8: 1565. Massacre of the Heretics.
<< 7: 1565. Menéndez. || 9: 1565-1567. Charles IX. and Phillip II. >>
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 Menéndez, 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.'
"Today," 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.
Menéndez 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 Menéndez,
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 Menéndez himself.
Soils was a priest, and brother-in-law to Menéndez. 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 Menéndez, 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). Menéndez, 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 Menéndez, 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. Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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.
Menéndez, 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 Menéndez, "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. Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez, 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 Menéndez, "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 Menéndez 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, Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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.
Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez, "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. Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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 Menéndez, "not to accept it; for I have
great need of it."
Ribaut was much encouraged. Menéndez 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 Menéndez the
royal standard and other flags, with his sword, dagger, helmet, buckler,
and the official seal given him by Coligny. Menéndez 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 Menéndez, "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. Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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.(24)
Some twenty days after Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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. Menéndez 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 Menéndez 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 Menéndez.
"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."
(24) Amid all the confusion of his geographical statements, it seems
clear that Menéndez believed that Chesapeake Bay communicated with the
St. Lawrence, and thence with Newfoundland on the one hand, and the
South Sea on the other. The notion that the St. Lawrence would give
access to China survived till the time of La Salle, or more than a
century. In the map of Gastaldi, made, according to Kohl, about 1550, a
belt of water connecting the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic is laid down.
So also in the map of Ruscelli, 1561, and that of Mactines, 1578, as
well as in that of Michael Lok, 1582. In Munster's map, 1545, the St.
Lawrence is rudely indicated, with the words, "Per hoc fretfl iter ad
<< 7: 1565. Menéndez. || 9: 1565-1567. Charles IX. and Phillip II. >>