The Attack on Fort Caroline, French Florida . . . Always Remember
The date was September 20th, 1565. The Great Siege of Malta had ended only nineteen days earlier. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was about to reach the ripe old age of five months. St. Augustine, Florida, the “Nation’s Oldest City,” was celebrating its twelfth day of life. William Shakespeare was nearly seventeen months old. It had been nineteen months since the death of the celebrated Michelangelo. September 20th was a “day that would live in infamy” for its brutalized residents, but a day that went sadly unnoticed throughout the rest of the world.
On the 19th of September, Fort de la Caroline, a French Protestant colony on the banks of the Riviere de Mai or St. Johns River in wild sixteenth century Florida, must not have looked like much to the untrained eye. It was rather small, flimsy, and ill-defended, and recent hurricane rains had caused significant damage. Yet to the inhabitants it represented life in so many ways. First, it protected them from the outside world, from marauding natives, wild animals, ravaging weather, and Spanish conquistadors who bayed for their blood. Second, it was a bastion of dreams, of religious freedom, of hope of a new life.
When the 20th dawned, that ramshackle fort on which so many lives were staked was soon to be an ugly memory. The raid came without warning. Frenchmen slept exhaustedly after days of gale-force winds and unstoppable torrents. They sprawled out in tents, cottages, and makeshift hammocks. Children slept close to their mothers’ sides, and men in nightshirts, discarding the demands of the militia to play civilian even if just temporarily, guarded their families. “Butchers and bakers and candle-stick makers” slept and dreamed of equality.
Then the Spanish came.
It was a grossly-unmatched fight. Few Frenchmen managed to grab weapons, and women and children sought shelter while their husbands and fathers helplessly fought off the conquistadors. There had been no time to dress, no time to put on armor. The Spanish were fighting an ‘army’ of soldiers in nightshirts. The fight lasted only thirty minutes, and when that time had elapsed, a barren wasteland of nightmares emerged where a fresh new land of dreams had so recently existed. Most of the men were killed outright. The women and children were taken prisoner and hustled away to places unknown; their fates were never recorded. And little La Caroline, the pride and joy of her settlers despite her ramshackle state, somberly flew the Spanish flag.
Today let us remember the dead --- and the dreams that could never be.
Other posts about the subject:
March 29, 2012 (Fort Caroline pilgrimage)
April 19, 2012 (The women of Fort Caroline)
April 26, 2012 (Fort Caroline virtual tour)
July 17, 2012 (French Huguenots in Florida from beginning to end)
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved