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John Fontaine, “The Journal of John Fontaine” Essay

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Updated: Jan 3rd, 2022


John Fontaine was born in 1693 to James Huguenot in England, where the family stayed as refugees. Huguenot, the father to John Fontaine, was a French refugee whose life was characterized by many travels and resettlements. He first settled at Devonshire, from where he moved to Ireland in the later years. While in Ireland, Huguenot successfully helped his son, John Fontaine, secure a post in the British Army, where Fontaine became a British army officer (Alexander, 3-8).

The writing of “Journal of Fontaine” was done in four major phases. The four phases took the form of trips, travels and resettlements. Three of them were trips made to Virginia and one trip made to the city of New York. In his Journal, John Fontaine gave many of his references to the ancient settlers in the New York City and mostly in Virginia. His experiences with the settlers during the trips also impacted significantly in his writings (Alexander, 3-8).

The Thesis Statement

This paper seeks to review the work of John Fontaine, titled “The Journal of John Fontaine”. “An Irish Huguenot son in Spain and Virginia, 1710-1719”.The paper delves into the literature to find out to what extent does the “Journal of John Fontaine” help readers and historians understand and appreciate the history and development of the British America colonies. How much can historians learn from the work of John Fontaine, and to what extent has this journal contributed in perpetuating the American history and development. These are a few of the questions this essay attempts to address rather more candidly.

The Three Virginia Expeditions

For approximately four years, John Fontaine stayed in Virginia, with the exception of his journey of six Weeks to the City of New York. He explored the province of Virginia through a three tripped exploration. His first trip was to Germana in 1715.On his way to Germana, Fontaine had his very first experience with Indians. He also met a historian and a farmer, Robert Beverly. Together with an Indian friend he came across on his way, they lived for a while with Robert Beverly, from whom the two leant a few things in their lives (Alexander 11).

Robert Beverly was a hardworking farmer in possession of large tracks of plantations and an expert in making wines. His wine making venture was a remarkable discovery to John Fontaine. Beverly must also have been so kind a man, and this he demonstrated by offering Fontaine a track of his farm for free, something which Fontaine had to abundantly appreciate (Alexander 11-12).

From the Robert Beverly’s home yard, John Fontaine and his Indian colleague journeyed to visit the governor, Spotswood. Here, they found nine families, each settled in their own houses, with the houses arranged in a row. In what seemed to be a strategy that the Germans used to protect their frontiers from Indians, the houses were situated “within a blockhouse of the same shape…” (Alexander 11-12).John Fontaine too discovered that the Germans were skilled in Ironworks. The governor, Spotswood enjoyed their services in mining and melting iron. This was “so as not to arouse the prejudices against colonial manufacturing of the Board of trade” (Alexander 12).The overall expense of John Fontaine`s 18 days journey of 200 miles amounted to about 310 Euros (Alexander 12).

Came April, 1716, John Fontaine made his second Virginia trip. This time, he was with the Governor Spotswood, finding their way to Fort Christina, situated to the Southern side of Meherrin River, Northern Carolina. This was a 200 miles trip of 10 days. Just like Robert Beverly, the Governor, Spotswood, seemed to be another kind man. He gave Fontaine 3000 acre of his land. Most significant in this Journey, however, was the Fontaine`s “full description of the Indians at Christanna”. According to this journal, the Indians at Christanna “were the remnants of several Siouan-Speaking tribes…”.If short listed, they encompassed the Occaneochi Stenkenocks, Sapani, Tutelo and Meipontski (Alexander 12-13).

In this journal, John Fontaine also elaborates that out of the 46 words, sentences and phrases he discovered, 38 of them could be used in finding a definite language group, in which case, fourteen were assigned to the Algonquian speaking people, 18 to Siouan and another, fourteen assigned to both Algonquian and Iroquoian. There have however been a possibility of questioning how Fontaine secured the tribe listings.Perhaps, and as other historians have contenmded, Fontaine “may have talked with one or several Indians and spelled out the words phonotypically as best he could” (Alexander 12-13).Alternatively, he may have acquired the words from a teacher from the Indian school at Christanna, possible from Charles Griffic.

The most crucial of all the Virginia trips was that of September, 1716.Together with the Governor, Spotswood, John Fontaine crossed over to Blue Ridge, heading to Shenandoah Valley, the ultimate destination. In this expendition, there were four surveyors, “the canniest and most spectacular in all the provinces” (Alexander 13) .Also in this company were several Indian guides, alongside rangers. The underlying agenda of the trip was “to explore the Western Virginia frontiers” (Alexander 13). This expedition also encouraged settlers, as it hopefully enabled many of them to make some good profits (Alexander 13-14).

The New York Expedition

After the third expedition that they made to Blue Ridge, it was time to visit New York City. Having rested for three Months, John Fontaine handed over his land documents to Major John Holloway, a lawyer in Williamsburg, and departed fro Hampton, from where he traveled to New York. However, before Fontaine arrived at New York City, he passed through Sandy Hook, Staten Island and crossed over the Long Island. Fontaine was this time in company of Michael Kearny, and as if it had become a routine, Fontaine was “armed with good letters of introduction…” (Alexander 19).

Arriving at New York, they stopped by to visit Andrew Freneaul who was “an enterprising Huguenot merchant”. From Andrew’s, the remembered to attend “some social meetings of the French and Irish clubs in various taverns”. Through this, they encountered the province Governor Robert Hunter, a few of the New York chief men, Chief Justice Leuis Morris, Postmaster General John Hamilton, Lieutenant Governor Richard Ingoldsby, Mayor Dr. Johnston John, Surveyor general Maurice Birchfiueld, Colonel Stephen Delaney and Huguenot Immigrant, claimed to have been the richest of all the New York Merchants (Alexander 20).After two weeks in the New York City, the two men, John Fontaine and Michael Kearny, departed for New Jersey, from where they traveled to Burlington, finally landing in Philadelphia (Alexander 20).


From John Fontaine`s first exploration in 1715, historians and readers come to notice quite a number of things about the early settlers. Readers lean of Robert Beverly, an ancient historian and European settler who owned huge tracks of plantations, and the best known wine maker of the time. Fontaine actually provides a first hand information about Robert Beverly, given that he encountered the man face to face, stayed with him for sometimes and even acquired some piece of land from Beverly (Alexander 11). This is very important when looking into the contributions of early settlers in the development of the British American economy.

In finding out the historical evolution of grape plantation and their use in wine making, historians alongside researchers from other fields of study will definitely consider the case of Robert Beverly. Fontaine`s discovery of Beverly’s skill in making varieties of wines was therefore a remarkable encounter that can be of significance in the modern study of` history.

Far from Robert Beverly, readers learn about the governor Spotswood of ancient German, Fontaine`s once long time friend whom they journeyed together (Page 12). How Spotswood governed and defended his territory may form a good comparison to the modern systems of governing. As Fontain found out when he visited Spotswood, there were nine families, each settled in their own houses, with the houses arranged in a row. This seemed to be a strategy that the Germans used to protect their frontiers from Indians, with the houses situated “within a blockhouse of the same shape…” (Alexander 11-12).

This section also gives us a glimpse of the poor relationship between Germans and Indians then. The economic strengths and skills of the ancient Germans is too revealed, as Fontaine informs the readers about the ironworks that were performed by skilled iron-workers in German during those old days.

By giving John Fontaine 3000 acre piece of his land, Spotswood demonstrated just how much land the European colonist had acquired. Not to forget that Robert Beverly had too offered Fontaine a track of his land free of charge. (Alexander, 12).

It is through John Fontaine`s description of the ancient Indian communities that we get the prior knowledge of the ancient Indians as having been composed of different tribes, speaking different languages. Fontaine gives a complete description of the ancient Indians in his Journal. He does this by first exploring the Indian community, delving into the tribal demographics of Indians at Christanna. He holds that the Indians who stayed at Christanna “were the remnants of several Siouan-Speaking tribes…”.Among them were the Occaneochi, Stenkenocks, Sapani, Tutelo and Meipontski (Alexander 12-13).

A number of historians and other scholars have, however, attempted to challenge and criticize the strategy that Fontaine used to arrive at such a conclusion, or how he came to know that Indians who lived in the colonial era were composed of different speaking people as he claimed. Those who back him up assert that perhaps, Fontain may have acquired the knowledge from the Indians themselves, having been with them during his prolonged Virginia expeditions, or still, he must have consulted Charles Griffic who was a teacher at Christanna, therefore was well placed to inform Fontaine (Alexander 13).

Fontaine`s journey to New York City though seems remarkable, it does not, to a greater extent, present for the readers, historians or both, the basic historical information regarding his mission to the City of New York as can be compared to the three trips he made in Virginia. Apart from meeting the New York dignitaries and top officials like Lieutenant Governor Richard Ingoldsby, Mayor Dr. Johnston, Surveyor general Maurice Birchfiueld, Colonel Stephen Delaney, and the Province Governor Robert Hunter, we are left with little to learn about the entire mission. This appeared more like a casual visit rather than a mission with a purposed.

Also from the journal reports of John Fontaine, which majorly described his experience in the Virginia expeditions and New York City, we may possibly find aspects of historical unfolding at a preliminary framework, paving way for the development of modern American Histories.

Another significant attribute of history from “The journal of John Fontaine” was may be the discovery of people and naming. First instance of naming came when the company, in which John Fontaine was an officer, moved to settle three miles from Germana, naming the place “Beverly Camp”, after a colonial European vine farmer, Robert Beverly. Other incidences of naming came at silver mines, which were named “River Mine”, or “Todd Camp”. As the expeditions continued, there were more naming. Among such names concocted by Fontaine were “Smith camp, Dr. Robinsons camp, Expedition run, Blind run, White Oak river and Taylor’s camp, Colonel Robertson’s camp, Brooks camp, nick-named “rattlesnakes camp”, Spotswood camp and then Mount George” (Alexander, 64-120).

The place names, as evidenced in “the Journal of John Fontaine” were literally derived from people’s names, mostly the European colonies that settled in such places and left some legacies, like Robert Beverly known for growing very large farms of grapes and making numerous gallons of wine. The names must also have been derived from the physical features of the land horizons, like mountains and minerals i.e. River Mine (Alexander, 64-120).

This journal also reflects to a greater extent, the major historical sites that were the main targets for the European colonies. For instance, West Virginia was rich in grapes and fertile soils that facilitate the growth of such fruits which were on demand by Europeans in bruising wines. Silver River was yet another attraction site because of the presence of silver mines. There were also mountains and ranges that attracted the settlers, the likes of Mount George can be mentioned here. This is the one area “the Journal of John Fontaine” may have helped historians and scholars understand partially some of the causes of the colonization of America by the Europeans (Alexander, 64-120).

All these observations significantly accounts to the development of the British American History, how the colonialists came to conquer the American lands, how much land they acquired, what exactly motivated them, and who were the major players. And consequently, what were the negative and positive effects of their activities.


Generally, the “Journal of John Fontaine” makes a good read for many scholars, quite informative and interesting. But this may not be the case with all historians, especially those searching for extra historical details like how John Fontaine came to know about the tribal grouping of Indians in Christanna. Some would also be asking what was the prime mission of John Fontaine`s visit to the New York City, or even his three trip explorations in Virginia. Answering these questions may definitely make the journal more accommodating and elaborative.

Works Cited

Alexander, Edward. The journal of John Fontaine: An Irish Huguenot in Spain and Virginia, 1710-1719.New York, NY. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation: University Press of Virginia. 1972. 3-120.

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