Boat People, Then and Now

Making the Calais Crossing

A packet boat arrives as Calais Pier. 1803, Joseph Mallord William Turner. National Gallery

On August 1, 1686, at eight in the morning, a small ship dropped anchor off the Dover shore. Among those who hobbled onto the beach was a 26-year-old Calvinist Frenchman from Calais, Isaac Minet. Minet had finally succeeded in leaving his native country alongside his 65-year-old mother, Susanne, his younger sister Elizabeth, and 15 other men, women, and children. In the Calais region, the accession of Louis XIV, that most Catholic of monarchs, to the French throne heralded an increase in state persecution of the Protestant minority.

In 1685, Louis XIV officially outlawed Protestantism. And so, to avoid being condemned to the galleys, French Protestants had no choice but to abjure or run away. In Calais, religious persecution was particularly fierce. Between October and December 1685, the Minets were put under house arrest and then imprisoned in a dungeon. They eventually yielded to their captors and converted to Catholicism, but their troubles were not yet

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