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Camden residents recount Huguenot ancestry

Posted: October 9, 2012 6:10 p.m.
Updated: October 10, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A copy of Risher ancestor Jacques Fontaine's memoirs.

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Local Camden residents Col. Lanning Risher and Dr. John DuBose III are two men whose ancestry can clearly be traced back to the Huguenots who fled France in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Recently retired, these men -- who have spent their working lives in the Camden community -- recounted their family stories.

Col. Lanning Risher served as headmaster for Camden Military Academy from 1958 to 1995. He is the son of Col. James F. Risher who was the president of Carlisle Military School in Bamberg. James Risher purchased the Camden facility in 1955 and later appointed his son Lanning to lead the school.

Dr. John DuBose III practiced general internal medicine in the Camden area for 38 years. He founded Camden Internal Medical Associates in 1975 which later merged to form Sentinel Health Partners, still a thriving group practice today.

Their lineage is Huguenot -- a group in France who faced religious persecution in the Catholic-dominated region during the time of their exodus.

The Huguenots

The term “Huguenot” is a 17th century Franco term derived from the German word “Eidgenossen” which literally means “confederates bound by oath.” In the 17th century, it was originally used by French Catholics as a generic, derogatory label for all French Protestants. Over time, the term was used to identify a specific group of French Protestants who were followers of Calvinism.

According to the Huguenot Society of America’s historical summary, beginning in the early 16th century, the Protestant movement, influenced by Calvin and Martin Luther, spread rapidly throughout western Europe. France, a predominantly Catholic nation, was also heavily influenced by this movement. Initially, Francis I, the King of France, granted religious and political toleration to this group of religious nonconformists because it was both politically and economically convenient. At this time, however, France and Spain were the traditional supporters of Catholic influence in western Europe.

To avoid a political rift from forming between the Church and the French monarchy, Pope Leo X granted Francis the power to appoint bishops through the Concordant of Bologna (1516). Though this papal act would magnify Francis’ political and religious authority in France, he was now bound to papal authority. As a result, Francis reversed his policy of religious toleration and engaged in a policy of harassment and violent persecution beginning in 1534 when Francis outlawed the Protestant faith in France.

This type of policy had a profound impact on religion, and Catholicism would later become the official state religion at great expense to the French Huguenots. “Absolutism” would continue and strengthen during the rule of Louis’ successor and son, Louis XIV (1643-1715). When Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, another wave of religious persecutions swept over the Huguenots. These persecutions were extremely vicious. Huguenots decided to flee France in a mass exodus which took them to the Netherlands, southern Africa, England, Ireland, and ultimately the British North American colonies.

Approximately 2,000 to 2,500 Huguenot emigrants crossed the Atlantic and settled in upstate New York (New Rochelle), Virginia, (Manakin Town Settlement), and the Carolina (Charles Towne) colonies where they quickly assimilated into colonial American culture. The DuBose and Risher families were two sets of those emigrants.

The DuBose family settled in the Carolina (Charles Towne) region, and Risher’s family can be traced to the Virginia area.

The DuBose family

“There is a DuBose geneology that traces the family back to Samuel DuBose,” John DuBose said. “He is buried with some of the family in the Episcopal churchyard in Jamestown, S.C. My particular branch of the family is called the Marion branch, as General Francis Marion was married to Elizabeth DuBose and her sister was married to General Marion’s brother with several first cousins in that line marrying, thus continuing the DuBose name.”

DuBose’s cousin, John Allison “Al” DuBose of Beaufort has compiled a pedigree chart and narrative of the DuBose line which goes a bit further and lists Samuel DuBose as the eighth generation from Dr. John DuBose. Al DuBose sites 11th generation Isaac DuBosc -- the family’s name prior to DuBose -- as the first family member to settle in the Charles Towne region.

Huguenot Society of South Carolina records show that the family of Isaac DuBosc is found among the earliest families in the Province of Carolina. Isaac DuBosc came to Charles Towne ca. 1685/87 and settled along the Santee River.

The DuBose family descendents, with their ties to the Charleston Lowcountry, include a number of physicians, ministers and military servicemen who ended up residing in Columbia and Camden.

“My great grandfather was Dr. Theodore Marion DuBose who practiced medicine in Columbia. His uncle was William Porcher DuBose who was an Episcopal minister who attended seminary in Camden (at Kamshatka) before the Civil War and after serving in General Kershaw’s brigade where he was wounded three times and taken prisoner once ended up as the dean of the divinity school at Sewanee. Reverend DuBose was born at Roseland Plantation near Winnsboro. He is buried at Sewanee,” John DuBose said.

William Porcher DuBose published several books on theology that made him respected, not only in his own country, but also in England and France. His theological books include The Gospel in the Gospels, The Ecumenical Councils and Soteriology of the New Testament.

“Most of my close relatives are buried in Columbia with Dr. Theodore Marion being buried in Trinity churchyard. My father, Major John Bratton DuBose Jr. was born in Columbia. He was a B29 pilot in WWII and was lost on a mission over Japan in March 1945,” DuBose said. “I grew up as a military brat as my mother married another Air Force pilot, but I kept my South Carolina roots and settled in Camden after completing my residency in internal medicine at Emory.”

The Rishers

North of Charles Towne (ca. 1714) in Virginia, the first of Col. Lanning Risher’s family emigrated from Ireland. Their account of the move to the young nation is well documented in the diaries of Risher’s ancestors Jaques Fontaine, and his son John. Their story begins in Le Mans, France.

Jaques Fontaine’s great grandfather, his pregnant wife and valet and family members became victims of the persecutors of the Reformed religion when they were slaughtered one night in the yard of their home in Le Mans in 1563.

“They just came in one night. The only reason I am here was because Jaques Fountaine’s grandfather who would have been a young man of 12 or 14, was not home at the time,” said Risher.  The young man and his younger brother Abraham fled to La Rochelle, which was a safe place for Protestants.

Jaques’ father, who grew up in La Rochelle, became a minister and suffered through the continued pressure to convert to Catholicism. He dedicated his life to the ministry in the Reformed Church even though he knew it would place his life in danger.

Despite knowing the difficulties he would face, Jaques also became a minister. When the Edict of Nantes was repealed in 1685, Jaques was serving in a Reformed Church in France. Under the hand of absolutism, Jaques too was pressured to convert, and was even imprisoned. After his release he made the decision to flee France.

Jaques wrote in his Memoirs, “I saw that it was necessary either to die or to leave France.”

He and his wife narrowly escaped France by boat.

“They (the Fontaines who initially left France) lived a pretty tough life. Jaques Fontaine left in 1696 to England and eventually to Ireland. At that time Ireland was still very Catholic. His residence was attacked with cannons by Irish Catholics and French pirates. He then ended up in Dublin and is buried off of St. Andrew’s green,” said Risher.

Risher explained “Jaques wanted his children to move to the colonies. He sent his son John to obtain some land. Jaques’ other son Francis, my ancestor, later joined his brother John in Virgina and served as a rector at Yorktown.”

John Fontaine left Ireland for Virginia in 1715. There he became close friends with Governor Spotswood and would eventually accompany him on the well-known Knights of the Golden Horseshoe expedition across the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716. John was a lieutenant in the British army at the time and was designated as the expedition’s journalist.

According to William and Mary records, John’s brother, Francis Fontaine, held the second divinity chair at the College of William and Mary, which was frequently referred to at the time as the professorship in Oriental languages, and served concurrently as rector of Yorkhampton Parish in nearby Yorktown, Va. Holding such concurrent positions was the norm for college instructors of the time and the Yorkhampton Parish position was frequently filled by members of the faculty.

It is through Francis’ son, Francis II, that the Rishers are connected to the Huguenots. Frances II migrated to New Bern, N.C. His daughter, Mary Fontaine, married Benjamin Risher, whose son, Richard Risher, died in 1828. His son, Richard Risher Jr., was killed during the Civil War. Richard Jr.’s son, Julius Rhett Risher was Col. James F. Risher’s father and Lanning Risher’s grandfather.

Like his ancestor Francis, Lanning Risher became an educator -- first as a teacher at Carlisle Military School then as headmaster of Camden Military Academy, overseeing operations of the school for 37 years.

Risher and Dubose share a common bond through their Huguenot heritage. Both men have also chosen Camden as their place in history to live out their working lives … and begin their sunset years.



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