My ancestors were refugees. This is a mural hanging in Borough Hall, Staten Island. The man holding the hat is Pierre Billiou, my 8th great-grandfather, a French Huguenot who fled religious persecution in France. He arrived in New Amsterdam (New York) on August 6, 1661 on the ship St. Jan Baptiste as the leader of nineteen Huguenot refugee families who later established the first European settlement of Staten Island (Old Town, now South Beach). The baby shown here, held by my 8th great-grandmother Francoise DuBois Billiou, is Issac Billiou, my 7th great-grandfather, born at sea right before the ship landed in 1661.
Pierre was a judicial officer of the first local district court established on January 1, 1664, a delegate to the General Assembly in Manhattan elected on April 10, 1664, appointed a Lieutenant of the militia on May 14, 1669, and elected Schout and Scllepen (sheriff and magistrate) on August 25, 1673 during the Dutch re-occupation of Staten Island.
The Pierre and Francoise Billiou house still stands and is owned by the Staten Island Historical Society.
I’m very proud that my French Huguenot ancestors held on to their identity and beliefs and kept going. They landed here and helped create a country that was premised on tolerance of differing viewpoints (religious and otherwise), basic human rights protected by written laws, and democratic processes of government.
Blog author Professor Marjorie Gell, outside of her keen interest in heritage and genealogy, is also a WMU-Cooley tax professor. She is the co-editor of the Guidebook to Michigan Taxes 2017 (CCH/Wolters Kluwer), as well as Past Chair of the Taxation Section of the State Bar of Michigan.