Part 2 out of 6
complaining of the slow payment of his ransom. The kindness of his
captors at Fort Caroline seemed to have won his heart. He replied, that
such was the rage of his subjects that he could no longer control them;
that the French were in danger; and that he had seen arrows stuck in the
ground by the side of the path, in token that war was declared. The
peril was thickening hourly, and Ottigny resolved to regain the boats
while there was yet time.
On the twenty-seventh of July, at nine in the morning, he set his men in
order. Each shouldering a sack of corn, they marched through the rows of
huts that surrounded the great lodge, and out betwixt the overlapping
extremities of the palisade that encircled the town. Before them
stretched a wide avenue, three or four hundred paces long, flanked by a
natural growth of trees,--one of those curious monuments of native
industry to which allusion has already been made. Here Ottigny halted
and formed his line of march. Arlac, with eight matchlock men, was sent
in advance, and flanking parties were thrown into the woods on either
side. Ottigny told his soldiers that, if the Indians meant to attack
them, they were probably in ambush at the other end of the avenue. He
was right. As Arlac's party reached the spot, the whole pack gave tongue
at once. The war-whoop rose, and a tempest of stone-headed arrows
clattered against the breast-plates of the French, or, scorching like
fire, tore through their unprotected limbs. They stood firm, and sent
back their shot so steadily that several of the assailants were laid
dead, and the rest, two or three hundred in number, gave way as Ottigny
came up with his men.
They moved on for a quarter of a mile through a country, as it seems,
comparatively open, when again the war-cry pealed in front, and three
hundred savages bounded to the assault. Their whoops were echoed from
the rear. It was the party whom Arlac had just repulsed, and who,
leaping and showering their arrows, were rushing on again with a
ferocity restrained only by their lack of courage. There was no panic
among the French. The men threw down their bags of corn, and took to
their weapons. They blew their matches, and, under two excellent
officers, stood well to their work. The Indians, on their part, showed
good discipline after their fashion, and were perfectly under the
control of their chiefs. With cries that imitated the yell of owls, the
scream of cougars, and the howl of wolves, they ran up in successive
bands, let fly their arrows, and instantly fell back, giving place to
others. At the sight of the leveled arquebuse, they dropped flat on the
ground. Whenever the French charged upon them, sword in hand, they fled
through the woods like foxes; and whenever the march was resumed, the
arrows were showering again upon the flanks and rear of the retiring
band. As they fell, the soldiers picked them up and broke them. Thus,
beset with swarming savages, the handful of Frenchmen pushed slowly
onward, fighting as they went.
The Indians gradually drew off, and the forest was silent again. Two of
the French had been killed and twenty-two wounded, several so severely
that they were supported to the boats with the utmost difficulty. Of the
corn, two bags only had been brought off.
Famine and desperation now reigned at Fort Caroline. The Indians had
killed two of the carpenters; hence long delay in the finishing of the
new ship. They would not wait, but resolved to put to sea in the
"Breton" and the brigantine. The problem was to find food for the
voyage; for now, in their extremity, they roasted and ate snakes, a
delicacy in which the neighborhood abounded.
On the third of August, Laudonniere, perturbed and oppressed, was
walking on the hill, when, looking seaward, he saw a sight that sent a
thrill through his exhausted frame. A great ship was standing towards
the river's mouth. Then another came in sight, and another, and another.
He despatched a messenger with the tidings to the fort below. The
languid forms of his sick and despairing men rose and danced for joy,
and voices shrill with weakness joined in wild laughter and acclamation,
insomuch, he says, "that one would have thought them to bee out of their
A doubt soon mingled with their joy. Who were the strangers? Were they
the friends so long hoped for in vain? or were they Spaniards, their
dreaded enemies? They were neither. The foremost ship was a stately one,
of seven hundred tons, a great burden at that day. She was named the
"Jesus;" and with her were three smaller vessels, the "Solomon," the
"Tiger," and the "Swallow." Their commander was "a right worshipful and
valiant knight,"--for so the record styles him,--a pious man and a
prudent, to judge him by the orders he gave his crew when, ten months
before, he sailed out of Plymouth: "Serve God daily, love one another,
preserve your victuals, beware of fire, and keepe good companie." Nor
were the crew unworthy the graces of their chief; for the devout
chronicler of the voyage ascribes their deliverance from the perils of
the sea to "the Almightie God, who never suffereth his Elect to perish."
Who then were they, this chosen band, serenely conscious of a special
Providential care? They were the pioneers of that detested traffic
destined to inoculate with its infection nations yet unborn, the parent
of discord and death, filling half a continent with the tramp of armies
and the clash of fratricidal swords. Their chief was Sir John Hawkins,
father of the English slave-trade.
He had been to the coast of Guinea, where he bought and kidnapped a
cargo of slaves. These he had sold to the jealous Spaniards of
Hispaniola, forcing them, with sword, matchlock, and culverin, to grant
him free trade, and then to sign testimonials that he had borne himself
as became a peaceful merchant. Prospering greatly by this summary
commerce, but distressed by the want of water, he had put into the River
of May to obtain a supply.
Among the rugged heroes of the British marine, Sir John stood in the
front rank, and along with Drake, his relative, is extolled as "a man
borne for the honour of the English name. . . . Neither did the West of
England yeeld such an Indian Neptunian paire as were these two Ocean
peeres, Hawkins and Drake." So writes the old chronicler, Purchas, and
all England was of his thinking. A hardy and skilful seaman, a bold
fighter, a loyal friend and a stern enemy, overbearing towards equals,
but kind, in his bluff way, to those beneath him, rude in speech,
somewhat crafty withal and avaricious, he buffeted his way to riches and
fame, and died at last full of years and honor. As for the abject
humanity stowed between the reeking decks of the ship "Jesus," they were
merely in his eyes so many black cattle tethered for the market.[FN#18]
Hawkins came up the river in a pinnace, and landed at Fort Caroline,
accompanied, says Laudonniere, "with gentlemen honorably apparelled, yet
unarmed." Between the Huguenots and the English Puritans there was a
double tie of sympathy. Both hated priests, and both hated Spaniards.
Wakening from their apathetic misery, the starveling garrison hailed him
as a deliverer. Yet Hawkins secretly rejoiced when he learned their
purpose to abandon Florida; for although, not to tempt his cupidity,
they hid from him the secret of their Appalachian gold mine, he coveted
for his royal mistress the possession of this rich domain. He shook his
head, however, when he saw the vessels in which they proposed to embark,
and offered them all a free passage to France in his own ships. This,
from obvious motives of honor and prudence, Laudonniere declined, upon
which Hawkins offered to lend or sell to him one of his smaller vessels.
Laudonniere hesitated, and hereupon arose a great clamor. A mob of
soldiers and artisans beset his chamber, threatening loudly to desert
him, and take passage with Hawkins, unless the offer were accepted. The
commandant accordingly resolved to buy the vessel. The generous slaver,
whose reputed avarice nowhere appears in the transaction, desired him to
set his own price; and, in place of money, took the cannon of the fort,
with other articles now useless to their late owners. He sent them, too,
a gift of wine and biscuit, and supplied them with provisions for the
voyage, receiving in payment Laudonniere's note; "for which," adds the
latter, "untill this present I am indebted to him." With a friendly
leave taking, he returned to his ships and stood out to sea, leaving
golden opinions among the grateful inmates of Fort Caroline.
Before the English top-sails had sunk beneath the horizon, the colonists
bestirred themselves to depart. In a few days their preparations were
made. They waited only for a fair wind. It was long in coming, and
meanwhile their troubled fortunes assumed a new phase.
On the twenty eighth of August, the two captains Vasseur and Verdier
came in with tidings of an approaching squadron. Again the fort was wild
with excitement. Friends or foes, French or Spaniards, succor or death,
--betwixt these were their hopes and fears divided. On the following
morning, they saw seven barges rowing up the river, bristling with
weapons, and crowded with men in armor. The sentries on the bluff
challenged, and received no answer. One of them fired at the advancing
boats, and still there was no response. Laudonniere was almost
defenceless. He had given his heavier cannon to Hawkins, and only two
field-pieces were left. They were levelled at the foremost boats, and
the word to fire was about to be given, when a voice from among the
strangers called out that they were French, commanded by Jean Ribaut.
At the eleventh hour, the long looked for succors were come. Ribaut had
been commissioned to sail with seven ships for Florida. A disorderly
concourse of disbanded soldiers, mixed with artisans and their families,
and young nobles weary of a two years' peace, were mustered at the port
of Dieppe, and embarked, to the number of three hundred men, bearing
with them all things thought necessary to a prosperous colony.
No longer in dread of the Spaniards, the colonists saluted the
new-comers with the cannon by which a moment before they had hoped to
blow them out of the water. Laudonniere issued from his stronghold to
welcome them, and regaled them with what cheer he could. Ribaut was
present, conspicuous by his long beard, an astonishment to the Indians;
and here, too, were officers, old friends of Laudonniere. Why, then, had
they approached in the attitude of enemies? The mystery was soon
explained; for they expressed to the commandant their pleasure at
finding that the charges made against him had proved false. He begged to
know more; on which Ribaut, taking him aside, told him that the
returning ships had brought home letters filled with accusations of
arrogance, tyranny, cruelty, and a purpose of establishing an
independent command,--accusations which he now saw to be unfounded, but
which had been the occasion of his unusual and startling precaution. He
gave him, too, a letter from Admiral Coligny. In brief but courteous
terms, it required him to resign his command, and requested his return
to France to clear his name from the imputations cast upon it. Ribaut
warmly urged him to remain; but Laudonniere declined his friendly
Worn in body and mind, mortified and wounded, he soon fell ill again. A
peasant woman attended him, who was brought over, he says, to nurse the
sick and take charge of the poultry, and of whom Le Moyne also speaks as
a servant, but who had been made the occasion of additional charges
against him, most offensive to the austere Admiral.
Stores were landed, tents were pitched, women and children were sent on
shore, feathered Indians mingled in the throng, and the borders of the
River of May swarmed with busy life. "But, lo, how oftentimes misfortune
doth search and pursue us, even then when we thinke to be at rest!"
exclaims the unhappy Laudonniere. Amidst the light and cheer of
renovated hope, a cloud of blackest omen was gathering in the east.
At half-past eleven on the night of Tuesday, the fourth of September,
the crew of Ribaut's flag-ship, anchored on the still sea outside the
bar, saw a huge hulk, grim with the throats of cannon, drifting towards
them through the gloom; and from its stern rolled on the sluggish air
the portentous banner of Spain.
The monk, the inquisitor, and the Jesuit were lords of Spain,--
sovereigns of her sovereign, for they had formed the dark and narrow
mind of that tyrannical recluse. They had formed the minds of her
people, quenched in blood every spark of rising heresy, and given over a
noble nation to a bigotry blind and inexorable as the doom of fate.
Linked with pride, ambition, avarice, every passion of a rich, strong
nature, potent for good and ill, it made the Spaniard of that day a
scourge as dire as ever fell on man.
Day was breaking on the world. Light, hope, and freedom pierced with
vitalizing ray the clouds and the miasma that hung so thick over the
prostrate Middle Age, once noble and mighty, now a foul image of decay
and death. Kindled with new life, the nations gave birth to a progeny of
heroes, and the stormy glories of the sixteenth century rose on awakened
Europe. But Spain was the citadel of darkness,--a monastic cell, an
inquisitorial dungeon, where no ray could pierce. She was the bulwark of
the Church, against whose adamantine wall the waves of innovation beat
in vain.[FN#19] In every country of Europe the party of freedom and
reform was the national party, the party of reaction and absolutism was
the Spanish party, leaning on Spain, looking to her for help. Above all,
it was so in France; and, while within her bounds there was for a time
some semblance of peace, the national and religious rage burst forth on
a wilder theatre. Thither it is for us to follow it, where, on the
shores of Florida, the Spaniard and the Frenchman, the bigot and the
Huguenot, met in the grapple of death.
In a corridor of his palace, Philip the Second was met by a man who had
long stood waiting his approach, and who with proud reverence placed a
petition in the hand of the pale and sombre King.
The petitioner was Pedro Menendez de Aviles, one of the ablest and most
distinguished officers of the Spanish marine. He was born of an ancient
Asturian family. His boyhood had been wayward, ungovernable, and fierce.
He ran off at eight years of age, and when, after a search of six
months, he was found and brought back, he ran off again. This time he
was more successful, escaping on board a fleet bound against the Barbary
corsairs, where his precocious appetite for blood and blows had
reasonable contentment. A few years later, he found means to build a
small vessel, in which he cruised against the corsairs and the French,
and, though still hardly more than a boy, displayed a singular address
and daring. The wonders of the New World now seized his imagination. He
made a voyage thither, and the ships under his charge came back
freighted with wealth. The war with France was then at its height. As
captain-general of the fleet, he was sent with troops to Flanders; and
to their prompt arrival was due, it is said, the victory of St. Quentin.
Two years later, he commanded the luckless armada which bore back Philip
to his native shore. On the way, the King narrowly escaped drowning in a
storm off the port of Laredo. This mischance, or his own violence and
insubordination, wrought to the prejudice of Menendez. He complained
that his services were ill repaid. Philip lent him a favoring ear, and
despatched him to the Indies as general of the fleet and army. Here he
found means to amass vast riches; and, in 1561, on his return to Spain,
charges were brought against him of a nature which his too friendly
biographer does not explain. The Council of the Indies arrested him. He
was imprisoned and sentenced to a heavy fine; but, gaining his release,
hastened to court to throw himself on the royal clemency. His petition
was most graciously received. Philip restored his command, but remitted
only half his fine, a strong presumption of his guilt.
Menendez kissed the royal hand; he had another petition in reserve. His
son had been wrecked near the Bermudas, and he would fain go thither to
find tidings of his fate. The pious King bade him trust in God, and
promised that he should be despatched without delay to the Bermudas and
to Florida, with a commission to make an exact survey of the neighboring
seas for the profit of future voyagers; but Menendez was not content
with such an errand. He knew, he said, nothing of greater moment to his
Majesty than the conquest and settlement of Florida. The climate was
healthful, the soil fertile; and, worldly advantages aside, it was
peopled by a race sunk in the thickest shades of infidelity. "Such
grief," he pursued, "seizes me, when I behold this multitude of wretched
Indians, that I should choose the conquest and settling of Florida above
all commands, offices, and dignities which your Majesty might bestow."
Those who take this for hypocrisy do not know the Spaniard of the
The King was edified by his zeal. An enterprise of such spiritual and
temporal promise was not to be slighted, and Menendez was empowered to
conquer and convert Florida at his own cost. The conquest was to be
effected within three years. Menendez was to take with him five hundred
men, and supply them with five hundred slaves, besides horses, cattle,
sheep, and hogs. Villages were to be built, with forts to defend them,
and sixteen ecclesiastics, of whom four should be Jesuits, were to form
the nucleus of a Floridan church. The King, on his part, granted
Menendez free trade with Hispaniola, Porto Rico, Cuba, and Spain, the
office of Adelantado of Florida for life, with the right of naming his
successor, and large emoluments to be drawn from the expected conquest.
The compact struck, Menendez hastened to his native Asturias to raise
money among his relatives. Scarcely was he gone, when tidings reached
Madrid that Florida was already occupied by a colony of French
Protestants, and that a reinforcement, under Ribaut, was on the point of
sailing thither. A French historian of high authority declares that
these advices came from the Catholic party at the French court, in whom
every instinct of patriotism was lost in their hatred of Coligny and the
Huguenots. Of this there can be little doubt, though information also
came about this time from the buccaneer Frenchmen captured in the West
Foreigners had invaded the territory of Spain. The trespassers, too,
were heretics, foes of God, and liegemen of the Devil. Their doom was
fixed. But how would France endure an assault, in time of peace, on
subjects who had gone forth on an enterprise sanctioned by the Crown,
and undertaken in its name and under its commission?
The throne of France, in which the corruption of the nation seemed
gathered to a head, was trembling between the two parties of the
Catholics and the Huguenots, whose chiefs aimed at royalty. Flattering
both, caressing both, playing one against the other, and betraying both,
Catherine de Medicis, by a thousand crafty arts and expedients of the
moment, sought to retain the crown on the head of her weak and vicious
son. Of late her crooked policy had led her towards the Catholic party,
in other words the party of Spain; and she had already given ear to the
savage Duke of Alva, urging her to the course which, seven years later,
led to the carnage of St. Bartholomew. In short, the Spanish policy was
in the ascendant, and no thought of the national interest or honor could
restrain that basest of courts from abandoning by hundreds to the
national enemy those whom it was itself meditating to immolate by
thousands. It might protest for form's sake, or to quiet public clamor;
but Philip of Spain well knew that it would end in patient submission.
Menendez was summoned back in haste to the Spanish court. His force must
be strengthened. Three hundred and ninety-four men were added at the
royal charge, and a corresponding number of transport and supply ships.
It was a holy war, a crusade, and as such was preached by priest and
monk along the western coasts of Spain. All the Biscayan ports flamed
with zeal, and adventurers crowded to enroll themselves; since to
plunder heretics is good for the soul as well as the purse, and broil
and massacre have double attraction when promoted into a means of
salvation. It was a fervor, deep and hot, but not of celestial kindling;
nor yet that buoyant and inspiring zeal which, when the Middle Age was
in its youth and prime, glowed in the souls of Tancred, Godfrey, and St.
Louis, and which, when its day was long since past, could still find its
home in the great heart of Columbus. A darker spirit urged the new
crusade,--born not of hope, but of fear, slavish in its nature, the
creature and the tool of despotism; for the typical Spaniard of the
sixteenth century was not in strictness a fanatic, he was bigotry
Heresy was a plague-spot, an ulcer to be eradicated with fire and the
knife, and this foul abomination was infecting the shores which the
Vicegerent of Christ had given to the King of Spain, and which the Most
Catholic King had given to the Adelantado. Thus would countless heathen
tribes be doomed to an eternity of flame, and the Prince of Darkness
hold his ancient sway unbroken; and for the Adelantado himself, the vast
outlays, the vast debts of his bold Floridan venture would be all in
vain, and his fortunes be wrecked past redemption through these tools of
Satan. As a Catholic, as a Spaniard, and as an adventurer, his course
The work assigned him was prodigious. He was invested with power almost
absolute, not merely over the peninsula which now retains the name of
Florida, but over all North America, from Labrador to Mexico; for this
was the Florida of the old Spanish geographers, and the Florida
designated in the commission of Menendez. It was a continent which he
was to conquer and occupy out of his own purse. The impoverished King
contracted with his daring and ambitious subject to win and hold for him
the territory of the future United States and British Provinces. His
plan, as afterwards exposed at length in his letters to Philip the
Second, was, first, to plant a garrison at Port Royal, and next to
fortify strongly on Chesapeake Bay, called by him St. Mary's. He
believed that adjoining this bay was an arm of the sea, running
northward and eastward, and communicating with the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
thus making New England, with adjacent districts, an island. His
proposed fort on the Chesapeake, securing access by this imaginary
passage, to the seas of Newfoundland, would enable the Spaniards to
command the fisheries, on which both the French and the English had long
encroached, to the great prejudice of Spanish rights. Doubtless, too,
these inland waters gave access to the South Sea, and their occupation
was necessary to prevent the French from penetrating thither; for that
ambitious people, since the time of Cartier, had never abandoned their
schemes of seizing this portion of the dominions of the King of Spain.
Five hundred soldiers and one hundred sailors must, he urges, take
possession, without delay, of Port Royal and the Chesapeake.[FN#20]
Preparation for his enterprise was pushed with furious energy. His whole
force, when the several squadrons were united, amounted to two thousand
six hundred and forty-six persons, in thirty-four vessels, one of which,
the San Pelayo, bearing Menendez himself, was of nine hundred and
ninety-six tons burden, and is described as one of the finest ships
afloat.[FN#21] There were twelve Franciscans and eight Jesuits, besides
other ecclesiastics; and many knights of Galicia, Biscay, and the
Asturias took part in the expedition. With a slight exception, the whole
was at the Adelantado's charge. Within the first fourteen months,
according to his admirer, Barcia, the adventure cost him a million
Before the close of the year, Sancho do Arciniega was commissioned to
join Menendez with an additional force of fifteen hundred men.
Red-hot with a determined purpose, the Adelantado would brook no delay.
To him, says the chronicler, every day seemed a year. He was eager to
anticipate Ribaut, of whose designs and whose force he seems to have
been informed to the minutest particular, but whom he hoped to thwart
and ruin by gaining Fort Caroline before him. With eleven ships,
therefore, he sailed from Cadiz, on the twenty-ninth of June, 1565,
leaving the smaller vessels of his fleet to follow with what speed they
might. He touched first at the Canaries, and on the eighth of July left
them, steering for Dominica. A minute account of the voyage has come
down to us, written by Mendoza, chaplain of the expedition,--a somewhat
dull and illiterate person, who busily jots down the incidents of each
passing day, and is constantly betraying, with a certain awkward
simplicity, how the cares of this world and of the next jostle each
other in his thoughts.
On Friday, the twentieth of July, a storm fell upon them with appalling
fury. The pilots lost their wits, and the sailors gave themselves up to
their terrors. Throughout the night, they beset Mendoza for confession
and absolution, a boon not easily granted, for the seas swept the
crowded decks with cataracts of foam, and the shriekings of the gale in
the rigging overpowered the exhortations of the half-drowned priest.
Cannon, cables, spars, water-casks, were thrown overboard, and the
chests of the sailors would have followed, had not the latter, in spite
of their fright, raised such a howl of remonstrance that the order was
revoked. At length day dawned, Plunging, reeling, half under water,
quivering with the shock of the seas, whose mountain ridges rolled down
upon her before the gale, the ship lay in deadly peril from Friday till
Monday noon. Then the storm abated; the sun broke out; and again she
held her course.
They reached Dominica on Sunday, the fifth of August. The chaplain tells
us how he went on shore to refresh himself; how, while his Italian
servant washed his linen at a brook, he strolled along the beach and
picked up shells; and how he was scared, first, by a prodigious turtle,
and next by a vision of the cannibal natives, which caused his prompt
retreat to the boats.
On the tenth, they anchored in the harbor of Porto Rico, where they
found two ships of their squadron, from which they had parted in the
storm. One of them was the "San Pelayo," with Menendez on board. Mendoza
informs us, that in the evening the officers came on board the ship to
which he was attached, when he, the chaplain, regaled them with
sweetmeats, and that Menendez invited him not only to supper that night,
but to dinner the next day, "for the which I thanked him, as reason
was," says the gratified churchman.
Here thirty men deserted, and three priests also ran off, of which
Mendoza bitterly complains, as increasing his own work. The motives of
the clerical truants may perhaps be inferred from a worldly temptation
to which the chaplain himself was subjected. "I was offered the service
of a chapel where I should have got a peso for every mass I said, the
whole year round; but I did not accept it, for fear that what I hear
said of the other three would be said of me. Besides, it is not a place
where one can hope for any great advancement, and I wished to try
whether, in refusing a benefice for the love of the Lord, He will not
repay me with some other stroke of fortune before the end of the voyage;
for it is my aim to serve God and His blessed Mother."
The original design had been to rendezvous at Havana, but with the
Adelantado the advantages of despatch outweighed every other
consideration. He resolved to push directly for Florida. Five of his
scattered ships had by this time rejoined company, comprising, exclusive
of officers, a force of about five hundred soldiers, two hundred
sailors, and one hundred colonists. Bearing northward, he advanced by an
unknown and dangerous course along the coast of Hayti and through the
intricate passes of the Bahamas. On the night of the twenty-sixth, the
"San Pelayo" struck three times on the shoals; "but," says the chaplain,
"inasmuch as our enterprise was undertaken for the sake of Christ and
His blessed Mother, two heavy seas struck her abaft, and set her afloat
At length the ships lay becalmed in the Bahama Channel, slumbering on
the glassy sea, torpid with the heats of a West Indian August. Menendez
called a council of the commanders. There was doubt and indecision.
Perhaps Ribaut had already reached the French fort, and then to attack
the united force would be an act of desperation. Far better to await
their lagging comrades. But the Adelantado was of another mind; and,
even had his enemy arrived, ho was resolved that he should have no time
to fortify himself.
"It is God's will," he said, "that our victory should be due, not to our
numbers, but to His all-powerful aid. Therefore has He stricken us with
tempests, and scattered our ships." And he gave his voice for instant
There was much dispute; even the chaplain remonstrated; but nothing
could bend the iron will of Menendez. Nor was a sign of celestial
approval wanting. At nine in the evening, a great meteor burst forth in
mid-heaven, and, blazing like the sun, rolled westward towards the coast
of Florida. The fainting spirits of the crusaders were revived. Diligent
preparation was begun. Prayers and masses were said; and, that the
temporal arm might not fail, the men were daily practised on deck in
shooting at marks, in order, says the chronicle, that the recruits might
learn not to be afraid of their guns.
The dead calm continued. "We were all very tired," says the chaplain,
"and I above all, with praying to God for a fair wind. To-day, at about
two in the afternoon, He took pity on us, and sent us a breeze." Before
night they saw land,--the faint line of forest, traced along the watery
horizon, that marked the coast of Florida. But where, in all this vast
monotony, was the lurking-place of the French? Menendez anchored, and
sent a captain with twenty men ashore, who presently found a band of
Indians, and gained from them the needed information. He stood
northward, till, on the afternoon of Tuesday, the fourth of September,
he descried four ships anchored near the mouth of a river. It was the
river St. John's, and the ships were four of Ribaut's squadron. The prey
was in sight. The Spaniards prepared for battle, and bore down upon the
Lutherans; for, with them, all Protestants alike were branded with the
name of the arch-heretic. Slowly, before the faint breeze, the ships
glided on their way; but while, excited and impatient, the fierce crews
watched the decreasing space, and when they were still three leagues
from their prize, the air ceased to stir, the sails flapped against the
mast, a black cloud with thunder rose above the coast, and the warm rain
of the South descended on the breathless sea. It was dark before the
wind stirred again and the ships resumed their course. At half-past
eleven they reached the French. The "San Pelayo" slowly moved to
windward of Ribaut's flag-ship, the "Trinity," and anchored very near
her. The other ships took similar stations. While these preparations
were making, a work of two hours, the men labored in silence, and the
French, thronging their gangways, looked on in equal silence. "Never,
since I came into the world," writes the chaplain, "did I know such a
It was broken at length by a trumpet from the deck of the "San Pelayo."
A French trumpet answered. Then Menendez, "with much courtesy," says his
Spanish eulogist, inquired, "Gentlemen, whence does this fleet come?"
"From France," was the reply.
"What are you doing here?" pursued the Adelantado.
"Bringing soldiers and supplies for a fort which the King of France has
in this country, and for many others which he soon will have."
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"
Many voices cried out together, "Lutherans, of the new religion." Then,
in their turn, they demanded who Menendez was, and whence he came.
He answered: "I am Pedro Menendez, General of the fleet of the King of
Spain, Don Philip the Second, who have come to this country to hang and
behead all Lutherans whom I shall find by land or sea, according to
instructions from my King, so precise that I have power to pardon none;
and these commands I shall fulfil, as you will see. At daybreak I shall
board your ships, and if I find there any Catholic, he shall be well
treated; but every heretic shall die."
The French with one voice raised a cry of wrath and defiance.
"If you are a brave man, don't wait till day. Come on now, and see what
you will get!"
And they assailed the Adelantado with a shower of scoffs and insults.
Menendez broke into a rage, and gave the order to board. The men
slipped the cables, and the sullen black hulk of the "San Pelayo"
drifted down upon the "Trinity." The French did not make good their
defiance. Indeed, they were incapable of resistance, Ribaut with his
soldiers being ashore at Fort Caroline. They cut their cables, left
their anchors, made sail, and fled. The Spaniards fired, the French
replied. The other Spanish ships had imitated the movement of the "San
Pelayo;" "but," writes the chaplain, Mendoza, "these devils are such
adroit sailors, and maneuvred so well, that we did not catch one of
them." Pursuers and pursued ran out to sea, firing useless volleys at
In the morning Menendez gave over the chase, turned, and, with the "San
Pelayo" alone, ran back for the St. John's. But here a welcome was
prepared for him. He saw bands of armed men drawn up on the beach, and
the smaller vessels of Ribaut's squadron, which had crossed the bar
several days before, anchored behind it to oppose his landing. He would
not venture an attack, but, steering southward, sailed along the coast
till he came to an inlet which he named San Augustine, the same which
Laudonniere had named the River of Dolphins.
Here he found three of his ships already debarking their troops, guns,
and stores. Two officers, Patiflo and Vicente, had taken possession of
the dwelling of the Indian chief Seloy, a huge barn-like structure,
strongly framed of entire trunks of trees, and thatched with palmetto
leaves. Around it they were throwing up entrenchments of fascines and
sand, and gangs of negroes were toiling at the work. Such was the birth
of St. Augustine, the oldest town of the United States.
On the eighth, Menendez took formal possession of his domain. Cannon
were fired, trumpets sounded, and banners displayed, as he landed in
state at the head of his officers and nobles. Mendoza, crucifix in hand,
came to meet him, chanting Te Deum laudamus, while the Adelantado and
all his company, kneeling, kissed the crucifix, and the assembled
Indians gazed in silent wonder.
Meanwhile the tenants of Fort Caroline were not idle. Two or three
soldiers, strolling along the beach in the afternoon, had first seen the
Spanish ships, and hastily summoned Ribaut. He came down to the mouth of
the river, followed by an anxious and excited crowd; but, as they
strained their eyes through the darkness, they could see nothing but the
flashes of the distant guns. At length the returning light showed, far
out at sea, the Adelantado in hot chase of their flying comrades.
Pursuers and pursued were soon out of sight. The drums beat to arms.
After many hours of suspense, the "San Pelayo" reappeared, hovering
about the mouth of the river, then bearing away towards the south. More
anxious hours ensued, when three other sail came in sight, and they
recognized three of their own returning ships. Communication was opened,
a boat's crew landed, and they learned from Cosette, one of the French
captains, that, confiding in the speed of his ship, he had followed the
Spaniards to St. Augustine, reconnoitred their position, and seen them
land their negroes and intrench themselves.
Laudonniere lay sick in bed in his chamber at Fort Caroline when Ribaut
entered, and with him La Grange, Sainte Marie, Ottigny, Yonville, and
other officers. At the bedside of the displaced commandant, they held
their council of war. Three plans were proposed: first, to remain where
they were and fortify themselves; next, to push overland for St.
Augustine and attack the invaders in their intrenchments; and, finally,
to embark and assail them by sea. The first plan would leave their ships
a prey to the Spaniards; and so, too, in all likelihood, would the
second, besides the uncertainties of an overland march through an
unknown wilderness. By sea, the distance was short and the route
explored. By a sudden blow they could capture or destroy the Spanish
ships, and master the troops on shore before reinforcements could
arrive, and before they had time to complete their defences.
Such were the views of Ribaut, with which, not unnaturally, Laudonniere
finds fault, and Le Moyne echoes the censures of his chief. And yet the
plan seems as well conceived as it was bold, lacking nothing but
success. The Spaniards, stricken with terror, owed their safety to the
elements, or, as they say, to the special interposition of the Holy
Virgin. Menendez was a leader fit to stand with Cortes and Pizarro; but
he was matched with a man as cool, skilful, prompt, and daring as
himself. The traces that have come down to us indicate in Ribaut one far
above the common stamp,--"a distinguished man, of many high qualities,"
as even the fault-finding Le Moyne calls him; devout after the best
spirit of the Reform; and with a human heart under his steel
La Grange and other officers took part with Landonniere, and opposed the
plan of an attack by sea; but Ribaut's conviction was unshaken, and the
order was given. All his own soldiers fit for duty embarked in haste,
and with them went La Caille, Arlac, and, as it seems, Ottigny, with the
best of Laudonniere's men. Even Le Moyne, though wounded in the fight
with Outina's warriors, went on board to bear his part in the fray, and
would have sailed with the rest had not Ottigny, seeing his disabled
condition, ordered him back to the fort.
On the tenth, the ships, crowded with troops, set sail. Ribaut was gone,
and with him the bone and sinew of the colony. The miserable remnant
watched his receding sails with dreary foreboding,--a fore-boding which
seemed but too just, when, on the next day, a storm, more violent than
the Indians had ever known, howled through the forest and lashed the
ocean into fury. Most forlorn was the plight of these exiles, left, it
might be, the prey of a band of ferocious bigots more terrible than the
fiercest hordes of the wilderness; and when night closed on the stormy
river and the gloomy waste of pines, what dreams of terror may not have
haunted the helpless women who crouched under the hovels of Fort
The fort was in a ruinous state, with the palisade on the water side
broken down, and three breaches in the rampart. In the driving rain,
urged by the sick Laudonniere, the men, bedrenched and disheartened,
labored as they could to strengthen their defences. Their muster-roll
shows but a beggarly array. "Now," says Laudonniere, "let them which
have bene bold to say that I had men ynough left me, so that I had
meanes to defend my selfe, give care a little now vnto mee, and if they
have eyes in their heads, let them see what men I had." Of Ribaut's
followers left at the fort, only nine or ten had weapons, while only two
or three knew how to use them. Four of them were boys, who kept Ribaut's
dogs, and another was his cook. Besides these, he had left a brewer, an
old crossbow-maker, two shoemakers, a player on the spinet, four valets,
a carpenter of threescore,--Challeux, no doubt, who has left us the
story of his woes,--with a crowd of women, children, and eighty-six
camp-followers. To these were added the remnant of Laudonniere's men, of
whom seventeen could bear arms, the rest being sick or disabled by
wounds received in the fight with Outina.
Laudonniere divided his force, such as it was, into two watches, over
which he placed two officers, Saint Cler and La Vigne, gave them
lanterns for going the rounds, and an hour-glass for setting the time;
while he himself, giddy with weakness and fever, was every night at the
It was the night of the nineteenth of September, the season of tempests;
floods of rain drenched the sentries on the rampart, and, as day dawned
on the dripping barracks and deluged parade, the storm increased in
violence. What enemy could venture out on such a night? La Vigne, who
had the watch, took pity on the sentries and on himself, dismissed them,
and went to his quarters. He little knew what human energies, urged by
ambition, avarice, bigotry, and desperation, will dare and do.
To return to the Spaniards at St. Augustine. On the morning of the
eleventh, the crew of one of their smaller vessels, lying outside the
bar, with Menendez himself on board, saw through the twilight of early
dawn two of Ribaut's ships close upon them. Not a breath of air was
stirring. There was no escape, and the Spaniards fell on their knees in
supplication to Our Lady of Utrera, explaining to her that the heretics
were upon them, and begging her to send them a little wind. "Forthwith,"
says Mendoza, "one would have said that Our Lady herself came down upon
the vessel." A wind sprang up, and the Spaniards found refuge behind the
bar. The returning day showed to their astonished eyes all the ships of
Ribaut, their decks black with men, hovering off the entrance of the
port; but Heaven had them in its charge, and again they experienced its
protecting care. The breeze sent by Our Lady of Utrera rose to a gale,
then to a furious tempest; and the grateful Adelantado saw through rack
and mist the ships of his enemy tossed wildly among the raging waters as
they struggled to gain an offing. With exultation in his heart, the
skilful seaman read their danger, and saw them in his mind's eye dashed
to utter wreck among the sand-bars and breakers of the lee shore.
A bold thought seized him. He would march overland with five hundred
men, and attack Fort Caroline while its defenders were absent. First he
ordered a mass, and then he called a council. Doubtless it was in that
great Indian lodge of Seloy, where he had made his headquarters; and
here, in this dim and smoky abode, nobles, officers, and priests
gathered at his summons. There were fears and doubts and murmurings, but
Menendez was desperate; not with the mad desperation that strikes wildly
and at random, but the still white heat that melts and burns and seethes
with a steady, unquenchable fierceness. "Comrades," he said, "the time
has come to show our courage and our zeal. This is God's war, and we
must not flinch. It is a war with Lutherans, and we must wage it with
blood and fire."
But his hearers gave no response. They had not a million of ducats at
stake, and were not ready for a cast so desperate. A clamor of
remonstrance rose from the circle. Many voices, that of Mendoza among
the rest, urged waiting till their main forces should arrive. The
excitement spread to the men without, and the swarthy, black-bearded
crowd broke into tumults mounting almost to mutiny, while an officer was
heard to say that he would not go on such a hare-brained errand to be
butchered like a beast. But nothing could move the Adelantado. His
appeals or his threats did their work at last; the confusion was
quelled, and preparation was made for the march.
On the morning of the seventeenth, five hundred arquebusiers and pikemen
were drawn up before the camp. To each was given six pounds of biscuit
and a canteen filled with wine. Two Indians and a renegade Frenchman,
called Francois Jean, were to guide them, and twenty Biscayan axemen
moved to the front to clear the way. Through floods of driving rain, a
hoarse voice shouted the word of command, and the sullen march began.
With dismal misgiving, Mendoza watched the last files as they vanished
in the tempestuous forest. Two days of suspense ensued, when a messenger
came back with a letter from the Adelantado, announcing that he had
nearly reached the French fort, and that on the morrow, September the
twentieth, at sunrise, he hoped to assault it. "May the Divine Majesty
deign to protect us, for He knows that we have need of it," writes the
scared chaplain; "the Adelantado's great zeal and courage make us hope
he will succeed, but, for the good of his Majesty's service, he ought to
be a little less ardent in pursuing his schemes."
Meanwhile the five hundred pushed their march, now toiling across the
inundated savanrias, waist-deep in bulrushes and mud; now filing through
the open forest to the moan and roar of the storm-racked pines: now
hacking their way through palmetto thickets; and now turning from their
path to shun some pool, quagmire, cypress swamp, or "hummock," matted
with impenetrable bushes, brambles, and vines. As they bent before the
tempest, the water trickling from the rusty head-piece crept clammy and
cold betwixt the armor and the skin; and when they made their wretched
bivouac, their bed was the spongy soil, and the exhaustless clouds their
The night of Wednesday, the nineteenth, found their vanguard in a deep
forest of pines, less than a mile from Fort Caroline, and near the low
hills which extended in its rear, and formed a continuation of St.
John's Bluff. All around was one great morass. In pitchy darkness,
knee-deep in weeds and water, half starved, worn with toil and lack of
sleep, drenched to the skin, their provisions spoiled, their ammunition
wet, and their spirit chilled out of them, they stood in shivering
groups, cursing the enterprise and the author of it. Menendez heard
Fernando Perez, an ensign, say aloud to his comrades: "This Asturian
Corito, who knows no more of war on shore than an ass, has betrayed us
all. By God, if my advice had been followed, he would have had his
deserts, the day he set out on this cursed journey! "
The Adelantado pretended not to hear.
Two hours before dawn he called his officers about him. All night, he
said, he had been praying to God and the Virgin.
"Senores, what shall we resolve on? Our ammunition and provisions are
gone. Our case is desperate." And he urged a bold rush on the fort.
But men and officers alike were disheartened and disgusted. They
listened coldly and sullenly; many were for returning at every risk;
none were in the mood for fight. Menendez put forth all his eloquence,
till at length the dashed spirits of his followers were so far revived
that they consented to follow him.
All fell on their knees in the marsh; then, rising, they formed their
ranks and began to advance, guided by the renegade Frenchman, whose
hands, to make sure of him, were tied behind his back. Groping and
stumbling in the dark among trees, roots, and underbrush, buffeted by
wind and rain, and lashed in the face by the recoiling boughs which they
could not see, they soon lost their way, fell into confusion, and came
to a stand, in a mood more savagely desponding than before. But soon a
glimmer of returning day came to their aid, and showed them the dusky
sky, and the dark columns of the surrounding pines. Menendez ordered the
men forward on pain of death. They obeyed, and presently, emerging from
the forest, could dimly discern the ridge of a low hill, behind which,
the Frenchman told them, was the fort. Menendez, with a few officers and
men, cautiously mounted to the top. Beneath lay Fort Caroline, three
bow-shots distant; but the rain, the imperfect light, and a cluster of
intervening houses prevented his seeing clearly, and he sent two
officers to reconnoiter. As they descended, they met a solitary
Frenchman. They knocked him down with a sheathed sword, wounded him,
took him prisoner, kept him for a time, and then stabbed him as they
returned towards the top of the hill. Here, clutching their weapons, all
the gang stood in fierce expectancy.
"Santiago!" cried Menendez. "At them! God is with us! Victory!" And,
shouting their hoarse war-cries, the Spaniards rushed down the slope
like starved wolves.
Not a sentry was on the rampart. La Vigne, the officer of the guard, had
just gone to his quarters; but a trumpeter, who chanced to remain, saw,
through sheets of rain, the swarm of assailants sweeping down the hill.
He blew the alarm, and at the summons a few half-naked soldiers ran
wildly out of the barracks. It was too late. Through the breaches and
over the ramparts the Spaniards came pouring in, with shouts of
Sick men leaped from their beds. Women and children, blind with fright,
darted shrieking from the houses. A fierce, gaunt visage, the thrust of
a pike, or blow of a rusty halberd,--such was the greeting that met all
alike. Laudonniere snatched his sword and target, and ran towards the
principal breach, calling to his soldiers. A rush of Spaniards met him;
his men were cut down around him; and he, with a soldier named
Bartholomew, was forced back into the yard of his house. Here stood a
tent, and, as the pursuers stumbled among the cords, he escaped behind
Ottigny's house, sprang through the breach in the western rampart, and
fled for the woods.
Le Moyne had been one of the guard. Scarcely had he thrown himself into
a hammock which was slung in his room, when a savage shout, and a wild
uproar of shrieks, outcries, and the clash of weapons, brought him to
his feet. He rushed by two Spaniards in the doorway, ran behind the
guard-house, leaped through an embrasure into the ditch, and escaped to
Challeux, the carpenter, was going betimes to his work, a chisel in his
hand. He was old, but pike and partisan brandished at his back gave
wings to his flight. In the ecstasy of his terror, he leaped upward,
clutched the top of the palisade, and threw himself over with the
agility of a boy. He ran up the hill, no one pursuing, and, as he neared
the edge of the forest, turned and looked back. From the high ground
where he stood, he could see the butchery, the fury of the conquerors,
and the agonizing gestures of the victims. He turned again in horror,
and plunged into the woods. As he tore his way through the briers and
thickets, he met several fugitives escaped like himself. Others
presently came up, haggard and wild, like men broken loose from the jaws
of death. They gathered together and consulted. One of them, known as
Master Robert, in great repute for his knowledge of the Bible, was for
returning and surrendering to the Spaniards. "They are men," he said;
"perhaps, when their fury is over, they will spare our lives; and, even
if they kill us, it will only be a few moments' pain. Better so, than to
starve here in the woods, or be torn to pieces by wild beasts."
The greater part of the naked and despairing company assented, but
Challeux was of a different mind. The old Huguenot quoted Scripture, and
called the names of prophets and apostles to witness, that, in the
direst extremity, God would not abandon those who rested their faith in
Him. Six of the fugitives, however, still held to their desperate
purpose. Issuing from the woods, they descended towards the fort, and,
as with beating hearts their comrades watched the result, a troop of
Spaniards rushed out, hewed them down with swords and halberds, and
dragged their bodies to the brink of the river, where the victims of the
massacre were already flung in heaps.
Le Moyne, with a soldier named Grandehemin, whom he had met in his
flight, toiled all day through the woods and marshes, in the hope of
reaching the small vessels anchored behind the bar. Night found them in
a morass. No vessel could be seen, and the soldier, in despair, broke
into angry upbraidings against his companion,--saying that he would go
back and give himself up. Le Moyne at first opposed him, then yielded.
But when they drew near the fort, and heard the uproar of savage revelry
that rose from within, the artist's heart failed him. He embraced his
companion, and the soldier advanced alone. A party of Spaniards came out
to meet him. He kneeled, and begged for his life. He was answered by a
death-blow; and the horrified Le Moyne, from his hiding-place in the
thicket, saw his limbs hacked apart, stuck on pikes, and borne off in
Meanwhile, Menendez, mustering his followers, had offered thanks to God
for their victory; and this pious butcher wept with emotion as he
recounted the favors which Heaven had showered upon their enterprise.
His admiring historian gives it in proof of his humanity, that, after
the rage of the assault was spent, he ordered that women, infants, and
boys under fifteen should thenceforth be spared. Of these, by his own
account, there were about fifty. Writing in October to the King, he says
that they cause him great anxiety, since he fears the anger of God
should he now put them to death in cold blood, while, on the other hand,
he is in dread lest the venom of their heresy should infect his men.
A hundred and forty-two persons were slain in and around the fort, and
their bodies lay heaped together on the bank of the river. Nearly
opposite was anchored a small vessel, called the "Pearl," commanded by
Jacques Ribaut, son of the Admiral. The ferocious soldiery, maddened
with victory and drunk with blood, crowded to the water's edge, shouting
insults to those on board, mangling the corpses, tearing out their eyes,
and throwing them towards the vessel from the points of their daggers.
Thus did the Most Catholic Philip champion the cause of Heaven in the
It was currently believed in France, and, though no eye-witness attests
it, there is reason to think it true, that among those murdered at Fort
Caroline there were some who died a death of peculiar ignominy.
Menendez, it is affirmed, hanged his prisoners on trees, and placed over
them the inscription, "I do this, not as to Frenchmen, but as to
The Spaniards gained a great booty in armor, clothing, and provisions.
"Nevertheless," says the devout Mendoza, after closing his inventory of
the plunder, "the greatest profit of this victory is the triumph which
our Lord has granted us, whereby His holy Gospel will be introduced into
this country, a thing so needful for saving so many souls from
perdition." Again he writes in his journal, "We owe to God and His
Mother, more than to human strength, this victory over the adversaries
of the holy Catholic religion."
To whatever influence, celestial or other, the exploit may best be
ascribed, the victors were not yet quite content with their success. Two
small French vessels, besides that of Jacques Ribaut, still lay within
range of the fort. When the storm had a little abated, the cannon were
turned on them. One of them was sunk, but Ribaut, with the others,
escaped down the river, at the mouth of which several light craft,
including that bought from the English, had been anchored since the
arrival of his father's squadron.
While this was passing, the wretched fugitives were flying from the
scene of massacre through a tempest, of whose persistent violence all
the narratives speak with wonder. Exhausted, starved, half naked,--for
most of them had escaped in their shirts,--they pushed their toilsome
way amid the ceaseless wrath of the elements. A few sought refuge in
Indian villages; but these, it is said, were afterwards killed by the
Spaniards. The greater number attempted to reach the vessels at the
mouth of the river. Among the latter was Le Moyne, who, notwithstanding
his former failure, was toiling through the mazes of tangled forests,
when he met a Belgian soldier, with the woman described as Laudonniere's
maid-servant, who was wounded in the breast; and, urging their flight
towards the vessels, they fell in with other fugitives, including
Laudonniere himself. As they struggled through the salt marsh, the rank
sedge cut their naked limbs, and the tide rose to their waists.
Presently they descried others, toiling like themselves through the
matted vegetation, and recognized Challeux and his companions, also in
quest of the vessels. The old man still, as he tells us, held fast to
his chisel, which had done good service in cutting poles to aid the
party to cross the deep creeks that channelled the morass. The united
band, twenty-six in all, were cheered at length by the sight of a moving
sail. It was the vessel of Captain Mallard, who, informed of the
massacre, was standing along shore in the hope of picking up some of the
fugitives. He saw their signals, and sent boats to their rescue; but
such was their exhaustion, that, had not the sailors, wading to their
armpits among the rushes, borne them out on their shoulders, few could
have escaped. Laudonniere was so feeble that nothing but the support of
a soldier, who held him upright in his arms, had saved him from drowning
in the marsh.
On gaining the friendly decks, the fugitives counselled together. One
and all, they sickened for the sight of France.
After waiting a few days, and saving a few more stragglers from the
marsh, they prepared to sail. Young Ribaut, though ignorant of his
father's fate, assented with something more than willingness; indeed,
his behavior throughout had been stamped with weakness and poltroonery.
On the twenty-fifth of September they put to sea in two vessels; and,
after a voyage the privations of which were fatal to many of them, they
arrived, one party at Rochelle, the other at Swansea, in Wales.
MASSACRE OF THE HERETICS.
In suspense and fear, hourly looking seaward for the dreaded fleet of
Jean Ribaut, the chaplain Mendoza and his brother priests held watch and
ward at St. Augustine in the Adelantado's absence. Besides the celestial
guardians whom they ceased not to invoke, they had as protectors
Bartholomew Menendez, the brother of the Adelantado, and about a hundred
soldiers. Day and night they toiled to throw up earthworks and
strengthen their position.
A week elapsed, when they saw a man running towards them, shouting as
Mendoza went to meet him.
"Victory! victory!" gasped the breathless messenger. "The French fort is
ours!" And he flung his arms about the chaplain's neck.'
"To-day," writes the priest in his journal, "Monday, the twenty-fourth,
came our good general himself, with fifty soldiers, very tired, Like all
those who were with him. As soon as they told me he was coming, I ran to
my lodging, took a new cassock, the best I had, put on my surplice, and
went out to meet him with a crucifix in my hand; whereupon he, like a
gentleman and a good Christian, kneeled down with all his followers, and
gave the Lord a thousand thanks for the great favors he had received
In solemn procession, with four priests in front chanting Te Deum, the
victors entered St. Augustine in triumph.
On the twenty-eighth, when the weary Adelantado was taking his siesta
under the sylvan roof of Seloy, a troop of Indians came in with news
that quickly roused him from his slumbers. They had seen a French vessel
wrecked on the coast towards the south. Those who escaped from her were
four or six leagues off, on the banks of a river or arm of the sea,
which they could not cross.
Menendez instantly sent forty or fifty men in boats to reconnoitre.
Next, he called the chaplain,--for he would fain have him at his elbow
to countenance the deeds he meditated,--and, with him twelve soldiers
and two Indian guides, embarked in another boat. They rowed along the
channel between Anastasia Island and the main shore; then they landed,
struck across the island on foot, traversed plains and marshes, reached
the sea towards night, and. searched along shore till ten o'clock to
find their comrades who had gone before. At length, with mutual joy, the
two parties met, and bivouacked together on the sands. Not far distant
they could see lights. These were the camp-fires of the shipwrecked
To relate with precision the fortunes of these unhappy men is
impossible; for henceforward the French narratives are no longer the
narratives of eye-witnesses.
It has been seen how, when on the point of assailing the Spaniards at
St. Augustine, Jean Ribaut was thwarted by a gale, which they hailed as
a divine interposition. The gale rose to a tempest of strange fury.
Within a few days, all the French ships were cast on shore, between
Matanzas Inlet and Cape Canaveral. According to a letter of Menendez,
many of those on hoard were lost; but others affirm that all escaped but
a captain, La Grange, an officer of high merit, who was washed from a
floating mast. One of the ships was wrecked at a point farther northward
than the rest, and it was her company whose campfires were seen by the
Spaniards at their bivouac on the sands of Anastasia Island. They were
endeavoring to reach Fort Caroline, of the fate of which they knew
nothing, while Ribaut with the remainder was farther southward,
struggling through the wilderness towards the same goal. What befell the
latter will appear hereafter. Of the fate of the former party there is
no French record. What we know of it is due to three Spanish
eye-witnesses, Mendoza, Doctor Soils de las Meras, and Menendez himself.
Soils was a priest, and brother-in-law to Menendez. Like Mendoza, he
minutely describes what he saw, and, like him, was a red-hot zealot,
lavishing applause on the darkest deeds of his chief. But the principal
witness, though not the most minute or most trustworthy, is Menendez, in
his long despatches sent from Florida to the King, and now first brought
to light from the archives of Seville,--a cool record of unsurpassed
atrocities, inscribed on the back with the royal indorsement, "Say to
him that he has done well."
When the Adelantado saw the French fires in the distance, he lay close
in his bivouac, and sent two soldiers to reconnoitre. At two o'clock in
the morning they came back, and reported that it was impossible to get
at the enemy, since they were on the farther side of an arm of the sea
(Matanzas Inlet). Menendez, however, gave orders to march, and before
daybreak reached the hither bank, where he hid his men in a bushy
hollow. Thence, as it grew light, they could discern the enemy, many of
whom were searching along the sands and shallows for shell-fish, for
they were famishing. A thought struck Menendez, an inspiration, says
Mendoza, of the Holy Spirit. He put on the clothes of a sailor, entered
a boat which had been brought to the spot, and rowed towards the
shipwrecked men, the better to learn their condition. A Frenchman swam
out to meet him. Menendez demanded what men they were.
"Followers of Ribaut, Viceroy of the King of France," answered the
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"
A brief dialogue ensued, during which the Adelantado declared his name
and character, and the Frenchman gave an account of the designs of
Ribaut, and of the disaster that had thwarted them. He then swam back to
his companions, but soon returned, and asked safe conduct for his
captain and four other gentlemen, who wished to hold conference with the
Spanish general. Menendez gave his word for their safety, and, returning
to the shore, sent his boat to bring them over. On their landing, he met
them very courteously. His followers were kept at a distance, so
disposed behind hills and among bushes as to give an exaggerated idea of
their force,--a precaution the more needful, as they were only about
sixty in number, while the French, says Solfs, were above two hundred.
Menendez, however, declares that they did not exceed a hundred and
forty. The French officer told him the story of their shipwreck, and
begged him to lend them a boat to aid them in crossing the rivers which
lay between them and a fort of their King, whither they were making
Then came again the ominous question,
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"
"We are Lutherans."
"Gentlemen," pursued Menendez, "your fort is taken, and all in it are
put to the sword." And, in proof of his declaration, he caused articles
plundered from Fort Caroline to be shown to the unhappy petitioners. He
then left them, and went to breakfast with his officers, first ordering
food to be placed before them. Having breakfasted, he returned to them.
"Are you convinced now," he asked, "that what I have told you is true?"
The French captain assented, and implored him to lend them ships in
which to return home. Menendez answered that he would do so willingly if
they were Catholics, and if he had ships to spare, but he had none. The
supplicants then expressed the hope that at least they and their
followers would be allowed to remain with the Spaniards till ships could
be sent to their relief, since there was peace between the two nations,
whose kings were friends and brothers.
"All Catholics," retorted the Spaniard, "I will befriend; but as you are
of the New Sect, I hold you as enemies, and wage deadly war against you;
and this I will do with all cruelty [crueldad] in this country, where I
command as Viceroy and Captain-General for my King. I am here to plant
the Holy Gospel, that the Indians may be enlightened and come to the
knowledge of the Holy Catholic faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the
Roman Church teaches it. If you will give up your arms and banners, and
place yourselves at my mercy, you may do so, and I will act towards you
as God shall give me grace. Do as you will, for other than this you can
have neither truce nor friendship with me."
Such were the Adelantado's words, as reported by a bystanders his
admiring brother-in-law and that they contain an implied assurance of
mercy has been held, not only by Protestants, but by Catholics and
Spaniards. The report of Menendez himself is more brief, and
"I answered, that they could give up their arms and place themselves
under my mercy,--that I should do with them what our Lord should order;
and from that I did not depart, nor would I, unless God our Lord should
One of the Frenchmen recrossed to consult with his companions. In two
hours he returned, and offered fifty thousand ducats to secure their
lives; but Menendez, says his brother-in-law, would give no pledges. On
the other hand, expressions in his own despatches point to the inference
that a virtual pledge was given, at least to certain individuals.
The starving French saw no resource but to yield themselves to his
mercy. The boat was again sent across the river. It returned laden with
banners, arquebuses, swords, targets, and helmets. The Adelantado
ordered twenty soldiers to bring over the prisoners, ten at a time. He
then took the French officers aside behind a ridge of sand, two gunshots
from the bank. Here, with courtesy on his lips and murder at his heart,
"Gentlemen, I have but few men, and you are so many that, if you were
free, it would be easy for you to take your satisfaction on us for the
people we killed when we took your fort. Therefore it is necessary that
you should go to my camp, four leagues from this place, with your hands
Accordingly, as each party landed, they were led out of sight behind the
sand-hill, and their hands tied behind their backs with the match-cords
of the arquebuses, though not before each had been supplied with food.
The whole day passed before all were brought together, bound and
helpless, under the eye of the inexorable Adelantado. But now Mendoza
interposed. "I was a priest," he says, "and had the bowels of a man." He
asked that if there were Christians--that is to say, Catholics--among
the prisoners, they should be set apart. Twelve Breton sailors professed
themselves to be such; and these, together with four carpenters and
calkers, "of whom," writes Menendez, "I was in great need," were put on
board the boat and sent to St. Augustine. The rest were ordered to march
thither by land.
The Adelantado walked in advance till he came to a lonely spot, not far
distant, deep among the bush-covered hills. Here he stopped, and with
his cane drew a line in the sand. The sun was set when the captive
Huguenots, with their escort, reached the fatal goal thus marked out.
And now let the curtain drop; for here, in the name of Heaven, the
hounds of hell were turned loose, and the savage soldiery, like wolves
in a sheepfold, rioted in slaughter. Of all that wretched company, not
one was left alive.
"I had their hands tied behind their backs," writes the chief criminal,
"and themselves put to the knife. It appeared to me that, by thus
chastising them, God our Lord and your Majesty were served; whereby in
future this evil sect will leave us more free to plant the Gospel in
Again Menendez returned triumphant to St. Augustine, and behind him
marched his band of butchers, steeped in blood to the elbows, but still
unsated. Great as had been his success, he still had cause for anxiety.
There was ill news of his fleet. Some of the ships were lost, others
scattered, or lagging tardily on their way. Of his whole force, less
than a half had reached Florida, and of these a large part were still at
Fort Caroline. Ribaut could not be far off; and, whatever might be the
condition of his shipwrecked company, their numbers would make them
formidable, unless taken at advantage. Urged by fear and fortified by
fanaticism, Menendez had well begun his work of slaughter; but rest for
him there was none,--a darker deed was behind.
On the tenth of October, Indians came with the tidings that, at the spot
where the first party of the shipwrecked French had been found, there
was now another party still larger. This murder-loving race looked with
great respect on Menendez for his wholesale butchery of the night
before,--an exploit rarely equalled in their own annals of massacre. On
his part, he doubted not that Ribaut was at hand. Marching with a
hundred and fifty men, he crossed the bush-covered sands of Anastasia
Island, followed the strand between the thickets and the sea, reached
the inlet at midnight, and again, like a savage, ambushed himself on the
bank. Day broke, and he could plainly see the French on the farther
side. They had made a raft, which lay in the water ready for crossing.
Menendez and his men showed themselves, when, forthwith, the French
displayed their banners, sounded drums and trumpets, and set their sick
and starving ranks in array of battle. But the Adelantado, regardless of
this warlike show, ordered his men to seat themselves at breakfast,
while he with three officers walked unconcernedly along the shore. His
coolness had its effect. The French blew a trumpet of parley, and showed
a white flag. The Spaniards replied. A Frenchman came out upon the raft,
and, shouting across the water, asked that a Spanish envoy should be
"You have a raft," was the reply; "come yourselves."
An Indian canoe lay under the bank on the Spanish side. A French sailor
swam to it, paddled back unmolested, and presently returned, bringing
with him La Caille, Ribaut's sergeant-major. He told Menendez that the
French were three hundred and fifty in all, and were on their way to
Fort Caroline; and, like the officers of the former party, he begged for
boats to aid them in crossing the river.
"My brother," said Menendez, "go and tell your general, that, if he
wishes to speak with me, he may come with four or six companions, and
that I pledge my word he shall go back safe."
La Caille returned; and Ribaut, with eight gentlemen, soon came over in
the canoe. Menendez met them courteously, caused wine and preserved
fruits to be placed before them,--he had come well provisioned on his
errand of blood,--and next led Ribaut to the reeking Golgotha, where,
in heaps upon the sand, lay the corpses of his slaughtered followers.
Ribaut was prepared for the spectacle,--La Caille had already seen it,
--but he would not believe that Fort Caroline was taken till a part of
the plunder was shown him. Then, mastering his despair, he turned to the
conqueror. "What has befallen us," he said, "may one day befall you."
And, urging that the kings of France and Spain were brothers and close
friends, he begged, in the name of that friendship, that the Spaniard
would aid him in conveying his followers home. Menendez gave him the
same equivocal answer that he had given the former party, and Ribaut
returned to consult with his officers. After three hours of absence, he
came back in the canoe, and told the Adelantado that some of his people
were ready to surrender at discretion, but that many refused.
"They can do as they please," was the reply. In behalf of those who
surrendered, Ribaut offered a ransom of a hundred thousand ducats.
"It would much grieve me," said Menendez, "not to accept it; for I have
great need of it."
Ribaut was much encouraged. Menendez could scarcely forego such a prize,
and he thought, says the Spanish narrator, that the lives of his
followers would now be safe. He asked to be allowed the night for
deliberation, and at sunset recrossed the river. In the morning he
reappeared among the Spaniards, and reported that two hundred of his men
had retreated from the spot, but that the remaining hundred and fifty
would surrender. At the same time he gave into the hands of Menendez the
royal standard and other flags, with his sword, dagger, helmet, buckler,
and the official seal given him by Coligny. Menendez directed an officer
to enter the boat and bring over the French by tens. He next led Ribaut
among the bushes behind the neighboring sand-hill, and ordered his hands
to be bound fast. Then the scales fell from the prisoner's eyes. Face to
face his fate rose up before him. He saw his followers and himself
entrapped,--the dupes of words artfully framed to lure them to their
ruin. The day wore on; and, as band after band of prisoners was brought
over, they were led behind the sand-hill out of sight from the farther
shore, and bound like their general. At length the transit was finished.
With bloodshot eyes and weapons bared, the Spaniards closed around their
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans? and is there any one among you who will
go to confession?"
Ribaut answered, "I and all here are of the Reformed Faith."
And he recited the Psalm, "Domine, memento mei."
"We are of earth," he continued, "and to earth we must return; twenty
years more or less can matter little;" and, turning to the Adelantado,
he bade him do his will.
The stony-hearted bigot gave the signal; and those who will may paint to
themselves the horrors of the scene.
A few, however, were spared. "I saved," writes Menendez, "the lives of
two young gentlemen of about eighteen years of age, as well as of three
others, the fifer, the drummer, and the trumpeter; and I caused Juan
Ribao [Ribaut] with all the rest to be put to the knife, judging this to
be necessary for the service of God our Lord and of your Majesty. And I
consider it great good fortune that he [Juan Ribao] should be dead, for
the King of France could effect more with him and five hundred ducats
than with other men and five thousand; and he would do more in one year
than another in ten, for he was the most experienced sailor and naval
commander known, and of great skill in this navigation of the Indies and
the coast of Florida. He was, besides, greatly liked in England, in
which kingdom his reputation was such that he was appointed
Captain-General of all the English fleet against the French Catholics in
the war between England and France some years ago."
Such is the sum of the Spanish accounts,--the self-damning testimony of
the author and abettors of the crime; a picture of lurid and awful
coloring; and yet there is reason to believe that the truth was darker
still. Among those who were spared was one Christophe le Breton, who was
carried to Spain, escaped to France, and told his story to Challeux.
Among those struck down in the butchery was a sailor of Dieppe, stunned
and left for dead under a heap of corpses. In the night he revived,
contrived to draw his knife, cut the cords that bound his hands, and
made his way to an Indian village. The Indians, not without reluctance,
abandoned him to the Spaniards, who sold him as a slave; but, on his way
in fetters to Portugal, the ship was taken by the Huguenots, the sailor
set free, and his story published in the narrative of Le Moyne. When the
massacre was known in France, the friends and relatives of the victims
sent to the King, Charles the Ninth, a vehement petition for redress;
and their memorial recounts many incidents of the tragedy. From these
three sources is to be drawn the French version of the story. The
following is its substance.
Famished and desperate, the followers of Ribaut were toiling northward
to seek refuge at Fort Caroline, when they found the Spaniards in their
path. Some were filled with dismay; others, in their misery, almost
hailed them as deliverers. La Caille, the sergeant-major, crossed the
river. Menendez met him with a face of friendship, and protested that he
would spare the lives of the shipwrecked men, sealing the promise with
an oath, a kiss, and many signs of the cross. He even gave it in
writing, under seal. Still, there were many among the French who would
not place themselves in his power. The most credulous crossed the river
in a boat. As each successive party landed, their hands were bound fast
at their backs; and thus, except a few who were set apart, they were all
driven towards the fort, like cattle to the shambles, with curses and
scurrilous abuse. Then, at sound of drums and trumpets, the Spaniards
fell upon them, striking them down with swords, pikes, and halberds.
Ribaut vainly called on the Adelantado to remember his oath. By his
order, a soldier plunged a dagger into the French commander's heart; and
Ottigny, who stood near, met a similar fate. Ribaut's beard was cut off,
and portions of it sent in a letter to Philip the Second. His head was
hewn into four parts, one of which was displayed on the point of a lance
at each corner of Fort St. Augustine. Great fires were kindled, and the
bodies of the murdered burned to ashes.
Such is the sum of the French accounts. The charge of breach of faith
contained in them was believed by Catholics as well as Protestants; and
it was as a defence against this charge that the narrative of the
Adelantado's brother-in-law was published. That Ribaut, a man whose good
sense and courage were both reputed high, should have submitted himself
and his men to Menendez without positive assurance of safety, is
scarcely credible; nor is it lack of charity to believe that a bigot so
savage in heart and so perverted in conscience would act on the maxim,
current among certain casuists of the day, that faith ought not to be
kept with heretics.
It was night when the Adelantado again entered St. Augustine. There were
some who blamed his cruelty; but many applauded. "Even if the French had
been Catholics,"--such was their language,--"he would have done right,
for, with the little provision we have, they would all have starved;
besides, there were so many of them that they would have cut our
And now Menendez again addressed himself to the despatch, already begun,
in which he recounts to the King his labors and his triumphs, a
deliberate and business-like document, mingling narratives of butchery
with recommendations for promotions, commissary details, and petitions
for supplies,--enlarging, too, on the vast schemes of encroachment
which his successful generalship had brought to naught. The French, he
says, had planned a military and naval depot at Los Martires, whence
they would make a descent upon Havana, and another at the Bay of Ponce
de Leon, whence they could threaten Vera Cruz. They had long been
encroaching on Spanish rights at Newfoundland, from which a great arm of
the sea--doubtless meaning the St. Lawrence--would give them access to
the Moluccas and other parts of the East Indies. He adds, in a later
despatch, that by this passage they may reach the mines of Zacatecas and
St. Martin, as well as every part of the South Sea. And, as already
mentioned, he urges immediate occupation of Chesapeake Bay, which, by
its supposed water communication with the St. Lawrence, would enable
Spain to vindicate her rights, control the fisheries of Newfoundland,
and thwart her rival in vast designs of commercial and territorial
aggrandizement. Thus did France and Spain dispute the possession of
North America long before England became a party to the strife.[FN#24]
Some twenty days after Menendez returned to St. Augustine, the Indians,
enamoured of carnage, and exulting to see their invaders mowed down,
came to tell him that on the coast southward, near Cape Canaveral, a
great number of Frenchmen were intrenching themselves. They were those
of Ribaut's party who had refused to surrender. Having retreated to the
spot where their ships had been cast ashore, they were trying to build a
vessel from the fragments of the wrecks.
In all haste Menendez despatched messengers to Fort Caroline, named by
him San Mateo, ordering a reinforcement of a hundred and fifty men. In a
few days they came. He added some of his own soldiers, and, with a
united force of two hundred and fifty, set out, as he tells us, on the
second of November. A part of his force went by sea, while the rest
pushed southward along the shore with such merciless energy that several
men dropped dead with wading night and day through the loose sands.
When, from behind their frail defences, the French saw the Spanish pikes
and partisans glittering into view, they fled in a panic, and took
refuge among the hills. Menendez sent a trumpet to summon them, pledging
his honor for their safety. The commander and several others told the
messenger that they would sooner be eaten by the savages than trust
themselves to Spaniards; and, escaping, they fled to the Indian towns.
The rest surrendered; and Menendez kept his word. The comparative number
of his own men made his prisoners no longer dangerous. They were led
back to St. Augustine, where, as the Spanish writer affirms, they were
well treated. Those of good birth sat at the Adelantado's table, eating
the bread of a homicide crimsoned with the slaughter of their comrades.
The priests essayed their pious efforts, and, under the gloomy menace of
the Inquisition, some of the heretics renounced their errors. The fate
of the captives may be gathered from the endorsement, in the handwriting
of the King, on one of the despatches of Menendez.
"Say to him," writes Philip the Second, "that, as to those he has
killed, he has done well; and as to those he has saved, they shall be
sent to the galleys."
CHARLES IX. AND PHILLIP II.
The state of international relations in the sixteenth century is hardly
conceivable at this day. The Puritans of England and the Huguenots of
France regarded Spain as their natural enemy, and on the high seas and
in the British Channel they joined hands with godless freebooters to
rifle her ships, kill her sailors, or throw them alive into the sea.
Spain on her side seized English Protestant sailors who ventured into
her ports, and burned them as heretics, or consigned them to a living
death in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Yet in the latter half of the
century these mutual outrages went on for years while the nations
professed to be at peace. There was complaint, protest, and occasional
menace, but no redress, and no declaration of war.
Contemporary writers of good authority have said that, when the news of
the massacres in Florida reached the court of France, Charles the Ninth
and Catherine de Medicis submitted to the insult in silence; but
documents lately brought to light show that a demand for redress was
made, though not insisted on. A cry of horror and execration had risen
from the Huguenots and many even of the Catholics had echoed it; yet the
perpetrators of the crime, and not its victims, were the first to make
complaint. Philip the Second resented the expeditions of Ribaut and
Laudonniere as an invasion of the American domains of Spain, and ordered
D'Alava, his ambassador at Paris, to denounce them to the French King.
Charles, thus put on the defensive, replied, that the country in
question belonged to France, having been discovered by Frenchmen a
hundred years before, and named by them Terre des Bretons. This alludes
to the tradition that the Bretons and Basques visited the northern
coasts of America before the voyage of Columbus. In several maps of the
sixteenth century the region of New England and the neighboring states
and provinces is set down as Terre des Bretons, or Tierra de los
Bretones, and this name was assumed by Charles to extend to the Gulf of
Mexico, as the name of Florida was assumed by the Spaniards to extend to
the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and even beyond it. Philip spurned the claim,
asserted the Spanish right to all Florida, and asked whether or not the
followers of Ribaut and Laudonniere had gone thither by authority of
their King. The Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis, replied in her son's
behalf, that certain Frenchmen had gone to a country called Terre aux
Bretons, discovered by French subjects, and that in so doing they had
been warned not to encroach on lands belonging to the King of Spain. And
she added, with some spirit, that the Kings of France were not in the
habit of permitting themselves to be threatened.
Philip persisted in his attitude of injured innocence; and Forquevaulx,
French ambassador at Madrid, reported that, as a reward for murdering
French subjects, Menendez was to receive the title of Marquis of
Florida. A demand soon followed from Philip, that Admiral Coligny should
be punished for planting a French colony on Spanish ground, and thus
causing the disasters that ensued. It was at this time that the first
full account of the massacres reached the French court, and the Queen
Mother, greatly moved, complained to the Spanish ambassador, saying that
she could not persuade herself that his master would refuse reparation.
The ambassador replied by again throwing the blame on Coligny and the
Huguenots; and Catherine de Medicis returned that, Huguenots or not, the
King of Spain had no right to take upon himself the punishment of French
subjects. Forquevaulx was instructed to demand redress at Madrid; but
Philip only answered that he was very sorry for what had happened, and
again insisted that Coligny should be punished as the true cause of it.
Forquevaulx, an old soldier, remonstrated with firmness, declared that
no deeds so execrable had ever been committed within his memory, and
demanded that Menendez and his followers should be chastised as they
deserved. The King said that he was sorry that the sufferers chanced to
be Frenchmen, but, as they were pirates also, they ought to be treated
as such. The ambassador replied, that they were no pirates, since they
bore the commission of the Admiral of France, who in naval affairs
represented the King; and Philip closed the conversation by saying that
he would speak on the subject with the Duke of Alva. This was equivalent
to refusal, for the views of the Duke were well known; "and so, Madame,"
writes the ambassador to the Queen Mother, "there is no hope that any
reparation will be made for the aforesaid massacre."
On this, Charles wrote to Forquevaulx "It is my will that you renew your
complaint, and insist urgently that, for the sake of the union and
friendship between the two crowns, reparation be made for the wrong done
me and the cruelties committed on my subjects, to which I cannot submit
without too great loss of reputation." And, jointly with his mother, he
ordered the ambassador to demand once more that Menendez and his men
should be punished, adding, that he trusts that Philip will grant
justice to the King of France, his brother-in-law and friend, rather
than pardon a gang of brigands. "On this demand," concludes Charles,
"the Sieur de Forquevaulx will not fail to insist, be the answer what it
may, in order that the King of Spain shall understand that his Majesty
of France has no less spirit than his predecessors to repel an insult."
The ambassador fulfilled his commission, and Philip replied by referring
him to the Duke of Alva. "I have no hope," reports Forquevaulx, "that
the Duke will give any satisfaction as to the massacre, for it was he
who advised it from the first." A year passed, and then he reported that
Menendez had returned from Florida, that the King had given him a warm
welcome, and that his fame as a naval commander was such that he was
regarded as a sort of Neptune.
In spite of their brave words, Charles and the Queen Mother tamely
resigned themselves to the affront, for they would not quarrel with
Spain. To have done so would have been to throw themselves into the arms
of the Protestant party, adopt the principle of toleration, and save
France from the disgrace and blight of her later years. France was not
so fortunate. The enterprise of Florida was a national enterprise,
undertaken at the national charge, with the royal commission, and under
the royal standard; and it had been crushed in time of peace by a power
professing the closest friendship. Yet Huguenot influence had prompted
and Huguenot hands executed it. That influence had now ebbed low;
Coligny's power had waned; Charles, after long vacillation, was leaning
more and more towards the Guises and the Catholics, and fast subsiding
into the deathly embrace of Spain, for whom, at last, on the bloody eve
of St. Bartholomew, he was to become the assassin of his own best
In vain the relatives of the slain petitioned him for redress; and had
the honor of the nation rested in the keeping of its King, the blood of
hundreds of murdered Frenchmen would have cried from the ground in vain.
But it was not to be so. Injured humanity found an avenger, and outraged
France a champion. Her chivalrous annals may be searched in vain for a
deed of more romantic daring than the vengeance of Dominique de
DOMINIQUE DE GOURGUES.
There was a gentleman of Mont-de-Marsan, Dominique de Gourgues, a
soldier of ancient birth and high renown. It is not certain that he was
a Huguenot. The Spanish annalist calls him a "terrible heretic;" but the
French Jesuit, Charlevoix, anxious that the faithful should share the
glory of his exploits, affirms that, like his ancestors before him, he
was a good Catholic. If so, his faith sat lightly upon him; and,
Catholic or heretic, he hated the Spaniards with a mortal hate. Fighting
in the Italian wars,--for from boyhood he was wedded to the sword,--he
had been taken prisoner by them near Siena, where he had signalized
himself by a fiery and determined bravery. With brutal insult, they
chained him to the oar as a galley slave. After he had long endured this
ignominy the Turks captured the vessel and carried her to
Constantinople. It was but a change of tyrants but, soon after, while
she was on a cruise, Gourgues still at the oar, a galley of the knights
of Malta hove in sight, bore down on her, recaptured her, and set the
prisoner free. For several years after, his restless spirit found
employment in voyages to Africa, Brazil, and regions yet more remote.
His naval repute rose high, but his grudge against the Spaniards still
rankled within him; and when, returned from his rovings, he learned the
tidings from Florida, his hot Gascon blood boiled with fury.
The honor of France had been foully stained, and there was none to wipe
away the shame. The faction-ridden King was dumb. The nobles who
surrounded him were in the Spanish interest. Then, since they proved
recreant, he, Dominique de Gourgues, a simple gentleman, would take upon
him to avenge the wrong, and restore the dimmed lustre of the French
name. He sold his inheritance, borrowed money from his brother, who held
a high post in Guienne, and equipped three small vessels, navigable by
sail or oar. On board he placed a hundred arquebusiers and eighty
sailors, prepared to fight on land, if need were. The noted Blaise de
Montluc, then lieutenant for the King in Guienne, gave him a commission
to make war on the negroes of Benin,--that is, to kidnap them as
slaves, an adventure then held honorable.
His true design was locked within his own breast. He mustered his
followers,--not a few of whom were of rank equal to his own, feasted
them, and, on the twenty-second of August, 1567, sailed from the mouth
of the Charente. Off Cape Finisterre, so violent a storm buffeted his
ships that his men clamored to return; but Gourgues's spirit prevailed.
He bore away for Africa, and, landing at the Rio del Oro, refreshed and
cheered them as he best might. Thence he sailed to Cape Blanco, where
the jealous Portuguese, who had a fort in the neighborhoods set upon him
three negro chiefs. Gourgues beat them off, and remained master of the
harbor; whence, however, he soon voyaged onward to Cape Verd, and,
steering westward, made for the West Indies. Here, advancing from island
to island, he came to Hispaniola, where, between the fury of a hurricane
at sea and the jealousy of the Spaniards on shore, he was in no small
jeopardy,--"the Spaniards", exclaims the indignant journalist, "who
think that this New World was made for nobody but them, and that no
other living man has a right to move or breathe here!" Gourgues landed,
however, obtained the water of which he was in need, and steered for
Cape San Antonio, at the western end of Cuba. There he gathered his
followers about him, and addressed them with his fiery Gascon eloquence.
For the first time, he told them his true purpose, inveighed against
Spanish cruelty, and painted, with angry rhetoric, the butcheries of
Fort Caroline and St. Augustine.
"What disgrace," he cried, "if such an insult should pass unpunished!
What glory to us if we avenge it! To this I have devoted my fortune. I
relied on you. I thought you jealous enough of your country's glory to
sacrifice life itself in a cause like this. Was I deceived? I will show
you the way; I will be always at your head; I will bear the brunt of the
danger. Will you refuse to follow me?"
At first his startled hearers listened in silence; but soon the passions
of that adventurous age rose responsive to his words. The combustible
French nature burst into flame. The enthusiasm of the soldiers rose to
such a pitch that Gourgues had much ado to make them wait till the moon
was full before tempting the perils of the Bahama Channel. His time came
at length. The moon rode high above the lonely sea, and, silvered in its
light, the ships of the avenger held their course.
Meanwhile, it had fared ill with the Spaniards in Florida; the good-will
of the Indians had vanished. The French had been obtrusive and vexatious
guests; but their worst trespasses had been mercy and tenderness
compared to the daily outrage of the new-comers. Friendship had changed
to aversion, aversion to hatred, and hatred to open war. The forest
paths were beset; stragglers were cut off; and woe to the Spaniard who
should venture after nightfall beyond call of the outposts.
Menendez, however, had strengthened himself in his new conquest. St.
Augustine was well fortified; Fort Caroline, now Fort San Mateo, was
repaired; and two redoubts, or small forts, were thrown up to guard the
mouth of the River of May,--one of them near the present lighthouse at
Mayport, and the other across the river on Fort George Island. Thence,
on an afternoon in early spring, the Spaniards saw three sail steering
northward. They suspected no enemy, and their batteries boomed a salute.
Gourgues's ships replied, then stood out to sea, and were lost in the
shades of evening.
They kept their course all night, and, as day broke, anchored at the
mouth of a river, the St. Mary's, or the Santilla, by their reckoning
fifteen leagues north of the River of May. Here, as it grew light,
Gourgues saw the borders of the sea thronged with savages, armed and
plumed for war. They, too, had mistaken the strangers for Spaniards, and
mustered to meet their tyrants at the landing. But in the French ships
there was a trumpeter who had been long in Florida, and knew the Indians
well. He went towards them in a boat, with many gestures of friendship;
and no sooner was he recognized, than the naked crowd, with yelps of
delight, danced for joy along the sands. Why had he ever left them? they
asked; and why had he not returned before? The intercourse thus
auspiciously begun was actively kept up. Gourgues told the principal
chief,--who was no other than Satouriona, once the ally of the French,
--that he had come to visit them, make friendship with them, and bring
them presents. At this last announcement, so grateful to Indian ears the
dancing was renewed with double zeal. The next morning was named for a
grand council, and Satouriona sent runners to summon all Indians within
call; while Gourgues, for safety, brought his vessels within the mouth
of the river.
Morning came, and the woods were thronged with warriors. Gourgues and
his soldiers landed with martial pomp. In token of mutual confidence,
the French laid aside their arquebuses, and the Indians their bows and
arrows. Satouriona came to meet the strangers, and seated their
commander at his side, on a wooden stool, draped and cushioned with the
gray Spanish moss. Two old Indians cleared the spot of brambles, weeds,
and grass; and, when their task was finished, the tribesmen took their
places, ring within ring, standing, sitting, and crouching on the
ground,--a dusky concourse, plumed in festal array, waiting with grave
visages and intent eyes. Gourgues was about to speak, when the chief,
who, says the narrator, had not learned French manners, anticipated him,
and broke into a vehement harangue, denouncing the cruelty of the
Since the French fort was taken, he said, the Indians had not had one
happy day. The Spaniards drove them from their cabins, stole their corn,
ravished their wives and daughters, and killed their children; and all
this they had endured because they loved the French. There was a French
boy who had escaped from the massacre at the fort; they had found him in
the woods and though the Spaniards, who wished to kill him, demanded
that they should give him up, they had kept him for his friends.
"Look!" pursued the chief, "here he is! "--and he brought forward a
youth of sixteen, named Pierre Debre, who became at once of the greatest
service to the French, his knowledge of the Indian language making him
an excellent interpreter.
Delighted as he was at this outburst against the Spaniards, Gourgues did
not see fit to display the full extent of his satisfaction. He thanked
the Indians for their good-will, exhorted them to continue in it, and
pronounced an ill-merited eulogy on the greatness and goodness of his
King. As for the Spaniards, he said, their day of reckoning was at hand;
and, if the Indians had been abused for their love of the French, the
French would be their avengers. Here Satouriona forgot his dignity, and
leaped up for joy.
"What!" he cried, "will you fight the Spaniards?"
"I came here," replied Gourgues, "only to reconnoitre the country and
make friends with you, and then go back to bring more soldiers; but,
when I hear what you are suffering from them, I wish to fall upon them
this very day, and rescue you from their tyranny." All around the ring a
clamor of applauding voices greeted his words.
"But you will do your part," pursued the Frenchman; "you will not leave
us all the honor."
"We will go," replied Satouriona, "and die with you, if need be."
"Then, if we fight, we ought to fight at once. How soon can you have
your warriors ready to march?"
The chief asked three days for preparation. Gourgues cautioned him to
secrecy, lest the Spaniards should take alarm.
"Never fear," was the answer; "we hate them more than you do."
Then came a distribution of gifts,--knives, hatchets, mirrors, bells,
and beads,--while the warrior rabble crowded to receive them, with
eager faces and outstretched arms. The distribution over, Gourgues asked
the chiefs if there was any other matter in which he could serve them.
On this, pointing to his shirt, they expressed a peculiar admiration for
that garment, and begged each to have one, to be worn at feasts and
councils during life, and in their graves after death. Gourgues
complied; and his grateful confederates were soon stalking about him,
fluttering in the spoils of his wardrobe.
To learn the strength and position of the Spaniards, Gourgues now sent
out three scouts; and with them went Olotoraca, Satourioria's nephew, a
young brave of great renown.
The chief, eager to prove his good faith, gave as hostages his only
surviving son and his favorite wife. They were sent on board the ships,
while the Indians dispersed to their encampments, with leaping,
stamping, dancing, and whoops of jubilation.
The day appointed came, and with it the savage army, hideous in
war-paint, and plumed for battle. The woods rang back their songs and
yells, as with frantic gesticulation they brandished their war-clubs and
vaunted their deeds of prowess. Then they drank the black drink, endowed
with mystic virtues against hardship and danger; and Gourgues himself
pretended to swallow the nauseous decoction.[FN#25]
These ceremonies consumed the day. It was evening before the allies
filed off into their forests, and took the path for the Spanish forts.
The French, on their part, were to repair by sea to the rendezvous.
Gourgues mustered and addressed his men. It was needless: their ardor
was at fever height. They broke in upon his words, and demanded to be
led at once against the enemy. Francois Bourdelais, with twenty sailors,
was left with the ships, and Gourgues affectionately bade him farewell.
"If I am slain in this most just enterprise," he said, "I leave all in
your charge, and pray you to carry back my soldiers to France."
There were many embracings among the excited Frenchmen,--many
sympathetic tears from those who were to stay behind,--many messages
left with them for wives, children, friends, and mistresses; and then
this valiant band pushed their boats from shore. It was a hare-brained
venture, for, as young Debre had assured them, the Spaniards on the
River of May were four hundred in number, secure behind their ramparts.
Hour after hour the sailors pulled at the oar. They glided slowly by the
sombre shores in the shimmering moonlight, to the sound of the surf and
the moaning pine-trees. In the gray of the morning, they came to the
mouth of a river, probably the Nassau; and here a northeast wind set in
with a violence that almost wrecked their boats. Their Indian allies
were waiting on the bank, but for a while the gale delayed their
crossing. The bolder French would lose no time, rowed through the
tossing waves, and, landing safely, left their boats, and pushed into
the forest. Gourgues took the lead, in breastplate and back-piece. At
his side marched the young chief Olotoraca, with a French pike in his
hand; and the files of arquebuse-men and armed sailors followed close
behind. They plunged through swamps, hewed their way through brambly
thickets and the matted intricacies of the forests, and, at five in the
afternoon, almost spent with fatigue and hunger, came to a river or
inlet of the sea, not far from the first Spanish fort. Here they found
three hundred Indians waiting for them.
Tired as he was, Gourgues would not rest. He wished to attack at
daybreak, and with ten arquebusiers and his Indian guide he set out to
reconnoitre. Night closed upon him. It was a vain task to struggle on,
in pitchy darkness, among trunks of trees, fallen logs, tangled vines,
and swollen streams. Gourgues returned, anxious and gloomy. An Indian
chief approached him, read through the darkness his perturbed look, and
offered to lead him by a better path along the margin of the sea.
Gourgues joyfully assented, and ordered all his men to march. The
Indians, better skilled in wood-craft, chose the shorter course through
The French forgot their weariness, and pressed on with speed. At dawn
they and their allies met on the bank of a stream, probably Sister
Creek, beyond which, and very near, was the fort. But the tide was in,
and they tried in vain to cross. Greatly vexed,--for he had hoped to
take the enemy asleep,--Gourgues withdrew his soldiers into the forest,
where they were no sooner ensconced than a drenching rain fell, and they
had much ado to keep their gun-matches burning. The light grew fast.
Gourgues plainly saw the fort, the defences of which seemed slight and
unfinished. He even saw the Spaniards at work within. A feverish
interval elapsed, till at length the tide was out,--so far, at least,
that the stream was fordable. A little higher up, a clump of trees lay
between it and the fort. Behind this friendly screen the passage was
begun. Each man tied his powder-flask to his steel cap, held his
arquebuse above his head with one hand, and grasped his sword with the
other. The channel was a bed of oysters. The sharp shells cut their feet
as they waded through. But the farther bank was gained. They emerged
from the water, drenched, lacerated, and bleeding, but with unabated
mettle. Gourgues set them in array under cover of the trees. They stood
with kindling eyes, and hearts throbbing, but not with fear. Gourgues
pointed to the Spanish fort, seen by glimpses through the boughs. "Look
I" he said, "there are the robbers who have stolen this land from our
King; there are the murderers who have butchered our countrymen!" With
voices eager, fierce, but half suppressed, they demanded to be led on.
Gourgues gave the word. Cazenove, his lientenant, with thirty men,
pushed for the fort gate; he himself, with the main body, for the
glacis. It was near noon; the Spaniards had just finished their meal,
and, says the narrative, "were still picking their teeth," when a
startled cry rang in their ears:--"To arms! to arms! The French are
coming! The French are coming!"
It was the voice of a cannoneer who had that moment mounted the rampart
and seen the assailants advancing in unbroken ranks, with heads lowered
and weapons at the charge. He fired his cannon among them. He even had
time to load and fire again, when the light-limbed Olotoraca bounded
forward, ran up the glacis, leaped the unfinished ditch, and drove his
pike through the Spaniard from breast to back. Gourgues was now on the
glacis, when he heard Cazenove shouting from the gate that the Spaniards
were escaping on that side. He turned and led his men thither at a run.
In a moment, the fugitives, sixty in all, were enclosed between his
party and that of his lieutenant. The Indians, too, came leaping to the
spot. Not a Spaniard escaped. All were cut down but a few, reserved by
Gourgues for a more inglorious end.
Meanwhile the Spaniards in the other fort, on the opposite shore,
cannonaded the victors without ceasing. The latter turned four captured
guns against them. One of Gourgues's boats, a very large one, had been
brought along-shore, and, entering it with eighty soldiers, he pushed
for the farther bank. With loud yells, the Indians leaped into the
river, which is here about three fourths of a mile wide. Each held his
bow and arrows aloft in one hand, while he swam with the other. A panic
seized the garrison as they saw the savage multitude. They broke out of
the fort and fled into the forest. But the French had already landed;
and, throwing themselves in the path of the fugitives, they greeted them
with a storm of lead. The terrified wretches recoiled; but flight was
vain. The Indian whoop rang behind them, and war-clubs and arrows
finished the work. Gourgues's utmost efforts saved but fifteen, not out
of mercy, but from a refinement of vengeance.
The next day was Quasimodo Sunday, or the Sunday after Easter. Gourgues
and his men remained quiet, making ladders for the assault on Fort San
Mateo. Meanwhile the whole forest was in arms, and, far and near, the
Indians were wild with excitement. They beset the Spanish fort till not
a soldier could venture out. The garrison, aware of their danger, though
ignorant of its extent, devised an expedient to gain information; and
one of them, painted and feathered like an Indian, ventured within
Gourgues's outposts. He himself chanced to be at hand, and by his side
walked his constant attendant, Olotoraca. The keen-eyed young savage
pierced the cheat at a glance. The spy was seized, and, being examined,
declared that there were two hundred and sixty Spaniards in San Mateo,
and that they believed the French to be two thousand, and were so
frightened that they did not know what they were doing.
Gourgues, well pleased, pushed on to attack them. On Monday evening he
sent forward the Indians to ambush themselves on both sides of the fort.
In the morning he followed with his Frenchmen; and, as the glittering
ranks came into view, defiling between the forest and the river, the
Spaniards opened on them with culverins from a projecting bastion. The
French took cover in the woods with which the hills below and behind the
fort were densely overgrown. Here, himself unseen, Gourgues could survey
whole extent of the defences, and he presently descried a strong party
of Spaniards issuing from their works, crossing the ditch, and advancing
On this, he sent Cazenove, with a detachment, to station himself at a
point well hidden by trees on the flank of the Spaniards, who, with
strange infatuation, continued their advance. Gourgues and his followers
pushed on through the thickets to meet them. As the Spaniards reached
the edge of the open ground, a deadly fire blazed in their faces, and,
before the smoke cleared, the French were among them, sword in hand. The
survivors would have fled; but Cazenove's detachment fell upon their
rear, and all were killed or taken.
When their comrades in the fort beheld their fate, a panic seized them.
Conscious of their own deeds, perpetrated on this very spot, they could
hope no mercy, and their terror multiplied immeasurably the numbers of
their enemy. They abandoned the fort in a body, and fled into the woods
most remote from the French. But here a deadlier foe awaited them; for a
host of Indians leaped up from ambush. Then rose those hideous war-cries
which have curdled the boldest blood and blanched the manliest cheek.
The forest warriors, with savage ecstasy, wreaked their long arrears of
vengeance, while the French hastened to the spot, and lent their swords
to the slaughter. A few prisoners were saved alive; the rest were slain;
and thus did the Spaniards make bloody atonement for the butchery of
But Gourgues's vengeance was not yet appeased. Hard by the fort, the
trees were pointed out to him on which Menendez had hanged his captives,
and placed over them the inscription, "Not as to Frenchmen, but as to
Gourgues ordered the Spanish prisoners to be led thither.
"Did you think," he sternly said, as the pallid wretches stood ranged
before him, "that so vile a treachery, so detestable a cruelty, against
a King so potent and a nation so generous, would go unpunished? I, one
of the humblest gentlemen among my King's subjects, have charged myself
with avenging it. Even if the Most Christian and the Most Catholic Kings
had been enemies, at deadly war, such perfidy and extreme cruelty would
still have been unpardonable. Now that they are friends and close
allies, there is no name vile enough to brand your deeds, no punishment
sharp enough to requite them. But though you cannot suffer as you
deserve, you shall suffer all that an enemy can honorably inflict, that
your example may teach others to observe the peace and alliance which
you have so perfidiously violated."
They were hanged where the French had hung before them; and over them
was nailed the inscription, burned with a hot iron on a tablet of pine,
"Not as to Spaniards, but as to Traitors, Robbers, and Murderers."
Gourgues's mission was fulfilled. To occupy the country had never been
his intention; nor was it possible, for the Spaniards were still in
force at St. Augustine. His was a whirlwind visitation,--to ravage,
ruin, and vanish. He harangued the Indians, and exhorted them to
demolish the fort. They fell to the work with eagerness, and in less
than a day not one stone was left on another.
Gourgues returned to the forts at the mouth of the river, destroyed them
also, and took up his march for his ships. It was a triumphal
procession. The Indians thronged around the victors with gifts of fish
and game; and an old woman declared that she was now ready to die, since
she had seen the French once more.
The ships were ready for sea. Gourgues bade his disconsolate allies
farewell, and nothing would content them but a promise to return soon.
Before embarking, he addressed his own men:--"My friends, let us give
thanks to God for the success He has granted us. It is He who saved us
from tempests; it is He who inclined the hearts of the Indians towards
us; it is He who blinded the understanding of the Spaniards. They were
four to one, in forts well armed and provisioned. Our right was our only
strength; and yet we have conquered. Not to our own swords, but to God
only, we owe our victory. Then let us thank Him, my friends; let us
never forget His favors; and let us pray that He may continue them,
saving us from dangers, and guiding us safely home. Let us pray, too,
that He may so dispose the hearts of men that our perils and toils may
find favor in the eyes of our King and of all France, since all we have
done was done for the King's service and for the honor of our country."
Thus Spaniards and Frenchmen alike laid their reeking swords on God's
Gourgues sailed on the third of May, and, gazing back along their
foaming wake, the adventurers looked their last on the scene of their
exploits. Their success had cost its price. A few of their number had
fallen, and hardships still awaited the survivors. Gourgues, however,
reached Rochelle on the day of Pentecost, and the Huguenot citizens
greeted him with all honor. At court it fared worse with him. The King,
still obsequious to Spain, looked on him coldly and askance. The Spanish
minister demanded his head. It was hinted to him that he was not safe,
and he withdrew to Ronen, where he found asylum among his friends. His
fortune was gone; debts contracted for his expedition weighed heavily on
him; and for years he lived in obscurity, almost in misery.
At length his prospects brightened. Elizabeth of England learned his
merits and his misfortunes, and invited him to enter her service. The
King, who, says the Jesuit historian, had always at heart been delighted
with his achievement, openly restored him to favor; while, some years
later, Don Antonio tendered him command of his fleet, to defend his
right to the crown of Portugal against Philip the Second. Gourgues,
happy once more to cross swords with the Spaniards, gladly embraced this
offer; but in 1583, on his way to join the Portuguese prince, he died at
Tours of a sudden illness. The French mourned the loss of the man who
had wiped a blot from the national scutcheon, and respected his memory
as that of one of the best captains of his time. And, in truth, if a
zealous patriotism, a fiery valor, and skilful leadership are worthy of
honor, then is such a tribute due to Dominique de Gourgues,
slave-catcher and half-pirate as he was, like other naval heroes of that
Romantic as was his exploit, it lacked the fullness of poetic justice,
since the chief offender escaped him. While Gourgues was sailing towards
Florida, Menendez was in Spain, high in favor at court, where he told to
approving ears how he had butchered the heretics. Borgia, the sainted
General of the Jesuits, was his fast friend; and two years later, when
he returned to America, the Pope, Paul the Fifth, regarding him as an
instrument for the conversion of the Indians, wrote him a letter with
his benediction. He re-established his power in Florida, rebuilt Fort
San Mateo, and taught the Indians that death or flight was the only
refuge from Spanish tyranny. They murdered his missionaries and spurned
their doctrine. "The Devil is the best thing in the world," they cried;
"we adore him; he makes men brave." Even the Jesuits despaired, and
abandoned Florida in disgust.
Menendez was summoned home, where fresh honors awaited him from the
Crown, though, according to the somewhat doubtful assertion of the
heretical Grotius, his deeds had left a stain upon his name among the
people. He was given command of the armada of three hundred sail and
twenty thousand men, which, in 1574, was gathered at Santander against
England and Flanders. But now, at the height of his fortunes, his career