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French Protestants in Our Roots

If you have European American ancestors dating back to before the Revolution, there is a reasonable chance that you have Huguenot in your blood.

Who were the Huguenots? They were French Protestants who escaped religious persecution at home in emigrated to other parts of Europe and the rest of the world.  Huguenots immigrated to North America during the 17th and 18th Centuries. They had a rich history: they were known for being sober, industrious and hard-working, and many became wealthy merchants, landowners, and the Upper Class establishment. They also suffered much drama at the hand of the Crown and the Church, leading to their mass exodus from France.

I am sure we can find a lot of very interesting books about the Huguenots, and I expect that in a search one would find some serious academic analysis done over the years. Fortunately, some online literature allows for a good introduction. For starters, check out the Huguenot Society of America website, which has some excellent short articles about Huguenot history.[1]

We have at least one very possible Huguenot surname in our ancestry, Spruance. Another possible candidate surname, Barb, immigrated to America from Germany but might have had earlier French origins.


Israel Sands’s mother was Jane Spruance. The particular surname spelling of “Spruance” is, in my observation, extremely rare. I remember seeing at least one comment online years ago from a researcher who made the same observation.

More than one family researcher has identified this surname as an anglicized version of a French Huguenot family name of “L’Esperance”.[2] (Another researcher points out that the literal translation of “esperance” in English “hope”; I may be ignorant, but that sounds like a French equivalent to the English surname “Hope”.[3])  Waves of Huguenots immigrated to Maryland and Delaware between the mid-1600s and the mid-1700s.[4] It appears that our Spruance ancestors were among them.

Some online family trees posit that Jane’s father was one Pressley Spruance who lived 1785-1863. This Pressley became a US Senator and well-known figure in politics. As it turns out, after some digging, I conclude it’s probably the case that we are actually from a different Pressley Spruance, who was, I believe a first cousin of the Senator Spruance. This other Pressley died young, in 1817. The year is verified in a will probated in 1817 that mentioned Jane as an heir. It is also included as a death year for a Pressley Spruance who was not the Senator in the 1933 publication detailing Spruance family history, The Spruance Family in Delaware (1733-1933), and Collateral Relations, Etc., by a distant cousin of ours, William C. Spruance.[5] 

Spruance Presley of Delaware (1785 - 1863), Federal and State Senator, Merchant and Attorney

Our ancestor’s cousin, Senator Pressley Spruance (1785-1863)  He was a member of the Whig party. He served years in the Delaware legislature, and later a term as a U.S. Senator. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

For point of reference, the chain of descent in our line of Spruance was: Pressley Spruance, cousin of the Senator —-> Jane Spruance —>Israel Sands —> Grandma Mattie —> Frank Sands Williss —> Grandpa Warren.

As for Jane’s mother, between the Spruance article and the will, we can confirm only that her name was probably Sarah Blackiston. Jane’s birthplace was listed variously as either Delaware or Maryland in census reports over the years. I note there were Spruance relatives living on different sides of the Maryland-Delaware border, and its possible our Jane may have lived on both sides throughout her life. The Spruance history article says Sarah moved west with her children after Pressley died.

It would be interesting to learn more about our Spruance ancestors, and whether we can trace to Huguenot roots — but that will require much more research.


Barb is another surname that may may have French (and Huguenot) origins, even though the immigrants came from Germany and not directly to America (and because there’s not really a better place to fit it into the blog).[6] Our connection to this surname is through Grandma Sallie’s mother, who was Lydia Ann Barb.

It turns out that we are able to trace our Barb family line back to Europe, and can find some interesting facts from throughout the generations. I am confident enough about the research that has been found that I will take these ancestors in chronological order. (This will also be the final line of Grandpa Warren’s ancestors that I report on here.)

European Origins:

The Barb name apparently arrived in America at different times and from different places, but a lot of Barbs – including those from our line – originate in the family of Johann Jacob Barb, who emigrated from Germany in 1749 and ended up in Shenandoah, Virginia. However, they may not have originally been from Germany, but from another place. Fortunately for us, an extensive amount of thorough research has been undertaken over at least the past some 80 years on these family roots. This is one of the most researched family lines I have found although, as always, there is more to find out.

Origins of our family line seem aptly summarized in the introduction to the family history The Barb Family by Alice Fluegge (which is not dated but I think is from 2005 or so). She quotes an earlier significant piece of Barb family research, the Barb-Barbe Genealogy by Waverly Wilson Barbe and Alan Lee Williams[7]:

As may be expected, less is known about Jacob Barb than most of his progeny. He is first found in the Lutheran and German Reformed Church Family book of Hochstenbach, Germany, where his birth is recorded as 28 Nov 1725 baptized 1 Dec 1725, the youngest child of Wigandt and Eva Maria Barb(en) of that parish.” (p.3)

“After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 deprived French Protestants of their religious freedoms, thousands of families sought refuge in other countries. A large number of them crossed over the border into the Palatinate of Germany, but it wasn’t long before civil strife and economic disparity also became unbearable there. Between the years 1727 and 1776 more than thirty thousand French, Swiss, German and Dutch nationals immigrated to the Port of Philadelphia, most of them sailing from Rotterdam in the Netherlands. As his parish dwindled in the mid-18th century, the Hochstenbach pastor made note of the church’s families as they left the village, where they went, and the date they left. On Jacob Barb I s page he wrote, “This family left for America 30 May 1749.”  [From The Hochstenbach Lutheran and Reformed Church Family Book, LDS microfilm roll #1195102.)”   


Another family researcher, Cleta Smith, found Jacob was included in Passenger List No. 131-C, for British vessel “Two Brothers”. This ship had, since 1749, annually delivered German emigrants from Rotterdam to Philadelphia. The trip consumed a grueling nearly 4 months. After enduring what was likely the same quality-of-life travel experience as did the Applers and their kin (see Chapter 2, the Applers), the Barbs arrived in Philadelphia in September. Smith wrote: “And so Jacob Barb and family arrived at the Port of Philadelphia on 14 Sept 1749, on which date Jacob and the other immigrant heads-of-family were taken to the courthouse where they were required to subscribe to the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown.” (Fleugge, p. 3.)

Early Barbs in America: The Barb Family history also recounts some of the history of Jacob Barb after his arrival in America, including moving from Loudon County, VA to Shenandoah Valley, where he reportedly died in 1819.  Our line is from Jacob’s son, also named Jacob, who was born in Virginia in 1767.[8]  Jacob Jr. married a Barbara Miller in Shenandoah in 1791. They stayed in Virginia until at least the 1840s, at which point they migrated to Bristol, Tennessee, which I am guessing might have put them to one of their children.  Jacob Jr. died in Bristol in 1845.

Abraham Barb:     Jacob Jr.’s son Abraham was born in 1791 in Virginia. He moved to McMinn County, Tennessee at some point after the War of 1812. We can find he had some sort of interesting history in the military and afterwards.

The War of 1812 Service Records database on and fold3 has a card that documents Abraham as having been in service in the Virginia militia. It’s very likely our Abraham, because he was 19 in 1812, and Virginia was his home in his youth; he was also recorded as being married there when he came of age.

Abram Barb 7th VA Militia War of 1812 index card

Abraham Barb War of 1812 Service Record, an index card from the National Archives and copied from

The index and other records show that Abraham was enlisted in the 7th Virginia Regiment during the War of 1812. There does not seem to be a lot of information readily available on this Regiment. Like a lot of old records, they are just not yet available online. The War of 1812 Society in Virginia has been of some help. This group is composed of volunteers seeking to preserve our history, conducts tours of War of 1812 historic sites, and is always looking for more descendants of War of 1812 soldiers to join. One Mike Lyman, a past President of the Society, had the following to offer up to someone who was researching this Regiment:

This reply comes from page 232 of Stuart Butler’s book, “A Guide to VA Militia Units in the War of 1812” 2d Edition New Papyrus Publishing,Athens GA, pub in 2011. Lt Col David Saunder’s 7th VA Regiment of Militia was stationed at camps in and around Fort Norfolk near Norfolk VA during the period Aug 1814 to the end of the war, 15 Feb 1815. The place was well defended so the British ships in the Chesapeake Bay that were loaded with soldiers did not attack. The regiment consisted of 15 companies from various counties in central and southwestern VA.”[9]

Although there appears no specific bloody battle we can point to, I want to add that I doubt his experience was drama-free. Following is a snippet about Norfolk from the Library of Virginia website:

In Virginia, the British responded by blockading the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and raiding coastal settlements. In mid-June 1813, the British attempted to capture Norfolk, but were repulsed by militia stationed on Craney Island. A week later, however, the British captured and sacked the nearby city of Hampton. Although actual encounters were few, the threat of attack kept militia in the field throughout the war, which ended when the Treaty of Ghent was signed on 24 December 1814.[10]



Map of the Battle of Craney Island, June, 1813; based on the limited sources I have located, Abraham and his unit were in the bluffs around Fort Norfolk at this time.[11]

So, for the willing researcher, there appears to be more history to discover about Abraham Barb’s service. I note that his War of 1812 service card lists only “ensign” upon intake and discharge. However, references in various sources from after that time also suggest that Abraham’s military experience further developed after he moved to McMinn, Tennessee.

For instance, State of Tennessee records reflect that Abraham, of McMinn County, was referred to as “Major” in an 1831 “Petition of Doctor John M. Neal to hold a lottery to establish an iron works. Also recommending that Colonel Williamson Smith, O. G. Murrell, Major Abraham Barb, William Lowry and David Cantrell be appointed commissioners to oversee the lottery.”[12]

He appears to have joined or led some kind of a militia of volunteers. This service was mentioned in passing in an 1837 deed: “8 Jul 1837 William Jack, a private in Capt. Abraham Barb’s Co. of mounted volunteers, to James S. Bridges; Power of Atty. to collect his money under proclamation of the Gov. of Tenn. 6 Jun 1836.”  I have no further information on what exactly it was that his group did, or even the context of the deed document. But it does raise some good questions to research.

Among the more interesting anecdotes from Abraham’s life was a reference to him in an 1837 letter from Tennessee politician John Gillespy to James Polk, who would later go on to become the President of the United States but in 1837 was a Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In the letter, Gillespy was expressing concern about an upcoming election for the Tennessee Legislature. The letter read:

“Of the candidates who will most probably be elected from this County to the legislature, Cannon and Tipton, are both under pledge to oppose bringing on the election of Senator.  Cannon is opposed to Bell, Peyton & Foster, but not pledged to Grundy. Tipton is unpledged, but his fear of encountering the opposition of Grundy’s friends will make him do his best to postpone the election. Grant who will probably be elected the floating Rep. is for Grundy. Maj Walker a Gundy Candidate in McMinn County, I am fearful will be beat by Maj. Barb, opposed to Grundy. I will attend to having the candidates in Blount committed against bringing on the election.”


James Polk as Congressman, 1837 from LOC

Then-congressman James Knox Polk in a drawing from 1837, the same year as the letter. (Artist Charles Fenderich, image from Wikimedia Commons; from Library of Congress, )

Perhaps Abraham ran a bad campaign, or Congressman Polk was able to pull some strings: a footnote to the letter states that “James Walker, a farmer who resided at Calhoun, was elected over Abraham Barb.”[13]

Abraham raised his daughter Lydia in McMinn County. There, she married Charles T. McCray, and they had a bunch of children including Grandma Sallie. As noted in the previous chapter re: Charles McCray, by the time the Civil War arrived, they had moved to Ozark, Missouri, where Lydia and Charles lived out the rest of their lives.




See also the short article “The Huguenot Refuge” on the website of the Protestant Museum in La Rochelle, France:

The wikipedia entry might seem boring but it is seemingly comprehensive:;

And for a shorter read, see Britannica:

The Huguenot Society website includes a list of confirmed Huguenot ancestor surnames, but my guess is that list does not exclude others from being added.

[2]    Benton Spruance, the Artist and the Man (1988), a book about the 20th century artist Benton Murdoch Spruance.  The Huguenot reference is also made in The Spruance Family in Delaware (1733-1933), and Collateral Relations, Etc., by William C. Spruance, is a privately printed mini-book, 17 pages, published 1933.


[4]      The French in Maryland: A Talk given to the Baltimore County Genealogical Society February 1996, by Robert Barnes (included in the Notebook of the Baltimore County Genealogical Society, March 1996 Vol. 12, Ho. 1 (Whole No. 71).)

[5]       A privately printed mini-book, 17 pages, published 1933. It has good background information about the family history during the 18th century in Delaware, and several pages of hand-drawn family tree lines.  Unfortunately, Jane is not mentioned by name.

[6]      See also the interesting history of the surname summarized in the surnames database:

[7]      This earlier work was based the records of Olive Amelia (Barbe) McLaughlin (1842-1928).

[8]       There seems to be some lack of clarity as to exactly who was the mother of Jacob, since Jacob Sr. married twice. In any event, the father of Jacob Jr. does not seem doubtful and the facts otherwise match up.

[9]      See the forums on the Society of the War of 1812 in Virginia:


[11]      From Wikimedia Commons:  Battle of Craney Island, The Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812, by Benson Lossing.

[12]    From Tennessee State Government website,  Tennessee Petitions 1831, petition no. 121 (McMinn County, 1831).

[13]    See, Correspondence of James K. Polk, Volume IV, 1837-1838. (Weaver and Cutler, Eds.) (1977: Vanderbilt University Press), at pp. 170-172 (Letter from John F. Gillespy, of Madisonville, TN, July 7, 1837).






Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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