A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part I, Chapter 8." 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 8
HOW THE FRENCH FOUNDED A COLONY IN FLORIDA

TWO years after Ribaut's ill-fated expedition another company of Frenchmen set sail for America. This time René de Laudonnière was captain. He had been with Ribaut two years before, and now again he landed on the same spot where Ribaut had first landed, and set up the arms of France.

Laudonnière sets out, 1564;

As they saw his ship come the Indians ran down to the beach welcoming him with cries of excitement and joy, and taking him by the hand the chief led him to the pillar which Jean Ribaut had set up. It was wreathed in flowers, and baskets of corn stood before it. For the Indians looked upon it as an idol, and made offerings to it. They kissed it with a great show of reverence, and begged the Frenchmen to do the same. "Which we would not deny them," says Laudonnière, who himself tells the story, "to the end we might draw them to be more in friendship with us."

 

Laudonnière was so delighted with the natives' friendly greeting that he resolved to found his colony among these kindly Indians. So a little way up the river which Ribaut had named the river of May, but which is now the St. John's, he built a fort.

the Frenchmen land

It was late one evening in June when the Frenchmen reached the spot where they intended to build the fort; wearied with their long march through the forest they lay down upon the ground and were soon fast asleep.

 

But at day-break Laudonnière was astir. He commanded a trumpet to be sounded, and when all the men were aroused and stood together he bade them give thanks to God for their safe arrival. So standing beneath the waving palms, with the deep blue sky arching overhead, the men sang a psalm of thanksgiving and praise. Then kneeling they prayed long and earnestly.

 

The prayer ended, the men arose, and full of happy courage turned to their work. Every one took part with right good will. Some brought earth, some cut logs; there was not a man who had not a shovel or hatchet or some tool in his hand. The work went on merrily, and soon above the banks of the river the fort rose, secure and strong, fenced and entrenched on every side. In honour of their King Charles these new colonists called their fort Caroline, just as Ribaut had called his Charlesfort.

 

But as the native Chief Satouriona watched the fort grow he began to be uneasy. He wondered what these pale-faced strangers were about, and he feared lest they should mean evil towards him. So he gathered his warriors together, and one day the Frenchmen looked up from their labours to see the heights above them thick with savages in their war paint.

Satouriona

At once the Frenchmen dropped their tools and prepared to defend themselves. But Satouriona, making signs of peace, and leaving most of his warriors behind him, came down into the camp followed by a band of twenty musicians who blew ear-piercing blasts upon discordant pipes.

 

Having reached the camp Satouriona squatted on his haunches, showing that he wanted to take counsel with the Frenchmen. Then with many signs and gestures he told the Frenchmen that his great enemies the Thimagoes were near, and that if the Frenchmen wished to continue in friendship with him they must promise to help him against these powerful and hated foes.

 

Laudonnière feared to lose Satouriona's friendship. And thereupon with signs, helped out now and again with a word or two, a, treaty was made between the Indians and the Frenchmen, Laudonnière promising to help Satouriona against his enemies, the Thimagoes. With this treaty Satouriona was delighted, and he commanded his warriors to help the Frenchmen in building their fort, which they very readily did.

Laudonnière makes a treaty with the Indians

Then, mindful of his promise, as soon as the fort was finished, Laudonnière sent off some of his followers under one of his officers to find out who the Thimagoes really were of whom Satouriona spoke with such hate. Guided by some Indians, this officer soon came upon the Thimagoes. But instead of fighting with them he made friends with them, which greatly disgusted his Indian guides.

 

Meanwhile Satouriona, delighted at the idea of being able to crush his enemies with the Frenchmen's help, had gathered all his braves together and made ready for war.

 

Ten chiefs and five hundred warriors, fearful in war paint and feathers, gathered at the call. Then seeing that Laudonnière was not making any preparations for war, he sent messengers to him.

 

"Our chief has sent us," they said, "and he would know whether you will stand by your promise to show yourself a friend of his friends, an enemy of his enemies and go with him to war."

 

"Tell your chief," replied Laudonnière, "that I am not willing to purchase his friendship with the enmity of another. Notwithstanding I will go with him. But first I must gather food for my garrison, neither are my ships ready. An enterprise such as this needs time. Let your chief abide two months, then if he hold himself ready I will fulfil my promise to him."

 

The Indian carried this answer to the Chief who, when he heard it, was filled with wrath. He was not, however, to be stayed from war, and he determined to go alone.

 

With great ceremony he prepared to set out. In an open space near the river a huge fire was lit. In a wide circle round this the warriors gathered. Their faces were fearful with paint, and their hair was decorated with feathers, or the heads of wolves and bears and other fierce animals. Beside the fire was placed a large bowl of water, and near it Satouriona stood erect, while his braves squatted at his feet. Standing thus he turned his face, distorted with wrath and hatred, towards the enemy's country. First he muttered to himself, then he cried aloud to his god the Sun. And when he had done this for half an hour he put his hand into the bowl of water, and sprinkled the heads of his braves. Then suddenly, as if in anger, he cast the rest of the water into the fire, putting it out. As he did so he cried aloud:

The Indians prepare for war;

"So may the blood of our enemies be poured out and their lives extinguished."

 

In reply a hoarse yell went up from the savage host, and all the woods resounded with the fiendish noise.

 

Thus Satouriona and his braves set forth for battle. In a few days they returned singing praises to the Sun, and bringing with them twenty-four prisoners and many scalps.

they return triumphant

And now Laudonnière made Satouriona more angry than ever with him. For he demanded two of these prisoners. Laudonnière wanted them so that he might send them back to the chief of the Thimagoes as a proof that he at least was still friendly, for he already regretted his unwise treaty. But when Satouriona heard Laudonnière's request he was very angry and treated it with scorn.

Laudonnière demands two prisoners;

"Tell your chief," he said, "that he has broken his oath, and I will not give him any of my prisoners."

 

When Laudonnière heard this answer he in his turn was very angry, and he resolved to frighten Satouriona into obeying him. So taking twenty soldiers with him he went to the chief's village. Leaving some of the soldiers at the gate, and charging them to let no Indians go in or out, he went into Satouriona's hut with the others. In perfect silence he came in, in perfect silence he sat down and remained so for a long time which, says Laudonnière, put the chief "deeply in the dumps."

 

At length when he thought that Satouriona was completely frightened, Laudonnière spoke.

 

"Where are your prisoners?" he said. "I command them to be brought before me." Thereupon the chief, "angry at the heart and astonied wonderfully," stood a long time without making any answer. But when at last he spoke it was boldly and without fear.

 

"I cannot give you my prisoners," he said. "For seeing you coming in such warlike guise they were afraid and fled to the woods. And not knowing what way they went we could not by any means find them again."

 

Laudonnière, however, pretended that he did not understand what the chief said, and again he asked for the prisoners.

 

The chief then commanded his son to go in search of them, and in about an hour he returned bringing them with him. As soon as they were brought before Laudonnière the prisoners greeted him humbly. They lifted up their hands to heaven, and then threw themselves at his feet. But Laudonnière raised them at once, and led them away to the fort, leaving Satouriona very angry.

 

Laudonnière now sent the prisoners back to the Thimagoes' chief, who was greatly delighted at the return of his braves. He was still more delighted when the Frenchmen marched with him against another tribe who were his enemies, and defeated them.

he sends them back to their chief

But while Laudonnière was thus making both friends and enemies among the Indians all was not peace in the colony itself. Many of the adventurers had grown tired of the loneliness and sameness of the life. The food was bad, the work was hard, and there seemed little hope that things would ever be better. And for all their hardships it seemed to them the Governor was to blame. So they began to murmur and be discontented, gathering together in groups, whispering that it would be a good deed to put an end to Laudonnière and choose another captain.

Discontent in the colony

And now when the discontent was at its height Laudonnière fell ill. Then one of the ringleaders of the discontent urged the doctor to put poison in his medicine. But the doctor refused. Next they formed a plot to hide a barrel of gunpowder under his bed and blow him up. But Laudonnière discovered that plot, and the ringleader fled to the forest.

 

About this time a ship arrived from France bringing food for the colony, so that for a time things went a little better. And when the ship sailed again for home Laudonnière sent the worst of the mutineers back in it. In their place the captain left behind some of his sailors. But this proved a bad exchange. For these sailors were little better than pirates, and very soon they became the ringleaders in revolt. They persuaded some of the older colonists to join them. And one day they stole a little ship belonging to the colony, and set off on a plundering expedition to the West Indies.

Mutineers set off on plundering expedition

On the seas they led a wild and lawless life, taking and plundering Spanish ships. But after a time they ran short of food, and found themselves forced to put into a Spanish port. Here in order to make peace with the Spaniards they told all they knew about the French colony.

 

Thus it was that for the first time the Spaniards learned that the heretic Frenchmen had settled in their land, and speedily the news was sent home to Spain.

 

Meanwhile Laudonnière was greatly grieved for the loss of his ship. And as days passed, and there was no sign of the mutineers' return, he set his men to work to build two new ships.

 

For a time the work went well. But soon many of the men grew tired of it and they began to grumble. Why should men of noble birth, they asked, slave like carpenters? And day by day the discontent increased.

 

At last one Sunday morning the men sent a message to Laudonnière asking him to come out to the parade ground to meet them. Laudonnière went, and he found all the colony waiting for him with gloomy faces. At once one of them stepped forward, and asked leave to read a paper in the name of all the others. Laudonnière gave permission. The paper was read. It was full of complaints about the hard work, the want of food, and other grievances. It ended with a request that the men should be allowed to take the two ships which were being built and sail to Spanish possessions in search of food. In fact they wanted to become pirates like those mutineers who had already sailed away.

More discontent in the colony

Laudonnière refused to listen to this request. But he promised that as soon as the two ships were finished they should be allowed to set out in search of gold mines.

 

The mutineers separated with gloomy faces; they were by no means satisfied with Laudonnière's answer, and the discontent was as deep as ever. Laudonnière now again became very ill and the malcontents had it all their own way. Soon nearly every one in the fort was on their side, and they resolved to put an end to Laudonnière's tyranny.

 

Late one night about twenty men all armed to the teeth gathered together and marched to Laudonnière's hut. Arrived there they beat loudly on the door demanding entrance. But Laudonnière and his few remaining friends knew well what this loud summons meant, and they refused to open the door. The mutineers, however, were not to be easily held back; they forced open the door, wounding one man who tried to hinder them, and in a few minutes with drawn swords in hand, and angry scowls on their faces, they crowded round the sick man's bed. Then holding a gun at his throat they commanded him to give them leave to set forth for Spanish waters. But the stern old Huguenot knew no fear. Even with the muzzle of the gun against his throat he refused to listen to the demands of the lawless crew.

 

His calmness drove them to fury. With terrible threats, and more terrible oaths, they dragged him from his bed. Loading him with fetters they carried him out of the fort, threw him into a boat and rowed him out to the ship which lay anchored in the river. All the loyal colonists had by this time been disarmed, and the fort was completely in the hands of the mutineers. Their leader then drew up a paper giving them leave to set forth to Spanish possessions. And this he commanded Laudonnière to sign.

Mutineers imprison Laudonnéire

Laudonnière was completely in the power of the mutineers. He was a prisoner and ill, but his spirit was unbroken, and he refused to sign. Then the mutineers sent him a message saying that if he did not sign they would come on board the ship and cut his throat. So, seeing no help for it, Laudonnière signed.

 

The mutineers were now greatly delighted at the success of their schemes. They made haste to finish the two little ships which they had been building, and on the 8th of December they set sail. As they went they flung taunts at those who stayed behind, calling them fools and dolts and other scornful names, and threatening them with all manner of punishments should they refuse them free entrance to the fort on their return.

They sail away;

As soon as the mutineers were gone Laudonnière's friends rowed out to him, set him free from his fetters, and brought him back to the colony.

 

They were now but a very small company, but they were at peace with each other, and there was plenty to do. So the weeks went quickly by. They finished the fort, and began to build two new ships to take the place of those which the mutineers had stolen. But they never thought of tilling the ground and sowing seed to provide bread for the future. Thus more than three months passed. Then one day an Indian brought the news that a strange ship was in sight. Laudonnière at once sent some men to find out what ship this might be, and whether it was friend or foe.

peace in the colony

It proved to be a Spanish vessel which the mutineers had captured and which was now manned by them. But the mutineers who had sailed away full of pride and insolence now returned in very humble mood. Their buccaneering had not succeeded as they had hoped. They were starving, and instead of boldly demanding entrance, and putting in force their haughty threats, they were eager to make terms. But Laudonnière was not sure whether they really came in peace or not. So he sent out a little boat to the mutineers' ship. On the deck of it there was an officer with one or two men only. But below, thirty men, all armed to the teeth, were hidden. Seeing only these one or two men in the boat the mutineers let her come alongside. But what was their astonishment when armed men suddenly sprang from the bottom of the boat and swarmed over the sides of their vessel. Many of the mutineers were stupid with drink, all of them were weak with hunger, and before they could seize their arms, or make any resistance, they were overpowered and carried ashore.

The mutineers return;

There a court-martial was held, and four of the ringleaders were condemned to death. But these bold bad men were loath to die.

 

"Comrades," said one, turning to the loyal soldiers near, "will you stand by and see us die thus shamefully?"

 

"These," replied Laudonnière, sharply, "are no comrades of mutineers and rebels."

 

All appeals for mercy were in vain. So the men were shot and their bodies hanged on gibbets near the mouth of the river as a lesson to rebels.

their punishment

After this there was peace for a time in Fort Caroline. But it soon became peace with misery, for the colony began to starve. The long-expected ship from France did not come. Rich and fertile land spread all round them, but the colonists had neither ploughed nor sown it. They trusted to France for all their food. Now for months no ships had come, and their supplies were utterly at an end.

 

So in ever increasing misery the days passed. Some crawled about the meadows and forest, digging for roots and gathering herbs. Others haunted the river bed in search of shell-fish. One man even gathered up all the fish bones he could find and ground them to powder to make bread. But all that they scraped together with so much pain and care was hardly enough to keep body and soul together. They grew so thin that their bones started through the skin. Gaunt, hollow-eyed spectres they lay about the fort sunk in misery, or dragged themselves a little way into the forest in search of food. Unless help came from France they knew that they must all soon die a miserable death. And amid all their misery they clung to that last hope, that help would come from France. So, however feeble they were, however faint with hunger, they would crawl in turns to the top of the hill above the fort straining their dimming eyes seaward. But no sail appeared.

The colonists starve;

At length they gave up all hope, and determined to leave the hated spot. They had the Spanish ship which the mutineers had captured, and another little vessel besides which they had built. But these were not enough to carry them all to France, so gathering all their last energy they began to build another boat. The hope of getting back to France seemed for a time to put a little strength into their famine stricken bodies. And while they worked Laudonnière sailed up the river in search of food. But he returned empty-handed. Famishing men cannot work, and soon the colonists began to weary of their labours.

they long to return home

The neighbouring Indians, too, who might have given them food, were now their enemies. They indeed now and again brought scant supplies of fish to the starving men. But they demanded so much for it that soon the colonists were bare of everything they had possessed. They bartered the very shirts from their backs for food. And if they complained of the heavy price the Indians laughed at them.

 

"If thou makest so great account of thy merchandise," they jeered, "eat it and we will eat our fish."

The Indians jeer at them

But summer passed. The grain began to ripen, and although the Indians sold it grudgingly the colony was relieved from utter misery for the time being.

 

But now fresh troubles arose, for the Frenchmen quarreled with the chief of the Thimagoes for whose sake they had already made enemies of Satouriona and his Indians.

 

Thinking themselves treated in an unfriendly manner by the Thimagoes the Frenchmen seized their chief, and kept him prisoner until the Indians promised to pay a ransom of large quantities of grain.

 

The Indians agreed only because they saw no other means of freeing their chief. They were furiously angry with the Frenchmen and, seething with indignation against them, they refused to pay an ounce of grain until their chief had been set free: and even then they would not bring it to Fort Caroline, but forced the Frenchmen to come for it. The Frenchmen went, but they very quickly saw that they were in great danger. For the village swarmed with armed warriors who greeted the colonists with scowls of deepest hatred. After a few days, therefore, although only a small portion of the ransom had been paid, the Frenchmen decided to make for home as fast as possible.

 

It was a hot July morning on which they set off. Each man besides his gun carried a sack of grain, so the progress was slow. They had not gone far beyond the village when a wild war whoop was heard. It was immediately followed by a shower of arrows. The Frenchmen replied with a hot fire of bullets. Several of the Indians fell dead, and the rest fled howling into the forest.

they are attacked by Indians

Then the Frenchmen marched on again. But they had scarcely gone a quarter of a mile when another war whoop was heard in front. It was answered from behind, and the Frenchmen knew themselves surrounded. But they stood their ground bravely. Dropping their bags of corn they seized their guns. A sharp encounter followed, and soon the Indians fled again into the forest. But again and again they returned to the attack, and the Frenchmen had to fight every yard of the way. At nine o'clock the fight began, and the sun was setting when at length the Indians gave up the pursuit. When the Frenchmen reached their boats they counted their losses. Two had been killed, and twenty-two injured, some of them so badly that they had to be carried on board the boats. Of all the bags of grain with which they had started out only two remained. It was a miserable ending to the expedition.

 

The plight of the colony was now worse than ever. The two sacks of grain were soon consumed; the feeble efforts at building a ship had come to nothing. But rather than stay longer the colonists resolved to crowd into the two small vessels they had, and sail homeward if only they could gather food enough for the voyage. But where to get that food none knew.

 

One day full of troubled, anxious thoughts Laudonnière climbed the hill and looked seaward. Suddenly he saw something which made his heart beat fast, and brought the colour to his wasted cheeks. A great ship, its sails gleaming white in the sunlight was making for the mouth of the river. As he gazed another and still another ship hove in sight. Thrilling with excitement Laudonnière sent a messenger down to the fort with all speed to tell the news, and when they heard it the men who had seemed scarce able to crawl arose and danced for joy. They laughed, and wept, and cried aloud, till it seemed as if joy had bereft them of their wits.

Ships in sight

But soon fear mingled with their joy. There was something not altogether familiar about the cut and rig of the ships. Were they really the long-looked-for ships from France, or did they belong to their deadly and hated enemies, the Spaniards? They were neither one nor the other. That little fleet was English, under command of the famous admiral, John Hawkins, in search of fresh water of which they stood much in need. The English Admiral at once showed himself friendly. To prove that he came with no evil intent he landed with many of his officers gaily clad, and wearing no arms. The famine-stricken colonists hailed him with delight, for it seemed to them that he came as a deliverer.

John Hawkins, 1532-95

Gravely and kindly Hawkins listened to the tale of misery, yet he was glad enough when he heard that the Frenchmen had decided to leave Florida, for he wanted to claim it for Queen Elizabeth and England. When, however, he saw the ships in which they meant to sail homewards he shook his head. "It was not possible," he said, "for so many souls to cross the broad Atlantic in those tiny barques." So he offered to give all the Frenchmen a free passage to France in his own ships. This Laudonnière refused. Then Hawkins offered to lend him, or sell him, one of his ships. Even this kindness Laudonnière hesitated to accept.

 

Thereupon there arose a great uproar among the colonists, they crowded round him clamouring to be gone, threatening that if he refused the Englishman's offer they would accept it and sail without him.

 

So Laudonnière yielded. He told Hawkins that he would buy the ship he offered, but he had no money. The Englishman, however, was generous. Instead of money he took the cannon and other things now useless to the colonists. He provided them with food enough for the voyage, and seeing many of the men ragged and barefoot, added among other things fifty pairs of shoes.

The Englishmen give the colonists a ship

Then with kindly good wishes Hawkins said farewell and sailed away, leaving behind him many grateful hearts. As soon as he was gone the Frenchmen began to prepare to depart also. In a few days all was ready, and they only waited for a fair wind in order to set sail. But as they waited, one day, the fort was again thrown into a state of excitement by the appearance of another fleet of ships. Again the question was asked, were they friends or foes, Spaniards or Frenchmen? At length, after hours of sickening suspense, the question was answered, they were Frenchmen under the command of Ribaut.

 

The long-looked-for help had come at last. It had come when it was no longer looked for, when it was indeed unwelcome to many. For the colonists had grown utterly weary of that sunlit cruel land, and they only longed to go home. France with any amount of tyranny was to be preferred before the freedom and the misery of Florida.

Help comes from France

But to abandon the colony was now impossible, for besides supplies of food the French ships had brought many new colonists. This time, too, the men had not come alone but had brought their wives and families with them. Soon the fort which had been so silent and mournful was filled with sounds of talk and laughter. Again, the noise of hatchet and hammer resounded through the woods, and the little forsaken corner of the world awoke once more to life.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom