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This striking passage of our early history is remarkable for the fullness and precision of the authorities that illustrate it. The incidents of the Huguenot occupation of Florida are recorded by eight eye-witnesses. Their evidence is marked by an unusual accord in respect to essential facts, as well as by a minuteness of statement which vividly pictures the events described. The following are the principal authorities consulted for the main body of the narrative.
'L'Histoire Notable de la Floride, mise en lumiere par M. Basanier' (Paris, 1586). The most valuable portion of this work consists of the letters of Rene de Laudonniere, the French commandant in Florida in 1564-65. They are interesting, and, with necessary allowance for the position and prejudices of the writer, trustworthy.
Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Siete Cartas escritas al Rey, Anos de 1565 y 1566, MSS. These are the despatches of the Adelantado Menendez to Philip the Second. They were procured for the writer, together with other documents, from the archives of Seville, and their contents are now for the first time made public. They consist of seventy-two closely written foolscap pages, and are of the highest interest and value as regards the present subject, confirming and amplifying the statements of Solis and Mendoza, and giving new and curious information with respect to the designs of Spain upon the continent of North America.
Seven brigantines were finished and launched; and, trusting their lives on board these frail vessels, they descended the Mississippi, running the gantlet between hostile tribes, who fiercely attacked them. Reaching the Gulf, though not without the loss of eleven of their number, they made sail for the Spanish settlement on the river Panuco, where they arrived safely, and where the inhabitants met them with a cordial welcome. Three hundred and eleven men thus escaped with life, leaving behind them the bones of their comrades strewn broadcast through the wilderness.
In the little world of Fort Caroline, a miniature France, cliques and parties, conspiracy and sedition, were fast stirring into life. Hopes had been dashed, and wild expectations had come to naught. The adventurers had found, not conquest and gold, but a dull exile in a petty fort by a hot and sickly river, with hard labor, bad fare, prospective famine, and nothing to break the weary sameness but some passing canoe or floating alligator. Gathered in knots, they nursed each other's wrath, and inveighed against the commandant. Why are we put on half-rations, when he told us that provision should be made for a full year? Where are the reinforcements and supplies that he said should follow us from France? And why is he always closeted with Ottigny, Arlac, and this and that favorite, when we, men of blood as good as theirs, cannot gain his ear for a moment?
On the third of August, Laudonniere, perturbed and oppressed, was walking on the hill, when, looking seaward, he saw a sight that sent a thrill through his exhausted frame. A great ship was standing towards the river's mouth. Then another came in sight, and another, and another. He despatched a messenger with the tidings to the fort below. The languid forms of his sick and despairing men rose and danced for joy, and voices shrill with weakness joined in wild laughter and acclamation, insomuch, he says, "that one would have thought them to bee out of their wittes."
He answered: "I am Pedro Menendez, General of the fleet of the King of Spain, Don Philip the Second, who have come to this country to hang and behead all Lutherans whom I shall find by land or sea, according to instructions from my King, so precise that I have power to pardon none; and these commands I shall fulfil, as you will see. At daybreak I shall board your ships, and if I find there any Catholic, he shall be well treated; but every heretic shall die."
Mendoza went to meet him.
An Indian canoe lay under the bank on the Spanish side. A French sailor swam to it, paddled back unmolested, and presently returned, bringing with him La Caille, Ribaut's sergeant-major. He told Menendez that the French were three hundred and fifty in all, and were on their way to Fort Caroline; and, like the officers of the former party, he begged for boats to aid them in crossing the river.
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