It all started in 1685 in France. French Protestants had been under increasing persecution over the past 50 years and this had come to a head with the Revocation of the Treaty of Nantes in 1685, which had previously afforded 'Les Huguenots' a modicum of protection. With the Revocation, Huguenots were banned from public worship, and their children were forced into the Catholic faith. Huguenot priests were either exiled or executed. Many tens of thousands of Huguenots fled France and dispersed to more tolerant countries, including The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and America.
Philip Dupont, being a Huguenot priest in fear of his life, fled to England in 1685 along with thousands of his compatriots. After arriving in England, he was ordinated into the Anglican priesthood in 1686 and the following year was granted naturalisation. In 1691 he was given the parish of Assington, a little village in Suffolk, where he lived until his death in 1728.
Churchyard at Assington
One of his grandsons, Philip Dupont, a house carpenter, married Sarah Gainsborough - the sister of the famous painter Thomas Gainsborough - and their son Gainsborough Dupont was apprenticed to his uncle, and became an artist in his own right.
Philip and Sarah Dupont, and their son Gainsborough
He followed his uncle to Bath, where they painted many society portraits and later, after Thomas Gainsborough's death, lived in fashionable Grafton Street, in London. He never managed to attain the recognition he may have wanted, always living in the shadow of his uncle's genius, and was rejected by the Royal Society many times. He became director of the French Protestant Hospital. When he died in 1797 he was buried at Kew with Thomas Gainsborough.
Another grandson, John Dupont was apprenticed as a barber. He settled in Bures St Mary. He married a local girl, Susan Causton and bought a shop from his father-in-law, John Causton, in 1754 for 28 pounds. As time went on, the generations split into two parts. One part moved to the growing Suffolk town of Sudbury, and established themselves as important citizens therein. They were yeomen, who owned property, farms and taverns and were prospering. The other part had remained in Bures, on the borders of Essex, and were maintaining the family shop, first as a barber shop, then a bakery and finally as a provisions shop. They too were prospering as in their wills they were able to leave money to the poor in the district.
In Sudbury, however the family line was about to die out, due to a lack of male heirs, and Richard Gainsborough Dupont, became the last of the Gainsborough/Dupont line. His daughter Louise married Dr. Richard Waring and her blood line carried on through their children.
In Bures however, the family prospered further, and it is from this line that the rest of the Dupont descendants emerged. Soon, however, with the coming of the railways in the 1820s, the family would begin to migrate southwards, first to Essex and finally to the East End of London, which is probably where their ancestor (the Reverend Philip) originally arrived from France.
In 1887 a young merchant, Alfred Dupont, came to London and, having undergone an apprenticeship in drapery, set up a draper's shop in Islington. He based the shop on credit purchase, so that the less well-off inhabitants could also afford to buy his goods at reasonable prices. The business took off and by the 1950s more than 70 branches and department stores thrived throughout England, and 'Dupont Brothers' was one of the largest privately owned retail businesses in England, until it was bought out in the 1980s.
Alfred Dupont, founder of Dupont Bros.
While most of the family went into the 'family business', one son of Alfred, Clifford Dupont, emigrated to Southern Rhodesia, as it was called, after the Second World War to become a farm owner. Later he got involved in politics, and eventually became part of the controversial Ian Smith government in the late 1960s, which declared unilateral independence from Great Britain. He was made first president of the new Republic of Rhodesia in 1970, a position which he held until 1976 (a giant step from his humble Huguenot origins).
Clifford Dupont, First President of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)
Today, the Dupont generations have scattered around the world, especially Canada, South Africa and Australasia, and all over England. In fact there are very, very few Duponts still living in Suffolk itself, such has been their dispersal.