Francis Le Jau

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Francis Le Jau


Francis Le Jau (1665-1717), originally a French Huguenot, was one of the earliest missionaries employed by the Society in Goose Creek, South Carolina, and wrote numerous detailed letters about his experiences of mission life. His letters trace many of the founding practices and work of the society over the course of its first fifteen years. His life was marked by itinerancy: leaving France for England upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, he was educated at Trinity College Dublin, and spent time on the island of St Christopher’s, before arriving in South Carolina in 1706. Many of his letters provide an insight into the difficulties that SPG missionaries faced upon their decision to travel to the colonies: the dangers and cost of the journey across the Atlantic, fears of bad weather, piracy, and war, and also of the many setbacks faced when trying to establish homes and churches upon arrival. Le Jau wrote frequently about his family’s difficulty in acclimatizing to the hostile environment, of endemic sickness which afflicted the local area, and of attempts to sustain his household with apparently limited assistance from his parishioners.

Le Jau was dependent on the financial and material resource of the Society, as well as local networks of professional support from other neighbouring clergy, but his limited material comfort was underwritten by his purchasing of three slaves to help maintain his household. His exploitation of enslaved people within his own household sits uneasily alongside his frequent denunciations of the cruel behaviour he had observed in neighbouring slave-owners. Le Jau also writes frequently of his encounters with indigenous Americans, including reports that there was a shared ‘Savannah’ language used across the continent, and his attempts to send a copy of the Lords prayer in that language to the secretary. In Le Jau’s letters we can trace the conventions and etiquette of the Society’s correspondence, and the importance of communicating through the proper channels. While he generally writes directly to the secretary, he was forced to apologise in 1717 for circumnavigating the secretary and the central committee of the Society, and writing to another SPG member instead: from Le Jau’s remorseful subsequent letter to the secretary, it appears that this was a breach of the desired protocol.

Collection Items

Francis Le Jau to John Chamberlayne (Secretary)
Francis Le Jau to John Chamberlayne (Secretary), aboard the Greenwich, in Queen's Dock, near Plymouth, 6 May 1706, reporting delays in sailing.

Francis Le Jau to John Chamberlayne (Secretary)
He reached South Carolina in October and was kindly received by the authorities. Thomas died shortly before his arrival. Auchinleek elected to stay in Bermuda. Also discusses sickness, including of Dunn; invasion of the French and Spanish; dissenters…

Francis Le Jau to Stubbs
His family has arrived. His children seem to be over their acclimatization, but his wife is still ill. One woman in his parish has been arrested on a charge of witchcraft. Another, after being in delirium for two days, on apparently coming to,…

Francis  Le Jau to John Chamberlayne (Secretary)
He laments that he struggles to feed his family and as they do not have a maid, he has been 'forced' to purchase 3 slaves.
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