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Popeliniere, De Thou, Wytfleit, D'Aubigne De Laet, Brantome, Lescarbot, Champlain, and other writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, have told or touched upon the story of the Huguenots in Florida; but they all draw their information from one or more of the sources named above.
Lettres et Papiers d' Estat du Sieur de Forguevaulx (Bibliotheque Nationale). These include the correspondence of the French and Spanish courts concerning the massacre of the Huguenots. They are printed by Gaffarel in his Histoire de le Floride Francaise.
They named the river the River of May. It is now the St. John's. "And on the next morning," says Ribault, "we returned to land againe, accompanied with the Captaines, Gentlemen, and Souldiers, and others of our small troope, carrying with us a Pillour or columne of harde stone, our king's armes graved therein, to plant and set the same in the enterie of the Porte; and being come thither we espied on the south syde of the River a place very fitte for that purpose upon a little hill compassed with Cypres, Bayes, Paulmes, and other trees, with sweete smelling and pleasant shrubbes." Here they set the column, and then, again embarking, held their course northward, happy in that benign decree which locks from mortal eyes the secrets of the future.
At the eleventh hour, the long looked for succors were come. Ribaut had been commissioned to sail with seven ships for Florida. A disorderly concourse of disbanded soldiers, mixed with artisans and their families, and young nobles weary of a two years' peace, were mustered at the port of Dieppe, and embarked, to the number of three hundred men, bearing with them all things thought necessary to a prosperous colony.
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"
On the eighth, Menendez took formal possession of his domain. Cannon were fired, trumpets sounded, and banners displayed, as he landed in state at the head of his officers and nobles. Mendoza, crucifix in hand, came to meet him, chanting Te Deum laudamus, while the Adelantado and all his company, kneeling, kissed the crucifix, and the assembled Indians gazed in silent wonder.
One of the Frenchmen recrossed to consult with his companions. In two hours he returned, and offered fifty thousand ducats to secure their lives; but Menendez, says his brother-in-law, would give no pledges. On the other hand, expressions in his own despatches point to the inference that a virtual pledge was given, at least to certain individuals.
The honor of France had been foully stained, and there was none to wipe away the shame. The faction-ridden King was dumb. The nobles who surrounded him were in the Spanish interest. Then, since they proved recreant, he, Dominique de Gourgues, a simple gentleman, would take upon him to avenge the wrong, and restore the dimmed lustre of the French name. He sold his inheritance, borrowed money from his brother, who held a high post in Guienne, and equipped three small vessels, navigable by sail or oar. On board he placed a hundred arquebusiers and eighty sailors, prepared to fight on land, if need were. The noted Blaise de Montluc, then lieutenant for the King in Guienne, gave him a commission to make war on the negroes of Benin,—that is, to kidnap them as slaves, an adventure then held honorable.
Menendez was summoned home, where fresh honors awaited him from the Crown, though, according to the somewhat doubtful assertion of the heretical Grotius, his deeds had left a stain upon his name among the people. He was given command of the armada of three hundred sail and twenty thousand men, which, in 1574, was gathered at Santander against England and Flanders. But now, at the height of his fortunes, his career was abruptly closed. He died suddenly, at the age of fifty-five. Grotius affirms that he killed himself; but, in his eagerness to point the moral of his story, he seems to have overstepped the bounds of historic truth. The Spanish bigot was rarely a suicide; for the rites of Christian burial and repose in consecrated ground were denied to the remains of the self-murderer. There is positive evidence, too, in a codicil to the will of Menendez, dated at Santander on the fifteenth of September, 1574, that he was on that day seriously ill, though, as the instrument declares, "of sound mind." There is reason, then, to believe that this pious cut-throat died a natural death, crowned with honors, and soothed by the consolations of his religion.
He was born of an ancient family, which could boast names eminent in Florentine history, and of which the last survivor died in 1819. He has been called a pirate, and he was such in the same sense in which Drake, Hawkins, and other valiant sea-rovers of his own and later times, merited the name; that is to say, he would plunder and kill a Spaniard on the high seas without waiting for a declaration of war.
Some doubt has of late been cast on the reality of this voyage of Verrazzano, and evidence, mainly negative in kind, has been adduced to prove the story of it a fabrication; but the difficulties of incredulity appear greater than those of belief, and no ordinary degree of scepticism is required to reject the evidence that the narrative is essentially true.
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