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Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

Pierre “Le Jardiniere” Cresson
7th Great-Grandfather

      Pierre Cresson was a French Huguenot, who escaped persecution in France at the time of the Reformation by relocating to the Netherlands before making the long voyage to the New World – known then as New Netherland and now called New York. His story encompasses the intrigue of religious persecution and the impact that had on the lives of many brilliant and talented Protestant French citizens.

       Pierre Cresson was born by all accounts in 1609 in Aisne, Abbeville, Picardy, France, at the family manor (Mesnil la Cresson). At that time, Picardy was one of the hotbeds of Protestant Reformation which began in earnest about 1555 and continued through 1562. From that year until 1572, Huguenots gained some ground and then lost freedoms in the political tug-a-war between the ruling Catholics and those embracing the Protestant faith. The culmination of this political rivalry was the horrific Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day that resulted in the deaths of thousands of French Huguenots in Paris in the day-long slaughter occurring August 24th through the 25th 1572 in Paris. Catherine de Medicis was the strategist and principal instigator with her plans being carried out by Roman Catholic nobles and citizens who became a part of the killing mob.

      King Henry IV (Henry of Navarre) a Huguenot leader became King of France in 1589. He brought about peace by accepting Catholicism upon his rise to power. The King was quoted as saying, “Paris is well worth a Mass,” an indication that his acceptance of the Catholic faith was a military and political strategy and not a true change of heart. After a tumultuous reign, filled with romantic intrigues with his several mistresses, assassination attempts, and military strife with Spain and political foes within his own country, King Henry IV was working to attain peace and settle the country. In pursuit of this noble endeavor, he entertained the deputies of the Protestant movement and sought to incorporate their just desires into an acceptable framework of law. The result was the Edict of Nantes, signed in April of 1598. The Edict did not grant full and complete parity for French Protestants, though it did provide freedom of worship in the towns in which their creed prevailed. It restored civil rights including the “right to work in any field or for the state and to bring grievances directly to the king.” [SOURCE: ) Though granting these desired accommodations, the Protestants were still required to pay a tithe to the Catholic church, any suit at law was to be heard by a panel of judges half of which was to be Catholic and half Protestant, among other things.

      It was into this uncertain and stressful period that Pierre Cresson was born. (Interestingly, John Calvin, the Protestant reformer who carried on the work of Martin Luther, was born almost 100 years earlier, 10 July 1509, in Noyon, Picardy, France. The century since his birth and the impact of his teachings would have a lifelong impact on our Pierre Cresson.) It has been noted that the Cressons of Burgundy in France counted among their family ranks a number of Reformer ministers.

      The early years of Pierre Cresson’s life are not known as the earliest record of his history appeared in the Revised History of Harlem (City of New York): Its Origins and Early Annals .. by James Riker, and Henry Pennington Toler. Their history indicates Pierre fled from Picardy, France, with his young but numerous family members to Sluis, Flanders while yet in his early 30’s. Soon thereafter, however, he moved further north, “…in 1640 is found (with Nicholas and Venant Cresson, both married) among the refugees at Leyden.” He remained in Holland for some 17 years, noted as living at Ryswyk and Delft. During that period of time he was employed as the gardener for William, Prince of Orange, and was forever after known by the sobriquet of The Gardener (“Le Jardiniere”.)

      Thus, we must explore the historical events that affected our ancestor. He had escaped persecution in France seeking a peaceable existence, a life where he was free to worship as he pleased and to enjoy gainful employment. The Huguenots of France were drawn to The Netherlands, where the leaders were more prone to permit their citizenry greater choices. The background story of those rulers is important to understand in order to learn as much as possible about Pierre Cresson.

      William, the first Prince of Orange not blood related to the old House of Orange, inherited the title upon the death of his childless first paternal cousin, Rene’ of Chalon. (This William is the first of his line to enjoy the title, Prince of Orange.) He would become known as the Father of the Fatherland in The Netherlands.) William being only eleven years of age at the time, Emperor Charles V, overlord of most of these estates, served as Regent until William was deemed of age and wisdom fit to serve as head of state. Born in Flanders, Charles V had a powerful history, having served as Lord of the Netherlands (Duke of Burgundy) from 1506, King of Spain from 1516, and then Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519. Charles was an avowed Catholic and “spent most of his life defending the integrity of the Holy Roman Empire from the Protestant Reformation…” [Wikipedia]

      Conversely, William was brought up as a Protestant and only schooled in Catholicism as a requirement for his rule of The Netherlands. As a ward of Charles V and his wife Isabella, William was a favorite of the couple and at the ripe young age of 22 was named by Charles as Commander of one of his armies. (This William, known as William the Silent, was the father of Frederick Henry, his youngest son by his fourth wife, Louise de Coligny, the daughter of the Huguenot leader, Gaspard de Coligny.) Thus, we see the conflict of religious aspirations between Charles V, the avowed Catholic, and his ward, William The Silent, who embraced the Protestant beliefs and would in later life refuse to permit persecution of the Huguenots in his realm.

      Frederick Henry, the youngest son of William The Silent and Louise de Coligny, served as stadtholder of the Netherlands from 1625 until his death in 1647. (Stadtholder means regent or steward of the state, the titular head of the government. Although each state or area was permitted to name their own stadtholder, most of these regents ruled over multiple provinces.) Frederick Henry inherited the reign upon the death of his elder brother, Maurice, who was noted as one of the finest military generals in the history of The Netherlands. Maurice trained Frederick, who became almost as adept at the art of war as his mentor. His reign was extensive: “On the death of Maurice in 1625 without legitimate issue, Frederick Henry succeeded him in his paternal dignities and estates, and also in the stadtholderates of the five provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Guelders, and in the important posts of captain and admiral-general of the Union (commander-in-chief of the Dutch States Army and of the Dutch navy).” [SOURCE: Wikipedia,,_Prince_of_Orange]

       “William II (b. 27 May 1626 – d. 6 November 1650) was sovereign Prince of Orange and Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, Overijssel and Groningen in the United Provinces of the Netherlands from 14 March 1647 until his death three years later. His only child, William III, reigned as King of England, Ireland, and Scotland.” [Stet]

       William III was born only one week after the death of his illustrious father. He was named titular head of all the states listed above from his birth; however, he only attained practical rule in the 1670’s when he reached the age of approximately 21. This Prince of Orange, along with his wife, Queen Mary II, co-ruled and that period would become known as the Reign of William and Mary. He became King of England, Ireland, and Scotland in 1689 until his death 8 March 1702.

      This period of leadership of The Netherlands by the various Princes of Orange represent a time of upheaval in many areas of life with numerous wars and political intrigue as various groups attempted to achieve dominance. It was in this atmosphere that representatives of the City of Amsterdam in the New World approached various masters of their trade in The Netherlands with an enticing offer. Thus, Pierre Cresson chose to leave his adopted country behind and relocate to The New World. He would make his mark on his new country. That part of his story shall be the subject of next month’s column.

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