Seeking Refuge In Brazil: The First French Huguenots In The Americas cover

Seeking Refuge In Brazil: The First French Huguenots In The Americas

French Protestants, also known as Huguenots, were heavily persecuted in France during the 1500 and 1600s. Despite the growing number of Huguenots in France, the country was still predominantly Roman Catholic, which in turn led to countless conflicts and some terrible acts of violence such as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. In an effort to escape these terrible persecutions, countless French Huguenots left for the New World in the 1500 and 1600s to seek refuge from persecution. However, many Huguenots began their expeditions to South Carolina, Florida, and Brazil even earlier, as early as the sixteenth century.

Landing In Brazil

A small fleet of two ships and six hundred sailors and soldiers was led by French vice-admiral Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon took hold of a small island named Serigipe in Guanabara Bay near present-day Rio De Janeiro on November 1st, 1555. There, he established Fort Coligny, named after Gaspard de Coligny, a French nobleman, Admiral of France, and a Catholic Statesman who would go on to become a Huguenot later. Teaming up with the local Tamoio and Tupinambá Indian tribes who were battling with the Portuguese at the time, Villegaignon was able to secure his position.

Colony Expansion

With Fort Coligny on Serigipe Island secure and no threat or challenge from the Portuguese in sight, Villegaignon sought to expand the colony, sending a ship back to France in 1556 with letters onboard for Gaspard de Coligny, King Henry II, and Protestant leader John Calvin. Three ships returned under the command of Villegaignon’s nephew Sieur de Bois le Comte with three hundred people including five women who were to be wed, ten young men who would be trained as translators, and fourteen Calvinists/Huguenots sent from Geneva by John Calvin.

Unfortunately, a year later in October 1557, these Calvinists/Huguenots would be banished from the colony due to Doctrinal disputes in relation to the Eucharist. For the next four months, these exiled Huguenots lived with the Tupinamba tribes. In January 1558, some of them made their way back to France with expedition writer Jean de Léry. Five of the Calvinists traveled back to Fort Coligny where three of them were drowned for refusing to renege on the Doctrinal disputes they had regarding the Eucharist.

Intervention By The Portuguese

Unfortunately, for Coligny and Villegaignon, their vision of an expanded French colony in Brazil would last just twelve years before coming to an end when Mem de Sá, the Governor-General of Brazil was ordered by the Portuguese government to drive the French out. Sending a huge fleet of twenty-six warships with more than two thousand soldiers on board, he launched an attack on Fort Coligny but the French battled hard.

Despite destroying Fort Coligny itself in just three days, Sá was unable to drive away the inhabitants and those that stood strong in defense. Escaping to the mainland with the help of the Tupi Indian tribe, those who were left settled among the tribe, living and working in their community. Following the attack, Admiral Villegaignon returned to France in 1588, as he was so disgusted with the continued tension between French Hugeonots and Protestants.

With Villegaignon out of the picture, Mem de Sá began planning another attack on the French. He ordered his nephew Estácio de Sá to assemble a group of men to take on the French. Estácio founded the city of Rio De Janeiro and continued to fight against the French for a further two years. The French – both Catholics and Protestants – put up an incredible fight and battled valiantly. In the end, Estácio reached out to his uncle for help and definitively beat the French in The Battle of Rio de Janeiro, or the Battle of Guanabara Bay, on 20 January 1567. Hit by an arrow that perforated his eye, Estácio de Sá, would die a month later from this injury that he sustained during the fighting.

The Portuguese Expand Their Colonization Efforts In Brazil

Later, in the seventeenth century, the French would make two further attempts to conquer different territories in Brazil, however, the Portuguese were able to stifle their attacks and keep the French from colonizing. This ongoing threat from the French led to the Portuguese crown deciding to expand their colonization efforts in Brazil leasing to them staying in power in Brazil until 1824 when the last Portuguese soldiers left Brazil The Treaty of Rio De Janeiro was signed by both Portugal and brazil ion August 29th, 1825, officially recognizing Brazil’s independence from Portugal for once and for all.