Sunday, December 30, 2012

December 30, 2012

The Attack on Fort Caroline, French Florida

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.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012

****When I began this blog, preparing for a trip to St. Augustine, Florida, its purpose was to honor the French Protestant Huguenots who died in 1565 in the Spanish siege of La Caroline and the subsequent martyrdom at Matanzas. This is a story that for some reason has always been very close to my heart. Also, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572 was always a main focus. With this in mind, I am going to start “recycling” some of my older posts concerning Matanzas and La Caroline and sometimes St. Bartholomew’s, subjects which I feel are and always have been the main focus of my blog.****

French Huguenots in Florida: From Beginning to End

Whenever I think of the ill-fated French Huguenot colony in early Florida, it fills me with sadness I can barely describe. The entire venture was fraught with setbacks from the very beginning. Let’s enumerate.

(1)    The event that finally propelled the colonists to set sail in May 1565 was a sudden storm that threatened to carry the ships out to sea, persuading them they must go aboard and be carried along on the waves or be left behind. What a harbinger!

(2)    Those same storms blew the French ships in the direction of Havre de Grace, France, rather than out to sea, and they were forced to remain off the coast of England near the Isle of Wight until mid-June. They finally headed out to the open sea on June 14th.

(3)    Seven days after arriving in La Floride and Fort Caroline, on September 04, 1565, French ships guarding the entrance to the harbor were accosted by a small Spanish fleet. They fled to sea and were hotly pursued, but they managed to escape.

(4)    French admiral Jean Ribault ordered that his ablest soldiers, those who had just arrived in Florida and had barely had time to acclimate, should go back aboard ship so they might wipe out San Agustín before the Spaniards could do the same to La Caroline. None of these men had any idea that in a few weeks’ time they would be martyred on the beaches of Matanzas. Also, with these soldiers gone, few men capable of defending themselves were left at La Caroline.

(5)    A hurricane sank Ribault’s fleet, including his flagship Trinité. Some men were drowned. Those who survived managed to reach land. They had only a short while left to live.

(6)    The San Mateo hurricane nearly destroyed Fort Caroline’s defenses and served to make the colonists miserable. In a stroke of bad timing, the guardsmen, unable to suffer the rain and wind any longer, went to bed. They believed no one would want so badly to attack them that they would come through a hurricane. This proved to be a false assumption.

(7)    On September 20, 1565, Spanish conquistadors, endowed with a hatred of everything Protestant and disgusted that Frenchman had dared to settle a colony on “Spanish” land, raided Fort Caroline. Most of the men were killed outright. Women and children were taken prisoner. Their fates are unknown. A relatively small number of survivors, including painter Jacques le Moyne de Morgues and former commander René de Goulaine de Laudonnière, found a ship to take them back to France.

(8)    On September 29, Pedro Menéndez caught up with the survivors of Ribault’s shipwrecked fleet. They were told to convert or die for their Protestant faith. Over one hundred men lost their lives in this way. They were given no burials and were left on the shores of Matanzas without the slightest hint of respect. It was not until early 1566 that relatives back in France would hear of their loved ones’ fates.

(9)     October 12, 1565, brought yet another massacre. Another hundred men or so were advised to surrender. Those who could not in good conscience give up their arms made a harrowing trek to present-day Cape Canaveral. Those who surrendered, hoping for mercy, were martyred as well. Admiral Jean Ribault was one of the victims.

(10) Those Frenchman who had not surrendered at Matanzas were discovered and brought to San Agustín. Many abandoned their faith simply to gain protection (a fact which, considering that their comrades were willing to die for their Protestant beliefs, is quite saddening). King Philip of Spain advised that survivors should be made into galley slaves. Oddly enough, Menéndez, not seeing himself as outnumbered, did not kill these men.

Quick recap: In August 1565, La Caroline was a haven of Protestant religious freedom. There were men, women, and children of varying ages, soldiers, tailors, adventurers, noblemen, and many more such colonists. Though the earlier wave of colonists had been starving, they now had fresh supplies, brought by Jean Ribault and his fresh fleet of settlers. A bevy of beautiful French galleons bobbed just beyond La Caroline’s defenses. Protestant Psalms were sung and Protestant prayers were said without fear of retribution.

By December 1565, just four months later, nearly all of the men of La Caroline were dead, many having fallen at the forever-haunted Matanzas in a gory final act to the play of atrocities that had dogged the French since the beginning. The fort had been destroyed and converted into a Spanish citadel known as Fort San Mateo. The women and children were languishing in Puerto Rico or other Spanish-run locations, and it is not known how many, if any, ever saw France again. Admiral Jean Ribault would stalk the waters no more. The French flag had been forcibly ripped from La Floride, never to return.

Florida’s French Huguenot colony was a study in lost dreams, destroyed far too quickly and with more brutality than anyone could have imagined. Murphy’s Law was definitely enforced --- from the day that Ribault’s fleet first set sail, anything that could go wrong did go wrong. One can stand at the reconstructed Fort Caroline and actually feel the broken dreams. The spirit of loss, grief, and thwarted freedom is tangible. And, as much as I love vacationing in Spanish St. Augustine, I cannot help but feel a flash of resentment that the French settlement once laid in ruins while the Spanish one thrived. One needed to die for the other to be born. St. Augustine survived and grew great, while La Caroline --- poor, ill-fated La Caroline --- was trampled, bloodied, and forgotten. It is a tragedy impossible to comprehend.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

Sunday, December 16, 2012

December 16, 2012

For today’s spiritual inspiration I decided to turn to the “Valley of Vision,” a book of Puritan poetry with selections that always show incredible insight. I particularly liked “Openness”:

Lord of immortality,
Before Whom angels now and archangels veil their faces,
    enable me to serve Thee with reverence and godly fear.
Thou who art Spirit and requires truth in the inward parts,
    Help me to worship Thee in spirit and in truth.
Thou who art righteous,
    Let me not harbor sin in my heart,
        or indulge a worldly temper,
        or seek satisfaction in things that perish.
I hasten towards an hour
    when earthly pursuits and possessions will appear vain,
    when it will be indifferent whether I have been rich or poor,
        successful or disappointed, admired or despised.
But it will be of eternal moment that I have
    mourned for sin,
    hungered and thirsted after righteousness,
    loved the Lord Jesus in sincerity,
    gloried in His cross.
May these objects engross my chief solicitude!
Produce in me those principles and dispositions 
    that make Thy service perfect freedom.
Expel from my mind all sinful fear and shame,
    so that with firmness and courage I may
        confess the Redeemer before men,
        go forth with Him bearing His reproach,
        be zealous with His wisdom,
        walk with His circumspection,
        ask counsel of Him in all things,
        repair to the Scriptures for His orders,
        stay my mind on His peace,
    knowing that nothing can befall me
        without His permission, appointment and administration.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December 09, 2012

Andreas Karlstadt: Radical Visionary

If you’ve studied Martin Luther’s life or seen any of the movies concerning him, either old or new, you might be familiar with controversial theologian Andreas Karlstadt. Karlstadt, who approved of Luther’s ideas but believed Luther did not take the idea of reformation quite far enough, took it upon himself to put his own spin on newborn Protestant doctrines. He wasn’t interested in diplomacy either with Catholicism or with Protestantism. Though he insisted that he was willing to “play nice” with others, both Luther and the Duke of Saxony found him distasteful and banished him from Saxony in the early 1520s.

Perhaps the authorities sensed the interest he took in Anabaptist beliefs and took note of many similarities between him and his Anabaptist counterparts. The 2003 movie “Luther” shows Luther coming upon a church where Karlstadt has ordered his men to tear down and destroy statuary. There is an argument, whereupon Karlstadt is offended that Luther cannot see his point of view and does not advocate his radical actions. Though this particular scene might have been adapted for cinema, it is likely that there were such altercations between the two men.

Karlstadt remained busy. Like John Calvin and other Protestants who saw the Catholic iconography of the day as idolatry, he took the more Calvinistic stance that advocated destroying statues, images, and relics. His tendency for showing force in such regards put a further chasm between himself and Luther, who had never ordered such destruction. During the tempestuous 1520s when Protestant believers were just beginning to separate themselves from Catholic orthodoxy and there was a great amount of fervor and ill-feeling on both sides, Karlstadt took advantage of the chaos to further his church purges. This man so well-known for controversy suffered a fate not unusual for the time but unusual among reformers; he died of plague on Christmas Eve 1541. He was 55 years old.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

Sunday, December 2, 2012

December 02, 2012

The Protestant Church No One Remembered

In St. Augustine, Florida there is a beautiful Catholic mission that marks the spot where Christianity was said to have originated in the New World. While it is true that this is the spot where Catholic Christianity was started, and that this event marked the instance of the first Catholic mass in the country, there almost definitely would have been some kind of church or chapel at the French Protestant settlement of La Caroline near present-day Jacksonville, Florida.

Were it not for the Spanish conquistadors subjecting the Huguenots to martyrdom, Protestant Christianity would have been the first and oldest established Christian faith in America --- an interesting tidbit indeed. Nothing is said of any temporary churches at La Caroline. Contemporary drawings do not show it. Yet the Huguenots, being very religious folk, would have never settled a colony without setting up some house of worship, or several.

So what might it have looked like? It was probably made of thatch and wood, much as the Spaniards built their own churches in the mid-16th century. It is possible there was a cross on the roof but equally possible that there was not . . . the French Calvinists had a strict policy against “idolatry,” and they believed the representation of crosses or crucifixes fell into that category. Inside it was likely very sparse. Churchgoers probably had rough wooden benches. I wonder if carpets brought from France or palm fronds might have decorated the floor. There would have probably been a simple window or two.

This is all conjecture; it does, however, seem very likely that the Huguenot “temple” --- wherever it was, and however it fell --- at La Caroline would have been much like this. It was probably one of the first casualties when Spaniards raided the fort on the morning of September 20, 1565. Historical accounts record that the soldiers burned Protestant texts and anything pertaining to the faith, and it is quite logical that these things would have been kept in a church.

It is a vague possibility that the Spaniards, upon capturing the French settlement and molding it into Fort San Mateo, might have “re-consecrated” any remaining churches and used them for Catholic services. Yet, given the vitriol that Catholics and Protestants felt toward one other in this era, it is questionable to think that they would have been comfortable holding services even in a “purified” structure. Perhaps it was committed to the flames of destruction. We will probably never know for sure . . .

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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