A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part I, Chapter 9." 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 9
HOW THE SPANIARDS DROVE THE FRENCH OUT OF FLORIDA

SCARCELY a week had passed before the new peace and happiness of the French colony was brought to a cruel end.

 

Late one night the men on board the French ships saw a great black hulk loom silently up out of the darkness. It was followed by another and another. No word was spoken, and in eerie silence the strange ships crept stealthily onwards, and cast anchor beside the French. The stillness grew terrible. At length it was broken by a trumpet call from the deck of one of the silent new-comers.

Strange ships appear;

Then a voice came through the darkness. "Gentlemen," it asked, "whence does this fleet come?"

 

"From France," was the reply.

 

"What are you doing here?" was the next question.

 

"We are bringing soldiers and supplies for a fort which the King of France has in this country, and for many which he soon will have."

 

"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"

 

The question came sharply across the dark water. It was answered by many voices.

 

"We are Lutherans," cried the French, "we are of the new religion."

 

Then it was the Frenchmen's turn to ask questions.

 

"Who are you," I they cried, "and whence come ye?"

 

"I am Pedro Menendez," replied the voice out of the darkness. "I am Admiral of the fleet of the King of Spain. And I am come into this country to hang and behead all Lutherans whom I may find by land or by sea. And my King has given me such strict commands that I have power to pardon no man of them. And those commands I shall obey to the letter, as you will see. At dawn I shall come aboard your ship. And if there I find any Catholic he shall be well-treated, but every heretic shall die."

they are Spanish;

In reply to this speech a shout of wrath went up from the Frenchmen.

 

"If you are a brave man," they cried, "why wait for dawn? Come on now, and see what you will get."

 

Then in their anger they heaped insults upon the Spaniards, and poured forth torrents of scoffing words. Thereupon Menendez was so enraged that he swore to silence those Lutheran dogs once and for ever. So the order was given, and his great ship slowly moved towards the French.

 

The threats of the French had been but idle boasting; they could not withstand the Spaniards, for their leader was ashore with most of his soldiers. So cutting their cables they fled out to sea pursued by the foe.

 

There was a mad chase through the darkness. But the heretic devils, as the Spaniards called them, were skilful sailors. Menendez could not catch them, and when day dawned he gave up the chase and moodily turned back to Fort Caroline.

they chase the French ships

Here he found the French ready for him, and they seemed so strong that he would not attack, but sailed away southwards until he reached the river of Dolphins.

 

Here Menendez landed and took possession of the country in the name of the King of Spain. While cannon boomed and trumpets blew he stepped on shore followed by his officers and gentlemen. In all the gay trappings of knighthood, with many-coloured banners fluttering in the breeze, they marched. Then as they advanced another procession came toward them. At the head of it was a priest in all the pomp and splendour of his priestly robes. He carried a gilded crucifix in his hand, and as he marched he sang a Te Deum.

 

When the two processions met Menendez and all his company knelt, and baring their heads kissed the crucifix. So was the land claimed for Spain and the Catholic faith, and St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States, was founded.

St. Augustine is founded, 1565

Meanwhile, the fleeing French ships had turned, followed the Spaniards, and seen them land. Then they went back to Fort Caroline with the news.

 

While these things had been happening Laudonnière had been very ill. He was still in bed when Ribaut, followed by several of his chief officers, came to his room to tell him the news which the returning ships had just brought. And beside his sickbed they held a council of war. It was decided to attack the Spaniards and drive them from the land. But how?

 

First one plan and then another was discussed, and to each some one objected. But at length it was decided to go by sea and attack the Spaniards suddenly in their newly-founded fort.

The French resolve to attack

So almost every man who could hold a gun set forth with Ribaut, and Laudonnière was left in the fort with the feeble and sick, and scarcely a man besides who had ever drawn a sword or fired a shot. Their leader was as sick and feeble as any of them. But he dragged himself from his bed to review his forces. They were poor indeed, but Laudonnière made the best of them. He appointed each man to a certain duty, he set a watch night and day, and he began to repair the broken-down walls of the fort, so that they would be able to make some show of resistance in case of attack.

 

While Laudonnière was thus ordering his poor little garrison the ships carrying the rest of the colonists sailed on their way. The wind was fair, and in the night they crept close to where the Spanish vessels lay.

 

But when day dawned and the Spaniards saw the French vessels close to them they fled to the shelter of their harbour. And a sudden storm arising the French were driven out to sea again.

They are driven out to sea

As Menendez watched them from the shore he rejoiced. He knew by the number of the ships that most of the French colonists must be in them, and he hoped that they would all be lost in the storm.

 

Then as he watched a sudden thought came to him. While the Frenchmen were battling with wind and waves he resolved to move quickly over land and take Fort Caroline. For he knew that it must be almost, if not quite, unprotected.

 

One of the French mutineers who had deserted Laudonnière was now in the Spanish fort. He would show the way. Full of this splendid idea, eager to carry it out at once, he ordered Mass to be said, then he called a council and laid his plan before his officers. They, however, met his eagerness with coldness. It was a mad and hopeless plan, they thought, and they did their best to dissuade Menendez from it. But Menendez was determined to go.

 

"Comrades," he said, "it is now that we must show our courage and our zeal. This is God's war, and we must not turn our backs upon it. It is war against heretics, and we must wage it with blood and with fire."

 

But the Spanish leader's eager words awoke no response in the hearts of his hearers. They answered him only with mutterings. Still Menendez insisted. The debate grew stormy, and angry words were flung this way and that.

 

At length, however, Menendez had his way. The clamour was stilled, the officers gave a grudging consent, and preparations for the march were begun. In a few days all was ready, and the expedition set out. It was a simple matter. There was no great train of sumpter mules or baggage wagons. Each man carried his own food and ammunition, and twenty axemen marched in front of the little army to cleave a way through the forest.

The Spaniards set out to attack the French;

The storm still raged. Rain fell in torrents, and the wind howled ceaselessly as on and on the men trudged. They plunged through seas of mud, and grass which grew waist high, and threaded their way along the narrow paths cloven for them by the axemen.

 

So for three days they toiled onward. Their food was gone, their ammunition soaked, they were drenched to the skin, footsore and famishing, when upon the third night they lay down upon the muddy ground, cursing their leader for having brought them forth to died thus miserably. But while the men cursed Menendez prayed. All night he prayed. And before day dawned he called his officers to a council. They were now within a mile of Fort Caroline, and he was eager to attack.

 

But his officers were sick of the whole business. The men were utterly disheartened; one and all they clamoured to return.

 

Yet once again Menendez bent them to his will. In the darkness of the forest he spoke to the wretched, shivering, rain-drenched men. He taunted, he persuaded, and at length wrung from them a sullen consent to follow him.

 

So once again the miserable march was begun, and when day dawned they stood on the hill above the fort .

they reach Fort Caroline

No sound came from it, no watchman stood upon the ramparts. For towards morning, seeing that it rained harder than ever, the captain of the guard had sent his men to bed, for they were soaked to the skin and he was sorry for them. In such rain and wind what enemy would venture forth? he asked himself. It was folly to stay abroad on such a night he thought. So he dismissed the guard, and went off to bed.

 

Thus none heard or saw the approach of the Spaniards. Then suddenly the silence of the dawn was broken with fierce war cries.

 

"At them," shouted the Spaniards, "God is with us!"

 

The sleeping Frenchmen started from their beds in terror. Half naked they sprang to arms. On every side the Spaniards poured in. The dim light of dawn showed the dark cruel faces, and the gleam of drawn swords. Then clash of steel, screams of frightened women and children, curses, prayers, all mingled together in terrible confusion.

The Frenchmen are asleep

At the first alarm Laudonnière sprang from his bed, and seizing his sword called his men to follow him. But the Spaniards surrounded him, his men were slain and scattered, and he himself was forced back into the yard of his house. Here there was a tent. This stopped his pursuers, for they stumbled over the cordage and became entangled with it. The confusion gave Laudonnière a few minutes' respite in which he escaped through a breach in the ramparts, and took refuge in the forest. A few others fleeing this way and that escaped likewise. But some, the first moment of terror past, resolved to return and throw themselves on the mercy of the Spaniards rather than face starvation in the woods.

The fort is taken

"They are men," said one; "it may be when their fury is spent they will spare our lives. Even if they slay us what of that? It is but a moment's pain. Better that than to starve here in the woods or be torn to pieces by wild beasts."

 

Still some held back, but most agreed to throw themselves upon the mercy of the Spaniards.

 

So unarmed and almost naked as they were, they turned back to give themselves up. But little did these simple Frenchmen understand the fury of the foe. When they neared the fort the Spaniards rushed out upon them and, unheeding their cries for mercy, slew them to a man. Those who had held back, when they saw the fate of their companions, fled through the forest. Some sought refuge among the Indians. But even from that refuge the Spaniards hunted them forth and slew them without pity. Thus the land was filled with bloodshed and ruin. Many were slain at once by the sword, others were hanged on trees round the fort, and over them Menendez wrote, "I do this not as to Frenchmen but as to Lutherans." Only a few miserable stragglers, after untold sufferings, reached the little ship which still lay at anchor in the river. Among these was Laudonnière.

 

Their one desire now was to flee homewards, and unfurling their sails they set out for France.

 

The colony of Fort Caroline was wiped out, and rejoicing at the success of his bold scheme, Menendez marched back to St. Augustine where a Te Deum was sung in honour of this victory over heretics.

The colony is destroyed

Meanwhile the Frenchmen who had set forth to attack St. Augustine by sea had been driven hither and thither by the storm, and at length were wrecked. But although the ships were lost all, or nearly all, of the men succeeded in reaching the shore in safety. And not knowing what had happened at Fort Caroline they set out in two companies to try to reach the fort by land.

The French ships are wrecked

But they never reached the fort. For one morning scarcely ten days after the destruction of Fort Caroline some Indians came to Menendez with the news that they had seen a French ship wrecked a little to the south.

 

The news delighted Menendez, and he at once set out to capture the shipwrecked men. It was not long before he saw the lights of the French camp in the distance. But on coming nearer it was seen that they were on the other side of an arm of the sea, so that it was impossible to reach them. Hiding, therefore, in the bushes by the water's edge Menendez and his men watched the Frenchmen on the other side. The Spaniards soon saw that their enemies were in distress. They suspected that they were starving, for they could be seen walking up and down the shore seeking shellfish. But Menendez wanted to make sure of the state they were in, and he made up his mind to get nearer to the Frenchmen. So he put off his fine clothes, and dressing himself like a common sailor, got into a boat and rowed across the water.

Menendez resolves to capture the shipwrecked Frenchmen

The French are starving;

Seeing him come one of the Frenchmen swam out to meet him. As he drew near Menendez called out to him: "Who are you, and whence come ye?"

 

"We are followers of Ribaut, Viceroy of the King of France," answered the Frenchman."

 

"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?" asked Menendez.

 

"We are Lutherans," answered the man.

 

Then after a little more talk Menendez told who he was.

 

With this news the man swam back to his companions. But he soon returned to the boat to say that five of the French leaders wished to speak with the Spanish leader, and begged for safe conduct to his camp.

 

To this Menendez readily agreed, and returning to his own side he sent the boat back to bring the Frenchmen over.

 

When they landed Menendez received them courteously. And after returning his ceremonious greetings the Frenchmen begged the Spaniards to lend them a boat so that they might cross the river which lay between them and Fort Caroline.

they beg help from the Spaniards;

At this request Menendez smiled evilly. "Gentlemen," he said, "it were idle for you to go to your fort. It has been taken, and every man is slain."

 

But the Frenchmen could not at first believe that he spoke the truth. So in proof of his words the Spanish leader bade his men show the heretics the plunder which had been taken from their fort. As they looked upon it the hearts of the Frenchmen sank.

 

Then ordering breakfast to be sent to them Menendez left them, and went to breakfast with his own officers.

 

Breakfast over he came back to the Frenchmen, and as he looked at their gloomy faces his heart rejoiced. "Do you believe now," he asked, "that what I told you is true?"

 

"Yes," replied the Frenchmen, "we believe. It would be useless now to go to the fort. All we ask of you is to lend us ships so that we may return home."

 

"I would gladly do so," replied Menendez, "if you were Catholics, and if I had ships. But I have none."

 

Then seeing that he would give them no help to reach home, the Frenchmen begged Menendez at least to let them stay with his people until help came to them from France. It was little enough to ask, they thought, as France and Spain were at peace. But there was no pity or kindliness in the Spanish general's heart.

 

"All Catholics," he replied sternly, "I would defend and succour. But as for you, you are Lutherans, and I must hold you as enemies. I will wage war against you with blood and fire. I will wage it fiercely, both by land and sea, for I am Viceroy for my King in this country. I am here to plant the holy Gospel in this land , that the Indians may come to the light and knowledge of the Holy Catholic, faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, as taught by the Roman Church. Give up your banners and your arms, and throw yourselves on my mercy, and I will do with you as God gives me grace. In no other way can you have truce or friendship with me."

all help refused

To this the Frenchmen knew not what to say. First they consulted together, then some of them went back across the water to take counsel with those who waited there. They talked long, and anxiously those on the Spanish side awaited their return. At length one of their messengers returned, and going to Menendez he offered him a large sum of money if he would swear to spare their lives.

 

But Menendez would promise nothing. The Frenchmen were helpless. They were starving and in his hands. And both he and they knew it. They saw no hope anywhere, so they yielded to the Spanish general's demands.

 

Once more the boat was sent across the water, and this time it came back laden with banners, arms and armour. Then guarded by Spanish soldiers the Frenchmen were brought across by tens. As each batch landed they found themselves prisoners; their arms were taken from them and their hands were tied behind their backs.

The Frenchmen give themselves up;

All day, hour after hour, the boat plied to and fro: and when all the Frenchmen had been brought over they were ordered to march forward. The Spanish general walked in front. But he did not go far, for the sun was already setting, and it was time to camp for the night. So but a little way from the shore he stopped, and drew a line in the sand. And when the wretched Frenchmen reached that line, weaponless and helpless as they were, they were one and all put to death. Then, glorying in his deed, Menendez returned to St. Augustine.

they are all slain

But he had not yet completely wiped out the French colony. For besides those he had so ruthlessly slain there was another large party under Ribaut, who, ignorant of all that had happened, were still slowly making their way to Fort Caroline. But again news of their whereabouts was brought to Menendez by Indians, and again he set off to waylay them.

 

He found them on the same spot as he had found the first party. But this time the Frenchmen had made a raft, and upon this they were preparing to cross the water when the Spaniards came upon them. The Frenchmen were in such misery that many of them greeted the appearance of their enemies with joy. But others were filled with misgiving. Still they resolved to try to make terms with the Spaniards. So first one of his officers, and then Ribaut himself, rowed across the strip of water to parley with the Spanish leader. They found him as pitiless as their companions had found him. And seeing that they could make no terms with him many of the Frenchmen refused to give themselves up, and they marched away. But after much parleying, and many comings and goings across the river, Ribaut, believing that Menendez would spare their lives, yielded up himself and the rest of his company to the Spaniards.

Menendez meets a second party of Frenchmen

They give themselves up to him

He was soon undeceived. For he was led away among the bushes, and his hands were tied behind his back. As his followers came over they, too, were bound and led away. Then as trumpets blew and drums beat the Spaniards fell upon their helpless prisoners and slew them to a man.

 

When Ribaut saw that his hour was come he did not flinch. "We are but dust," he said, "and to dust we must return: twenty years more or less can matter little." So with the words of a psalm upon his lips he met the swordthrust.

They are all slain

Not till every man lay dead was the fury of the Spaniards sated. Then, his horrible labour ended, Menendez returned once more in triumph to his fort.

 

Those of the French who had refused to give themselves up to Menendez now wandered back to the shore where their ship had been wrecked. Out of the broken pieces they tried to build a ship in which they might sail homeward. But again news of their doings was brought to Menendez by the Indians. And again he set out to crush them. When the Frenchmen saw the Spaniards come they fled in terror. But Menendez sent a messenger after them promising that if they yielded to him he would spare their lives. Most of them yielded. And Menendez kept his promise. He treated his prisoners well. But, when an opportunity arrived, he sent them home to end their lives as galley slaves.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom