LeJau worked for the more humane treatment of slaves. He denounced the law that permitted the physical mutilation of runaway slaves and carried on a veritable crusade again brutality, immorality, and profaneness.
Clergyman, educator. LeJau was born about 1665 in Angiers, France, of Huguenot parents. When the Edict of Nantes (the ruling that gave the Huguenots some freedom to exercise their religion) was revoked by King Louis XIV in 1685, LeJau fled France and French Protestantism for England and Anglicanism. He received his M.A. (1693), B.D. (1696), and D.D. (1700) from Trinity College, Dublin. Sometime before 1700 LeJau was a canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. In 1700 he left England for Antigua, in the West Indies, to be a missionary. In 1705 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) accepted LeJau as a missionary. He left the following year for South Carolina, where he was the first rector to serve the St. James Goose Creek Anglican parish. Next to the commissary (the representative of the bishop of London), LeJau became the most influential Anglican clergyman in South Carolina. When Commissary Gideon Johnson was absent in England or elsewhere, LeJau served St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, a leading Anglican church in the South. He acted as deputy to the commissary.
LeJau became known for his work among African and Indian slaves. His interest in the unfortunate began when he was in Antigua and had two thousand slaves under his care. At Goose Creek he ran a school in his home and taught slaves to read. On Sundays he held special church services for Africans and Indians, encouraging slaves to maintain family ties and family fidelity. He also taught and prepared slaves for baptism and communion, actions which frequently provoked opposition from his white parishioners and the slaves’ owners.
LeJau worked for the more humane treatment of slaves. He denounced the law that permitted the physical mutilation of runaway slaves and carried on a veritable crusade again brutality, immorality, and profaneness. In spite of his kindness, LeJau did not attempt to abolish slavery. A slaveowner himself, he accepted the institution and justified it on scriptural grounds. He required slaves at their baptism to publicly swear that they did not desire baptism out of some design to get free, but only for the salvation of their souls.
On July 31, 1717, Lejau was appointed rector of St. Philip’s Church. At the same time he became the commissary of the bishop of London to South Carolina. Unfortunately, before he could assume these positions, LeJau died in Charleston on September 10, 1717. He was buried at the foot of the altar at Goose Creek Church.
Bolton, S. C. “South Carolina and the Reverend Doctor Francis LeJau: Southern Society and the Conscience of an Anglican Missionary.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 40 (March 1971): 63–79.
Hirsch, Arthur Henry. “Reverend Francis LeJau, First Rector of St. James Church, Goose Creek.” Transactions of the Huguenot Society of South Carolina 34 (1929): 25–43.
LeJau, Francis. The Carolina Chronicle of Dr. Francis LeJau, 1706–1717. Edited by Frank J. Klingberg. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956.
Matteson, Robert S. “Francis LeJau in Ireland.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 78 (April 1977): 83–91.
Pennington, Edgar Legare. “The Reverend Francis LeJau’s Work among Indian and Negro Slaves.” Journal of Southern History 1 (November 1935): 442–58.