September 7: Elie Naud, Huguenot Witness to the Faith, 1722

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About this commemoration

Elie Naud was a French Huguenot (French Reformed) born in 1661. It was an era when French Roman Catholicism was increasingly dominant and the persecution of Protestants was becoming more violent. Naud fled France and landed in England, where he sojourned briefly before settling permanently in New York. During his early years in New York, he traveled frequently to Europe to raise money for Huguenot causes, having to survive in stowage because he was not a Roman Catholic. His unwillingness to renounce his French Reformed faith resulted in his imprisonment for nearly two years in the infamous Chateau d’If.

In New York he became acquainted with Episcopalians and fell in love with The Book of Common Prayer. He became a member of Trinity Church, Wall Street, where he served for fifteen years as a catechist among black slaves and native Americans, preparing them for baptism. He was later a member of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit, a French speaking Episcopal parish in New York City.

Naud founded a school for the children of the poor and for the children of slaves. Upon the recommendation of the Rector of Trinity Church, the Bishop of London, acting for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), licensed Naud as a missioner “to slaves and ragged people in the New World.” Naud also got involved in colonial politics by trying to influence Parliament for the passage of British laws that would demand Christian instruction for the children of slaves and Native Americans as well as the formation of schools for their education. It was only through these means, he believed, that an equal and free society could be created. During the New York slave riot of 1712, Naud remained faithful to his vision. The outraged people of New York who believed education of slaves fueled such uprisings threatened him with death.

Naud continued to write hymns and poetry in his native French throughout his life. He died on September 7, 1722, and was buried in the churchyard at Trinity Church, Wall Street.


I. Blessed God, whose Son Jesus calmed the waves and knelt to serve his disciples: We give thee honor for the witness of the Huguenot Elie Naud, remembered as Mystic of the Galleys and Servant of Slaves; praying that, with him, we may proclaim Christ in suffering and joy alike, and call others to join us in ministry to those littlest and least, following Jesus who came not to be ministered to but to minister; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

II. Blessed God, whose Son Jesus calmed the waves and knelt to serve his disciples: We honor you for the witness of the Huguenot Elie Naud, remembered as Mystic of the Galleys and Servant of Slaves; and we pray that we, with him, may proclaim Christ in suffering and joy alike, and call others to join us in ministry to those littlest and least, following Jesus who came not to be ministered to but to minister; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to whom be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.


Daniel 6:10b–16,19–23

James 1:2–4,12a

Matthew 15:21–28

Psalm 30

Preface of Baptism

Text From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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12 thoughts on “September 7: Elie Naud, Huguenot Witness to the Faith, 1722

  1. In line 7 of the first paragraph, substitute “take passage in steerage” for “survive in stowage”. (Someone’s spellchecker is unaware that the cheapest berths in passenger vessels were known as “steerage”, originally because such berths were located on the lowest deck at the stern of the ship, near the rudder. “survive” is overly dramatic, and “take passage” will clarify the meaning to others unaware of the meaning of “steerage”.

  2. Collect: ‘Mystic of the Galleys and Servant of Slaves’? What are these titles (capitalized yet) about? ‘to those littlest and least’? Though littlest is admittedly a word … is ‘littlest’ the best word? The whole collect just does not seem to pray well, IMHO.

    Hebrew Reading: What a wonderful reading, with a lion and all!
    Gospel: The Syro-Phoenician woman. But does it fit the commemoration?

    Bio: 1st paragraph: Both references to New York are really New York City.
    2nd paragraph: It is New York City, again.
    ‘acquainted with Episcopalians …” Really? That seems odd. When he was alive there was no TEC, just the Church of England.
    ‘native Americans’ If you must keep this nomenclature at least capitalize ‘Native’.
    ‘a French-speaking Episcopal parish …’ Again, there were no Episcopal parishes when he was alive.
    3rd paragraph: In this paragraph ‘Native Americans’ is capitalized (see above).
    Again, ‘During the New York slave riot’ and ‘the outraged people of New York …’ It is New York City, not New York.
    In the 2nd paragraph it is ‘black slaves’, yet in the 3rd paragraph it is just ‘slaves’. Why?

    Comment: Throughout HWHM there needs to be consistency about describing Native Americans and Blacks. As Steve Lusk has said previously, ‘pick one and stick with it.’

  3. First, I want to say that Elie or Elias Neau was a truly remarkable man who really does deserve to be called a “witness to Faith.” I am very glad to see his name included provisionally in the liturgical calendar. I do have a rhetorical question: What is a Witness To Faith and how does that differ from Prophetic Witness? I am confused!

    That said, there are some problems which need to be addressed. I think there are some factual errors which require attention.
    1. Elie Naud spelled his name : Elias Neau, or at least that is how it is spelled in his will and in documents in which he is named executor. His name is spelled Elye or Elie Neau in the records of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit.
    2. I think there may be a time line error. L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit was an independent Calvinist church during the colonial period of New York. It was not affiliated with the Episcopal Church until 1803, almost eighty years after Elias Neau died. In the colonial period, the church could not incorporate because it was not affiliated with the Reformed Dutch Church during Dutch control of New Amsterdam. Later it did not incorporate under the Church of England when New York came under English control in 1664.
    3. L’Eglise Française du Saint Esprit is still an active Episcopal parish in New York City.
    4. In the collect, there is reference to the time that Elias Neau spent as a galley slave. But this is not mentioned in the biography. Apparently Neau was captured by a French privateer in 1692. By this time M. Neau was an English citizen. He was tried in a French Admiralty court. When he would not renounce his Protestant faith, he was sentence to life as a galley slave. I do not know the history of his release. After a couple of years as a galley slave, he was released and then sent of the prison in Marseille. Eventually he was imprisoned at Chateau d’If. Letters sent from the prison were apparently helpful if gaining his release via an English ambassador. He was probably released in 1698 since by1699, M. Neau was home in New York City.

    While in New York, M. Elia Neau became a sucessfull coth merchant. Some of his account books still survived.
    5. M. Neau was a member of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit before he joined the Church of England, not after as stated in the last two line of paragraph two of the biography. He joined the Church of England through Trinity Church so that he could obtain the proper license to do his work among the slaves and free Blacks. He could not catechize without it. In fact in his letter to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to Foreign Parts (1704) Elie Neau wrote: “I have affection and esteem for the Divine Service that is practiced in the Church of England, however I would not want to condemn all those who have not conformed, I leave this judgment to God.” This somehow got transformed into “fell in love with the Book of Common Prayer.” (2nd paragraph in biography.) It would be wrong to think that M. Neau was anything but fundamentally a Calvinist even though he chose to conform to the Church of England and join the SPGFP. Perhaps it is this idea which the writer of the biography was trying to get across when it states “He was later a member of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit.” This is wrong. Perhaps a scholar has additional information which I do not have and I would be gladly corrected. I do note the following from another source: “Mr. Neau …left the French Church ‘not upon any worldly account but through a principle of conscience and a hearty approbation of the English liturgy.’”
    6. I do not know the details of Elias Neau’s life but apparently there was much sadness and tragedy in it. In addition to the physical hardship and torture of his years onboard the galleys and in prison, he suffered personal loss as well. In his letters he mentions his wife (Suzanne Paré) and children. [At least one daughter, Suzanne, was baptized in 1692 at the New York French Church the forerunner of L’Eglise de Saint-Esprit. ] By the time he made his will in 1722, there is no provision for a wife and/or children suggesting that they all pre-deceased him. The only family who are beneficiaries of his will are the children of his sisters.
    7. M. Neau opened his school at his home for slaves and free blacks and Native Americans in 1704.
    8. Elias Neau had a struggle in his work with slaves because many owners (1) did not believe that African-Americans had souls, (2) if you baptized a slave, then (s)he would become a free person, and (3) if you educated a slave, (s)he would become more wicked and devious and run away. Though the slave riots of 1712 were mentioned in the biography, it is not mentioned that only one of the rioters was one of M. Neau’s students.
    9. I am confused by the biography and the collects. They seem to emphasize different things. Is M. Neau’s “witness to faith” his survival under profound persecution because he would not give up his religion prétendue réformée which resulted in the book “A Short Account of the Life and Sufferings of Elias Neau” or is it his work as a catechist among the slaves and free Blacks of New York? And in all of this Elias Neau wrote over 150 hymns which were published after his death. And if it is for one or more of the above, can the biography and collect be re-written to reflect some consistency in viewpoint.

    [ For the sake of full disclosure, Elias Neau was an executor for the estate of one of my Huguenot ancestors.]

  4. I see I made a consistency error; The French church in New Amsterdam was referred to as ” L’Église française à la Nouvelle-Amsterdam” and then ” Église françoise à la Nouvelle York”. L’Eglise du St. Esprit did not become a shortened versions of l’Église Protestante Episcopale française du St. Esprit, until it became an Episcopal parish. But persons who work with New York history and genealogy usually just refer to it as the New York French Church or L’Eglise de St. Esprit no matter what period is being discussedl And that may be handy but is not especially accurate. Since M. Elias Neau was a member from about 1689 to 1704, probably the best term is “Église françoise à la Nouvelle York” or the French Church of New York with a reference to its subsequent name change to the Episcopal parish in 1804 as l’Église Protestante Episcopale française du St. Esprit

  5. A great addition, and one that’s actually an Anglican.
    The “littlest and the least” may read badly, but it prayed well at our Eucharist this morning. It was in fact the key phrase in the homily (who are the littlest and the least among us today?).
    For my money, an unusally well-thoughtout and pertinent set of readings (which makes the problems with the research and proofreading of the life all the more puzzling). The lions’ den evokes the Chateau d’If, and the Canaanite woman evokes Neau’s role in calling attention to the needs of the littlest and the least, who sometimes get overlooked even by the Church.
    Suzanne’s corrections seem to right on, confirming what I got in 30 minutes of Googling. The chronology is very confusing, but it’s clear that Neau was at L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit first. SE’s parish history says it’s vestry (I’ll be they called themselves anciens, not vestrymen) voted to join the Episcopal Church in November 1802 and implies that the change became effective the next year, 1803. The church still does services in French.
    His name appears in many forms: Eli/Elie/Elye/Elias Naud/Neau (sometimes with accent marks on the initial E). The variants should be noted in the life, and some pronounciation help would be appreciated. One assumes that he got his own name right in his will, so the name in the title should be “Elias Neau,” not “Elie Naud.”
    Neau’s account of the evils of the Chateau d’If and the galleys was influential in itsday. It helped force reforms, although they appear to have been largely cosmetic and short-lived. In 1707/8, he publicly defended his fellow Huguenots from incredible but widely believed charges that they were conspiring with their French Catholic persecutors to attack the city. (This was during the War of the Spanish Succession, and England and France were at war with each other.) And he later kept his school for slaves open in spite of death threats and the hostility of his neighbors after the slave riots. That’s enough good deeds for three feast days.

  6. Our congregation was quite eager to learn more about Elie Neau, and found his witness encouraging. I was disappointed at not being able to find any information to explain the intriguing phrase “Mystic of the Galley” — and surely hope the biography may be expanded to enlighten us!

  7. I have written extensively about Elie Neau and am happy to provide a corrected summary of his life, which is very inaccurate as it stands in the text of commemoration.

  8. My name is Neau and When I emigrated to the states in 1989, my daughter (about 10 years old) went to school and had to select the homework :” Elias NEAU is the first person who started a school in new York city for Black children”. We could not find anything in the local libraries. So I had to go to the library in new York to find some information.
    The most I could find there , was a thesis written by a student at Loyola University. It said that Elias NEAU was a very wealthy trader with his own ships who was captured by pirates who tried to obtain a ransom from France. I think he was French as he left from the west coast of France. France refused . Finally England paid the ransom and then he could got to St Malo, (north-West of france) where he was condemned to be a galley slave for 6 years..
    From what I read England was one of the most common first destination when leaving France. , They were very much afraid of the USA.
    The Huguenot were condemned when coming back to france , because they left France without the agreement of the King.
    Before starting as a galley slave, as a prisoner he had to walk to Marseilles (South -east of france). That means the longest distance to cross France in a diagonal line. This could explain the ref. of the chateau des ifs. He was then a galley slave for 6 years.
    In this book it said that he went back to new York and started again his business.
    That same book was saying that then he opened a school in his own home to teach the black people how to learn. I di not have a chance to go to Loyola university to go more in details.

    Still searching for more information, I found texts saying that in fact he obtained a license to be a catechiste. which gives a complete different picture about his activity when coming back to new york .

    As far as the use of NAU or NEAU, I am not surprised. In my case first the family name was NAU and then became Neau around the 1400. From the same area, I know people who at the origin were Neau and became NAU.. Very often people say that it was the way to proceed when one of the member of the family was creating problem.

    As far as the spelling of an accent on the E, I do not know the explanation, But, in Paris where I spent four years, people use to put an accent on the e an pronounce it accordingly. It hard to find where does this come from since we usually have to capitalize the last name. there IS NO ACCENT ON THE e CAPITAL..

    Once I went to the main library in New York, and I had found a reference about Elie NEAU, but we could not take the book out so I gave up.
    I am still searching as much as I can through the internet since now I moved to the south.

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