7: Part 1: Chapter VII
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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.(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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez. 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.
Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez was empowered to
conquer and convert Florida at his own cost. The conquest was to be
effected within three years. Menéndez 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
Menéndez 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, Menéndez 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.
Menéndez 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 Menéndez. 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.(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 Menéndez himself, was of nine hundred and
ninety-six tons burden, and is described as one of the finest ships
afloat.(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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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. Menéndez
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 Menéndez. 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? Menéndez 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 Menéndez, "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 Menéndez was, and whence he came.
He answered: "I am Pedro Menéndez, 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.
Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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, Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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
Menéndez 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."(23)
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. Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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. Menéndez, 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 Menéndez. "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, Menéndez, 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.
Menéndez, 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.
(19)"Better a ruined kingdom, true to itself and its king, than one
left unharmed to the profit of the Devil and the heretics."—
Correspondance de Philippe II., cited by Prescott, Philip II, Book III.
c. 2, note 36.
"A prince can do nothing more shameful, or more hurtful to himself, than
to permit his people to live according to their conscience."
The Duke of Alva, in Davila, Lib. III. p. 341.
(20) Cartas escritas al Rep por el General Pedro Menéndez de Avila.
These are the official despatches of Menendez, of which the originals
are preserved in the archives of Seville. They are very voluminous and
minute in detail. Copies of them were ohtained by the aid of Buckingham
Smith, Esq., to whom the writer is also indebted for various other
documents from the same source, throwing new light on the events
descrihed. Menendez calls Port Royal St. Elena, "a name afterwards
applied to the sound which still retains it." Compare Historical Magazine, IV. 320.
(21) This was not so remarkable as it may appear. Charnock, History of Marine Architecture gives the tonnage of the ships of the Invincible
Armada. The flag-ship of the Andalusian squadron was of fifteen hundred
and fifty tons; several were of about twelve hundred.
(22) Barcia, 69. The following passage in one of the unpublished
letters of Menendez seems to indicate that the above is exaggerated:
"Your Majesty may he assured by me, that, had I a million, more or less,
I would employ and spend the whole in this undertaking, it being so
greatly to the glory of the God our Lord, and the increase of our Holy
Catholic Faith, and the service and authority of your Majesty and thus I
have offered to our Lord whatever He shall give me in this world, [and
whatever] I shall possess, gain, or acquire shall he devoted to the
planting of the Gospel in this land, and the enlightenment of the
natives thereof, and this I do promise to your Majesty." This letter is
dated 11 Septemher, 1565.
(23) I have examined the country on the line of march of Menéndez.
In many places it retains its original features.
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