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A Journey to Find Our Huguenot Ancestors

Dieppe

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Wisely, we hired a van to take us to Dieppe, where we hoped to find a hint of an ancestor: Nicolas Postel (or Potel, or Postell). This man, along with his wife, Marie Brugnet, and son Jean, were Huguenots. These Protestants, followers of Jean Calvin, were persecuted by the Catholic majority in France, and in 1685, when the few rights they had were rescinded, many left France for the Caribbean, Switzerland, Germany, England, and what were the colonies in the US. Our ancestor came to Charleston, SC and ultimately prospered there. You can read more about the Huguenots of South Carolina.

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In the Port of Honfleur, there was a wooden ship, much like the ones the Postels would have sailed on. It looked like a dirty version of a Disney ride, only smaller, and the thought of a man, his wife and small child walking away from everyone and everything they had ever known, to go to an English colony on that ship was humbling.

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We found no trace of the Postels in Dieppe, but we did see the ancient church in the middle of the city. The Church Saint-Jacques, which would have been the largest building in the town in 1685, must have fueled formidable opponents to the Huguenots, the religious majority certain that God wanted everyone to be a Catholic.

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An old man stopped us by the church and in broken English (him) and very rudimentary French (us), we learned that the Vatican would not fund the steeple being returned back to the top of the church. It sat next to the church, where it has been for at least a hundred years. And, he said he loved America. Loved Obama, and said “What’s this Trump?”, then twirled his finger next to his temple, a universal symbol of crazy.

Étretat

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Along the coast lay Étretat, a small town on the beach between white cliffs. This spot provided a panoramic view of the English Channel, called the Manche by the French. The water was aquamarine; a totally unexpected vision of what we thought would be gray Atlantic sea. These cliffs and surrounding areas were painted many times by Claude Monet.

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We had lunch in Étretat where we were introduced to French fry sandwiches. Yes, you read this right. A twelve inch baguette was sliced long ways, piled with “pommes frites”, then served as a sandwich. More fries on the side, since the fries in the sandwich did not count as your “side”. Our matriarch could not get her head around the French fry sandwich. She insisted that there must be meat somewhere under the pile of steaming fries. There was not. We found out later that they were likely fried in duck fat. It’s inexplicable why the French have lower heart disease than Americans!

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