Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12, 2012

October 12, 1565: The Second Massacre at Matanzas

Perhaps at this very spot, in these hallowed dunes,
about 245 French Protestants were killed for their beliefs
 and their nationality. On October 12th, 1565, over 100
men died in this manner. May they never be forgotten.
In my post of September 29th, I talked of the first Matanzas massacre near St. Augustine, Florida, and how over one hundred men were slaughtered for their Protestant beliefs and for upholding the French flag. That event was nearly too horrendous to be believed and certainly puts a different spin on early American history. Yet even more horrendous is that the exact same thing happened thirteen days later. The rest of Admiral Jean Ribault’s men were discovered near the same spot --- oddly enough --- and also became the subject of Spanish Captain-General Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ scrutiny. He went forth to meet them and stood head-to-head with the great corsair Ribault.

At least in terms of prestige, the two men were evenly-matched, but Ribault’s troops were tattered, hopeless, and starving. It is said that Ribault was taken to see what had become of the previous company of Frenchmen. Unable to believe that the same fate would be his, he hoped for Menéndez’s mercy, trusting that perhaps for some reason this second band would not be seen as a threat. He agreed to surrender and advised that his men must each decide if they would do the same. Many of the men disappeared in the night, choosing to take their chances. Yet the rest, exhausted, bruised, and hoping for the best, agreed to surrender.

October 12th, 1565 dawned over the Florida shoreline. Menéndez, carefully planning the coming horrors in such a way that subsequent groups would not know their countrymen’s fates, ferried batches of ten Frenchmen across the Matanzas River. Ten by ten they came, silent, full of dread, apprehensive, and praying for mercy. The following account was penned by Father Gonzalo Solís de Merás, Menéndez’s brother-in-law: I have left the narrative exactly as I found it.

“The Adelantado immediately directed Captain Diego Flórez de Valdés, admiral of his armada, to bring them across ten at a time, as he had the others, and taking Juan Ribao behind the sand dunes among the shrubbery, where he had taken the others, the Adelantado made him bind Ribao’s hands behind him and thus it was also done to the others with him, as it had to the ones before, telling them they must march 4 leagues by hand, and at night, so that he could not permit them to go unbound; and when all were tied, he asked them if they were Catholics or Lutherans, and if there were any who wanted to confess.

Juan Ribao responded that he and all who were with him here were of the new religion, and he began to say the psalm of Domine memento mei; and having finished, he said that from earth he was and unto earth must they return; and twenty years more or less did not matter, the Adelantado should do what he wanted with them. The Adelantado commanded them to march, as he had the others, and with the same order, and at the same line that he had marked before in the sand, he commanded that what had been done to the others should be done to all; he spared only the fifers, drummers and trumpeters and four others who they said were Catholics, in all 16 persons; all the others were slain.”

I am particularly disturbed by the lack of acknowledgment that the French were indeed this nation’s first martyrs. They are many who are convinced that the killing of the Huguenots had little --- or even nothing --- to do with religion, that they were only being stopped before they could cause any damage to the very new Spanish settlement. It is quite difficult to believe Matanzas was not an act of religious violence, especially since, at La Caroline, Menéndez hanged men’s bodies with the inscription “not as to Frenchmen but as to Lutherans,” and boasted on burning a great many Protestant books. 

There are some who are unwilling to give the title “martyr” to Florida’s Huguenots. Examples are cited that Fort Caroline was not solely a religious base, that they “happened” to claim the Calvinist faith though it was not the reason they died. But I find that an odd assertion. The Huguenots of Matanzas were told they would be spared if they accepted Catholicism. Those who already claimed the faith were treated reasonably well, though taken captive. Those who refused were slaughtered. In my eyes there is no better proof of religious martyrdom.

After reading contemporary accounts by Father Mendoza Grajales and Father Gonzalo Solís de Merás, which state matter-of-factly that the Huguenot captives were killed for their Protestant faith, it seems fruitless to deny that this was indeed a martyrdom and should be remembered as such. The fact that they “happened to be Calvinists” was not some passing note . . . it was one of the major reasons Pedro Menéndez took the course he did. Also, if Fort Caroline was meant to be a military bastion alone, it is very doubtful that there would have been ministers, women, and children.

Those who detract from the Huguenots’ sacrifice cheapen their memory. Those who attempt to paint them as victims of circumstances, of “collateral” damage in the quest to prevent starvation by killing off unwanted prisoners, are stealing the honor these men should have enjoyed in death that they were never allowed to enjoy in life.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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