Who are they?
They are a distinct ethnic group from the country of Wallonia.
Ok…but, who are they? From Wikipedia:
Walloons are a Gallo-Romance ethnic group native to Wallonia and the immediate adjacent regions of France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Walloons primarily speak langues d’oïl such as Belgian French, Picard and Walloon. Walloons are historically and primarily Roman Catholic.
And the etymology of the word “Walloon” (in case you were wondering), also from Wikipedia.
The term Walloon is derived from walha, a Proto-Germanic term used to refer to Celtic and Latin speakers.
What did they do?
It was the early 1600s. Jesse DeForest and others of his faith were persecuted for their religious beliefs.
First, Jesse and other “Walloon Fathers” petitioned the British government to sponsor them to colonize the “New World”. The British government agreed, but their terms were not to the Walloon’s liking. They would be required to separate - they would not be allowed to colonize together.
Scan of the “Round Robin” document. This is part of the document that was sent to the British government. It contains the signatures of the Walloon Fathers.
Jesse and the Walloons declined the offer and looked to the Netherlands for more agreeable terms. They moved as a group to Leyden, the same town that the Pilgrims were in. In fact, the photo below shows me holding a Bible concordance that is purported to be given to William Bradford by Jesse DeForest.
Photo of me from 2011 holding the Bible concordance that has William Bradford’s signature in it. From a private collection in Provo, Utah. (That’s my wife and children in the photo with me.)
The wheels of government ground slowly in the Netherlands. Eventually, the Walloon Fathers got better terms and emigrated to New Amsterdam, arriving on May 20, 1624. However, in the interim, Jesse had gone with a small subset of the group to South America. They attempted to colonize with the Dutch there. It didn’t go well. Eventually Jesse died there, the colony failed, and the survivors found their way back to the Netherlands.
Jesse’s children arrived in New Amsterdam several years after the first group of Walloons. Sadly, Jesse never got to see the successful settling of his family and friends. He left his descendants a beautiful legacy of faith and determination. The colony he envisioned and that his children helped to establish has become one of the great cities of the world.
Why does this matter?
Obviously, this matters to me because Jesse is my 9th great-grandfather. It inspires me to think that his blood runs in my veins. When I am overcome by the challenges of life, I remember his faith and determination - I find a way to keep going.
It is also important to remember that there wasn’t just one group that fled Europe to find religious freedom. We hear all about the Pilgrims and Plymouth at every Thanksgiving. But there was another group of faithful Christians who were following a similar path for similar reasons. By remembering more of our roots we have a clearer picture of who we are. Remembering the past will help us better navigate the future.
100 years ago our country and others celebrated the Walloon settlers.
- A monument was erected in Battery Park to Jesse DeForest and the Walloon settlers
- A series of three stamps was created
- A commemorative coin was minted
- A book was written to capture the history of Jesse and the Walloons
May 20, 2024 marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Walloons in New Amsterdam. I hope we will find fitting ways to remember their sacrifice and legacy.