Home > Floripedia > Explorers of Florida
Site Map

Explorers of Florida

The Spanish Borderlands


EXPLORERS first, then colonizers. Now interest in Florida, already aroused by the journey of Vaca, was quickened to a lively heat when, late in 1543, Moscoso and the remnants of De Soto's band at last straggled into the City of Mexico. It would appear that hardships and failures could in no wise impair a Spaniard's ability for story-telling; for Moscoso and his tattered comrades were soon spinning for others the golden web of romance in which they themselves bad been snared. Glowing pictures they gave of the north country, especially of Coosa (in Alabama), where they had been well fed and where one or two of their number had remained to dally with Creek damsels. The Viceroy Mendoza, ambitious to extend his power into the Northern Mystery, at once offered to finance an expedition if Moscoso would undertake it. But while Moscoso's zeal for golden Florida might inspire his imagination to dazzling flights of fancy, it was inadequate to stir his feet one step again in that direction. So Mendoza's project came to nothing.

It was noticed that the Mexicans valued highly some of the fur apparel brought back by Moscoso's men. And the next year, 1544, two Spanish gendemen sought from the King the right to conquer Florida, for the purpose of bringing deerskins and furs into Mexico, as well as in the hope of discovering pearls, mines, and whatever other marvels had embroidered Moscoso's romance. But the King refused their petition. In his refusal he was influenced in part by religious and humane motives. Despite the presence of priests and friars, the various expeditions to the north thus far had taken no time from treasure hunting to convert natives or to establish missions. The Church was now considering the question of sending out its own expedition to Florida, unhampered by slave-catching soldiers.

Perhaps this idea of a conquest by the Cross, unaided—and unhampered—by the sword, was born in the mind of Fray Luis Cancer, a devout and learned Dominican. Fray Luis was living in the convent of Santo Domingo in the City of Mexico not long after Vaca and Moscoso arrived with their wonder tales. The account of the hundreds of savages who bad followed Vaca from village to village must have moved the good friar's heart with zeal and pity. And he can have been no less stirred by the tales told by Moscoso's men of the gallant butchery their swords had done—of the clanking chains that made music on the day's march, and the sharp whisper in the night of the flint, as it pressed against an iron collar. Fray Luis desired to see all heathen made free in God's favor. The oppressions his countrymen practiced upon the natives filled him with horror. As a missionary, first in Espanola and then in Porto Rico, he had seen the hopelessness of trying to spread religion in territories which were being swiftly depopulated by ruthless conquerors. He had therefore gone to Guatemala, to the monastery of Santiago whose head was the noble Las Casas. At that time one province of Guatemala was known as the "Land of War" because of the ferocity of its natives. Las Casas had influenced the Governor to forbid that territory to Spaniards for five years. Then he had sent Fray Luis, who had meanwhile learned the language of the natives, to the chief to request permission for the monks to come there. With his gentle words, Fray Luis took also little gifts, trinkets, mirrors, and beads of bright colors such as would delight the savages. He made so good an impression on the chief that the permission he sought was readily given. And in a few years the Land of War became the Land of the True Peace—Vera Paz—where no Spaniards dwelt save a few Dominican friars and where at morning and evening Indian voices chanted the sacred songs to the accompaniment of the Indian flutes and drums which had formerly quickened to frenzy the warriors setting out to slaughter. And for this spiritual conquest Fray Luis had received the title of Alferez de la Fe, Standard Bearer of the Faith.

But Fray Luis was not content to eat the fruit of his labors in Vera Paz. The Standard Bearer would push on to another frontier. He went to the City of Mexico (1546) because there he would find the latest reports of newly discovered countries. Here Fray Luis heard the stories which had been told there by Vaca and Moscoso and resolved to bear his standard to Florida.

He found willing comrades in three monks of his own order, Gregorio de Beteta, Juan Garcia, and Diego de Tolosa. Fray Gregorio and Fray Juan had already made three or four unsuccessful attempts to reach Florida by land from Mexico, under a total misapprehension as to distance and direction. His plans consummated under the orders of Las Casas, Fray Luis went to Spain to urge the great project with the King. His pe. tition was soon granted. When he returned to Mexico (1548) he had the royal authority to establish a mission at some point in Florida where Spaniards had not yet spilled native blood. In 1549 Fray Luis and his three companions sailed from Vera Cruz in an unarmed vessel. At Havana he took on board a converted native girl named Magdalena, who was to act as interpreter and guide. Perhaps it was almost impossible for the pilot to distinguish one inlet from another, with certainty, on that much indented coast line, where the low shore presents no variation to the eye for miles; for, instead of landing at a new point, the monks first touched Florida soil in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. And the natives about Tampa Bay were hostile with memories of De Soto.

There were empty huts nearby and a background of forest in which it seemed nothing stirred Fray Diego went ashore and climbed a tree at some distance from the beach. Immediately a score of Indians emerged from the forest. Fray Luis, despite the pilot's warnings, with Magdalena and an oblate named Fuentes, hurried after Diego, through water to their waists. "Our Lord knows what haste I made lest they should slay the monk before hearing what we were about," Fray Luis writes. He paused to fall on his knees and pray for grace and divine help, ere he climbed the bank. Then he took out of his sleeves some of the trinkets he had brought; because, he writes, " deeds are love, and gifts shatter rocks.", After these gifts, the natives were willing that the friars and Magdalena should kneel among them reciting the litanies; and, to Fray Luis's joy, they also knelt and appeared pleased with the prayers and the rosaries. They seemed so friendly, indeed, that Fray Luis, permitted Fray Diego, Fuentes, and Magdalena, to remain with them and to go on a day and a half's journey by land to a good harbor of which the Indians had told them. He and Fray Gregorio returned to the ship.

It took the pilot eight days to find the new harbor and eight more to enter it. It was on the feast of Corpus Christi that the ship dropped anchor. Fray Luis and Fray Juan landed and said Mass. To their apprehension they saw no signs of Fray

* Lowery, Spanish Settlements.

Diego and Fuentes, nor of Indians. On the next day as they searched, an Indian came out of the woods carrying, in token of peace, a rod topped with white palm leaves; and he appeared to assure Fray Luis that Fray Diego and his companions were safe and would be brought to him. On the next day as Fray Luis, with Fray Juan and Fray Gregorio, rowed towards the shore the natives waded to meet them bringing fish and skins to trade for trinkets. One savage would take nothing but a little wooden cross which he kissed as he had seen the monks do much to the delight of Fray Luis. If the pious monk's joy at this incident was dimmed a few moments later, when he waded inshore and discovered Magdalena naked among the tribeswomen, it kindled again at her assurance that Diego and Fuentes were safe in the cacique's house. How little truth was in her words Fray Luis learned when he returned to the ship. There he found a Spaniard, once a soldier of De Soto's army, who had been enslaved by the Indians of this tribe. This man informed him that the Indians had already slain Fray Diego and the oblate Fuentes; he had held Diego's scalp in his hands.

To pleas that he forsake his mission and sail away to safer shores, Fray Luis had but one answer.

Where his comrades in the faith, acting under his orders, had fallen, there would he remain. Though storms prevented him from landing for two days, he refused to accept the assertions of his shipmates that the storms were sent by God to keep him from a death among savages. And, at 'last, through the lashing and roaring of sea and wind, he came again to shore. Armed natives painted for war could be seen grouped on the bank above the slope to the beach. "For the love of God wait a little; do not land," Fray Gregorio entreated. But Fray Luis had already leaped into the water. He turned back once, on reaching the beach, but it was to call to Gregorio or Juan to bring to him a small cross he had forgotten. When Gregorio cried, "Father, for mercy's sake, will not your reverence come for it, as there is no one here who Will take it to you," Fray Luis went on towards the hill. I At its foot he knelt in prayer for a few moments, then began the ascent. Midway the Indians closed about him, swinging their clubs. He cried out once, loudly, before their blows struck him down. Those in the boat heard his cry, and saw the savages clubbing and slashing at his body as they thrust it down the hill. Then a shower of arrows falling upon their boat made them pull away in haste to the ship. The next day the vessel set sail and, three weeks later, anchored off Vera Cruz.

Philip 11 had come to the throne the master of Europe. His father, Charles V, had been not only sovereign ruler of Spain, of the Netherlands, of Naples, of a part of central Italy, of Navarre, and Emperor of Germany by election, but he had hoped to become master of England also and to leave in his heir's hands a world all Spanish and all Catholic. Philip 11 inherited his father's power and his father's dream. If his natural abilities were less, his obstinacy and his zeal were greater. He had seen the march of Spanish power not unattended by affronting incidents. In 1520 a monk named Luther had defied Philip's father, the Emperor, to his face. The Reformation was spreading. Huguenots were powerful in the domestic politics of France; and France was threatening Spain's American possessions. Her fishermen had passed yearly in increasing numbers between the Banks of Newfoundland and their home ports. And a mariner of several cross-sea voyages, one Jacques Cartier, had discovered the St. Lawrence River and had set off again in 1540 to people "a country called Canada."

But these voyages of discovery were not the worst of France's insults to Spain. French pirates had formed the habit of darting down on Spanish treasure ships and appropriating their contents. They had also sacked Spanish ports in the islands. Many of these pirates were Huguenots, "Lutheran heretics," as the Spaniards called them. Another danger also was beginning to appear on the horizon, though it was as yet but a speck. It hailed from England, whose mariners were beginning to fare forth into all seas for trade and plunder. They were trending towards the opinion of King Francis of France, that God had not created the gold of the New World only for Castilians. A train of Spanish treasure displayed in London had set more than one stout seaman to head-scratching over the inequalities of this world and how best to readjust the balances. There was reason enough, then, for Philip's fear that large portions of the New World might readily be snatched from Spain by heretical seamen; and Philip was as fierce in the pursuit of his own power as in his zeal for his religion.

The slow-moving treasure fleets from Mexico and Havana sailed past Florida through the Bahama Channel, which Ponce de Leon had discovered, and on to the Azores and Spain. The channel was not only the favorite hunting place of pirates-so that the Spanish treasure ships no longer dared go singly but now combined for protection; it was also the home of storms. The fury of its winds had already driven too many vessels laden with gold upon the Florida coast, where as yet there were no ports of succor. Cargoes had thus been wholly lost, and sailors and passengers murdered by the savages. To these dangers was added the fear that the French designed to plant a colony on the Florida coast near the channel, so that they might seize Spanish vessels in case of war, for not one could pass without their seeing it.

So, on Philip's order, Viceroy Velasco bestirred himself to raise a colony, not only for Coosa but for some other point in Florida. The other point selected was Santa Elena, now Port Royal, South Carolina. When all was ready, the company comprised no less than fifteen hundred persons. Of the twelve captains in the force, six had been with De Soto. In the party there were Coosa women who had followed the Spaniards to Mexico. They were now homeward bound. At the head of the colony went Tristan de Luna y Arellano, the same Don Tristan who had been Coronado's second in command in the Cibola enterprise eighteen years before. The departure of the expedition was celebrated with great pomp. Velasco himself crossed the mountains to Vera Cruz to see it off.

But this expedition was to be another record of disaster and failure. Arellano brought his fleet to anchor in Pensacola Bay; and thence dispatched three vessels for Santa Elena. Before his supplies were unloaded, a tremendous hurricane swept the Bay and destroyed most of his ships with great loss of life. So violent was the storm that it tossed one vessel, like a nutshell, upon the green shore. Some of the terror-struck soldiers saw the shrieking demons of Hell striding the low' racing., black clouds. The outguards of the storm attacked the three ships bound for the Carolina coast and drove them south, so that they returned to Mexico by way of Cuba.

The survivors at Pensacola Bay were soon in straits for food. So Arellano, leaving a garrison on the coast, sent about a thousand of his colonists—men, women, and children—to Santa Cruz de Nanipacna, forty leagues inland on a large river, probably in Monroe County, Alabama. But these colonists in the fruitful land were like the seventeen-year locusts; they ate everything from the Indians' stores of maize and beans to palmshoots, acorns, and grass seeds—but produced nothing. And soon an exploring band of three hundred was sent on towards famed Coosa in search of more food. They reached it after a hundred days of weary marching over De Soto's old trail. Though the natives had small reason to love De Soto's countrymen, they treated the Spaniards well and fed them bountifully all summer. Twelve men, sent back to Nanipacna with reports, reached that place at last, to find only a deserted camp and a letter saying that the famished colony had returned to Pensacola. When Arellano wished to go to Coosa to see for himself if it were suitable for a colony, his people mutinied. The malcontents sent a spurious order to the explorers at Coosa to return; and in November, 1560, after more than a year in the interior, the little band joined the main body at Pensacola.

Two ships, which Arellano had sent home for aid, reached Mexico safely. The Viceroy immediately sent provisions for the colonists and a new leader, Angel de Villafane, to replace Arellano and to enjoy those high-sounding but, so far, empty titles bestowed upon the successive Governors of Florida. Villafane's orders were to move the colonists to Santa Elena. Pensacola was too far westward for Philip's chief purpose; the most important matter was to establish a colony on the Atlantic seaboard where it could keep a watchful eye on the French, should they venture too far south of Cartier's river. Fray Gregorio de Beteta, who had been with Fray Luis Cancer of martyr fame, accompanied Villafane in the hope that the natives of Carolina would prove less recalcitrant than those about Tampa Bay. Villafane provisioned the garrison at Pensacola and then set sail for Santa Elena. At Havana many of his followers deserted him; but, in May, with the residue, he reached the Carolina coast. He explored as far as Cape Hatteras, but found no site which be considered suitable for colonization. So be abandoned the project and returned to Espanola in July, 1561. A ship was soon dispatched to remove the garrison left at Pensacola.

The failure of the Spaniards thus far to effect a settlement on the coast of the Atlantic mainland of North America is readily explicable. In the islands, in Mexico, and South America, the Spaniards flourished because of the precious metals and the docility of the natives. On the northern mainland they found no mines, and the Indians would not submit to enslavement. They traversed a rich game country and great tracts of fertile soil which, later, the English settler's rifle and plow were to make sustaining and secure to the English race. But the Spaniards, accustomed in America to living off the supplies and labor of submissive natives, were not allured by the prospect of taming tall Creek warriors, or of tilling the soil and hunting game to maintain themselves in the wilderness. They had astounding enterprise and courage for any rainbow trail that promised a pot of gold at the end of it, but little for manual labor.

When news of Villafane's failure reached Spain, Philip decided against any further attempts to colonize Florida for the time being. He was reassured, as to France, because the French as yet had not made any firm foothold on American soil. There seemed little to alarm him in the steady increase of their fishing vessels, alongside those of Spain, in Newfoundland waters, or in the small trade in the furs the fishermen were bringing homeless yearly. He could not foresee that not the pot of gold but the beaver was to lead to the solution of the Northern Mystery and to spread colonies from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Moreover, thought the King, where Spaniards had failed, Frenchmen could not succeed. SO, in September, 1561, Philip issued his declaration with regard to the northern coast. It is interesting to note that he was largely influenced to this decision by the advice of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who was very shortly to change both his own mind and Philip's . But no doubt he relied more on the treaty signed in 1559 between himself and Henry II of France, under which France surrendered booty from Spanish ships and ports, said— perhaps somewhat extravagantly—to equal in value a third of the kingdom; and on his own marriage by proxy in the same year to the French princess Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine de' Medici.

But Philip's policy of hands off Florida was destined to speedy reversal, to meet the exigency of a new intrusion into Spanish domains. A year had not passed when Jean Ribaut of Dieppe led a colony of French Huguenots to Port Royal, South Carolina, the very Santa Elena which Villafane, less than a year before, bad tried to occupy for Spain. Ribaut's enterprise dismally failed, it is true, but two years later Coligny, Admiral of France, a Huguenot, and the uncompromising foe of Spain, sent a second colony under Rene de Laudonniere. And a French settlement was founded, protected by Fort Caroline, on St. John's River, in the land of which Ponce de Leon bad taken solemn possession for Spain.

The enthusiastic reports made by these French pioneers are proof that not alone the Spanish fancy ran astray in the face of tales that were told in the American wilds. Ribaut heard of the Seven Cities of Cibola; but Laundonniere went him one better, for one of his scouts, while exploring the country round about, actually saw and conversed with men who had drunk at the Fountain of Youth, and had already comfortably passed their first quarter of a thousand years.

But Laudonniere's artistic sense did not fit him to lead a colony made up chiefly of ex-soldiers—and including both Huguenots and Catholics, who had so recently been in armed strife on their home soil. Men who tilled the ground had been omitted from the roster; the artisans could not turn farmers on the instant; and the soldiers had no inclination to beat their swords into plowshares so long as Spanish treasure ships sailed the Bahama Channel. Laudonniere offended the Indians nearby by trying to make friends with their foes as well and forcing them to set free some captives, and so was presently in straits for food. Some of his men mutinied, seized two barques, and went out on a pirate raid. One of their vessels with thirty-three men aboard was captured by the Spaniards and the men hanged in return for their seizure of a Spanish ship and the killing of a judge aboard of her. The other barque returned to Fort Caroline and Laudonniere had the ringleaders executed. Only ten days' supply of food was left, when one morning, like gulls rising against the sun, four strange sails fluttered over the horizon. Instead of Spaniards bent on war, the visitor, who sailed his fleet into the river's mouth, proved to be the English sea-dog, John Hawkins. Master Hawkins had been marketing a cargo of Guinea Coast blacks in the islands where, by a suggestive display of swords and arquebuses, he had forced the Spaniards to meet his prices and to give him a "testimoniall of his good behauior" while in their ports.

Hawkins fed and wined the French settlers and offered to carry them away safely to French soil. But Laudonniere, not knowing whether France was at peace or war with England, was afraid, to trust the generous pirate. So far from resenting Laudonniere's suspicions, Hawkins, no doubt thinking that, in like circumstances, he would be equally cautious, agreed to sell a vessel at whatever price the Frenchman should name. And he threw into the bargain provisions and fifty pairs of shoes, so that Laudonniere, in his memoir, descants much upon this "good and charitable man."

Grave reports of Laudonniere's mismanagement reached Coligny and decided him to send Jean Ribaut again to take command. Ribaut, with his son Jacques and three hundred more colonists, chiefly soldiers, set sail on May 23, 1565. On the eve of departure Ribaut received a letter from Coligny, saying that a certain Don Pedro Menendez was leaving Spain for the coast of "New France"—such the French declared to be the name of the coast south of the St. Lawrence. Coligny sternly counseled Ribaut not to suffer Menendez to " encroach " upon him " no more than he would that you should encroach upon him."

If the settlement at Port Royal bad been a disquieting intrusion, Fort Caroline, under the very nose of Havana and on the path of the treasure fleets, was an imminent menace to New Spain. Its import was plainly stated in the reports to Philip from Mexico. The sum of all that can be said in the matter, is that they put the Indies in a crucible, for we are compelled to pass in front of their port, and with the greatest ease they can sally out with their armadas to seek us, and easily return home when it suits them." In urging action before Coligny could send Ribaut to relieve the colonists, the same report continued: "seeing that they are Lutherans . . . it is not needful to leave a man alive, but to inflict an exemplary punishment, that they may remember it forever."

While French depredations had been protested by Philip's envoy to France, the matter had not been pushed to a rupture, because Philip desired to enlist the aid of Catherine. Catherine also was forced to temporize. She needed Philip's support to maintain her position of power in France between Catholic Leaguer and Huguenot, but she dared not, for his friendship, go so far as to interfere with Coligny's designs on Florida, lest even the French Catholics turn against her; for they too had caught the Admiral's vision of a France once more great, rich, and glorious. It suited her therefore to make answer that the French ships were bound for a country discovered by France and known as

I Lowery, Florida, p. 105.

the Terre des Bretons and would in no way molest the territories of Spain!

Ribaut reached Fort Caroline while Laudonniere and his men were still there. With the arrival of his ships, bringing three hundred more colonists, plans for evacuation were abandoned.

To expel and castigate the French and to plant his own power solidly in Florida, Philip had at last picked a man who would not fail. Menendez was already a sea-soldier of note and had rendered signal and distinguished services to the Crown. He was a nobleman of the Asturias, where "the earth and sky bear men who are honest, not tricksters, truthful, not babllers, most faithful to the King, generous, friendly, light-hearted, and merry, daring, and warlike." During the recent wars, as a naval officer, he had fought the French; and later, off his home coasts and off the Canaries, he had defeated French pirate ships.

Menendez's contract was a typical conquistador's agreement. His chance to serve the King was a certainty. His profits were a gamble. The title of adelantado of Florida granted him was made hereditary. His salary of two thousand ducats yearly was to be collected from rents and products of the colony. He was given a grant of land twenty-five miles square, with the title of Marquis, and two fisheries—one of pearls—wherever he should select them. He was to have a few ships of his own to trade with some of the islands and was absolved from certain import and export duties, and for five years he was to retain whatever spoils he found aboard the pirate vessels he captured. Apart from a loan from Philip of fifteen thousand ducats, which he bound himself to repay, he was to bear all the expenses of the venture about $1,800,000. His fleet was to contain, besides the San Pelayo of six hundred tons, six sloops of fifty tons each and four smaller vessels for use in the shallow waters of Florida. His colonists were to number five hundred, of which one hundred must be soldiers, one hundred sailors, and the rest artisans, officials, and farmers; and two hundred of them must be married. He was to take four Jesuit priests and ten or twelve friars. He was to parcel out the land to settlers and to build two towns, each to contain one hundred citizens and to be protected by a fort. He was also to take about five hundred negro slaves, half of whom were to be women. Above all he was to see that none of his colonists were Jews or secret heretics. And he "Gentlemen, from where does this fleet come?" he demanded, as we are told, "very courteously."

"From France," came the answer from Ribaut's flagship.

"What are you doing here?"

"Bringing infantry, artillery, and supplies for a fort which the King of France has in this country, and for others which he is going to make."

"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"

"Lutherans, and our general is Jean Ribaut."

In answer to like questions from the French ship, Menendez made reply: "I am the General; my name is Pedro Menendez de Aviles. This is the armada of the King of Spain, who has sent me to this coast and country to burn and hang the Lutheran French who should be found there, and ,in the morning I will board your ships; and if I find any Catholics they will be well treated."'

In the pause which followed this exchange of courtesies—"a stillness such as I have never heard since I came to the world," says the Spanish chaplain—the French cut their cables and, passing through the midst of the Spanish fleet, made off to sea. Menendez gave chase. But the French

* This conversation is quoted by Lowery in Florida, pp. 156.

ships were too swift for him. So at dawn he returned to the river's mouth. But, seeing the three other French vessels within the bar and soldiers massed on the bank, he withdrew and sailed back to St. Augustine. Here he began the fortification of a large Indian house, dug a trench about it, and bulwarked it with logs and earth. This converted Indian dwelling was the beginning of the settlement of St. Augustine. The work finished and the last of the colonists and supplies landed, Menendez took formal possession. From a distance the French ships watched the landing of the Spanish troops; then made off to St. John's River.

On arrival at Fort Caroline Ribaut gathered his vessels together—except his son's, which had not returned—and, taking aboard four hundred soldiers, set out again, to attack St. Augustine. He left only two hundred and forty men at Fort Caroline; and many of them were ill. His plans were made against the advice of Laudonniere, left in command of the fort, who urged the danger of his situation should contrary winds drive Ribaut's ships out to sea and the Spaniards make an attack by land. These forebodings were prophetic. A terrible wind arose which blew for days. And Menendez, guided by Indians and a French prisoner he had picked up in the islands, marched overland upon Fort Caroline.

On the 20th of September just before daybreak Menendez reached the fort. Most of the men inside were asleep. The trumpeter on the bastion had barely sounded the alarm before the Spaniards were inside the walls. The French bad no time to don clothes or armor. In their shirts or naked they seized their swords and rushed out into the gray light of the court. Within an hour one hundred and thirty-two French had been killed, and half a dozen men and fifty women and children captured. The remaining French, many of them wounded, escaped to the woods; among them was Laudonniere. It was not a fight but a massacre. Even the very sick were dragged out and slain. One woman who escaped had a dagger wound in her breast; though Menendez had given orders to spare the women and children, fearing "that our Lord would punish me, if I acted towards them with cruelty."

Twenty-six French, including Laudoniere, were rescued by the ships of Jacques Ribaut and ultimately reached France. Some twenty more, too badly hurt to travel fast, were discovered by the men sent out by Menendez to beat the brush thoroughly for fugitives and run through with swords. One lone man, a belated Cabeza de Vaca, made his way across the country from tribe to tribe and came out at Panuco. After a brief rest at the post, which he rechristened Fort San Mate , Menendez marched swiftly back to St. Augustine. He learned presently that one hundred and forty men from two French ships wrecked by the storm were nearby. They had lost two hundred of their comrades, drowned, killed, or captured by savages; they themselves were destitute. Menendez made a quick march to the spot. When the castaways pleaded that their lives be spared until the arrival of a French ship to take them home, Menendez answered that he was " waging a war of fire and blood against all who came to settle these parts and plant in them their evil Lutheran sect... For this reason I would not grant them a safe passage, but would sooner follow them by sea and land until I had taken their lives.",

An offer of five thousand ducats for their lives met with the ambiguous reply that mercy would be shown for its own sake and Dot for price. So the read the Spanish reports of this event. French reports state that Menendez, to induce the one

* Ruidiaz, La Florida, vol. 11, p. 89.

hundred and forty men to surrender themselves, their arms, and ammunition without a blow, gave his oath to spare their lives and to send the-in to France. However that may be, they surrendered. The chaplain discovered ten Catholics among them and these were set apart. The remaining one hundred and thirty were given food and drink and were then told that—as a precaution because of their numbers—they must consent to have their hands bound behind them on the march to St. Augustine. Menendez ordered a meal prepared for the prisoners, gave his final instructions regarding them to the officers in charge, and went on ahead. A gunshot's distance off, beyond a hummock, he paused long enough to draw a line with his spear in the white sand of the flat. Then he went on. The heavy dusk from the sea was massing swiftly behind the Frenchmen, and the last faint flush of the afterglow was fading from the western sky, when they came up abreast of the spearline in the sand. There the Spaniards fell upon them, slew, and decapitated them. The stain on the ground where this bloody scene was enacted is ineradicable, and after three and a half centuries the place is still known as Las Matanzas (The Massacre).

Shortly after Menendez had reached St. Augus tine, Indians informed him that Jean Ribaut and two hundred men were at Matanzas, having been cut off there, as the other Frenchmen had been, by the inlet, as they were attempting to reach Fort Caroline by land. Menendez set out immediately. Once more were the same ceremonies repeated, and Ribaut and his two hundred men were induced to surrender. When, with their hands bound, they were halted at the spear-line, now more clearly indicated by the heap of corpses along it, they were asked: "Are you Catholics or Lutherans, and are there any who wish to confess?" Seventeen Catholics were found and set aside. But Ribaut. the staunch Huguenot mariner of Dieppe, had been too long familiar with the menace of death to recant because a dagger was poised over his entrails. He answered for himself and the rest, saying that a score of years of life were a small matter, for "from earth we came and unto earth we return." Then he recited passages from Psalm cxxxii. One of Menendez's captains thrust his dagger into Ribaut's bowels, and Meras, the adelantado's brother-in-law, drove his pike through his breast; then they hacked off his head,

" I put Jean Ribaut and all the rest of them to the knife," Menendez wrote to Philip, "judging it to be necessary to the service of the Lord Our God, and of Your Majesty. And I think it a very great fortune that this man be dead . . . he could do more in one year than another in ten; for he was the most experienced sailor and corsair known, very skillful in this navigation of the Indies and of the Florida Coast."'

Some there were, of course, among his officers at St. Augustine, and among the nobility in Spain, who condemned Menendez for his cruelty and for slaying the captives after having given his oath for their safety. But Barrientos, a contemporary historian, holds that be was "very merciful" to them for be could "legally have burnt them alive . . . He killed them, I think, rather by divine inspiration." And Philip's comment, scribbled by his pen on the back of Menendez's dispatch, was: "As to those he has killed he has done well, and as to those he has saved, they shall be sent to the galleys." 2 And he wrote to Menendez, "We hold that we have been well served."

The name of Menendez is popularly associated in America almost solely with this inhuman episode. But the expulsion of the French was only an

* Lowery, Florida, P. 200. 2 Lowery, Florida, p. 206

incident in a work covering nearly ten years, dur. ing which time Menendez proved himself an able and constructive administrator, as well as a vigor. ous soldier, and laid the foundation of a Spanish colony on the northern mainland which endured. Menendez was a dreamer, as are all men of vision, and he pictured a great future for his Florida—which to him meant the whole of northeastern America. He would fortify the Peninsula to prevent any foreigner from gaining control of the Bahama Channel, that highway of the precious treasure fleets; he would ascend the Atlantic coast and occupy Santa Elena, where the French had intruded, and the Bay of Santa Maria (Chesapeake Bay), for, since one of its arms was perhaps the long-sought northern passage, the bay might prove to be the highway to the Moluccas, much endangered now by the activities of the French. The other extremity, on the Pacific, it was hoped, might be discovered by Legazpi, who shortly before had started on his way to conquer the Philippine Islands. This accomplished, then away with France and her Bacallaos (St. Lawrence) River, which, after all, Cartier and Roberval had found .untenable. To approach Mexico, Menendez would 'Occupy Appalachee Bay, and plant a colony at

Coosa, 99 at the foot of the mountains which come from the mines of Zacatecas and San Martin," where Francisco de lbarra was at this very moment engaged in carving out the Kingdom of New Biscay. Finally, Menendez had great hopes of economic prosperity, for silkworms, vineyards, mines, pearls, sugar plantations, wheat and rice fields, herds of cattle, salines, ship timber, and pitch would make Florida not only self-supporting but richer "than New Spain or even Peru."

Vast and unified in vision were these contemporaneous projects of Philip and his men, embracing the two oceans and reaching from Spain to the Philippine Islands. The tasks of Menendez in La Florida, Ibarra in New Biscay, and Legaspi in the Philippines were all but parts of one great whole, and Florida, said Menendez, with a twentieth-century contempt for distance and a Spanish disregard of time, "is but a suburb of Spain, for it does not take more than forty days' sailing to come here, and usually as many more to return."

Within two years Menendez had established a line of posts between Tampa Bay and Santa Elena (Port Royal) and had made an attempt to colonize Virginia. But this work had not been done without setbacks. Disease and the adventurer's dislike of manual labor—the same enemies that so nearly wrecked the English settlement at Jamestown several decades later—played their part in hampering the growth of the Florida settlements. When the colonies might perhaps have been in a degree self-supporting, it was still necessary to import all their supplies. Over a hundred colonists died at St. Augustine and San Mateo (Fort Caroline); the attitude of others was fairly expressed in the statement of some deserters, that they had not come there to plow and plant but to find riches and, since no riches were to be found, they would no longer live in Florida "like beasts." From the principal settlements over three hundred men absconded; one hundred and thirty belonging to St. Augustine seized a supply ship and made off in it. But Menendez's forces were strengthened by over a thousand colonists from Spain. The foothold in Florida had been won.

Meanwhile Menendez had turned to inland exploration. While at Santa Elena in 1566, he sent Juan Pardo with twenty-five men "to discover and conquer the interior country from there to Mexico." Menendez aimed to join hands with the advance guard of pioneers in New Biscay. Going northward through Orista at forty leagues Pardo apparently struck the Cambahee River. Turning west he visited Cufitachiqui, where De Soto had dallied with the "queen" a quarter century before. A few days later he was at Juala, on a stream near the foot of the Alleghanies. The mountain being covered with snow, he could not proceed, so he built a stockade, called Fort San Juan, and left there a garrison under Sergeant Boyano. Going cast to Guatare (Wateree), he left there a priest and four soldiers, and returned by a direct route to Santa Elena. He had thus extended the work of De Soto by exploring a large part of South Carolina and adding considerably to the knowledge of North Carolina.

Conversion of the natives was an essential part of Menendez's scheme to pacify and hold the country. He had, as yet, no missionaries; so he detailed some of his soldiers to the work, and, in 1566, by much urging, he induced Philip to equip and send three Jesuits to Florida. The three were Father Martinez, Father Rogel, and Brother Villareal. Their mission began in disaster. Father Martinez was killed by Indians and the other two withdrew temporarily to the West Indies. On their return, Menendez established Father Rogel with a garrison of fifty soldiers at San Antonio, on Charlotte Bay, in the territory of the cacique Carlos, and Brother Villareal, also with a garrison, at Tegesta on the Miami River mouth at Biscayne Bay.

Menendez had now established three permanent settlements on the Atlantic coast—St. Augustine and San Mateo in Florida and Santa Elena in South Carolina; and he bad garrisoned forts at Guale in northern Georgia, at Tampa and Charlotte Bays on the west coast of the peninsula, and at Biscayne Bay and the St. Lucie River on the east coast. From these points Spaniards would now command the routes of the treasure fleets from the West Indies and from Vera Cruz. He had also projected a settlement at Chesapeake Bay, which was not fated to endure.

In May, 1567, after twenty months of continuous activity, Menendez went to Spain. There he was acclaimed as a hero. Philip made him CaptainGeneral of the West, with command of a large fleet to secure the route to the West Indies, appointed him Governor of Cuba, and created him Knight Commander of the Holy Cross of Zarza, of the order of Santiago. It was said that Menendez was greatly disappointed that his reward consisted of so many sonorous words and of so little substance, Menendez had reached his zenith. The story of his later successes is varied with disasters.

In France, among all parties, the news of the massacre of Ribaut's colony had kindled fury against the Spaniards. Even to Catherine, in that hour of humiliation, the slaughtered men in Florida were not Huguenots but French. She rejected Philip's insinuating suggestions to make Coligny the scapegoat, avowed her own responsibility, and protested bitterly the effrontery and cruelty of Philip's agent in murdering her subjects. But her position in divided France was such that Philip had the whip hand, and he couched his answers in terms to make her feel it. She dared not go beyond high words, lest he publish her as an enemy of her own Church and, by some sudden stroke at her or her invalid son, hasten the end at which all his intrigues in her kingdom aimed, namely, the complete subservience of France to the Spanish Crown.

Catherine could not avenge the wrong; but Dominique de Gourgues could. Gourgues was an ex-soldier and a citizen of good family; his parents were Catholics and he is not known to have been a Protestant. He had been captured in war by the Spaniards and had been forced to serve as a galley slave. Now to his own grievance was added that of his nation; and he chose to avenge both. It is possible that he did not have the aid of the Queen and Coligny in raising his expedition -ostensibly to engage in the slave trade—but quite probable that he did. He timed his stroke to fall during the absence of Menendez in Spain. With one hundred and eighty men he went out in August, 1567, and spent the winter trading in the West Indies. Early next year he proceeded to Florida, landed quietly near St. John's River and made an alliance with Chief Saturiba, who was hostile to the Spaniards but an old friend of the French. Saturiba received him with demonstrations of joy, called his secondary chiefs to a war council, and presented Gourgues with a French lad whom his tribe bad succored and concealed from the Spaniards since the time of Ribault. L.

His force augmented by Saturiba's warriors, Gourgues marched stealthily upon San Mateo. The Spaniards in the outpost blockhouses had just dined "and were still picking their teeth" when Gourgues's cry rang out:

"Yonder are the thieves who have stolen this land from our King. Yonder are the murderers to who have massacred our French. On! On! Let us avenge our King! Let us show that we are Frenchmen! "

The garrison in the first blockhouse, sixty in all, were killed or captured. The men in the second blockhouse met the same fate; and the French pushed on towards San Mateo fort itself, their fury having been increased by the sight of French cannon on the blockhouses reminders of Fort Caroline. The Spaniards at San Mateo had received warning. A number had made off towards St. Augustine; the remaining garrison opened artillery fire upon the French. The trees screened the Indian allies; and the Spaniards, in making a sortie, were caught between the two forces. "As many as possible were taken alive, by Captain Gourgues's order, to do to them what they had done to the French," says the report. The completion of Gourgues's revenge is thus related: " They are swung from the branches of the same trees on which they had bung the French, and in place of the inscription which Pedro Menendez had put up containing these words in Spanish, I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to Lutherans, Captain Gourgues causes to be inscribed with a hot iron on a pine tablet: I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to Lutherans, Captain Gourgues causes to be inscribed with a hot iron on a pine tablet: I do this not as to Spaniards nor as to Marranos [secret Jews] but as to traitors, robbers, and murderers."

Gourgues now turned homeward. On the way he captured three Spanish treasure ships, threw their crews overboard, and took their contents of gold, pearls, merchandise, and arms. With a hideous vindictiveness on land and water had he repaid Spaniards for the massacre of his countrymen on Florida soil and for his own degradation as a slave in their galleys on the sea. And he, too, like Menendez, stepping red-handed upon his native shores, was acclaimed as a hero.

Troubles now came fast upon the Spaniards in Florida. Indians rose and massacred the soldiers at Tampa Bay. The garrison at San Antonio was compelled by hunger and the hostility of the natives to withdraw to St. Augustine. In rapid succession, the interior posts established by Pardo and Boyano were destroyed by the Indians, or abandoned to save provisions. By 1570 Indian rancor and shortage of food bad forced numbers of the colonists to leave the country.

* Lowery, Florida, p. 333. There seems to be no proof that Menendez had hanged Frenchmen at Fort Caroline with this inscription over them; but the report that he had done so was believed in France. Spanish accounts do, not mention it.

The missionaries succeeded little better than the soldiers; though Menendez had sent out fourteen more Jesuits from Spain, in 1568, under Father Juan Bautista de Segura. Father Rogel, driven from San Antonio and then from Santa Elena, returned to Havana. Father Sedeno and some five companions went to Guale (Georgia) where they labored for a year with some success. Brother Domingo translated the catechism into the native Guale tongue and Brother Baez compiled a grammar, the first written in the United States. Father Rogel went to Santa Elena, where he founded a mission at Orista, some five leagues from the settlement of San Felipe. He succeeded well for several months, but finally the Indians became hostile and, when the commander levied a tribute of provisions to feed the hungry settlers, they rebelled, and Father Rogel was forced to withdraw to Havana (1570). About the same time and for like reasons the missionaries abandoned Guale.

Though he had failed on the peninsula and on the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, Father Segura did not give up, but transferred his efforts to Chesapeake Bay, where, with six other Jesuits, he founded a mission at Axacan, perhaps on the Rappahannock. But within a few months the fickle Indians turned against them and slew Se gura and his entire band (1571). On his return from Spain Menendez went to Chesapeake Bay and avenged the death of the missionaries by hanging eight Indians to the yardarms of his ship.

The Jesuits, after the martyrdom of Segura, abandoned the field of Florida for Mexico. But, in 1573, nine Franciscans began work in this unpromising territory. Others came in 1577 and, in 1593, twelve more arrived under Father Juan de Silva. From their monastery at St. Augustine they set forth and founded missions along the northern coasts. Fray Pedro Chozas made wide explorations inland; and Father Pareja began his famous work on the Indian languages. By 1615 more than twenty mission stations were erected in the region today comprised in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The story of these Franciscan missions, though it is little known, is one of self -sacrifice, religious zeal, and heroism, scarcely excelled by that of the Jesuits in Canada or the Franciscans in California. It is recorded in the mute but eloquent ruins scattered here and there along the Atlantic coast.

In 1579, Menendez left America. He was first of all a seaman; and he was called home to assist FloIvalot Philip in the preparation of the great Armada which the King was slowly getting ready. But Menendez did not live to command the Armada, for he died in 1574. His body was carried to the Church of St. Nicholas in Aviles and placed in a niche on the Gospel side of the altar. His tomb is marked with this inscription: "Here lies interred the very illustrious cavalier Pedro Men! de Aviles, native of this town, Adelantado of the Provinces of Florida, Commander of the Holy Cross of La Carca of the Order of Santiago and Cn Gent' of the Ocean Sea and of the Catholic Armada which the Lord Philip II. assembled against England in the year 1574, at Santander, where he died on the 17th of September of the said year being fifty-five years of age.

At the time when Menendez returned to Spain, Philip's intrigues in France reached their logical culmination in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the end of Coligny. France, again in the agonies of civil strife, was no longer a menace. The new shadow on his horizon was England -England with her growing navy and her Protestant faith: and her Queen, who was as expert a politician as any man sent by Spain to her court, and more subtle then Philip himself. "This woman is possessed by a hundred thousand devils," the Spanish envoy wrote to his King. During the years while England, after the upheavals of Mary's reign, was becoming stable and waxing strong, Elizabeth's dexterity kept Philip halting from any one of the deadly blows be might have struck at her. By her brilliant wit and her mendacity she kept him pondering when he should have been acting. She worked upon his religious zeal and his vanity by letting herself be surprised by his envoy with a crucifix in her hands, or blushing with a pretty confusion over Philip's portraits; and by these and other methods she kept him from bringing his intrigues among her Catholic subjects to a head, lessened his support of Mary Stuart, and caused him to put off his designs for her own assassination. But this play could not go on forever. The piracies of the English sea-dogs, the honoring by Elizabeth of Francis Drake on his return from looting Spanish ships and "taking possession" of the North Pacific coast as New Albion, the attempts of Raleigh and White to plant colonies in Virginia and Guiana, and later the sacking of Santo Domingo and Cartagena and the destruction of St. Augustine by Drake, and, finally, the persecution of the Jesuits in England, at last spurred Philip to combat. By the Pope, who had issued a Bull of Deposition against Elizabeth, he had long been urged to conquer renegade England; and Mary Stuart had bequeathed to him her "rights" as sovereign of that kingdom. And Philip had seen that his distant colonies could not be defended unless he were sole King of the Ocean Sea.

So the destiny of North America was decided on the North Sea, in July, 1588, in the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Sir Francis Drake. The mastery of the ocean passed from Spain to England. The waterways were open now for English colonists to seek those northern shores which Spain had failed to occupy. In time the sparse settlements in the Spanish province of Florida came to be hemmed in on the north by the English colonies in Georgia and South Carolina and Alabama, and stopped on the west by the French colony of Louisiana.

Jamestown, 1607; Charleston, 1670; Savannah, 1733: thus the English advanced relentlessly. And in 1763, following the Seven Years' War, in which Spain fought on the side of France, the English expelled Spain from Florida entirely. Spain's recovery of her foothold there during the American Revolution, and her struggle afterwards to hold back the oncoming tide of the now independent Anglo-Americans, profited her nothing in the end; for in 1819, two hundred and twelve years after Jamestown, all that remained to Spain of her old province of Florida passed to the United States.

Excerpt from "The Spanish Borderlands" by Herbert E. Bolton. Published 1921 by Yale University Press.


Home > Floripedia > Explorers of Florida

Exploring Florida: A Social Studies Resource for Students and Teachers
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 2005.