Elie Naud (also known as Elias Neau) 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 City.
During his early years in New York, he traveled frequently to Europe to raise money for Huguenot causes, having to take passage in steerage 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 City, Naud became a member of L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit, a French-speaking parish which eventually joined The Episcopal Church, and later of Trinity Church, Wall Street, where he served for fifteen years as a catechist among slaves and Native Americans, preparing them for baptism.
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 worked to influence Parliament for the passage of British laws that would demand Christian instruction for the children of slaves and Native Americans and schools for their education. Only through these means, he believed, could an equal and free society be created. During the New York City slave riot of 1712, Naud remained faithful to his vision despite threats of death from those who believed education of slaves fueled such uprisings.
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.
Blessed God, whose Son Jesus knelt to serve his disciples: We honor you for the witness of your servant Elie Naud; and pray that we, with him, may proclaim Christ in service to those deemed by the world to be 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.