1924 Huguenot-Walloon Issue

1924 Huguenot-Walloon Issue 2020-07-15T20:44:32-06:00


The U.S. Post Office Department issued several commemorative stamps in the 1920s and 1930s that recognized the diversity of national origins that comprised the American “melting pot”. This stamp issue set a precedent for honoring immigrant groups.

The three stamps in this commemorative issue celebrate the role of Protestant immigrants in settling America 300 years prior to the 1924 year of issue. The Huguenots were French Protestants who, in the 16th century, established the first Presbyterian church in France. After having their rights stripped by King Louis XIV, the Huguenots fled to other countries and, eventually, to America. The first settlements were as early as 1562 and 1564, but they soon failed.

The Walloons were Dutch Protestants who suffered similar oppression. A 1624 expedition funded by the Dutch West India Company was far more successful, resulting in settlement at Fort Orange (now Albany, New York).

1¢ Stamp:  Nieu Nederland

Picturing the ship Nieu Nederland the Walloons sailed from Amsterdam in 1624 to colonize the New World, the 1¢ stamp had an issue of 51,000,000. Approximately 30 Belgian families, most of them French-speaking Walloons from southern Belgium sailed to the eastern coast of what is now the United States. The appropriate and desired ink color is green or dark green.

2¢ Stamp:  Walloons Landing at Fort Orange

The 2¢ stamp shows the Walloons landing on an island belonging to the Manhattan tribe of Native Americans where they would establish Fort Orange.  The stamp is printed in carmine rose ink and some 78,000,000 were issued.

5¢ Stamp:  The Jean Ribault Memorial

Under the leadership of Jean Ribault (c. 1520 – 1565), a group of French Huguenots sailed from Dieppe, France, in February 1562, seeking refuge from religious persecution. They landed at the mouth of Florida’s St. John’s River in May, 1562. Spanish soldiers killed Ribault and many of his followers in 1565. 5,700,000 of the 3¢ stamps were issued in dark blue or deep blue.


The term “Huguenot” (derived from a German word meaning “confederates”) was first used in Geneva, Switzerland in 1520 to designate the early faithful of the Protestant Reformation and later the followers of the French reformer John Calvin. In France, the word “Huguenot” first appeared as a term of abuse in a letter written in 1551. These reformers were called “this vile race of Huguenots”.  “Huguenot” was also applied unfavorably to the Protestants in the area of Tours, France. As they held their services in secret at night, the townspeople called them “little Hugos” and accused them of conspiring against the state and the Catholic Church. Whatever its origin, from 1560 onward, “Huguenot” was the word used to designate the Protestants of France.  In the course of time, the word “Huguenot” gradually lost its negative connotation and became an honorable designation, particularly in the United States.

After 1517, when the German theologian Martin Luther affixed his Ninety-Five Theses to the doors of several churches in Wittenberg, his ideas spread rapidly through France. The Ninety-five Theses were written by Luther as a protestation of the abuse of Catholic clergy in selling plenary indulgences which were certificates believed to reduce the punishment of sins committed by the purchasers or their loved ones in purgatory. Luther believed the repentance required by Christ in order for sins to be forgiven involves inner spiritual repentance, not forgiveness in exchange for money. Luther’s posting of the theses on the church doors is considered the start of the Reformation and his ideas were quickly reprinted, translated and distributed throughout Germany and other parts of Europe.

The reform movement in France lacked strong leadership, while the French crown adhered to Catholicism.  Both King Francis I and King Henry II persecuted the supporters of the Reformation as heretics, with the result that these Huguenots remained a minority.

John Calvin, considered the father of the Huguenots, was born in France in 1509. Educated in Paris, he studied law and humanist studies. He became a devout Christian and an admirer of Martin Luther. By joining the Reform movement, Calvin became an adversary of the official Catholic Church in France and a target for relentless persecution. Fleeing from France, Calvin planned to pursue his studies in Strasbourg. Passing through Geneva on his travels, Calvin was persuaded to organize the Reformation movement. Imposing strict moral discipline on the citizens of Geneva, Calvin was ousted by the city council two years later. Continuing on to Strasbourg, Calvin became the minister of the French refugee congregation.

The political climate in Geneva changed and the Libertine party hostile to Calvin no longer was in power. The city council now invited Calvin to return. He remained in Geneva for the balance of his life.  Calvin now succeeded in introducing his new church order which determined the ecclesiastical, social and moral life of the followers. Calvin’s Ordonnances ecclesiastiques called for four ecclesiastical posts: ministers for preaching and pastoral duties; doctors for teaching; deacons for the care of the poor; elders for running the congregation.

Calvin’s influence and impact was not restricted to Geneva. He promoted the Protestant cause throughout Europe through his voluminous correspondence and his travels. His letters of consolation to persecuted Huguenots reveal a man of fine feeling and a sympathetic advisor. Calvin established the Genevan Academy to train ministers for both the Huguenot congregations and the refugee congregations. Calvin himself regularly preached and taught in Geneva. His Bible interpretations of almost all the books of the Old and New Testaments were the framework for the students who came to Geneva from all over the world. Calvin’s writings were published in the Corpus Reformatorum for posterity.

A shadow fell on Calvin’s reputation when a Spaniard, Doctor Michael Servet, was condemned to death for blasphemy and burned at the stake as a heretic for rejecting the Holy Trinity. Servet had fled to Geneva in 1553 to escape the Catholic Inquisition. Calvin had applied for the death penalty for Servet which met with the approval of the Protestant Canons of Switzerland. Calvin’s attempt to commute the death sentence to death by the sword failed. The trial and execution of Servet cast a cloud over the world’s view of Calvin.

Failing strength and illness overshadowed Calvin’s last years. He died in 1564 after writing farewell letters to the Genevan city council and to the ministers. According to his wish, Calvin’s grave was not marked. He had not worked to attain honor for himself. It was to the glory of God he had dedicated his life.

In France, a country economically and culturally at the fore in Europe, the first pogrom in modern times took place. On August 24, 1572, the bells of the Paris church Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois called the citizens to participate in a blood bath. Around 2,000 Huguenots were brutally murdered in their homes and in the streets. In the following weeks about 10,000 more were murdered throughout France. The perpetrators were the soldiers of Duke Henry I of Guise, Parisian troops and the discontented Catholic commoners. Disagreement about foreign policy led to the massacre.

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the leader of the Huguenots, had won the confidence of the weak young King Charles IX. For the Catholics, Coligny had become too powerful. When it seemed he had convinced the King to send an auxiliary force to the Netherlands to support the Dutch rebels in their struggle against the Catholic King Philip II of Spain, the Catholics hired an assassin to kill the Admiral. Ironically, Coligny was only injured, but religious tension in the capital was now at the boiling point. Fearing a Huguenot reprisal, the royal council elected to murder Huguenot leaders in a preemptive strike in the early hours of August 24, 1572. The troops led by Henry, Duke of Guise, murdered Coligny first in his home. He was beheaded and flung into the street. Then followed the tolling bells of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois which sparked off an explosion of violence.

On August 26, 1572, Charles IX claimed responsibility for the murders. The real perpetrators were the Catholic nation of Spain, the Duke of Guise and the Catholic Church which silently approved. Pope Gregory VIII even had a victory medal struck in Rome. He also commissioned a fresco by the Renaissance painter Giorgio Vasari which can still be seen today in the Sala Regia. These images of horror celebrate the triumph of the so-called just cause. Massacres followed in other towns throughout France in October, 1572. For this reason, what came to be known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was not a day, but a season.

The political effects of the massacres were not favorable to the assassins. The whole of Europe was horrified by such brutality. The Protestant countries were more ready than ever to send troops and material to the aid of the Huguenots. Four years later, Henry III, successor to Charles IX, was forced to officially express his disapproval of the events in Paris. The Huguenots now grasped how vulnerable they were for persecution and set about improving their movement to be better prepared for a further outbreak of violence.

Henry IV of France issued an edict in Nantes in 1598 offering the Reformed Protestants in his country a relatively safe social life and limited freedom of worship. The edict was the written evidence of a compromise between the Catholic religion of the state and a significant minority of the French population. The edict contained 95 articles assuring the Huguenots freedom of conscience and to exercise Reformed Protestant services where they had been held in 1597 and on the estates of noblemen. An amnesty for past brutalities was declared. The Huguenots became eligible for all offices of state. Academies for the education of Reformed ministers could be set up. In Catholic regions, at court and in Paris, no Protestant worship was allowed. The Catholics were also accorded certain rights.

The number of restrictions placed on professions, church worship, office-holding and family life multiplied, especially after Louis XIV took the French throne in 1643. Further limitation of the religious rights of the Huguenots between 1643 and 1680, followed by the “dragonnades” which allowed the billeting of dragoons (booted missionaries) in the homes of Huguenots to secure their conversion by force made their situation intolerable.The Edict of Nantes did not bring about lasting peace. After the death of Henry IV in 1610, the Protestants, who had once been a state within the state, were now only a threatened minority.

The number of restrictions placed on professions, church worship, office-holding and family life multiplied, especially after Louis XIV took the French throne in 1643. Further limitation of the religious rights of the Huguenots between 1643 and 1680, followed by the “dragonnades” which allowed the billeting of dragoons (booted missionaries) in the homes of Huguenots to secure their conversion by force made their situation intolerable.

The campaign of oppression came to a head with the Edict of Fontainebleau signed by Louis XIV on August 18, 1685. Louis XIV had the same goal as his grandfather Henry IV. His aim was the return of “one king, one faith, one law”. He wished to reign over France as an absolute monarch.

The articles of the Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the ruling of the Edict of Nantes. It ruled that:

  • All Reformed churches were to be destroyed.
  • All Reformed ministers were to convert to the Catholic faith or leave France within two weeks.
  • Ministers willing to renounce their Protestant faith were to receive an increase in salary of one-third.
  • Ministers could be trained as lawyers.
  • The children of Protestants were to be baptized and educated as Catholics.
  • Protestant schools were forbidden.
  • Huguenots were forbidden to leave France.
  • Protestants who had left France prior to the edict were allowed to return and retrieve their property within four months, provided they renounced their Protestant faith.
  • Protestants who remained in France would be allowed to stay without disadvantages as long as they refrained from holding public services, till God “enlightened them like He had the Catholics”.

The article of the edict that expressly forbade emigration could not prevent 170,000 Huguenots from leaving their beloved homeland and fleeing to the neighboring Protestant countries.

It is important to emphasize that the Huguenots were not driven out of France. On the contrary, in October 1865 in the Edict of Fontainebleau, Louis XIV forbade his Protestant subjects to leave the country. Only the Reformed ministers were required to leave France within two weeks if they were not prepared to convert to Catholicism. It is also important to stress that Huguenots were not leaving for economic reasons or to find more favorable living conditions in foreign parts. Typically, they were leaving stable financial circumstances and had no conception of what awaited them in their land of refuge. Their desire was to find a haven where they could practice their faith freely without being persecuted. The Huguenots were religious refugees.

The flight of French-speaking Reformed Protestants began in the 16th century. The first refugees were Walloons from the Netherlands, fleeing from the Spanish occupation forces. They found refuge in parts of Germany. The Walloons were followed by the Huguenots. They left their French homeland in growing numbers in the course of the reign of Louis XIV as the repression intensified. When the “Sun King” (Louis XIV) revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, removing the last vestiges of religious freedom, about 170,000 Protestants left France within months.

The next to take the road to exile were the Waldensiens in the Duchy of Savoy. They were expelled by the Duke at the behest of Louis XIV. In 1702, the Protestants of Orange had to flee when the principality was annexed by Louis XIV.

Although the borders of France were strictly controlled, most of the fugitives managed to escape to Protestant countries. Some of them wrote about the hardship and anguish they suffered en route. They headed for various destinations. From the north of France they crossed the border into Holland. From the west they boarded ships for England. The great majority of the Huguenots lived in the south of France and many of them fled to Switzerland. The Swiss canons negotiated with German princes as Switzerland was too overpopulated to keep them.

Many of the refugees headed for Frankfurt where they received assistance and could contact the agents of the German princes who were interested in attracting suitable settlers. Their destinations had to be decided and transport had to be organized. The exertions and privations of their flight can scarcely be imagined. Many, especially the elderly and children, took ill and died of hunger, cold and disease en route. The misery of the early years in the host countries explain why the death rate continued to be high. It took years, and often decades, for the refugees to settle down to a normal life.

Huguenot settlers immigrated to the American colonies directly from France and indirectly from the Protestant countries of Europe, including the Netherlands, England, Germany, and Switzerland. Although the Huguenots settled along almost the entire eastern coast of North America, they showed a preference for what are now the states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  But the Huguenots also appeared in Florida and South Carolina. Just as France suffered a notable loss though the emigration of these intelligent, capable people, so the American colonies gained. The colonists became farmers, laborers, ministers, soldiers, sailors, and people who engaged in government. The Huguenots supplied the colonies with excellent physicians and expert artisans and craftsmen. For example, Irénée du Pont brought his expertise for making gunpowder learned from the eminent Lavoisier; and Apollo Rivoire, a goldsmith, was the father of Paul Revere, master silversmith and renowned patriot. George Washington, himself, was the grandson of a Huguenot on his mother’s side. The Huguenots adapted themselves readily to the New World. Their descendants increased rapidly and spread quickly. Today, people of Huguenot origin are found in all parts of our country.


The 1920s having roared in, the U.S. was unknowingly headed for the stock market crash in 1929.  City life was considerably different than farm and country life. New appliances made life much simpler for homemakers and businessmen and –women. Cities had electricity and reliable communication through telephone systems. Homes now had indoor plumbing and modern sewer systems changed the way Americans lived. Roads were paved and street lamps lit up the night sky. Women had more freedom than previously; morals began to loosen and women’s hair was cut short. Skirt lengths were raised and dancing had become a popular pastime. Art deco became popular in ornamentation, books began to feature explicit descriptions of sex, and the 1924 immigration law limited the number of immigrants coming into the U.S.

A Republican lawyer from Vermont, Calvin Coolidge, was the 30th President of the United States. Known as a man who took decisive action, Coolidge restored public confidence in the White House following the scandals of his predecessor’s (Warren G. Harding) administration. Although Coolidge was a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was commonly referred to as “Silent Cal”. Some people linked the U.S. economic collapse into the Great Depression to Coolidge’s policy decisions. His failure to aid the depressed agricultural segment of the country seems shortsighted, as nearly 5,000 rural banks shut their doors in bankruptcy while many thousands of farmers lost their lands. His tax cuts led to an uneven distribution of wealth and the overproduction of goods. Coolidge’s foreign policy also fell into disrepute when it became clear that his achievements did little to prevent Nazism in Germany or the resurgence of international hostilities. The peace of the 1920s faded almost as quickly as the prosperity. But Coolidge also led the nation, even if passively, into the modern era. He was a bridge between two ages.

In the conservative 1980s, Coolidge regained some of his stature, particularly in conservative circles. President Ronald Reagan returned Coolidge’s portrait to the White House and praised his political style and hands-off leadership for producing seven years of prosperity, peace and balanced budgets. Despite this, the Coolidge presidency is ranked low among American chief executives in terms of his administration’s positive impact and legacy. Coolidge offered no sweeping vision or program of action that the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had led the public to associate with presidential greatness.


  • In Chicago, the Wrigley Building was completed after four years of construction. Built as headquarters for the successful Wrigley Gum Company, the building was 425 feet high in the south tower.
  • J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation, later known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He led the FBI for a record 48 years.
  • The U.S. Army conducted the first round-the-world flight utilizing four planes and eight crew members.
  • The first Winter Olympics was held in Chamonix, France. 258 athletes from 16 nations participated in events such as bobsleigh, ice hockey, speed skating, figure skating and cross-country skiing.
  • Ellis Island closed as an immigration entry point to the U.S. The Immigration Act of 1924 sharply cut the number of immigrants allowed into the country.
  • The Indian Citizenship Act was passed to confer U.S. citizenship on all Native Americans born in the United States.
  • Famous Americans born in 1924 include President Jimmy Carter, Lee Iacocca, Doris Day and Marlon Brando.

Some statistics in the U.S. in 1924   

  • The average income was $2,196 per year, with unemployment at 5%
  • Life expectancy was 54.1 years; a new house could be purchased for $7,720
  • Put a metal bed with mattress in that new house and you’d pay $26.95
  • Your new Chevrolet roadster would set you back $490 and a gallon of gas another 11¢
  • Breakfast might consist of bacon (37¢ a pound), eggs (47¢ a dozen), and coffee (43¢ a pound)
  • Sirloin steak cost 39¢ a pound, potatoes were 27¢ a pound, tomatoes 14¢ a pound
  • Pantry staples such as flour (49¢), sugar (9¢) and macaroni (17¢) were far less expensive than our food today