French citizens who embraced the Protestant teachings of the 16th-century reformation were known as Huguenots. Because they were unwelcome in Catholic France, hundreds of thousands left their native land, with several thousand eventually making their way to the British colonies in North America. Huguenots, generally prosperous and well educated, were among the immigrant groups who were rapidly assimilated into the dominant English culture of America.
Huguenots attempted to settle in Florida (near presentday St. Augustine), the Carolinas, and the Guanabara Bay (in present-day Brazil) during the late 16th century, but none of the settlements was successful. The first Huguenots to settle successfully in the Americas sailed from the Netherlands early in the 17th century, and a small number followed throughout the century. Following Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), which had guaranteed freedom of worship, several hundred thousand Huguenots migrated to Holland, Prussia, and Britain, and several thousand of these eventually made their way to the Americas by the end of the 17th century. The exact number is greatly disputed, in part because immigration records were not routinely kept and because Huguenots often came by way of a third country. Their favored destinations were New York (New Rochelle and New York, New York), Massachusetts (Oxford and Salem), Virginia, and the Carolinas (Charleston). Huguenots maintained their French church traditions into the second generation but by the 1750s, began to rapidly integrate with English-language Protestant churches. By the time of the American Revolution (1775–83), most Huguenots had lost their distinctiveness, having married into English families, adopted the English language, and adapted to the commercial and agricultural developments of their regions. This process was made easier by their relatively high social standing before leaving France, many having been aristocrats and trained artisans. Few Huguenots settled in Canada, as the French government prohibited their permanent residence in New France.