In France as early as 1522 certain clergy and laity became so concerned with the worldliness within the Established Church of France that they sought reforms. This having failed, they began to withdraw and form congregations which they felt adhered more closely to the Bible. The French Court and the Church were allies and considered the Reformers heretics, calling them Huguenots in ridicule. Persecutions became so severe that hundreds fled to other countries rather than give up their new faith. After two tragic massacres King Henry IV granted them the Edict of Nantes in 1598. This Edict gave them limited religious and civic privileges. Afters his death in 1610 the extreme persecutions were renewed. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes thus outlawing the Reformers. Hundreds of thousands escaped under drastic circumstances to friendly countries, many of whom reached the American Colonies.
In 1700 King William III, and other prominent leaders of London, concerned with the welfare of the Huguenots who reached England, made possible the emigraiton to manakintown. The first settlers came on the "Mary and Ann" and "Ye Peter and Anthony." Some who came on the "Nassau" and two other ships also settled at Manakintown.
The Virginia House of Burgesses granted them 10,000 acres for homes and farms on the south side of the James River west of subsequent Richmond. On December 5, 1700 the House of Burgesses established King William Parish and the church which became manakin Episcopal Church. The first church building was erected in 1701 on glebe land granted for that purpose. The present brick building, the fifth church building, is modeled after Col. William Byrd's Church at Westover. The Parish House is nearby. manakin Church is the only congregation in King William Parish.
The Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia was organized April 17, 1922 in memory of the French Protestant Refugees who settled at Manakintown and in the Colony of Virginia prior to 1786. The aims of the Society are:
The first annual assembly was held in 1932 and the Society has convened annually since that date. The assembly is held in odd years in Virginia. The Society's governing body between assemblies is its Board of Management and its Board of Directors of the Incorporation. For the convenience of achieving the Society's objects, state societies, called branches, bearing the name of the state, and chapters allied with it, may be organized.
In a joint venture of the Society and Manakin Church the fifth church building was erected and the dedication was held on May 25, 1959. On an inside wall of the Church is a tablet stating: "This tablet records the gratitude of the members of the congregation for the generosity of the Huguenot Society of the Founders of Manakin who made possible the erection of this building."
The Society's continued efforts have been to foster for posterity what the Huguenots at Manakintown and in the Colony of Virginia personified--piety, ethics, honesty, industry, inventiveness and thrift. They left a mark of rare distinction that greatly enriched colonial Virginia and the nation. Various memorials reminds us of these staunch and eminently brave people.
The Society owns over 400 acres of land, of the original grant to the Huguenots, in the direct line of growth and expansion of Richmond to the west. It is in the part of Powhatan County known as the Huguenot District, and is well set in growing long leaf loblolly pine trees. A handsome stone monument, by the side of the Church, commemorates the Huguenots. An annual scholarship of $1,000 is given to undergraduate students in colleges and universities of the recipient's choice. The subject must be on, or include, the story of the Huguenots. The Institute of Early American History and Culture of William and Mary College receives the essays and makes recommendations to the Society. The Huguenot Room, located in the Parish House for the exclusive use of the Society, safeguards valuable items, the Library of documented records and books on the Huguenots and their descendents, and a military roster recording the names and records of servicemen who are of Virginia Huguenot descent.
Other memorials of the Huguenots at Manakintown include the Huguenot Bridge erected by the Virginia Highway Commission over the James River on Route 147 (named Huguenot Road in Chesterfield County) and the Huguenot Trail that runs in from of Manakin Church.