Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 27, 2013

Those Who Fell For Faith: Jean Ribault
(originally posted 06 Mar 2012)

Anyone who writes fiction “backwards” (knowing the ending of the story, then constructing what happened beforehand) has most likely discovered that this can be quite a sad venture. Reading of happy childhood memories and scattered adventures is much more touching when one knows how it all ends. Some people’s lives evoke the same pathos in our hearts. This is very true for Jean Ribault, a French officer, adventurer, and proud Huguenot who died on the 12th of October 1565 in Florida’s horrific Matanzas massacre. He is most famous for his death . . . faced with betrayal toward not only himself but also the men under his command, he remained calm and urged the would-be martyrs to sing Psalm 132.

So what happened before that point? What events in Jean Ribault’s life might have led up to this last standoff, this horrendous yet touching expression of faith? No one knows the exact year of his birth --- 1520 is the best estimate --- but we do know a place: Dieppe, France. This is particularly interesting since Ribault’s final voyage began in Dieppe as well. Here the beautiful flagship “Trinite” set sail in May 1565. No one knows whom Jean Ribault married, though they know of one son --- Jacques --- who later also visited the land the French called ‘La Floride.’ Jean became a naval officer, and during this time he answered to Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, another fascinating figure who would meet his own bloody fate during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572.

Jean Ribault was not always a shining example of Christian piety. There were some activities in which he participated that were ‘below the radar,’ such as raiding Spanish ships and making quite a name for himself in that manner. Yet this makes him a perfect example of how Christians with less-than-perfect records can still return to Christ and make a home for Him in their hearts. In 1562 Jean Ribault left Havre de Grace and sailed for “la Nouveau Monde,” the New World. Few had any idea what to expect. He must have felt a thrill in his heart when land was first sighted. Monsieur Ribault named his fledgling colony “Charlesfort” after King Charles the Ninth. It was located in what would later become the site of a Spanish colony named Santa Elena and is now known as Parris Island, South Carolina.

Jean Ribault made two trips to La Floride, the first in 1562 and the second in 1565. Yet some interesting events occurred in between these journeys. Upon returning to France, he learned that the first War of Religion, the “opening act” of eight bloody and grueling conflicts between the nation’s Protestants and Catholics, was in full swing. History says only that Jean Ribault “assisted the Huguenots at Dieppe” but does not say how. I picture him as a hands-on man, right there in the thick of things with a sword in his grip. He was a fiercely loyal Calvinist known for natural leadership skills and impatience. He would never have stood idly by while his fellow Huguenots had need of his services. Having gone to England to seek aid for his colony, he was marked as a spy and incarcerated quite unceremoniously in the infamous Tower of London. I have often looked at photographs of the White Tower and wondered which window might have been his --- if he was ever given the pleasure of a window. At this time Jean Ribault had no idea what his fate would someday be.

While Ribault was incapacitated, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny appointed Rene de Laudonniere, who had helped found Charlesfort, to create a new colony in the New World. Laudonniere sailed to the St. Johns River in Florida and established Fort Caroline, also named after Charles the Ninth. His time at Caroline was unsuccessful. Between mutiny, Native American unrest, and starvation, many felt Laudonniere was not up to the task. In May 1565 Jean Ribault, freshly-released, sailed out of Dieppe with a bevy of ships full of life-giving supplies for La Caroline. By this time, the colony had taken on a stronger purpose. Wealth and subsistence were only two of its goals. It has also taken on the face of a Protestant refuge, a haven, a place where France’s Huguenot population might seek safety and elusive religious freedom. Jean Ribault arrived on the 28th of August, 1565. He must have been gratified to see the relief on the colonists’ faces. Yet the French were being closely followed. A Spanish fleet led by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, under the direct command of King Philip the Second of Spain, hovered just beyond La Caroline, waiting for the perfect opportunity to scrape swords.

We know there was some controversy between Jean Ribault and Rene de Laudonniere when Ribault stripped Laudonniere from command and took over La Caroline himself. Jean Ribault was a self-made man. Accounts seem to paint him as a stubborn and high-spirited commander who despite his forty-five years desired instant gratification and a firm fight rather than waiting for the enemy to attack. These characteristics might have set ill-at-ease with his devout Christian heart, but I am reminded of King David, who was indeed a very driven --- and sometimes sinful --- individual, but who loved God with all his heart and soul. Jean Ribault quickly learned that Pedro Menendez had recently founded San Agustín and had begun to fortify it in the hopes of warding off a French attack. The quick-on-the-draw French officer elected to attack San Agustín before the Spanish could strike La Caroline. Laudonniere disagreed. There was another confrontation, the details of which we do not know. But Ribault recklessly started off with his best men aboard the ships that had only just arrived in La Floride. An Atlantic hurricane soon showed him the rashness of his actions.

He might have wept and complained. He might have lamented his choice of action (and likely did, especially as his shipwrecked men crawled along the shores of Matanzas Inlet without food or shelter, and when the Spanish arrived in all their glittering glory). It must have been like a knife in the heart to hear Pedro Menendez speak of the ruins of Fort Caroline. (As Ribault had started out before the Spanish raided La Caroline on the 20th of September, he knew nothing of the attack). Jean Ribault bargained for his life and for that of his men, naively trusting his captors. They refused his offer. He might have agreed to abandon his Calvinism. But instead he showed his mettle as a man of God. He did not despair. He calmly and quietly argued his men to sing a psalm dear to his heart, and he met his martyrdom with God’s praises still on his lips. Perhaps it is too much to think that his humbleness touched his executioners. We know, of course, that it touched his followers, for they took his example and refused to give up the faith. They extolled the psalm with lifted voices that must have carried across the dunes.

“O Lord, remember David and all the hardships he endured. 
He swore an oath to the LORD and made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: 
“I will not enter my house or go to my bed-- 
I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, 
till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

And with this vow, Jean Ribault met his fate. Immediately after, I can imagine that he met his Maker, as did his followers who also died in their unshakable convictions. Jean Ribault was one of the first Protestant martyrs to fall on America’s shores. He was not perfect; far from it. But his sacrifice and that of his followers continues to be an inspiration. These brave men must never be forgotten.

(c) 2013 Joyously Saved

Sunday, January 20, 2013

January 20, 2013

Revision in the Nation's Oldest City
(Originally posted 21 Aug 2012)

(I’ve added notes and current thoughts relevant to the topic).

I have mentioned many times throughout this blog that I am particularly driven to remember and honor the French Protestants killed near St. Augustine, Florida, in September and October 1565. It is my “calling,” a cause I feel I was chosen to uphold, and I think often of what I can do to keep these men’s memories alive. The Matanzas massacre is a story not very often told. Many might think it insignificant, but I personally feel it was a huge part of early American history and an invaluable reminder of the necessity of religious freedom.

While looking for references about the Huguenots of Matanzas, I came across an online book called “The Catholic Church in the United States of America,” which mentioned St. Augustine founder Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. It has always bothered me how I see terms like “the Matanzas massacre revised” and “rethinking the Matanzas massacre.’ It is as if people seek to diminish the horror. This particular book said of Menéndez: “There is but one blot on his fame, that of the Matanzas massacre, nor is the shame of it palliated when it is ascribed, not to fanaticism or bigotry, but to the reasons assigned by his master – the desire not to risk his own people. If this was, indeed, his motive, it was a worthy one.”

Stop there. This is, sadly, a sentiment I have heard before, that the massacre was “justified” if it was done so that the Spaniards would not starve. They apparently could not risk ‘more mouths to feed.’ Yet even by the cruel standards of 1565, slaughtering Frenchmen because they were a “burden” was not “worthy.” The author went on to say that he does not believe it was done purely for self-preservation, but then continued, “But we must not allow our judgment to be so outraged by this cold-blooded murder as to blind us to his {Menéndez’s} signal merits . . .”

If he had shown remorse, asked forgiveness, expressed regret, I agree. But he never did. It seems that some are desperate to prove the Matanzas massacre was not a religious martyrdom, even though there are various letters (from Menéndez himself and from his chroniclers, including Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales) that clearly state it was done for religious reasons. ‘Evil sect’ is but one way these men referred to the Huguenots’ Protestant faith. I have never understood why I feel so strongly about the 245 Frenchmen slaughtered fourteen miles from St. Augustine. I have been visiting the city for over a decade; it is deep in my heart and soul, and I have stood at the spot where the men were killed. I cannot bear to hear people justifying, revising, re-editing.

There are three things about the Matanzas story that bother me *immensely* for reasons even I don’t completely understand.

-          Firstly, while I love visiting the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine, I find it disturbing when specific emphasis is made that this is where Christianity in America began. This is where the Catholic Church began. I feel as if many modern-day folk might be inclined to forget that the only reason this particular denomination was here “first” was because the Protestants in the vicinity were stripped of their lives. No mention or restitution is made of this.

-          The men who are today so inadequately remembered are often vilified in writings and in private sentiment. One example is a “William and Mary Quarterly” article titled “Borderland or Border-sea? Placing Early Florida” by Amy Turner Bushnell. One sentence states in part, “. . . the alchemy of propaganda converted the corsairs killed at Matanzas into Calvinist martyrs.” That, to me, smacks of vilifying the dead. They weren’t perfect . . . they probably had done things less than pleasant. But why would they have to be “converted to martyrs”? They were martyrs. They refused to recant and were killed. One particular point in which this bothers me is the recent attention given to Catholic priests who were martyred in St. Augustine in the early years of the 18th century. I am very certain that those who honor and cherish these men’s memories would not be very happy to have the priests’ very martyrdom questioned, or to hear that it should be swept under the rug. Why is it all right to treat the Huguenots in such a way? Are they somehow less important?

-          So many events, good and bad, are commemorated in St. Augustine … Civil Rights buildings, Native American burial sites, lots once blackened by pirate attacks. Why is it so important to commemorate every historic and religious event in the city’s past except the one in which over two hundred men were killed for their beliefs and for flying the French flag? Why is it so important to remember everyone else but does not matter if these men were slaughtered? Why is it almost a sort of dirty “joke” that such things happened, such as a video I once saw where a costumed reenactor dressed in 18th century Spanish garb said, “another Protestant bites the dust”?

These are things I can never reconcile.

(c) 2013 Joyously Saved

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13, 2013

The Women of Fort Caroline
(Originally posted 19 Apr 2012)

September 20, 1565 dawned wet and dismal. Exhausted sentries grabbed whatever sleep they could manage. Families huddled together in simple Floridian dwellings, praying that the storm would soon abate and their enemies would not take advantage of the chaos and lack of defense. But that is exactly what the Spaniard Pedro Menendez's soldiers did. Blustering through the wake of a hurricane, they burst upon Fort Caroline with no warning.

History tells us that most of the men were killed outright. Those who escaped later endured a long and bitter voyage back to France. The able-bodied soldiers who had previously put out to sea from Fort Caroline with Jean Ribault had been shipwrecked by this time and would soon be slaughtered along the beaches of Matanzas. But what became of the wives, the girlfriends, the mothers and daughters?

Physically, they were spared an ignominious death. Emotionally, the burden of seeing their loved ones killed must have been beyond horrendous. To make the loss of their men even worse, the women learned that the departed would be posthumously hanged. "Not as to Frenchmen, but as to Lutherans," a nearby sign read. And through it all, the women of Fort Caroline, hiding their children's eyes, sobbing outright or weeping quietly, wondered what their men had ever done to deserve such cruel treatment. They must have remembered beloved faces. Compelling eyes filled with steadfast faith and quiet courage. Fathers playing with children. Sons assisting mothers. So much had changed in an instant.

Perhaps the Spaniards believed they were being "kind" in sparing this band of about sixty women and children. They gave little if any thought to the heartache these wretched captives endured. It has been said that Pedro Menendez refused to kill women because he did not want the wrath of God upon his head. This illustrates the rhetoric of the sixteenth century . . . how can one rightly see killing innocent women as cruel but have no compunctions whatsoever against killing equally innocent men?

History tells us little of the women's subsequent trials. Some accounts say they were taken to San Juan, Puerto Rico, most likely to be educated in the Catholic faith. I imagine some grew ill and died along the way. Perhaps heartache was a cause of death as well. These women were forced to live among the same type of men who had unjustly silenced their loved ones. Did they remain true to their Protestant convictions? It is probable some did. I also imagine that the strength of their martyr husbands' testimonies might have strengthened quite a few of these beleaguered women. It is a romantic notion to hope that all remained true to their faith. We will never know the number for sure.

Did the women ever hear of Matanzas, the massacre they never witnessed? If they did, those who had been relieved that their husbands were out to sea during the raid at Fort Caroline must have grown numb with despair. History does not record their names, ages, or stories. Many of these women likely found a way to return to France -- one can only hope they did. Though we cannot give them identities, we can gave them a voice. Their dreams of raising families in le Nouveau Monde, in the New World, free of hardship and persecution, were so violently crushed that the extreme pathos and loss of this story still brings tears to one's eyes.

(c) 2013 Joyously Saved

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 06, 2013

"Massacre at Matanzas": Analyzing a Portrait Bit-By-Bit

On March 27, 2012, I stepped into the wilds of Matanzas Inlet, fourteen miles from St. Augustine, Florida, intending to honor the lives and memories of about 245 French Protestant men martyred here in September and October 1565. Though it was indeed an incredible feeling to see this marker for myself (above) I took note that there were a lot of things that did not really make sense on the portrait, things that may not be 100% accurate. So I decided to break down the image and see what was true and what was false. I apologize for the quality of the photos, as the marker is very old and at times hard to see.

What the marker shows: Every captured Frenchman except one is dressed in what appears to be dark trousers and blue shirts.

The probable truth: It is very unlikely that each man would be dressed exactly alike. Also, breeches were much more voluminous in this era, not fitted and to the knee like these appear to be. (There might have been some who wore more practical breeches, but there is nothing to suggest that these men did). While sailors might have all worn the same kind of shirts, they still would have been in various stages of disarray.


What the marker shows: A man dressed in black kneeling in the bottom left. I do not know who this is supposed to represent. Is it one of the Catholic priests that came along on Pedro Menéndez de Avilés’ expedition? Is he praying for the men to be released or believing, as many did in those days, that the actions were justified? Is he meant to be a Protestant minister praying before his martyrdom? Is he meant to be French admiral Jean Ribault, whom I believe is wearing red and is featured up further on the portrait? If a priest, whom? If a minister, there were no Protestant ministers at Matanzas.

The probable truth: Since I believe the man in red to be Jean Ribault, and the man in black standing at the top of the dunes to be Pedro Menéndez, the only logical explanation is that this was probably meant to be Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, who was indeed present at the Matanzas massacres (at least the one in September) and wrote about the event in his annals.

What the marker shows: Two men lying dead, while the rest quietly await their martyrdom.

The probable truth: This is not how Matanzas happened. Men were ferried across Matanzas Inlet by tens and maneuvered behind the sands so their fellow Frenchmen would remain in the dark about Spanish intentions. There would not have been two men already vanquished while the rest stood and looked on.

What the marker shows: A man in red standing in the center right, dressed finely.

The probable truth: This is likely meant to be Admiral Jean Ribault. I imagine that even after a shipwreck he would have found some way to make himself presentable, and though he may not have worn bright red, it is fairly obvious that the figure is meant to be Ribault.

What the marker shows:
A man standing at the top of the sand dunes, holding a sword and Spanish flag. I cannot make out the flag. A red-and-white flag below, however, is probably the banner of Castile and Leon.

The probable truth: This is almost undoubtedly Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who "masterminded" the raid on French La Caroline and was responsible for both Matanzas massacres. He even looks ominous standing up there, waiting for more Frenchmen.

What the marker shows: Spanish soldiers carrying various weapons, as well as weapons sticking up out of the ground. Most appear to be spears. The soldier at the far bottom right carries a nasty-looking halberd.

The probable truth: Conquistadors would have carried a wide range of weapons, including spears and halberds. Why exactly the artist chose to have them sticking in the ground, I am not sure.

In closing: The men were brought over in small boats, ten at a time (see small red boat in middle right of marker, and Frenchmen waiting on the other side of the inlet). They were forced to cross the Matanzas Inlet to get to the other side in the attempt of (what they thought was) surrendering. Though I am uncertain why a small "island" has been drawn in the middle of the inlet, the rest of the scenery is probably accurate . . . mostly sand, some beach grass, and plenty of water.

(c) 2013 Joyously Saved

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