Freer-Low Family

of the Huguenot Historical Society

New Paltz, NY

Hugo Freer

By Diane Rumble
 We cannot begin to understand the life of Hugo Freer or the settlement of New Paltz, NY, without knowing a bit about the religious beliefs of Freer and the other settlers and what impelled them to leave their native France. They were French Huguenots, followers of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the French Reformation, which began in the 16th century. As Protestants in a Catholic country, the Huguenots were persecuted for their religious beliefs. Interspersed with times of relative peace were periods of open hostility and even warfare between members of the two religions. In 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was responsible for the death of all the leading Huguenots in Paris, and the violence spread throughout France, where thousands more Protestants were murdered. Although the Edict of Nantes in 1643 affirmed civil and religious rights for the Huguenots, the French Catholic clergy did all in their power to inflict misery on the Protestants. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and a large percentage of Huguenots left the country for good. The closest refuge was Mannheim, Germany.

Hugo Freer was a refuge from this persecution even before the final indignity in 1685. We know that by 1660 he was a resident of Mannheim, along with many of his fellow Huguenots. A Mannheim city map from 1663 has Hugo Freer’s name on one of the houses. From Mannheim church records, we learn that Hugo was born in the village of Herly, near Boulogne, France. He married Marie de la Haye from Douaye, south of Lille, France on October 2, 1660 in Mannheim. Marie and their two daughters died, probably of the plague. The youngest child, a son Hugo born in 1666, remained. Hugo then married Jeanne Wibau in 1667, and Abraham and Isaac were born from that union. Sometime after October 1674 (the last time any of the family names appeared in the church records), the family joined with other Huguenots to make their way first to England and then to the New World, eventually settling around Kingston in Ulster County, New York.

This area was predominantly Dutch and English at that time, and the Huguenots wished to have their own settlement, where they could maintain their French culture. Under the leadership of Abraham Hasbrouck, a Huguenot military leader and friend of the English governor of New York, a group of families, including the Freers, obtained permission from Governor Andros to negotiate with the Indians to acquire a tract of land.According to Dale Andre Bevier (The Path to the Wallkill, 1996), “This agreement between the Indians … and the little band of Frenchmen was the first instance of fair and honest dealing with the native Americans concerning land ownership in the history of this country.” On May 26, 1677 a formal contract for purchase of 39,000 acres of land, including and around the present village of New Paltz, was signed by chiefs of the Esopus tribe and 11 Huguenot family heads. Later this group became 12 and was subsequently called the Duzine. This Duzine then negotiated with the English to also grant them the territory, and by September 29, 1677, the Huguenots were in possession of an English patent to their land.

The first houses were built of logs near the Wallkill River on what is now Huguenot Street in New Paltz. Soon these original habitations were replaced with more permanent stone structures, which over the centuries have been added on to and refurbished many times. The remaining stone houses, including the Freer family home are now owned by the Huguenot Historical Society located in New Paltz

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