A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part I, Chapter 7." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 7
HOW THE FLAG OF FRANCE WAS PLANTED IN FLORIDA

AS years went on many voyages of discovery and exploration were made to the New World by both the Spaniards and the Portuguese, but chiefly by the Spaniards. America was the land of golden hopes, the land of splendid adventure, and the haughty knights of Spain, thirsting for gold and for fame, were lured thither. They sought the fabled seven cities of gold, they sought the fountain of eternal youth. Through the dark pathless forests, across the wide prairies they flashed in glittering array, awaking the vast silences with the clash of arms. They came in all the pomp and splendour of warfare; they brought also the Cross of Christ, threatening the heathen with death if they did not bow to Him and be baptised. And it seemed for a time as if they, and they only, would possess the vast continent. But expedition after expedition ended in disaster. The Spaniards found neither the far-famed seven cities nor the fountain of youth. And the Redmen, instead of accepting their religion, hated them and it with a deep hatred.

Spanish knights seek gold and fame;

But the Spaniards were not long left in undisputed possession of America. The French King too desired to have new lands across the seas, and he saw no reason why Spain and Portugal should divide the New World between them.

the French desire new lands;

"I would fain see Father Adam's will," he said, "in which he made you the sole heirs to so vast an inheritance. Until I do see that, I shall seize as mine whatever my good ships may find upon the ocean. "

 

From France, therefore, daring men sailed forth to the New World. And there they set up the arms of their country, claiming broad lands for their King.

 

And now came the time when all Christian lands were torn asunder by religious strife. The Reformation had begun, and everywhere there was discord between the people who followed the old religion and those who followed the new. In France those who followed the new religion were called Huguenots. They were often hardly used, and were denied freedom to worship God in their own way. Many of them therefore longed to get away from France, and go to some new country where they would have the freedom they desired.

the Huguenots

So a few grave, stern men gathered together and determined to set out for some place in the New World where they might make a home.

 

Then one February day in 1562 two little ships sailed away from France. Westward they sailed until about two and a half months later they landed in what is now Florida.

set sail 1562;

It was May Day, the sun shone and all the world seemed gay and green, and these Protestant adventurers thought they had never seen so fair a land. It was, they said, the fairest, fruitfullest and pleasantest of all the world, "abounding in honey, venison and wildfowl." The natives were friendly and told the newcomers by signs that the seven golden cities were not far off. That rejoiced their hearts, for even those stern old Huguenots were not above following the quest for gold.

they arrive in Florida

Here then in this far-off land the Huguenots set up a stone pillar carved with the arms of the King of France. And kneeling round it they gave thanks to God for having brought them to so fair a country. Then returning to their ships they sailed northward along the coast. For they had not come to settle, but merely to explore, and find out a good spot on which to found a colony.

 

But the land seemed so fair, the air so balmy, that they were ready to settle there at once, and never return to France.

 

At length after inspecting several places the adventurers reached a spot not far from what is now Beaufort in South Carolina. Here they landed, and knowing that many of the men were already eager to remain in this beautiful country, Jean Ribaut, their leader, resolved to found a colony. So he called them all together, and speaking wise and brave words to them asked who among them would remain.

 

"Declare your minds freely unto me," he said, "and remember that if you decide to remain you will for ever be famous, and be known as the first white men who inhabited this land."

Ribaut founds a colony;

Ribaut had scarcely finished speaking when nearly all the men replied with a shout, "We ask nothing better than to remain in this beautiful country."

 

Indeed so many were anxious to remain that Ribaut had enough to do to persuade a sufficient number to man the ships to return with him.

 

In the end thirty men were chosen to remain. At once they set about building a fort which they called Charlesfort in honour of the boy King, Charles IX, who was then upon the throne.

 

The men worked so well that in a very few days the fort was so far finished that it was fit to live in. Food and ammunition were brought from the ships, and a man named Albert de la Pierria was chosen as Governor. Then for the last time Ribaut gathered all the men together and took leave of those to be left behind.

 

"Captain Albert," he said, "I have to ask you in the presence of all these men, to quit yourself so wisely in your charge, that I shall be able to commend you to your King.

he takes his leave

"And you," he said, turning to the soldiers, "I beg you to esteem Captain Albert as if he were myself, and to yield to him that obedience that a true soldier owes to his general and captain. I pray you live as brethren together without discord. And in so doing God will assist you, and bless your enterprises."

 

Then farewells were said, and Ribaut sailed away, leaving the thirty white men alone in the wilderness.

 

From north to south, from east to west, in all the vast continent there were no white men save themselves. The little company was made up of young nobles, sailors, merchants and artisans. There were no farmers or peasants among them, and when they had finished their fort none of them thought of clearing the land and sowing corn. There was no need: Ribaut would soon return, they thought, bringing with him all they required. So they made friends with the Indians, and roamed the forest wilds in search of gold and of adventures, without care for the future.

 

But the days and weeks passed and Ribaut did not return. For when he arrived home he found that France was torn with civil war, and that it was impossible to get ships fitted out to sail to America.

 

Soon the little colony began to feel the pangs of hunger. Daily they scanned the pitiless blue sea for a glimpse of Ribaut's returning sail. No sail appeared, and daily their supplies dwindled away. Had it not been for the friendly Redmen they might all have perished. For the Indians were generous, and as long as they had food themselves they shared it with their white friends. But at length they could spare no more. Indeed they had already given the Pale-faces so much food that they themselves, they said, would be forced to roam the woods in search of roots and herbs to keep them from starving until harvest was ripe. They told the Frenchmen, however, of two rich and powerful chiefs who held sway over land which lay to the south, where they might obtain endless supplies of corn and vegetables.

The colonists begin to starve;

This was indeed good news to the Frenchmen. And guided by their Indian friends they lost no time in setting out to beg food from those dusky potentates.

 

When the Frenchmen reached the wigwams of one of these chiefs they were received with great honour. They found that their Redskin friends had spoken truly. Here there was food in abundance; and after a great feast they returned joyfully to the fort, carrying with them a great supply of corn and beans, and–what was still better–a promise from the friendly chief that he would give them more food whenever they had need of it.

they seek food from the Indians

Once more the colonists rejoiced in plenty. But not for long. For the very night they arrived home their storehouse took fire, and all the food which they had brought with such joy was destroyed.

 

Again famine stared them in the face. In their plight they once more appealed to the savage chief who supplied their wants as generously as before; promising them that as long as his meal should last they should never want. So for the time being the colonists were saved from starvation.

 

But another danger now threatened them, for quarrels arose among the men. Albert de Pierria who had been set over them as captain proved to be cruel and despotic. He oppressed the men in many ways, hanging and imprisoning at will those who displeased him. Soon the men began to murmur under his tyranny. Black looks greeted Albert de Pierria: he answered them with blacker deeds. At length one day for some misdeed he banished a soldier to a lonely island, and left him there to die of hunger. This was more than the colonists could well bear. Their smouldering anger burst forth, and seizing the tyrant they put him to death. Then they chose one of their number called Nicolas Barre to be their captain.

Pierria proves a tyrant;

he is slain

They were rid of their tyrant, and that brought peace for a time to the little colony. But the men had grown to hate the place. The land which had once seemed to them so fair now seemed no better than a prison, and they longed to escape from it.

 

They had, however, no ship, and although all around them tall trees grew no one of them knew anything of ship building. Still, so strong was their desire to leave the hated spot that they resolved to build one.

 

They set to work with. a will. Soon the sound of saw and hammer awoke the silence of the forest. High and low, noble and peasant, all worked together, the Indians, even, lending a hand.

The colonists build a ship

At length their labours were over and the rough little ship was afloat. It made but a sorry appearance. The planks were rough-hewn by the hatchet, and caulked with the moss which grew in long streamers on the trees. The cordage was Indian made, and the sails were patched together from shirts and bedclothes. Never before had men thought to dare the ocean waves in so crazy a craft. But the colonists were in such eagerness to be gone that they chose rather to risk almost certain death upon the ocean than remain longer in their vast prison house.

 

So they loaded the ship with as much food as they could collect, and saying farewell to their Indian friends, they spread their patchwork sails, and glided out to sea drunken with joy at the thought of returning to France.

 

At first the wind blew fair, and the little ship sped gaily homeward. Then came a calm. The sun burned overhead, no faintest breeze stirred the slack sails, and the ship lay as if at anchor upon the glassy waters. And as the ship lay motionless the slender stock of food grew less and less. Soon there was nothing left but maize, and little of that. At first a tiny handful was each man's daily portion; then it was counted by grains. But jealously hoarded although it was the maize at length gave out, and there was nothing left to eat but their leather shoes and jerkins.

They set sail for home

They are becalmed

Then to the pain of hunger was added the pain of thirst, for the water barrels were emptied to the last drop. Unable to endure the torture some drank the sea, water and so died in madness. Beneath the burning sun every timber of the crazy little ship warped and started, and on all sides the sea flowed in. Still through all their agony the men clung to life. And sick with hunger, maddened with thirst as they were they laboured unceasingly bailing out the water. But they laboured now with despair in their hearts, and they gave up hope of ever seeing their beloved France again. Then at length the pitiless sun was overcast, a wild wind arose, and the glassy sea, whipped to fury, became a waste of foam and angry billows. The tiny vessel was tossed about helplessly and buffeted this way and that.

 

"In the turning of a hand," says an old writer, "the waves filled their vessel half full of water, and bruised it upon one side."

A storm arises

The wretched men now gave themselves up for lost. They cared no longer to bail, but cast themselves down into the bottom of the boat, and let it drift where it would. Only one man among them did not utterly lose heart. He set himself now to encourage the others, telling them that if only the wind held, in three days they would see the shores of France.

 

This man was so full of hope that at length he aroused the others from their despair. Once more they began the weary work of bailing, and in spite of all the fury of the wind and waves the little vessel kept afloat.

 

At last the storm passed. Once more the fainting wanderers righted their vessel, and turned the prow towards the shores of France. But three days passed, and no land was seen, and they became more despairing than before.

 

For now the last grain of corn was eaten, the last drop of water drunk. Mad with thirst, sick with hunger, the men strained their weary eyes over the rolling waste of waters. No land was in sight. Then a terrible thought crept into one mind after another. In a low hoarse whisper one man and then another spoke out his thought–that one man should die for his fellows.

 

So deep were they sunk in woe that all were of one mind. So lots were cast, and the man upon whom the lot fell was killed.

 

These tortured wayfarers had become cannibals.

They become cannibals

Kept alive in this terrible fashion the men sailed on, and at length a faint grey streak appeared on the horizon. It was the long-looked-for shore of France. But the joy was too great for their over-strained minds. The sight of land seemed to rob them of all power of thought or action. With salvation in sight they let the little vessel drift aimlessly this way and that.

 

While they thus drifted aimlessly a white sail hove in sight, and an English vessel bore down upon them. In the English vessel there happened to be a Frenchman who had sailed with Ribaut on his first voyage to Florida. He soon recognised his countrymen in spite of their sorry plight, and they were brought aboard the English vessel. And when they had been given food and drink, and were somewhat revived, they told their tale of misery.

They are rescued

The Englishmen were in doubt for some time as to what it was best to do. In the end they decided to set the most feeble on the shores of France, and to carry the others prisoners to the Queen of England, who at that time was about to send an expedition to Florida.

 

So ended the first attempt of the French to found a colony in North America.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom