Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28, 2012

French in Florida: English Trespassers

I have often said that if I tried to write a fascinating and compelling religious story concerning the 16th century conquest of the “New World,” it could not be more intriguing that what actually happened. You have the French against the Spanish, the Protestants against the Catholics, brittle fortresses and Indian battles and war at sea and high stakes. You have a battle of wills greater than can be imagined. But there was actually a third religious group and country represented in Florida’s early history, however briefly. In early August 1565, John Hawkins, English privateer, stopped at the French Fort Caroline to take fresh water aboard and to possibly assist the starving first batch of colonists.

Let us take a moment to ponder that culture clash. Though the Huguenots probably trusted the Protestant Englishmen better than the Catholic Spaniards, there was a long history of bad blood between England and France. The French colonists’ desperation to return home must have clashed with their natural aversion to the Englishmen’s religion. The Calvinist Huguenots would have taken issue with the basic Anglican tenets, including (1) the continued use of statuary and grand church decoration, and (2) very different standards concerning purity and personal obligation. The English, in turn, would have felt that the Huguenots’ rule against any graven images and their insistence on austerity was a bit extreme. I imagine there must have been some very colorful conversations.

Where else did they basically differ? Besides the ways mentioned above, the Calvinist Huguenots believed in the doctrines of predestination and election which the Anglicans, with a Catholic heritage and Lutheran nuances in those early years, would have neither understood nor tolerated. Yet despite all these differences, the French, desperate and encumbered, welcomed English supplies with great rejoining. Hawkins saw to it that joint religious services were held. I imagine that must have been quite interesting! Certaintly there was Protestant pride and a sense of solidarity held by each group, but still . . . it was highly irregular. Also, Rene de Laudonniere, who was in charge of Fort Caroline at the time, claimed John Hawkins as a "brother" to those curious Indians who asked his identity.

So there were indeed other Protestants besides the French Huguenots in Florida in 1565, only for a few days while passing through. England was not yet interested in the New World. That enterprise was yet to come. Sadly, only seventeen days after Hawkins and his privateers stumbled upon Fort Caroline and La Floride, many of the French settlers were slaughtered by Spanish conquistadors or, in the case of the women and children, enslaved. Those men who had not yet arrived at La Caroline and thus had not met the English would be killed as well, at a place called Matanzas. One must wonder how John Hawkins felt when he heard the news of the bloody French defeat in Florida. Could he ponder that the same men with whom he had so recently spoken had been so unjustly killed in the blink of an eye? Did that knowledge fuel his hatred of the Spanish that continued throughout his life?

John Hawkins helped keep the French alive until Jean Ribault arrived on the 28th of August. But not even the bold and intrepid explorer could save the French from the fate that was to come.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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