"Little Nightcap" Escapes from France

1685

France

Can you imagine hiding your daughter in a barrel, and sending her for a sea voyage on a cargo ship, in order to sneak her past hostile harbor guards?

Susanne Rochet and Abraham Michaux were born in Ardennes, France. In the 16th and early half of the 17th centuries, this area of France was an independent country called Principaute de Sedan, whose princes and residents were Calvinist Protestants. After the Kingdom of France annexed Sedan in 1649, King Henry IV enacted the Edict of Nantes to provide some protection from overt persecution by Catholics. Still, Protestants were cautious.

In the walled town of La Rochelle, a Protestant stronghold, there was a city gate that was dedicated to a former French monarch, King Hugo. It was rumored that the ghost of King Hugo wandered the gate at night. The Protestants held their revival meetings under Hugo's gate, because the Catholics feared Hugo's spirit, so did not go near to harass the Protestants. For this reason, French Catholics called their Protestant countrymen "Huguenots."

In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and thereby outlawed Protestantism. Many Huguenots avoided persecution or murder by fleeing through the Ardennes forests to Holland. Susanne's two older sisters had successfully escaped France and were living in Amsterdam where Protestant friends had generously received them. Susanne's father, Jean, was determined to send his third daughter out of France as well.

Susanne's two sisters wrote to their father from Amsterdam to send their little sister to them, but fearing that their letters might fall into the hands of enemies of the Huguenots, they asked him to send "the little nightcap" they had left behind.

After several unsuccessful attempts, their father arranged to have Susanne shipped in a large cask, or hogshead, which he entrusted to a friendly sea captain. The captain placed the cask onboard his ship and set sail. When they were safely past the harbor guards, he opened the cask and lifted Susanne out of her narrow, dark chamber. She made it safely to Amsterdam, where her sisters received her with great joy.

This story is not just a treasured family tale: it is an iconic story among Huguenot descendants because it represents what the Huguenots suffered at the hands of French Catholics and the lengths that they would go in order to flee the country.

Holland was a very tolerant nation and hosted a large Huguenot community. In Amsterdam, Susanne met another Huguenot refugee named Abraham Michaux, and the two married in 1692. The family lived together in Amsterdam, where their son Jacob Michaux (1965-1745) was born, until 1702 when they immigrated to Virginia.

Abraham and Susanne had many children, and today there are hundreds of Michaux descendants alive who know the story of " the Little Nightcap" well! Our family has proven our lineage to Abraham Michaux for membership in the National Huguenot Society.