agreed to pay their passages, give them land, and exempt them from all taxes for seven years. These were no small boons when most artisans had to bond themselves as indentured servants to get to the New World. The Huguenots understood that the New World, including Virginia, offered abundant land, a healthy climate, commercial opportunity, and freedom.

Baron de Sance settled a colony of Huguenots on the James River in 1630. In 1637, 600 French settlers came to Virginia to colonize lands offered by William Fitzhugh in what were to become Stafford and Spotsylvania counties. Major Moore Faust Le Roy already owned a large tract of land on the Rappahannock River before 1651. In 1653, the Huguenot Relief Committee of London paid David Dashaise seventy pounds sterling for 55 French Protestants to go to Virginia. Perhaps these refugees settled in the Northern Neck of Virginia.  Every year from 1688 to 1700, aided by William III’s Royal Bounty, small groups of Huguenots went from London to Virginia.[14]

Among the less successful Huguenot settlements was Brenton. It began when Nicholas Hayward, the son of a well-established Virginia merchant in London, sought profit by colonizing the rich Virginia land with Huguenot refugees. In exchange for cash, on 10 January, 1687 he and his partners received 30,000 acres as tenants in common in Old Stafford County. The land lay between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers near Occoquan Creek in Stafford County and present-day Brentsville, Prince William County.  On February 10, 1687, James II agreed to Hayward’s proposal. Organized by George Brent, the town became officially known as “Brenton,” although locals called the settlement “Brent Town.” For security, the Brenton families were to live together in town on one-acre lots and were to farm 100 acres in the countryside. [15] 

In London, Hayward busily promoted his settlement by circulating “broadsides” through the coffee houses of Soho, St. Giles, and the weaver’s shops of Spitalfields.  Published in French, the broadsides promised “good and fertile” land “in perpetuity.”  They added, “the proprietors will give the preference of choice of the situations of farm and house in the order of application, but only on condition that the purchasers shall emigrate to become residents.”[16] The broadsides further promised those not wishing to pay cash could get the land with materials sufficient to build a small house and with Indian corn for subsistence for the first year.

Competition, however, for these industrious refugees was vigorous. William Penn and agents of Carolina, Massachusetts, and Virginia more successfully pushed the virtues of their diverse schemes. Despite the carefully laid plans and inviting handbills, as well as the support of shipmasters of the Virginia trade, the Brenton undertaking failed. Only a few Huguenots arrived at Stafford from the many voyages of Huguenot refugees between 1686 and 1700. Their lives were doubtless hard, although they remain shrouded, because the Stafford County records have long since been destroyed.[17]

Arriving in the Virginia colony before 1700, Jean Calvet joined the larger Huguenot immigration, and he was among the few Huguenots who settled in Brenton.  How he had first come to the New World is unclear, but he probably traveled overland from further north with his companions into Old Stafford County before 17003. In March 1700, they signed the “French Men’s Petition,” which noted their arrival and requested the customary, temporary exemption from levies until they could settle themselves and provide for the welfare of their families. Many who signed the French Men’s Petition stayed only a short while before settling in the surrounding counties or going to Maryland. For their part, Jean Calvet and his friends, Isaac Lafitte, Abraham Michaux, and Charles Peraut, traveled overland to Manakin Town.[18]


The Manakin Huguenots

Mixing humanitarian motives and the practical desire to settle lands they owned, Dr. Daniel Coxe in England and Colonel William Byrd I in Virginia played an especially important role in helping the Huguenots. Coxe was a distinguished court physician in the Court of Queen Anne (r. 1702-14). His colonial ventures centered chiefly in New Jersey, but he held more land in present-day Norfolk County, Virginia and vast lands on the Gulf of Mexico. A zealous churchman, Coxe contacted two Huguenot leaders, the Marquis de la Muce and Charles de Sailly.[19]

De la Muce was a Breton nobleman, recently expelled from France after a two-year imprisonment. Coxe’s plan interested both him and de Sailly as a way to recoup in British America the fortunes they had lost in France. De la Muce agreed to found the colony on Coxe’s Norfolk County lands. De la Muce and his lieutenant, de Sailly, petitioned William III to allow them to settle there.[20]

Meanwhile, Byrd, one of the largest landholders and most powerful men in Virginia, was seeking settlers to set up a community on the Virginia frontier a few miles above the fall line of the James River. The Monacan Indians had formerly occupied this land. A once-powerful Siouan confederacy of tribes, they were avowed enemies of the Algonquian-speaking Powhatan confederacy who lived to the east. Byrd wished to settle the Huguenots at what had been the chief Monacan village: he could better settle his own lands if the French Huguenots acted as a buffer between his properties and marauding Indian tribes. The king turned down Byrd’s proposal and told Virginia’s governor to aid the Huguenots in settling in Norfolk County and to grant them an amount of land usual to newcomers. Coxe’s triumph, however, did not last.[21]

The Mary Ann was the first of seven ships bringing Huguenot refugees to Virginia at the turn of the new century. Governor Francis Nicholson welcomed them at Hampton on 23 July, 1700 and surprised them with the news that they would go to the old Monacan village where they would receive land. The influence of Colonel Byrd with the Virginia governor and Council plus the independent spirit prevailing in Virginia counted for more than did the king’s instructions. The Huguenots then went to Jamestown, the colony’s first settlement and former capital. An inadequate diet and crowded conditions during the long ocean voyage and the landing during the unhealthy summer in Virginia led to dysentery, malaria, and other fevers.[22]

The Falls of the James in 1700 marked the last outpost of western settlement in Virginia, and the old Monacan village lay some twenty-five miles beyond. Only 120 men, women, and children followed Byrd and the soldiers into the forests—the rest were too ill to travel further. The grant of land given the Huguenots extended up the James River for about twenty-five miles and was about one mile wide. The settlers marked on the trees the southern boundary line—known as the French line for over a hundred years.[23]

Most of the Huguenots had spent their lives in business, commerce, and industry and were unprepared for the frontier’s loneliness and crudeness. Poor and contentious leadership immediately divided the Huguenots and exacerbated their problems. With autumn, they began a grim struggle for survival. By the end of November, short of seed, tools, cattle, clothing, and especially food, conditions in Manakin had become so bad that only substantial aid from the Virginia government prevented its disintegration. Even so, some died and many left for other parts of the colony.[24]

With the spring of 1701, conditions improved. Byrd visited the town in May, 1701. He reported that “though these people are very poor, yet they seem very cheerful and are … healthy, all they seem to desire is that they might have bread enough.” Byrd inspected about seventy of their huts, offered advice on the value of industriousness, and warned that charity could not last. Thus armed, the French soon carved out a prosperous community.[25]

Within ten years after they had settled in the Virginia wilderness, the lands set aside for the French were fully distributed, but the total grant and the individual allotments proved too small. The Huguenots were already raising many cattle, and they would soon turn to tobacco as their principal crop. The former required a large grazing area and the latter a constant accretion of land. Soon, as young adults married, they needed farms of their own, and they had to move away or see the parental acres redivided into minute portions.[26]

Among those surviving the turmoil of the early Manakin settlement was Jean Calvet. He had arrived in 1700 and is on the list of original founders of Manakin Town.  It is unknown how he got to Manakin from Brenton, but he was likely a single man at the time. During his residence of fourteen years, Jean married and had four sons, Pierre, Antoine, Etienne, and Guillaume. He also had two daughters, one of whom he named Anne. He became a naturalized citizen of England. In April, 1714, he received title to his land on the far western edge of the boundary of the French lands with the legal right to pass it on to his heirs. Jean Calvet and his wife continued to live on and work their acreage, adding to their land as they could.[27]

Jean Calvet appears in the King William Parish church records from 1710 through 1718. His neighbors elected him to the vestry on 26 December, 1718. However, he was not present to take the “Oath of Vestry” administered on 26 March, 1719, having died most likely in January, 1719. Given the large number who also died at this time, an epidemic presumably had swept through the little village. The last time Jean Calvet's name appears is on the inventory of his estate that was to be presented in Varina Court, Henrico County on February 1, 1719. Sheriff Thomas Jefferson—grandfather of the future president—presented the estate’s inventory to the court. Jean Calvet's name appears on a plaque at the Ellis Island Museum in New York City.[28]


Antonine Calvet’s Family Moves to North Carolina

One of Jean’s sons, Antonine, was born about 1712 in Manakin. He and his two brothers, Etienne and Guillaume, were probably minors when their father died. A list of landholders in 1728 mentions their older brother, Pierre as owning 444 acres. Pierre was about 21 years old, and this property doubtless had been his father’s left by will to be shared with his younger brothers when they reached legal age. Some of this land could possibly have been outside the boundaries of the original French Lands. The family may or may not have spoken English well; they likely continued to speak French within the family. Guillaume died in Virginia in 1744.[29]

Antoine, Pierre, and Etienne at some point migrated to Craven County, North Carolina. Antonine’s name appeared for the last time in 1732 on the list of parish males in Manakin obligated to pay the church tax. On 17 July of that same year, Antonine conveyed a parcel of land to George Payne for six pounds and six shillings, “Lawful money of Virginia.” The property was “part of the first five thousand acres survey’d for ye French Refugees and given by will unto Peter and Anthony, sons of John Calvet dec’d.”[30] Then, on 6 November, 1736, he executed a power of attorney, appointing his “trusty and loving friend, Stephen Chastine” to complete a deed of sale to James Holman for land in Goochland County, Virginia.[31]

Antonine married Mary Dean about 1738 in Johnson County, North Carolina.[32]  Mary probably had moved from Pennsylvania into Virginia with some Quakers and thence into North Carolina where Lord Granville’s agent sold them land. They had five children, William (between 1738 and 1740), Joseph (1745), Frederick (1747), Thomas (1748), and Pierre.  Antonine died about 1759 in Craven County. Mary remarried to Daniel Higdon in North Carolina in 1762.[33]


Joseph Calvit Moves Westward to Tennessee

Born in either Craven or Johnston County, eventually Joseph’s family name evolved into “Calvit” and their given names became Anglicized. Perhaps a year or two before 1776, he and his brother Frederick moved westward from the more settled section of the Old North State. This area today lies in Washington County in Tennessee near the state’s boundaries with Virginia and North Carolina. Here, in one of the narrow valleys in the Appalachian Mountains, Huguenots built thirteen stockade forts of logs along the Watauga River, not far from its junction with the Holston River that flows southwest until it joins the Tennessee River. The historic “Wilderness Trail” marked by Daniel Boone, lay nearby.[34]

Joseph was a member of the Watauga Association, which existed from 1769 to 1777 and formed the embryo of the present State of Tennessee. In Spring, 1772, men from the thirteen forts gathered and adopted “Articles of Association,” the first written constitution adopted west of the mountains or by a community of American-born freemen. The document declared absolute religious freedom and based all action on manhood suffrage. For six years until 1778, Watauga acted as an independent political community and practiced a more extensive democracy than did the seaboard colonies. In 1776, 112 of these settlers, including Joseph and Frederick Calvit, signed the Watauga Petition, which asked North Carolina to recognize their government.[35]


The Calvits, the American Revolution, and a Land Grant

America’s Revolutionary War for Independence called the four brothers—William, Joseph, Frederick and Thomas—to arms. As the American Revolutionary War flared in the East, the frontier in Tennessee and Kentucky was aflame in Indian attacks sponsored by the British. The Calvit brothers fought in these Indian Wars and suffered their brutalities. In April, 1777 on Crockett’s Creek in what is now Rogersville, Tennessee, Indians shot and scalped Joseph’s younger brother, Frederick. He survived, but that same fight took the life of the grandfather of Davy Crockett with several members of his family.[36]

Responding to such attacks, the governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry, commissioned George Rogers Clark to raise a force of seven companies with fifty men each to defend the frontier. Secretly, Henry also gave him written orders to attack Kaskaskia and other British posts in the Illinois Country. Clark had difficulty raising his force, and he finally set out from Redstone and Fort Pitt with only 150 frontiersmen and some twenty settlers and their families. Reaching the Falls of Ohio, they set up a supply base on Corn Island, where a handful of reinforcements from the Holston River settlements—presumably including Joseph—joined him. Clark revealed his plan to attack Kaskaskia and was hard-pressed to prevent desertions. Defying all odds, in a brilliant and brutal campaign in 1778 and 1779, Clark captured Kaskaskia and Vincennes to rip the Old Northwest Territories from British hands and secure them for American settlement and sovereignty. Joseph served as a Lieutenant with George Rogers Clark in the Northwest Territories in the Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Line.[37]

After their service, two of the Calvit brothers learned that General Clark expected to secure land grants along the Ohio River for his soldiers. Thus, in Autumn and Winter, 1781 and 1782, members of several families built flatboats on the banks of the Holston River. When melted snow and ice flooded the streams, they hoped to float over obstructions, down the Holston to the Tennessee River, and into the Ohio. Once there, they would use long poles to propel the rafts upstream to one of the settlements awaiting them in Kentucky. They fastened together and floored logs to build the rafts. In the center, they built a small cabin for protection from Indian snipers. They steered the rafts by sweeps, attached to the rudder, at the sternposts. Late in March, 1782, the boatyard teemed with preparations for departure.[38]

For mutual protection, twelve families started together down the turbulent Tennessee River. Among them were Daniel and Mary Higdon, their son Jeptha, and two of her other sons, Frederick and Thomas Calvit from her first marriage. The trip was dangerous, especially at the rapids at Muscle Shoals. Although Indians frequently attacked the flatboats during the journey, apparently there were no casualties.[39]


The Calvits Detour to Natchez, Mississippi

The spring thaw, however, was too great in the Ohio River, and the waters swept them downstream to the Mississippi River. The men voted on whether they should stop at the first cove they should find on the western shore of the Mississippi or float all the way to Natchez in Spanish West Florida. They decided on Natchez. The settlers made their way down 2000 miles of river flowing past banks occupied by hostile Indians. They made good time. Leaving the Holston region in late March or early April, the twelve families tied up their rafts at the mouth of Cole’s Creek, fifteen miles above Natchez in early May. The Spanish authorities of West Florida politely received the settlers from Watauga, closely questioned them, and accepted them as citizens of the province and subjects of the Spanish king to whom they signed oaths of allegiance.[40]

How was it that these hardened, frontier veterans of the American Revolutionary War—Protestants at that—so quickly swore loyalty to a Catholic monarch? Given the significant support Spain had supplied the American revolutionaries, the oath presumably was not as difficult as more modern sensibilities might assume.

Fearing war and their patriot neighbors, by 1775 some loyal British subjects had already arrived to Natchez as Frederick and Thomas later would, via the Holston, Tennessee, Ohio rivers, and Mississippi rivers. Meanwhile, the Spanish worked with George Rogers Clark to stymie British control of the territory drained by the Mississippi River, and from New Orleans they sent boats upstream to furnish war materials, including cannon, to American posts on the Ohio and upper Mississippi. Some American frontiersmen accompanied these boats when they returned to Natchez, for example, in 1778 about fifty men in two keelboats. These fifty brought the Revolutionary War to the lower Mississippi Valley. Spain’s activities helped rupture Anglo-Spanish relations, and on 8 May, 1779, Spain declared war on Great Britain. Between late 1779 and early 1781 Spain conquered West Florida and for twenty years controlled a territory that was largely British in its origins.[41]

It is unclear how and when Joseph and his brother William got to Natchez, perhaps overland by the old Indian trail, the Natchez Trace, after their mother and brothers already had settled in Natchez.[42] In any case, the Calvits’ arrival was part of a larger American immigration into Natchez. In 1776, only seventy-eight families lay scattered in different settlements, and in 1779 there were only four small stores servicing the community. The Spanish census of 1785 showed the Natchez District had a population of 1,550 compared with 746 at Mobile and 270 in Baton Rouge.[43] West Florida passed from Spain to the sovereignty of the United States in 1797.

Armed with land grants, the Calvits started their plantations. In 1782, Frederick moved his family to a 600-acre land grant, built a log house, bought some cows, pigs, and a broodmare, and he began to farm successfully. When his estate was distributed in 1808, each of his children received $1,550.[44] William moved to a Spanish land grant on the Homochitto River, Franklin County, Mississippi. By 1790, three of the brothers were large tobacco growers—Frederick produced 10,100 lbs., William 10,000 lbs., and Thomas 7,000.[45]

Joseph settled Saint Catherine’s Creek in 1785, having received a land grant east of Natchez in Adams County, Mississippi and north to the present-day Jefferson County line and close to where his mother lived.[46] The old town of Washington lies on or near his grant. Joseph became a successful planter, landowner, and slaveholder. He later donated land for Washington, Mississippi, and in July, 1802, he sold forty-one acres of land at fifteen dollars per acre for Fort Dearborn next to Washington. Fort Dearborn became increasingly important as complications with Spain over the right of deposit of American goods at New Orleans developed.  On 8 September, 1798, Governor Winthrop Sargent appointed Joseph a Captain of Foot in the Lower District of the First Mississippi Militia. The following day, the governor additionally appointed Joseph a Conservator of the Peace. Until the appointment of federal judges, the Conservators of the Peace examined felonies, committed offenders, and appointed constables. They also could administer oaths of allegiance, but only until 30 October, 1798.[47]

Joseph’s brother, Thomas, played a significant role in Mississippi’s early territorial politics. The first territorial election—controlled by the Jeffersonian Republicans—was held in 1800 and brought him into the Assembly as a representative of the Jefferson district. The Assembly convened at Natchez. In an exciting election of 1802, citizens again elected Thomas to the Assembly. In 1808, Thomas joined the Fifth General Assembly, which the governor dissolved in 1809. More notoriously, Governor Cowles Mead met Aaron Burr at Thomas’ rough, pioneer home on Cole’s Creek on 17 January, 1807 to negotiate the latter’s surrender to authorities. This ended Burr’s conspiracy to create an independent nation. Thomas later built a more imposing plantation home.[48]

Meanwhile, in 1817 in [Iron Banks] Jefferson County, Mississippi, Joseph married Sidney “Cidia” Adair, daughter of Joseph Adair and Mildred “Millie” Wallace.  They had five children: John, James, Martha “Patsy,” and Thomas. Later in life, Joseph with a widow, Mrs. Sissons, also had an illegitimate daughter, Maria Louisa, whom he recognized in his will. Joseph died in 1819. Maria Louisa as late as 1850 was still fighting in court for her rightful share of her father’s estate.[49]


The Clarke Family

On 9 November, 1807 in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi, Joseph Calvit’s daughter, Martha (Patsy), married Joshua Giles Clarke who had been born in Pennsylvania about 1780. A lawyer, as a young man he had made his way to Mississippi.  Politically active, an influential Jeffersonian Republican, and one of the best legal minds in the territory, Joshua represented Claiborne County at the Convention of 1817 that formed the state of Mississippi. He subsequently served as one of the first supreme and circuit court judges, and he was the first to preside over the Supreme Court of Chancery in 1821. He held that position until his death in 1828 at Port Gibson, Mississippi.[50]

Joshua and Martha named their first male child, born about 1809 in Natchez, Joseph Calvitt Clarke in honor his grandfather. He became an attorney, neither the first nor last in the larger family. He was the first with that name, and almost 200 years later I am the fifth and last of that name. The first Joseph moved to New Orleans where he died in 1855.[51] The second was born in 1848 and sometime moved to Brooklyn, NY where he married and died. The third, my grandfather, was born in Brooklyn in 1887. He reasserted his Calvinist roots by becoming a Presbyterian minister. After working in several different cities, he spent most of his years in Richmond, Virginia. My father was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1920 but grew up in Richmond, where I was born.



In my family’s history, there are any number of exciting stories. My grandfather, Joseph Calvitt Clarke, founded the Christian Children’s Fund, which began in the 1930s with a series of orphanages in China.[52] A worthy story in its own right, but of particular personal interest because part of my wife’s family—on her father’s side likely the descendants of pirates plying China’s coast—were among the Japanese then occupying China. Along another family line, one Richard Hamilton was aboard a privateer sunk off the coast of France by the British in the War of 1812. Adrift for three days, the British picked him up and imprisoned him. He managed to escape, albeit only a couple of weeks before the war ended. My father, a Republican Party stalwart, was disappointed to learn, however, that Richard did not directly relate him to founding father Alexander Hamilton as he had been brought up to believe.

From Pierre Calvet directly descend—with spelling changes—families that played important roles in developing the United States.[53] On the whole, my family’s history forms a wonderful mirror that faithfully reflects their times and the emerging United States. They were an amazing lot and set standards I do not match. Their willingness to move about astonishes me—that restless wandering that so often distinguishes Americans from so many in the rest of the world. I admire their sacrificial devotion to faith—although in others I call this dogmatic fanaticism. As I travel comfortably in the groves of the roads they hewed through America’s frontier forests, I am awed at their adventurous spirit, their strength, … their very survival.


[1]Latayne Colvett Stanfill. Colvett Family Chronicles: The History of the Colvett Family of Tennessee, 1630-1900 (Glendale, CA: Heirloom Press, 1991), 13-14. See Michel Maldinier, Lacaune-les-Bains: des origines à nos jours (Nages, Fr: Centre de recherche de Rieumontagne, 1988).

[2]For demographic data on the Huguenots in France, see Philip Benedict, “The Huguenot Population of France, 1600-1685: The Demographic Fate and Customs of a Religious Minority,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 81 (1991), 1-164.

[3]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 17.

[4]Ibid., 17-18.  For a history of Protestantism in Lacaune, see Natalie Roubeau-Bascoul, La communauté protestante de Lacaune-Viane: De la Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes à la création de l’Eglise consistoriale (1685-1802)  (n.p.: Centre de Recherches du Patrimoine de Rieumontagne, n.d.).

[5]Information from librarian, Le musée du vieux Lacaune. For a general description of Catholic repression, see Roger Mettam, “Louis XIV and the Persecution of Huguenots: The Role of the Ministers and Royal Officials,” in Irene Scouloudi, ed., Huguenots in Britain and their French Background, 1550-1800: Contributions to the Historical Conference of the Huguenot Society of London, 24-25 September 1985 (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987), 198-216.

[6]Jeanne Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees as Exemplified in Manakintown, Virginia” (MA Thesis, Southwest Texas State Teachers College, 1947), 19-26; Lucian John Fosdick, The French Blood in America (NY: F. H. Revell, 1906); Robert Alonzo Brock, Documents Chiefly Unpublished, Relating to the Huguenot Emigration to Virginia and to the Settlement of Manakin-Town, with an Appendix of Genealogies, Presenting Data of the Fontaine, Maury, Dupuy, Trabue, Marye, Chastain, Cocke, and Other Families. To which is added: “Communication from Governor Francis Nicholson Concerning the Huguenot Settlements with 'List of Refugees’, 1700” (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979), vii; Grace Lawless Lee, The Huguenot Settlements in Ireland (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993); Samuel Smiles, The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches, and Industries in England and Ireland (London: John Murray, Albermarle St., 1889); Carlos A. Loop, “Non-English European Race Elements in Virginia, 1607-1776” (MA Thesis,  College of William and Mary, 1941). See Christopher Hartop, The Huguenot Legacy: English Silver 1680-1760 from the Alan and Simone Hartman Collection (London: Thomas Heneage, 1996) for part of the Huguenot contribution to England. Also, see the thirteen essays in Scouloudi, ed., Huguenots in Britain.

[7]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 20-22, 29. The name “Calvet” does not appear in William Durrant Cooper, ed., Lists of Foreign Protestants, and Aliens, Resident in England, 1618-1688: From Returns in the State Paper Office (Westminster: The Camden Society, 1862).

[8]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 21.

[9]For those Calvet’s who remained in France, see Stanfill, Colvett Family, 14-16. Calvet’s still live in Lacaune and their names are inscribed on local monuments honoring those who gave their lives for France during the First and Second World Wars.

[10]Ibid., 30-33. For a description of Huguenot life in England, see Charles W. Baird, History of the Huguenot Emigration to America, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1885/1966), 2: 148-69.

[11]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 34-42. For more demographic data on the Huguenot migration to London, see Benedict, “The Huguenot Population of France,” 45.

[12]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 42.

[13]Ibid., 43.

[14]Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 43; Fosdick, French Blood, 348-57; Robert L. Crewdon, “The Manakin Experiment: A French Protestant Colony in the New World,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (March 1986), 203-04; Mary Wilson Bohanna Land, “The Establishment of the Huguenots in Virginia” (MA Thesis, The College of William and Mary, 1942), 26-27; James Luckin Bugg Jr., “Manakin Town in Virginia, Its Story and Its People” (MA Thesis, University of Virginia, 1942), 39-58. For a larger discussion of Huguenot emigration to America, see Jon Butler, The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World Society (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), esp. 217-20 on Manakin.

[15]Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 43-46; Noel Curer-Briggs and Royston Gambier, Huguenot Ancestry (Sussex: Phillimore & Co., 1985), 57-69; Fairfax Harrison, “Brent Town, Ravensworth, and the Huguenots in Stafford,” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 5 (January, 1924), 164-85; Stanfill, Colvett Family, 48-50; Land, “The Establishment of the Huguenots in Virginia,” 27-29. For William Fitzhugh’s part in the settlement, see Richard Beale Davis, ed., William Fitzhugh and his Chesapeake World, 1676-1701: The Fitzhugh Letters and Other Documents (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 41-42, 177-79, 189-91, 201-08, 227-28, 245-54, 259-61, 290-92, 326-28, and 343-45 and Louis Booker Wright, The First Gentlemen of Virginia: Intellectual Qualities of the Early Colonial Ruling Class (San Marino, CA: The Huntington Library, 1940), 155-86.

[16]Quoted in Stanfill, Colvett Family, 50-51.

[17]Ibid., 51-52; Bugg, “Manakin Town,” 58-69; Land, “The Establishment of the Huguenots in Virginia,” 29-31.

[18]Stanfill, Colvett Family, 52-54.

[19]Brock, Documents, 9-10, 52-54; Bugg, James L. Jr., “The French Huguenot Frontier Settlement of Manakin Town,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 61 (October, 1953), 360; Baird, History of the Huguenot Emigration, 2: 177-78; Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 53-54.  For a brief biography of Coxe and description of his activities, see Daniel Coxe, A Description of the English Province of Carolana, by the Spaniards call’d Florida, and by the French La Louisiane. A Facsimile Reproduction of the 1722 Edition with an Introduction by William S. Coker and an Index by Polly Coker.  Bicentennial Floridiana Facsimile Series (Gainesville: The University Presses of Florida, 1976), vii-lxviii.

[20]Baird, History of the Huguenot Emigration, 87-89; Stanfill, Colvett Family, 55-66; Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 360-61.

[21]Bugg, “Manakin Town,” 77-89; Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 362; Brock, Documents, 5-8; Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 48-56; David I. Bushnell, Jr., Native Villages and Village Sites East of the Mississippi. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 69 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1919), 16; H. C. Groome, “The Finding of Fauquier,” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 2 (July, 1920), 317-18.

[22]Brock, Documents, 17-21, 25, 49-51, 54-67; Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 362-65; Wyndham B. Blanton, Medicine in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (NY: Arno Press, 1970), 37-41; Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 54, 57-58. For a summary of the Huguenots’ arrivals in Virginia culminating in their contributions to the state, see Gabrielle Maupin Bielensten, “How Huguenots Fared in Virginia,” in Peter Steven Gannon, ed., Huguenot Refugees in the Settling of Colonial America (NY: Huguenot Society of America, 1985), 89-101.

[23]Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 365-67; William Pope Dabney, “The Huguenots of Virginia,” The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries 8 (1882), 32; Land, “The Establishment of the Huguenots in Virginia,” 33-48; Morgan P. Robinson, “Henrico Parish in the Diocese of Virginia and the Parishes Descended Therefrom,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 43 (January, 1935), 18-20; Dibrell, “Huguenot Refugees,” 53. For a description of Virginia and Manakin, see: Francis Louis Michel, “Report of the Journey of Francis Louis Michel from Berne, Switzerland to Virginia,” William J. Hinke, ed. and trans., Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 24 (January, 1916), 1-43, 29; 24 (April, 1916), 113-41; and 24 (June, 1916),  275-303.

[24]Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 367-74; Bugg, “Manakin Town,” 89-112; Brock, Documents, 14-56.

[25]Brock, Documents, 42-44; Francis Louis Michel, “Report of the Journey of Francis Louis Michel,” 24 (April, 1916), 121-24; Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 375-76; Durand de Dauphine, A Huguenot Exile in Virginia, or Voyages of a Frenchman exiled for his Religion with a Description of Virginia and Maryland. From the Hague Edition of 1687 With an Introduction & Notes by Gilbert Chinard, ed. (NY: Press of the Pioneers, 1934), 112.

[26]Bugg, “French Huguenot Frontier Settlement,” 376-79; Leslie Tobias, “Manakin Town: The Development and Demise of a French Protestant Refugee Community in Colonial Virginia 1700-1750” (MA Thesis, College of William and Mary, 1982), 9-73; George MacLaren Brydon, “The Huguenots of Manakin Town and Their Times,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 42 (October, 1934), 325-35; Doyce B. Nunis, Jr., “The Sublettes: A Study of a Refugee Family in the Eighteenth Century,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 69 (January, 1961), 43-66. Also see Land, “The Establishment of the Huguenots in Virginia,” 52-68 and Crewdson, “Manakin Experiment,” 203-11. Together, Crewdson and Land present a compelling picture of the problems afflicting the settlement.

[27]Brock, Documents, 74. The Henrico County, Virginia Patent Book Number 10. Patent Number 125 reads: “John Calvit, Apr. 30, 1714, 100 acres on the south side of the James River, beginning at a corner ash standing in the river at the south of a small branch, being the upper corner on the river of the French Lands, etc.”  See Francis Stuart Harmon, A Good Inheritance (NY: P & D Press, 1960), 163.

[28]Stanfill. Colvett Family, 66; Harmon, Good Inheritance, 164.

[29]Ibid.; R. H. Fife, trans. and ed., “King William Parish, Vestry Book, 1707-50,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 12 (January, 1905), 251, 254, 256; R. H. Fife, trans. and ed., “King William Parish, Vestry Book, 1707-50,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 13 (July, 1905), 67, 68, 70, 75, 78, 80.

[30]Harmon, Good Inheritance, 164-65.

[31]Ibid., 164.

[32]Ibid., 171.

[33]Harmon, Good Inheritance, 168-71.

[34]Ibid., 173.

[35]James Gettys McGready Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee to the End of The Eighteenth Century (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1853), 137-39; Theodore Roosevelt, Stories from the Winning of the West, 1769-1807, intro. Lawrence F. Abbott (NY: Putnam's, 1920), 116-21; Harmon, Good Inheritance, 173-74; Samuel Cole Williams, Tennessee During the Revolutionary War (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1974), 15-23.

[36]Ramsey, Annals of Tennessee, 171; Williams, Tennessee , 64; Harmon, Good Inheritance, 175-175b;  Stanfill, Colvett Family, 313-15.

[37]Based on days in service, all four brothers filed claims in North Carolina for service during the Revolutionary War.  Frederick obviously served longer than the others—his two claims total almost twice as much as the sum for his brothers. Harmon, Good Inheritance, 176-77. For a description of Clark’s campaigns, see Roosevelt, Stories, 68-94.

[38]May Wilson McBee, David Smith, Patriot, Pioneer and Indian Fighter (Kansas City: E. L. Mendenhall, 1959), 20; Harmon, Good Inheritance, 177.

[39]McBee, David Smith, 22-23; Harmon, Good Inheritance, 176-77.

[40]McBee, David Smith, 22-25; Dunbar Rowland, History of Mississippi: The Heart of the South, 2 vols. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925), 1: 302. For a description of a similar journey made seven years later, see Harmon, Good Inheritance, 177-78. For a history of Natchez, see Dorris Clayton James, AnteBellum Natchez. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968). For a romanticized architectural tour of Natchez, see Catharine Van Court, In Old Natchez (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1937); Harmon, Good Inheritance, 181 and David J. Libby, Slavery and Frontier Mississippi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004), 32-33.

[41]Phil Dove, “Spanish Assistance During the American Revolution: A Convergence of Interests,” Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians 12 (2005), 42-50; Rowland, History of Mississippi, 265-75.

[42]George Mason Graham Stafford, The Wells family of Louisiana, and Allied Families (Baton Rogue, LA: privately published, 1941), 232-35.

[43]Harmon, Good Inheritance, 181. For more on the Natchez Trace, see Robert M. Coates, The Outlaw Years: The History of the Land Pirates of the Natchez Trace (NY: Literary Guild of America 1930).

[44]Harmon, Good Inheritance, 783-85.

[45]Jeptha Higdon produced 10,000 lbs. and his mother Mary another 2000.  Kinnaird, ed., Spain in the Mississippi Valley, 308, 310. Also see List of Tobacco Growers in 1790, For a description of slavery in Mississippi, see Libby, Slavery and Frontier Mississippi, esp. 30-35 for a picture of the plantation life these Calvit settlers inhabited.

[46]A weekly, The Mississippi Messenger, Natchez issue, 17 February, 1807: “Mrs. Mary Higdon, whose death we announced last week, had resided in this Territory 25 years, and had borne during her lifetime 14 children, 65 grandchildren, 70 great grandchildren, 6 great-great-grandchildren. She lived to see the fifth generation.  All the surviving posterity are living in this Territory.” Her two-story house between Highway 61 and Jefferson Military College was still standing in 1960. Her obituary was in a local paper: “Died near Washington, Sunday evening, Mrs. Mary Higdon in the 85th year of age.” Harmon, Good Inheritance, 168.

[47]Ibid., 183; Stanfill, Colvett Family, 348-51; Dunbar Rowland, The Mississippi Territorial Archives, 1798-1803: Executive Journals of Governor Winthrop Sargent and Governor William Charles Cole Claiborne (Nashville, TN: Brandon Printing Co., 1905), 1: 478, 480-81, 550, 582-83; Rowland, History of Mississippi, 1: 353-55, 386-89; In 1830, Joseph's descendants—Martha (Patsy) Calvit Clarke, her son Joseph Calvit Clarke, and her brother John Calvit—applied for Joseph’s Revolutionary War Pension. Signing the affidavits in witness for them were Ann Taber of Port Gibson, MS who lived with her family at a military post during the war and Margaret Williams, widow of Captain John Williams who served in the Illinois Campaign along with Joseph.  Margaret Williams said she “personally knew and [was] well acquainted with Lieut. Joseph Calvit.” Thomas Coe stated he was personally acquainted with Joseph and had been present at his death and burial.  He also said that Martha Calvit Clarke and John Calvit were Joseph’s only surviving legal heirs, because his sons James and Thomas had died without issue. Stanfill, Colvett Family, 353.

[48]Rowland, History of Mississippi, 1: 370, 373, 421, 475; J. R. Taylor, “Aaron Burr: An Interesting Account of his Stay in the Territory of Mississippi,” Times-Democrat, 24 February, 1901; Stafford, Wells Family, 276-88.

[49]Ibid., 352-54.

[50]Rowland, History of Mississippi, 1: 489-90, 499.

[51]Joseph Calvit’s family had connections in NY. In April, 1821, “Joe” Clarke and Benjamin Grubb Humphreys, “still wearing Knee breeches,” left Port Gibson on the steamer Eagle to Natchez and on the steamer Volcano to New Orleans. There they found passage on the sailing ship Asia down the Mississippi and out the Balise into the Gulf of Mexico. They passed in sight of Cuba and then were out of sight of land for sixteen days. After 24 days, they landed at Staten Island and ten days of quarantine. The two young boys saw New York City and then Morristown where they spent three years with the family of Mr. F. King.  P. L. Rainwater, “The Autobiography of Benjamin Grubb Humphreys,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review (1934), 236.

[52]John C. Caldwell, Children of Calamity (NY: John Day Co., 1957); Edmund W. Janss, Yankee Si! (NY: William Morrow & Co., 1961).

[53]For more on Huguenot contributions to the new American nation, see Arthur Henry Hirsch, The Huguenots of Colonial South Carolina (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1928); Mrs. James M. Lawton, comp. and ed., Family Names of Huguenot Refugees to America (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984); Robert F. Clute, The Annals and Parish Register of St. Thomas and St. Denis Parish, in South Carolina, from 1680 to 1884 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1974); Albert F. Koehler, The Huguenots or Early French in New Jersey (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996); Charles Edmund Lart, Huguenot Pedigrees, 2 vols., (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997); Hannah F. Lee, The Huguenots in France and America (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994); Ralph LeFevre, History of New Paltz, New York, and Its Old Families (From 1678-1820) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996); Daniel Ravenel, “Liste Des Francois Et Suisses” From An Old Manuscript List of French and Swiss Protestants Settled In Charleston On the Santee And At the Orange Quarter In Carolina Who Desired Naturalization Prepared Probably About 1695-6 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1990); Ammon Stapleton, Memorials of Huguenots in America: Memorials of the Huguenots In America With Special Reference To Their Emigration To Pennsylvania (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1996).