In the early years of New York, when only a few small hamlets dotted the forests and fields of what is now Westchester County, a small group of French Protestant refugees called Huguenots made their way to a stretch of land that began at the banks of Long Island Sound. Having fled their homeland to realize a life in which they could practice their religion freely, the dozen or so families, with Acting New York Governor Jacob Leisler serving as the go-between, purchased 6,000 acres from John Pell, signing the deed in 1689. They named their new purchase after the last Huguenot stronghold in France, La Rochelle, and called it "New Rochelle".
The active relationship between La Rochelle and New Rochelle is well over 100 years old. Many descendents of original Huguenot families still reside here. In 1911, citizens of New Rochelle gifted to La Rochelle a statue of Jean Guiton, its mayor and a defender of the Huguenots in the 1600s. That 18-foot-high statue stands in the courtyard of the La Rochelle City Hall.
Visits to New Rochelle took place in both 1938 and 1988, celebrating the 250th and 300th anniversaries of our city. A delegation from New Rochelle received a warm welcome in La Rochelle in 1999 and the mayor of La Rochelle spent several days here as a guest in 2008. Other groups from La Rochelle have visited from time to time and have visited Huguenot sites and monuments in our community.