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camp; made nails out of the fetters struck off from their captives—built a few frail barks without decks, in which they descended the Mississippi, and escaped finally (reduced in number to three hundred and eleven,) with their lives.
Thus ended the expedition of De Soto, on the 10th of September, 1543. Brilliant with hope and glittering in armor, the flower of Spanish chivalry had embarked, intent on conquest, as gayly as a bridal party. “Gallant with silk upon silk,” and after wandering amid perils and dangers, for nearly five years, through cane-brakes, bayous, and forests; after losing a large portion of their number, and among them some of their proudest nobles, they returned in extreme poverty, clad in rags and mats of Indian manufacture.
They had discovered, however, the Mississippi-had erected the standard of Spain on its shores ; and according to the ideas which prevailed in that semi-barbarous age, had thus established the title of their sovereign to the whole of that vast region watered by its tributary streams.
The State of Illinois became from that time forward a Spanish colony, and its native inhabitants, according to the views at that time prevailing, were of course vassals of the Spanish crown.
Notwithstanding the failure of three successive expeditions against Florida, other adventurers, in 1546, sought permission to invade it, and to possess the whole country by force of arms. Their request, however, was denied.
In 1547, religious zeal, under the auspices of Philip, then heir apparent of Spain, finally triumphed; and Louis Cancello, a missionary of the Dominican order, received permission to visit Florida, and attempt the peaceful conversion of its native population. A ship was fitted out in 1549, with great solemnity, for that purpose, but the priests who embarked in the expedition being feared as enemies, fell martyrs to their zeal, and Florida was abandoned. It seemed then, as it has frequently done since, that death guarded its portals. While the Castilians were everywhere else victorious, Florida, wet with the blood of its invaders, was still unpolluted by their hostile tread. Not a fort was erected-not a harbor was occupied—not one settlement was yet begun.
In 1562, Admiral Coligny of France, a Protestant, eminent for his piety, anxious to establish in America a refuge for the Huguenots, and disappointed by the apostacy of an agent in his first efforts to establish a colony in Brazil, under the auspices of John Calvin, the celebrated reformer; in connection with other influential persons, planned an expedition to Florida. Religious zeal, accompanied by a desire to promote the honor and glory of France, led unquestionably to its adoption. Its command was intrusted to one John Ribault, of Dieppe ; a brave man, of great experience, and a decided Protestant. "He was accompanied by a few veteran soldiers, and some of the most gallant nobility of France. The squadron sailed on the 1st of February, 1562, made land near St. Augustine in May, and erected a monumental stone, upon which he engraved the arms of France. Cast. ing his eyes around, and viewing with surprise and wonder the mighty oaks, venerable for their antiquity, which everywhere abounded—the wild fowl existing in great profusion—the immense groves of pine and flowers that perfumed the air ; and regarding the whole country as a province of his native land, he resolved to leave a colony, and return to France for reinforcements and supplies. Twenty-six colonists were therefore left to keep possession of a Continent. Ribault arrived in France with his ships in July, 1562, found a civil war then raging in all its horrors, and was unable, therefore, to bring out the promised reinforcements. The situation of the colonists, in the meantime, became alarming; the soldiers were insubordinate-dissensions prevailed—the commander lost his life in a mutiny that ensued—and the company embarked for France in a wretched ship, constructed of frail materials by themselves. Delighted with the prospect of returning home, they neglected to provide a sufficiency of naval stores, and were overtaken by famine at sea ; boarded by an Eng. lish bark, and landed, some of them in France and the residue in England.
A transient peace between Charles IX. and the Huguenots, having been made in 1564, Coligny renewed his former attempt to colonize Florida. The king assented, three ships were set apart for the service; and one Laudonniere, a man of great intelligence, appointed to command them. Emigrants were readily obtained-Florida was celebrated then, as now, for its climate and riches; and men still dreamed of mines in the interior. After scouring the coasts for some time, the followers of Calvin located themselves upon the River May-sang psalms of thanksgiving in commemoration of the event, and gathered courage from acts of devotion. A fort was erected, and named Fort Carolina, in honor of the king; and Calvinism, to all human appearance, was established on its shores.
The French at first were hospitably received. Their supplies, how. ever, were improvidently wasted--a scarcity followed, and tribute was indiscreetly levied upon the natives by force. Their confidence in the French was therefore lost for ever. They had welcomed them as guests, and in return the French had robbed their granaries. Mutinies became frequent; and a considerable party, seeking, as they said, to escape from famine, compelled Laudonniere to sign an order, giving them permission to embark for New Spain. Possessed of this apparent sanction, they equipped two vessels, and began a career of piracy in the West Indian seas. This was the first act of hostility committed by the French against the Spaniards, and was immediately avenged. The pirate vessel was taken, and most of its crew were sold into slavery. A few, however, escaped, and returned to Fort Carolina, where they were arrested by Laudonniere, and sentenced to die. .
In the meantime, the French suffered for the want of provisions, (the friendship of the Indians having been forfeited by unreasonable severity,) the supplies and recruits expected did not arrive, and hope itself became nearly extinguished. While preparing to embark for Europe, Sir John
Hawkins, the celebrated slave merchant, arrived from the West Indies. He had just sold a cargo of Africans, which he had kidnapped under extraordinary circumstances, and was now inspired with the most generous sympathy. He supplied their wants, and tendered for their use a vessel from his fleet. While, however, these preparations were going on, Ribault returned to assume the command, and brought supplies from France-emigrants, with their families, garden seeds, implements of husbandry, and domestic animals of every kind. The French colonists, elated with joy, abandoned their contemplated voyage, and agreed with one voice to remain. It seemed as though the dominion of France was now established in Florida, with Calvinism for its creed.
Spain, however, had not yet relinquished her title, though many of her bravest sons had fallen in the cause, and no colony had yet been established; but it comported not with the dignity of Philip II. to abandon, even a small territory to France, or to suffer the commercial monopoly of Spain to be endangered by a rival settlement, or the heresy of Calvin to be planted in its neighborhood. To prevent this, decisive measures were required.
About this time, there appeared at the Spanish court a reckless adventurer, fitted by nature and education for the task. Pedro Melendez de Avilés, had for a long time been accustomed to scenes of carnage. His natural ferocity had been improved by the infamy of his life. His big. otry had been nourished by a long and protracted war with the Protestants of Holland ; and Melendez himself, by encountering pirates, excluded by the law of nations from mercy, had become inured to deeds of vengeance. He had acquired a fortune in Spanish America, where benevolence was seldom taught, and less frequently practiced. His conduct even there had provoked inquiry, which caused his arrest, and procured his conviction; and the justice of his sentence was confirmed by the king, who knew him well, and esteemed his bravery.
The heir of Melendez had been previously shipwrecked near Bermuda, and the father asked leave of his sovereign merely to return, and search among the islands for his only son. Philip II., however, suggested to him the conquest and colonization of Florida. A compact was soon framed, and Melendez was appointed its hereditary governor.
By this compact, bearing date on the 20th of March, 1565, Melendez, at his own cost, was to invade Florida with at least five hundred men to complete its conquest in three years—to explore its currents and channels, the dangers of its coasts, and the depth of its havens-to establish a colony of at least five hundred persons, of whom one hundred were to be married men-to introduce at least twelve ecclesiastics, besides four Jesuits—to transport thither all kinds of domestic animals, and import into Florida five hundred negro slaves.
While preparations were thus making in Spain, intelligence was received, through the treachery of France, that the Huguenots had made a settlement in Florida, and that Ribault was preparing to sail thither. The cry was immediately raised that all heretics must be extirpated. Fanaticism lent its aid, and the ranks of Melendez were immediately filled. More than two thousand five hundred persons-soldiers, sailors, priests, jesuits, married men, with their families, laborers and mechanics ; and, with the exception of two hundred soldiers, all at the cost of Melendez, embarked. After some delay, occasioned by a storm, and encountering on his passage a tempest, which scattered his feet, he arrived at Porto Rico on the 9th of August, 1565, with about one-third of his forces. He sailed for Florida without waiting for the residue, and on the 28th came upon its coast. On the 2nd of September, he discovered a fine har. bor and a beautiful river, into which he entered, and gathered from the natives some account of the Huguenots. The 28th of August having been consecrated to the memory of one of the most eloquent and vene. rated fathers of the church, a son of Africa, and Bishop of Carthage, he gave to the harbor and stream the name of St. Augustine. Sailing north, he discovered the French fleet, lying at anchor, and in answer to a demand made by the French commander, of his name and objects, he replied :
“I am Melendez, of Spain, sent hither with strict orders from the king, to gibbet and behead all Protestants in these regions. The Frenchman, who is a Catholic, I will spare-every heretic shall die.”
The French, unprepared for action, cut their cables and fled. Melen. dez thereupon returned to the harbor of St. Augustine, and arrived there on the evening of the 7th, preceding the festival of the nativity of the blessed Virgin. On the following day, (September 8th, 1565,) at noon, he went on shore, and took possession of the whole Continent in the name of his king, and proclaimed Philip II. of Spain, monarch of North Amer. ica. A solemn mass was performed, and the foundation of St. Augustine, (the oldest town in the United States,) was immediately laid. This took place more than forty years before any effectual settlement was made in Virginia ; and houses, it is said, are now standing in St. Augustine, erected before any French or English settlement was made upon the Continent. · Melendez had no sooner landed and performed the usual ceremones on such occasions, than, with an indifference to toil that ever marked his character, he led his troops through lakes, marshes and forests, to St. John's, where he surprised the French governor-anticipating, and of course fearing no danger, except from toward the sea; and massacred in cold blood, men, women and children, about two hundred in all the old and the young, the sick in their beds, and the soldier in armor. A few, and among them, Laudonniere, escaped to the woods-death, how. ever, met them there. It seemed as though Heaven and earth, the sea and the savage, had conspired against them. A part surrendered to the Spaniards, and were immediately murdered ; others found their way to the coast, after enduring the severest hardships, and were received on board a French vessel, remaining in the harbor; and the Spaniards,
angry that any should escape, vented their malignant fury upon the bodies of the slain.
This massacre took place on the 21st of September, 1565, on the festival of St Matthew. The slaughter being completed, religious services were performed, a cross was raised, and the site of a church selected on ground yet smoking with human gore.
Those who had escaped being shipwrecked on the coast, were soon discovered. Wasted by fatigues at sea, and half famished for want of food, they were invited by Melendez to rely on his mercy. They accordingly surrendered; and as they stepped on shore, their hands were tied behind them, and they were thus driven to St. Augustine, like sheep to a slaughter-house. As they approached the fort, a signal was given, the trumpet was sounded, and the Spaniards fell upon them; disarmed, and unable to resist—with the exception of a few Catholics, who were spared, and a few mechanics, who were reserved as slaves—all were massacred, “not as Frenchmen, but as Lutherans." About nine hun. dred, including those who had previously been slain, were thus sacrificed on the altar of religious zeal. It was before the massacre of St. Bartholomews, in France, and partook strongly of its character.
The French government, equally bigoted with that of Spain, heard of the outrage, and listened to its horrid details with heartless indifference. Not even a remonstrance was made. The nation, however, awoke to vengeance, and the Huguenots especially, felt the wound in every pore.
There lived at that time in Gascony, a bold and reckless soldier, whose life had been a series of adventures. His name was Dominic de Gourguis. He was at one time a private in the army of France; at another, a prisoner and galley-slave in Spain. He was taken by the Turks, sold as a captive, and redeemed from thence by the commander of the Knights of Malta. He had now returned to his native province, and burned for revenge. The honor of his country, and his own—the blood of his slaughtered relatives, and the cries of his persecuted brethren, called aloud for vengeance. Having sold his property in France, and received contributions from his friends, he fitted out three ships, in which he embarked for Florida, accompanied by one hundred and fifty gallant men. A favorable breeze soon wafted him thither. He landed immediately, and surprised two Spanish forts near the mouth of the St. Mattheo ; and as terror magnified his numbers, and courage and revenge both nerved his arm, he was enabled to get possession, almost without a struggle, of the principal fort, near the spot where his friends and relatives had previously been massacred. Too weak to maintain his position, he weighed anchor immediately for Europe, having first hanged all his prisoners upon the trees, and placed over them this inseription : “I do not this as unto Spaniards, but as unto traitors, robbers and murderers.”
The Indians, who had suffered much from the French and Spaniards both, looked on with delight, and seemed to enjoy the spectacle.