Chapter 21: Persecutions of the French Protestants in the South of France, During the Years 1814 and 1820 (8/9)
M. Oliver, son of a pastor, an officer in the royal troops of the line, attempted to leave the church, but the friendly sentinels at the door advised him to remain besieged with the rest. The national guards refused to act, and the fanatical crowd took every advantage of the absence of General La Garde, and of their increasing numbers. At length the sound of martial music was heard, and voices from without called to the besieged, “Open, open, and save yourselves!” Their first impression was a fear of treachery, but they were soon assured that a detachment returning from Mass was drawn up in front of the church to favor the retreat of the Protestants. The door was opened, and many of them escaped among the ranks of the soldiers, who had driven the mob before them; but this street, as well as others through which the fugitives had to pass, was soon filled again. The venerable pastor, Olivier Desmond, between seventy and eighty years of age, was surrounded by murderers; they put their fists in his face, and cried, “Kill the chief of brigands.” He was preserved by the firmness of some officers, among whom was his own son; they made a bulwark round him with their bodies, and amidst their naked sabers conducted him to his house. M. Juillerat, who had assisted at divine service with his wife at his side and his child in his arms, was pursued and assailed with stones, his mother received a blow on the head, and her life was some time in danger. One woman was shamefully whipped, and several wounded and dragged along the streets; the number of Protestants more or less ill treated on this occasion amounted to between seventy and eighty.
Murder of General La Garde
At length a check was put to these excesses by the report of the murder of Count LaGarde, who, receiving an account of this tumult, mounted his horse, and entered one of the streets, to disperse a crowd. A villain seized his bridle; another presented the muzzle of a pistol close to his body, and exclaimed, “Wretch, you make me retire!” He immediately fired. The murderer was Louis Boissin, a sergeant in the national guard; but, though known to everyone, no person endeavored to arrest him, and he effected his escape. As soon as the general found himself wounded, he gave orders to the gendarmerie to protect the Protestants, and set off on a gallop to his hotel; but fainted immediately on his arrival. On recovering, he prevented the surgeon from searching his wound until he had written a letter to the government, that, in case of his death, it might be known from what quarter the blow came, and that none might dare to accuse the Protestants of the crime.
The probable death of this general produced a small degree of relaxation on the part of their enemies, and some calm; but the mass of the people had been indulged in licentiousness too long to be restrained even by the murder of the representative of their king. In the evening they again repaired to the temple, and with hatchets broke open the door; the dismal noise of their blows carried terror into the bosom of the Protestant families sitting in their houses in tears. The contents of the poor box, and the clothes prepared for distribution, were stolen; the minister’s robes rent in pieces; the books torn up or carried away; the closets were ransacked, but the rooms which contained the archives of the church, and the synods, were providentially secured; and had it not been for the numerous patrols on foot, the whole would have become the prey of the flames, and the edifice itself a heap of ruins. In the meanwhile, the fanatics openly ascribed the murder of the general to his own self-devotion, and said, ‘that is as the will of God.’ Three thousand francs were offered for the apprehension of Boissin; but it was well known that the Protestants dared not arrest him, and that the fanatics would not. During these transactions, the system of forced conversions to Catholicism was making regular and fearful progress.
Interference of the British Government
To the credit of England, the report of these cruel persecutions carried on against our Protestant brethren in France, produced such a sensation on the part of the government as determined them to interfere; and now the persecutors of the Protestants made this spontaneous act of humanity and religion the pretext for charging the sufferers with a treasonable correspondence with England; but in this sate of their proceedings, to their great dismay, a letter appeared, sent some time before to England by the duke of Wellington, stating that ‘much information existed on the events of the south.’
The ministers of the three denominations in London, anxious not to be misled, requested one of their brethren to visit the scenes of persecution, and examine with impartiality the nature and extent of the evils they were desirous to relieve. Rev. Clement Perot undertook this difficult task, and fulfilled their wishes with a zeal, prudence, and devotedness, above all praise. His return furnished abundant and incontestable proof of a shameful persecution, materials for an appeal to the British Parliament, and a printed report which was circulated through the continent, and which first conveyed correct information to the inhabitants of France.