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Qui toujours chante, toujours rit,"
Next they anchored near Fernandina, and to a neighboring river, probably the St. Mary's, gave the name of the Seine. Here, as morning broke on the fresh, moist meadows hung with mists, and on broad reaches of inland waters which seemed like lakes, they were tempted to land again, and soon "espied an innumerable number of footesteps of great Hartes and Hindes of a wonderfull greatnesse, the steppes being all fresh and new, and it seemeth that the people doe nourish them like tame Cattell." By two or three weeks of exploration they seem to have gained a clear idea of this rich semi-aquatic region. Ribaut describes it as "a countrie full of hauens, riuers, and Ilands, of such fruitfulnes as cannot with tongue be expressed." Slowly moving northward, they named each river, or inlet supposed to be a river, after some stream of France,—the Loire, the Charente, the Garonne, the Gironde. At length, opening betwixt flat and sandy shores, they saw a commodious haven, and named it Port Royal.
A fort was begun on a small stream called the Chenonceau, probably Archer's Creek, about six miles from the site of Beaufort. 11 They named it Charlesfort, in honor of the unhappy son of Catherine de Medicis, Charles the Ninth, the future hero of St. Bartholomew. Ammunition and stores were sent on shore, and on the eleventh of June, with his diminished company, Ribaut again embarked and spread his sails for France.
The pressing question was how they were to subsist. Their thought was not of subsistence, but of gold. Of the thirty, the greater number were soldiers and sailors, with a few gentlemen; that is to say, men of the sword, born within the pale of nobility, who at home could neither labor nor trade without derogation from their rank. For a time they busied themselves with finishing their fort, and, this done, set forth in quest of adventures.
Man and nature alike seemed to mark the borders of the River of May as the site of the new colony; for here, around the Indian towns, the harvests of maize, beans, and pumpkins promised abundant food, while the river opened a ready way to the mines of gold and silver and the stores of barbaric wealth which glittered before the dreaming vision of the colonists. Yet, the better to satisfy himself and his men, Laudonniere weighed anchor, and sailed for a time along the neighboring coasts. Returning, confirmed in his first impression, he set out with a party of officers and soldiers to explore the borders of the chosen stream. The day was hot. The sun beat fiercely on the woollen caps and heavy doublets of the men, till at length they gained the shade of one of those deep forests of pine where the dead, hot air is thick with resinous odors, and the earth, carpeted with fallen leaves, gives no sound beneath the foot. Yet, in the stillness, deer leaped up on all sides as they moved along. Then they emerged into sunlight. A meadow was before them, a running brook, and a wall of encircling forests. The men called it the Vale of Laudonniere. The afternoon was spent, and the sun was near its setting, when they reached the bank of the river. They strewed the ground with boughs and leaves, and, stretched on that sylvan couch, slept the sleep of travel-worn and weary men.
A fortnight later, an officer named Vasseur went up the river to pursue the adventure. The fever for gold had seized upon the French. As the villages of the Thimagoas lay between them and the imagined treasures, they shrank from a quarrel, and Laudonniere repented already of his promised alliance with Satouriona.
The rites over, they set out, and in a few days returned exulting, with thirteen prisoners and a number of scalps. These last were hung on a pole before the royal lodge; and when night came, it brought with it a pandemonium of dancing and whooping, drumming and feasting.
A severe illness again seized Laudonniere, and confined him to his bed. Improving their advantage, the malcontents gained over nearly all the best soldiers in the fort. The ringleader was one Fourneaux, a man of good birth, but whom Le Moyne calls an avaricious hypocrite. He drew up a paper, to which sixty-six names were signed. La Caille boldly opposed the conspirators, and they resolved to kill him. His room-mate, Le Moyne, who had also refused to sign, received a hint of the design from a friend; upon which he warned La Caille, who escaped to the woods. It was late in the night. Fourneaux, with twenty men armed to the teeth, knocked fiercely at the commandant's door. Forcing an entrance, they wounded a gentleman who opposed them, and crowded around the sick man's bed. Fourneaux, armed with steel cap and cuirass, held his arquebuse to Laudonniere's throat, and demanded leave to go on a cruise among the Spanish islands. The latter kept his presence of mind, and remonstrated with some firmness; on which, with oaths and menaces, they dragged him from his bed, put him in fetters, carried him out to the gate of the fort, placed him in a boat, and rowed him to the ship anchored in the river.
At length the ships lay becalmed in the Bahama Channel, slumbering on the glassy sea, torpid with the heats of a West Indian August. Menendez called a council of the commanders. There was doubt and indecision. Perhaps Ribaut had already reached the French fort, and then to attack the united force would be an act of desperation. Far better to await their lagging comrades. But the Adelantado was of another mind; and, even had his enemy arrived, ho was resolved that he should have no time to fortify himself.
It has been seen how, when on the point of assailing the Spaniards at St. Augustine, Jean Ribaut was thwarted by a gale, which they hailed as a divine interposition. The gale rose to a tempest of strange fury. Within a few days, all the French ships were cast on shore, between Matanzas Inlet and Cape Canaveral. According to a letter of Menendez, many of those on hoard were lost; but others affirm that all escaped but a captain, La Grange, an officer of high merit, who was washed from a floating mast. One of the ships was wrecked at a point farther northward than the rest, and it was her company whose campfires were seen by the Spaniards at their bivouac on the sands of Anastasia Island. They were endeavoring to reach Fort Caroline, of the fate of which they knew nothing, while Ribaut with the remainder was farther southward, struggling through the wilderness towards the same goal. What befell the latter will appear hereafter. Of the fate of the former party there is no French record. What we know of it is due to three Spanish eye-witnesses, Mendoza, Doctor Soils de las Meras, and Menendez himself. Soils was a priest, and brother-in-law to Menendez. Like Mendoza, he minutely describes what he saw, and, like him, was a red-hot zealot, lavishing applause on the darkest deeds of his chief. But the principal witness, though not the most minute or most trustworthy, is Menendez, in his long despatches sent from Florida to the King, and now first brought to light from the archives of Seville,—a cool record of unsurpassed atrocities, inscribed on the back with the royal indorsement, "Say to him that he has done well."
"Gentlemen," pursued Menendez, "your fort is taken, and all in it are put to the sword." And, in proof of his declaration, he caused articles plundered from Fort Caroline to be shown to the unhappy petitioners. He then left them, and went to breakfast with his officers, first ordering food to be placed before them. Having breakfasted, he returned to them.
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