Flight from France – Esther Hewlett (nee Beuzeville)
After the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 Huguenots found life intolerable and left France by the thousands.
In 1686, or thereabouts, Francis Roussel, then aged about five years, who was later to become the grandfather of both Mary and Peter Beuzeville escaped to England, as did his mother and siblings. His father, Laurens Roussel, an apothecary, remained in Pont Audemer under house arrest.
The story of the escape has been documented by Esther (Beuzeville) Hewlett in a book Historical Tales for Young Protestants. The following is taken from Rev. David Carnegie Agnew’s book Protestant Exiles from France (1866).
“It was arranged for the family to travel to the coast in detachments, the two elder boys went with their mother (Margaret Langlois) to Calais, and Marie, the eldest daughter, was to follow with her brothers, Stephen and Frances aged eight and five years.
Having dressed herself as a peasant girl, she placed them in two panniers which were swung over the back of a donkey, covering them with vegetables and fruit; she put a basket containing poultry on the donkey’s back. The little ones were charged neither to speak nor to move, whatever might happen on the road. A servant dressed as a farmer rode on horseback, moving in advance as if unknown to the girl. They travelled by night; but as time was precious, the latter part of the journey had to be taken during daylight. Suddenly a party of dragoons came in sight; they rode up, fixed their eyes upon Marie, and then on the panniers. “What is in those baskets?” they cried. Before Marie could give an answer one of them drew his sword, and thrust it into the pannier where the younger boy was hid. No cry was heard, not a movement was made. The soldiers concluded that all was right and galloped off.
As soon as they were out of sight, Marie knocked off the inanimate contents of the pannier. the little boy lifted up his arms towards her, and she saw that he was covered in blood from a severe cut to one of them. He had understood that if he had cried out his own life and the lives of his brother and sister would have been lost, and he bravely bore the pain and was silent.”
Meanwhile Madame Roussel, carrying what valuables she could secrete, had arrived in another disguise in Calais, and at the appointed place mother and children met once more. A boat had been hired to take them across the Channel: an open boat, for which they had paid thirty guineas.
The crossing probably took two days, with the family suffering from exposure and concern about the wounded arm of Francis. It is believed that when the boat was some distance from land the boatman declared that unless they doubled his fee he would return them to France. Marguerite boldly replied that if he did that she would denounce him for aiding heretics to escape.
The family landed safely on English soil with one trunk containing plate, valuables and about the equivalent of five hundred pounds.
Laurens Roussel died on August 1, 1691, a prisoner in his own house. He was buried privately in his own garden at St. Germain (a suburb of Pont Audemer) near the church of St. Germains.
Just how the family fared initially on reaching England we do not know, but we can be certain that they were received well by other Huguenot families. Presumably Marguerite found some means of making a living, as her sons were too young to work, or she may have been supported by a Friendly Society.
A Kidnapping and a Strange Twist of Fate
The troubles of this family were by no means over, however, and soon after they arrived in England a strange disaster befell them. Several versions of this story exist, and here W. Gilbert Wiblin is quoted:
“Lawrence, the second son, than a lad in his early teens, was one morning going down the street where they lived, behind a little girl with her school bag on her arm, when a parrot flew out of a gentleman’s window and settled on her neck, to her great alarm. Lawrence ran to her assistance and succeeded in beating off the bird, and then took the poor crying child home to his Mother, who confronted her and took her to her own home.
“The two families thus became acquainted, and the boy and girl were inseparable. But their happiness was rudely interrupted… (one day) … got lost in the strange city, and it was several years before his stricken family had any knowledge of his fate.
“At length one of their neighbours, who had known about the boy’s disappearance, happened to go to Maryland (USA). when visiting a plantation she heard the name ‘Lawrence Roussel’ called over at a muster of the planter’s slaves. He obtained an interview, and found that the slave in question was indeed the missing Huguenot boy, who had lost his way somewhere down by the Thames, and had been carried off on to a ship and taken to the colony and sold into slavery.
“Laurens asked the gentleman to take back news of him to his Mother, and handed him a small silver earpick, one of his Father’s surgical instruments, which he had in his pocket: the sole survivor of him, which he was sure would identify him to his Mother. the planter gave him a most excellent character, but refused to part with him, as owing to his ability to read and write, he had become indispensable.
“However, the neighbour’s report and the production of the earpick relieved the anxieties of his family, and gave hope of a reunion. this took place a few years later when the planter died, leaving Lawrence his freedom and a comfortable fortune.
“Not only did he lose no time in returning to London, but found that the girl he had rescued from the parrot had not forgotten him through his fifteen years of captivity and exile. He made her his bride, and afterwards practised as a physician in London.” Her name was Bridget Crawford.