Letter from Louis Thibou to friends and family in France, 1683
Louis Thibou was a Huguenot who was an early settler in Carolina. Huguenots were the religious minority in France, but were allowed to worship freely under the Edict of Nantes until King Louis XIV revoked the edict in 1685, two years after this letter was written. Despite the edict, Thibou does mention persecution of the Huguenots in France and writes this letter to persuade other Huguenots to come to Carolina. His statements about the weather, crops, animals, and taxes only discuss positive aspects of life in Carolina and are often exaggerated. Letters like Thibou’s did often convince others to move to the New World to escape persecution or economic hardships. The Huguenots would come to South Carolina in greater numbers after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes: 1500 fled to South Carolina by 1685.
[Information about the Huguenots in South Carolina taken from Walter Edgar, South Carolina: A History (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998), 50-1.]
Thibou, Louis Letter. 20 September 1683. Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.
Carolina, the 20th September 1683
Gentlemen and dear Friends,
This is the second letter I am writing to you although you have not yet honored me by one of yours. In this one I shall give you details about this country and its mode of life, and first of all I shall describe to you that it is a wooded country with lovely savannas or plains crossed by fine rivers very full of fish in which anyone who likes can fish and with enough oysters to feed a kingdom. The land is not too difficult to clear; a man who has a mind to work can easily clear an arpent [1 ¼ acres] or more in a month. If a man has five or six arpents of land under cultivation and if he works only two months in the year and sows corn and Pease after having cleared the land he should be able to reap more that 100 bushels of wheat and 50 or 60 bushels of Pease. I myself have not more than that under cultivation and have reaped this year as much as I have just mentioned. This climate is temperate, as you would describe that of Languedoc or Italy, a little warmer than Paris – the winters are almost as long but the frosts are not so severe. In short I assure you it is a fine climate, very temperate and very healthy, where one feels very fit. Everything you can imagine growing in France or in England grows here. Carolina has good earth, nothing barren about it and it only needs to be cultivated. It is a country where there is an abundance of fish in the right season; in fact one makes the pigs drunk by feeding it to them. I have tried growing vines which do wonderfully well – not those of the country, but those of France, Madeira and the Canaries which have been introduced here. They produce excellent grapes which are sweet, winey and full of juice. There can never be a lack of them since they are nourished by warmth and soft rain; that is why I am sure of producing here better wine than could be produce in Europe. The native vines also produce very good grapes but the pity of it is that they produce too much wood and too heavy a growth of leaf which hinders the fruit from ripening; all the same I have planted several which have done well. If only I had good vine-stock from Champagne, Suresne and Argenteuil I would very quickly do well in this country for wine in very dear and sells at 20 sous a bottle, as it does everywhere else in America. We only need labor and good plants to do a lot in a short time. We have good garden-melons and excellent watermelons of which I am sending you some seeds. We have potatoes in abundance which a good root out of which we make a drink with molasses or dregs of sugar; it is a liqueur which is as good as beer. These potatoes are mighty good to eat cooked in the oven. A bushel of these roots planted in a little square of earth produces 15 or 20. You much realize that a man here who has 2000 crowns can live better than a gentleman which an income of 2000 “livres” can live in France. In fact any man who has a couple of negroes, a readymade plantation, a servant to look after his household, to milk his cows, to look after his pigs, his poultry and his dovecote can live very happily and that is something a man can have in this country at small outlay. If he wishes to hunt or to have an Indian hunt for him there is no lack of venison or game. An Indian will provide a family of 30 with enough game and venison, as much as they can eat, all the year round for 4 crowns. As for fish there is abundance of all kinds and fishing is such good sport that in this country there is no lack of it, just as in London. Victuals are very cheap, beef only 3 sous a pound at the butcher’s, fat port 3 sous and lean only 2. Wheat is worth 24 sous a bushel and Pease 36; one gets 100 pounds of potatoes for only 24 sous. The cattle only feed in the woods, on the plains or on the savanna, the bulls, the cows and the rest of the cattle feed themselves perfectly well at no cost whatever; one had only to keep the calves in the house to bring all the cows back every evening – the only trouble they are is to milk them and they give you a calf every year, which is a good profit costing no more to feed a lot than a few; you feed them by their thousands in the woods. As for the pigs, they only need to be given a little corn in the evening to make them come back home, the poultry is easy to rear because of the hear – as you see we have no lack of butter nor milk, as well as fat capons, hens and fresh eggs. I admit that a man who starts with nothing has a little difficulty for the first two three years, but a man who has something to back him and can afford a couple of farm-hands, a maidservant and some cattle can establish himself very well right away and live very happily in this country. Carolina is a good country for anyone who is not lazy; however poor he may be, he can live well provided he is willing to take a little trouble. Carpenters, cobblers, tailors and other craftsmen necessary for building or clothing easily make a living. I have no doubt that one of our French friends has put this country in a bad light in his letters but if he had really wished to work he could have done as well as I have and would have had a good word to say for Carolina with as much reason as I, for I assure you that when I arrive with my wife and 3 children I was not worth a farthing and my furniture did not consist of very much, whereas now I am beginning to live well. If I had a couple of farmhands and a serving maid I would live like a gentleman, but I must be patient. I hope that with God’s help the vines will in time bring me all I want. We have 15 or 16 nations of Indians round us who are very friendly and the English get on well with them; the largest number is not more than 500 strong. They bring them a great quantity of deerskins and furs. There are some tigers and wolves here but no more of the latter than there are in France and the moment a tiger or wolf catches sight of a man it runs away faster than a deer. Although it is said that there are a great number in the woods I have never seen a live one since I came to the country and only one little dead one that an Indian had killed. As for the crocodile which the English call alligator you cannot get within gunshot of them, for the moment they catch sight of you they dive into the water. Anyhow there are only a few little ones at the sources of the rivers and they have never done harm to any one. There are no more snakes than there are in France and they run away when
they hear you so that it is difficult to catch and kill them. As for the rattlesnake, of which there has been so much talk in England, you can easily kill it for it does not move more than a tuft of grass; a child could kill one with a switch. It is true that a few people have been bitten by accident, but there is a good remedy for that here and no one has ever died of their bite; all that has been said about this kind of animals is just a lot of fairy-tales. My wife and all my family are well, thank God. My poor little Loton [?] died out here but God has given us a son who is called Jacob after the one we lost in England; the captain of a warship was his godfather. Gabriel is well and kisses the hands of his godfather and godmother. I beg you to communicate this letter to friend Le Nain and to M. Poupé and to M. de Baze and to my friend Ardain and to M. Valon and to all my acquaintances; give them my regards; I beg to you let me have some news and to convey the enclosed to M. Marriette of Place Maubert, Paris. I believe that there are lots of French in England who have taken refuge there on account of the persecutions. If they want to live in peace they need merely come to this country. They can settle in town or in the countryside, on the plantations where they will be able to live in peace. They will not have to pay any taxes here or money for the high roads nor chimney taxes, for nothing of that sort is charged in this country. All you have to pay is one sou per year to the owner of the land for each arpent; wood and resin candles cost nothing at all and tallow candles are very cheap. Those who are willing to come to Carolina will discover the truth of what I say; I would advise all the young men who have a trade to come and settle here rather than stay in England. They could bring us some brandy, white and blue linen and bits of cloth for the Indians; all that serves as good currency and is worth half as much again. I beg you to tell the mother of the little boy I brought along that he is well and that I have received the letter she wrote. Adieu, my dear Friend; please tell M. Valon to write to me and M. de Baze and friend Le Nain, to whom I feel as close as to you, and M. Poupé and my friend his wife; and tell her that her brother and sister are well; he has made quite 30 pounds of silk this year; he has let some of it got to ruin by not drawing it, through his negligence; please kiss the hands of all our friends, male and female, to whom I feel as towards you.
You very affectionate servant
P.S. There is good timber here for building houses which are roofed with planks and boards. Others do it with a sort of lime, made out of oyster every one builds as he wishes, maybe with planks sawn from cedars or some with it. The children do very well here; they are bigger and fatter than come and join us here. My plantation is on the river Ashley which is beautiful and full of fish. There is good land to be obtained behind my plantation and it would suffice for a number of families. I beg you to kiss the hands of M. Prieux who would have done better to come out here than to remain in England. M. Varain is making lots of money at his trade. Good apples grow here and sweet cherries, which become as red as wine inside, some pears, such as winter and summer William pears and butter pears, as well as some horseradish seed. Once again I beg you to write to me and to give us news of our relatives, how they are getting on in France under the persecution. Those who want to come to Carolina could not fail to have opportunities because so many ships arrive from England, the Barbados, New England etc., bringing us horses and cattle. The port here is never without ships and the country is becoming a great traffic center. Some deputies from Scotland came here to look at the country which please them very much; they bought two counties, or provinces, and are preparing to bring over 10,000 people to settle them; I have no doubt that a number of others will follow shortly, people arrive every day from all parts to inhabit this country. That will make Carolina powerful and flourishing in a very short time. Adieu, my dear friend; I wish you a thousand blessings and am your servant,
Standard 3-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration and settlement of South Carolina and the United States.
Indicator 3-2.2: Summarize the activities and accomplishments of key explorers of South Carolina, including Hernando de Soto, Jean Ribault, Juan Pardo, Henry Woodward, and William Hilton. (H, G)
Standard 4-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration of the new world.
Indicator 4-1.4 Explain the exchange of plant life, animal life, and disease that resulted from exploration of the New World, including the introduction of wheat, rice, coffee, horses, pigs, cows, and chickens to the Americas; the introduction of corn, potatoes, peanuts, and squash to Europe; and the effects of such diseases as diphtheria, measles, smallpox, and malaria on Native Americans. (G, H, E)
Standard 4.2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of North America by Native Americans, Europeans, African-Americans and the interactions among these peoples.
Indicator 4-2.3: Identify the English, Spanish, and French colonies in North America and summarize the motivations for the settlement of these colonies, including freedom of worship, and economic opportunity. (H, G, E)
Standard 8-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.
Indicator 8-1.3 Summarize the history of European settlement in Carolina from the first attempts to settle at San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesfort, San Felipe, and Albemarle Point to the time of South Carolina’s establishment as an economically important British colony, including the diverse origins of the settlers, the early government, the importance of the plantation system and slavery, and the impact of the natural environment on the development of the colony. (H, G, P, E)
Standard USHC-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of exploration and settlement of North America.
Indicator USHC-1.1 Summarize the distinct characteristics of each colonial region in the settlement and development of America, including religious, social, political, and economic differences. (H, E, P, G)