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French Colony: Destroyed

A History of Florida


Menendez. Though Philip II. had for a while lost interest in the settlement of Florida, he had no idea of really giving up any part of his lands in the New World. In 1565 he sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a brave soldier, but a very cruel one, to conquer and colonize Florida.

While Menendez was making ready to sail, news came of the Huguenot colony, and of Ribault's preparation to go to its aid. Great was the anger among the Spaniards, and as many as Menendez could take with him eagerly joined his expedition. At midsummer the vessels set sail, and they made a quiet voyage across the Atlantic. A storm scattered the fleet, however, and when Porto Rico was reached, only about a third of his forces were with Menendez.

The Landing. In too great haste to await the rest, he sailed to Florida. He sighted the coast on the day consecrated to St. Augustine, August 28, and he gave the name of that holy man to the place where he landed. He learned all the Indians could tell him of the French, then sailed about the coast to make certain where they were. Some distance to the north he sighted four vessels of Ribault. These had arrived a few days before, but were too large to cross the bar at the mouth of the river.

St. Augustine Founded. The French demanded of Menendez who he was and why he came. He replied in no gentle words that he was Menendez of Spain with orders from his king to kill and behead all Protestants in the regions about. He then said he would spare the Frenchmen who were Catholics. As Ribault's men had no wish to be killed and beheaded, and were not prepared to give battle, they cut their cables, and though long pursued by the Spaniards, escaped to the open sea.

Whom did Philip next send to Florida? When? What added zeal to this expedition? Tell of the voyage. Why was the first settlement called St. Augustine? What was the first thing Menendez did after landing? What was his reply to the inquiries of the French?

The Spaniards returned to St. Augustine. They went on shore, and, on September, took formal possession of the land for the king of Spain. After religious services, the foundation of St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States, was laid. An Indian village had occupied the site, and the chief made a present of his dwelling to the Spaniards. Around this dwelling defenses were hastily made of earth and fagots—the Spaniards learning with great surprise that no stones were to be found. Then eighty cannon were put in place, and so the hurriedly built fort was strengthened.

Spanish Cannon
Spanish Cannon

Ribault's Vessels Wrecked. The French at Fort Caroline hardly knew whether to make their defenses stronger and wait for the enemies to make the attack, or to embark on their vessels and seek the Spaniards. The latter plan was decided upon, and Ribault left only a small garrison at the fort with the women and children and the sick.

It was the season of storms. Hardly had Ribault left the harbor when a terrible gale arose. The French ships were all wrecked upon the coast, some in ore than a hundred miles south of Fort Caroline. Most of the men escaped to the shore, but were too far from the fort to make their way there.

Tell of the founding of St. Augustine. What had the place been? How did the French seek to protect Fort Caroline?

Massacre at Fort Caroline. Menendez made ready to attack Fort Caroline, now practically without defense. Swamps, lakes, creeks, and thick forests lay between the fort and St. Augustine; but through all and in the pouring rain Menendez led his men. The fight could not last long. He made a furious attack. There was a frightful massacre. Although toward the last Menendez ordered the women and children, the crippled and aged, to be spared, it was not till after many even of these had been killed.

A few of the garrison escaped to the woods. Some of these went back and gave themselves up to the mercy of the Spaniards. They were instantly put to death. The others, after great suffering, reached the seacoast. There they were taken on board two small French vessels that had remained in the harbor when the rest went out. So they escaped.

French Soldier
French Soldier

Massacre at Matanzas. Having destroyed Fort Caroline, Menendez went in search of the Frenchmen, who, the Indians told him, had been shipwrecked on the coast. Two hundred of these unfortunate men were found at Matanzas Inlet, with no means of crossing to the other side. Menendez arranged his men so that their number seemed greater than it really was. The shipwrecked men asked permission to pass the inlet and go to their friends when told of the destruction at Fort Caroline. Then, when told of the destruction of thefort, they asked to be sent home, as France and Spain the fort, they asked to he must were at peace. But Menendez would only say they must trust to his mercy, and it seemed there was nothing for them to do. Boats were sent over for them, and, ten at a time, they were brought across the inlet. They expected to be taken to St. Augustine as prisoners, but before sundown all except eight, who said they were Catholics, had been put to death.

With what result? Relate the story of the massacres.

After a few hours, Menendez learned that Ribault was at Matanzas making a raft to cross on. He hurried back, and bade Ribault and his companions to submit to his mercy as he had bade the two hundred to do. Two hundred of these felt that they could never trust him, and somehow slipped away into the woods. A few of these were later captured by the Spaniards, yet some lived to return to France. But Ribault with one hundred and fifty of his men, as the two hundred had been, were taken by tens across the inlet, then were bound and massacred. A few musicians and mechanics were spared, and those who said they were Catholics—less than twenty in all.

The noble Ribault met his death calmly and fearlessly. In a clear voice he sang a psalm. Then he said that in twenty years, more or less, he must make his final account to God and Menendez might do with him as he would. So with calm and pious courage that strengthened his comrades to the last, his life ended.

How many were murdered by Menendez at Matanzas Inlet? Who were spared?

Excerpt from Part One, Chapter Six, "How the French Colony was Destroyed" A History of Florida, 1904. Next Section; Table of Contents.


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