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

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