“Upon the first page of the earliest existing records of Oxford there stands alone a word of deep significance, placed there by one of the fathers of the town, as a charge to coming generations. The suggestive word may fitly close this imperfect recital of the Gabriel Bernon experiences of
“The Huguenots in the Nipmuck Country.”
Early in 1881, a small group of woman recognized that there was a need to keep alive the spirit and to remember the Huguenots, who in 1686, established the first colony in Oxford, known at the time as New Oxford, after the city of that name in England. Through the efforts of these women, The Huguenot Memorial Society of Oxford was duly established on the fourth day of October 1881, under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a corporation for the object of perpetuating, by all appropriate means, the memory of the early Huguenot settlers of Oxford. These women and many others over time, not all of which are descendants of early Huguenots, have accepted the charge and have kept the Huguenot spirit alive.
The General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony granted in 1682 a parcel of land eight miles square in Nipmuck Country to two English gentlemen, William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley. Gabriel Bernon, a wealthy French Huguenot merchant, entered into negotiations with these English proprietors to settle the southeast corner (approximately 2500 acres) of this much larger English Grant. Bernon agreed to finance the French settlement of thirty Huguenot families, who had fled their native LaRochelle, France amidst the rumblings of religious intolerance. These Huguenots were well educated, gifted artisans, had owned estates, and held positions of importance in France prior to their departure due to the religious persecution. As part of the negotiations for the settlement, Gabriel Bernon was to finance, among other things, the building of a grist mill, a sawmill, a wash leather mill, a fort and a French Church. Bernon also agreed to provide passage for the settlers from England to Boston. Bernon did not manage the affairs of the colony in person, but employed as his agent, Isaac Bertrand Du Tuffeau. Du Tuffeau upon arrival was given as the representative and co-partner of Bernon, a tract of seven hundred and fifty acres of land in new Oxford. 1
It is readily seen that there was real beauty in the plan on which the settlement was built. Above the whole, overlooking the valley for miles, was the main fort, which in turn looked down on the church and lower fort. Still lower were the meadows, with the picturesque river winding through them, and beyond, on the higher banks, scattered up and down were the dwellings, and stretching behind these were the level plantations, and the receding forests hills made up the background.
Early in 1881, The Honorable Sigourney Butler, Mr. George Sigourney and Mr. William Butler purchased eight and one-half acres of land in three parcels from landowners. This land included the historic Huguenot Fort Site and the surrounding land located on Fort Hill Road in Oxford. The men deeded the acreage to the newly formed Huguenot Memorial Society in 1881 and the Society deeded the Historic Site to the Town of Oxford in 1979 to be held in perpetuity.
Since 1881, members of the Society have been active in perpetuating the memory of the French Huguenot Settlers in New Oxford. For example, the Society was responsible for the granite obelisk monument to commemorate the Huguenots, which was donated by them and the descendants of the Huguenots and dedicated on October 2, 1884. In conjunction with the Oxford Historical Commission, an Annual Walk and Town Picnic is held at the Huguenot Fort. In 1986, they organized the rededication of Huguenot Square in the center of the Town of Oxford.
For many years, the Society has sponsored an essay contest about the Huguenots for seventh grade students at the Oxford Middle School. Various presentations on Huguenot history and research are periodically offered to the Public through efforts of the Society. During the past few years, the Society has participated in formulating and displaying Huguenot interests on floats in the Town of Oxford anniversary celebration parades. A pageant depicting the quiescent departure from France by the Huguenots in 1686, the voyage to New Oxford, the establishment of the colony, comingling with the Nipmuck Native Americans, life in the colony and the departure from the colony by the Huguenots due to unrest in the West was characterized by members of the Society at the 2012 Annual Picnic.
1. The Huguenots in The Nipmuck Country by George F. Daniels 1879
Throughout the years, there have been several industrious and dedicated men and women who have accepted the challenge and devoted their time in providing leadership for members of the Huguenot Memorial Society of Oxford. Such as, the past and current Presidents, who are listed as follows:
|1881||The Honorable Zachariah Allen|
|Peter Butler, Esquire|
|1953||Clovis L. Carpenter|
|1966||Doctor Harold E. Mayo|
|Doctor Walter R. Schur|