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Philip from Mexico. “The sum of all that can be said in the matter, is that they put the Indies in a crucible, for we are compelled to pass in front of their port, and with the greatest ease they can sally out with their armadas to seek us, and easily return home when it suits them.” In urging action before Coligny could send Ribaut to relieve the colonists, the same report continued: “seeing that they are Lutherans . . . it is not needful to leave a man alive, but to inflict an exemplary punishment, that they may remember it forever.” While French depredations had been protested by Philip's envoy to France, the matter had not been pushed to a rupture, because Philip desired to enlist the aid of Catherine. Catherine also was forced to temporize. She needed Philip's support to maintain her position of power in France between Catholic Leaguer and Huguenot, but she dared not, for his friendship, go so far as to interfere with Coligny’s designs on Florida, lest even the French Catholics turn against her; for they too had caught the Admiral’s vision of a France once more great, rich, and glorious. It suited her therefore to make answer that the French ships were bound for a country discovered by France and known as the Terre des Bretons and would in no way molest the territories of Spain! Ribaut reached Fort Caroline while Laudonnière and his men were still there. With the arrival of his ships, bringing three hundred more colonists, plans for evacuation were abandoned.
* Lowery, Florida, p. 105.
To expel and castigate the French and to plant his own power solidly in Florida, Philip had at last picked a man who would not fail. Menéndez was already a sea-soldier of note and had rendered signal and distinguished services to the Crown. He was a nobleman of the Asturias, where “the earth and sky bear men who are honest, not tricksters, truthful, not babblers, most faithful to the King, generous, friendly, light-hearted, and merry, daring, and warlike.” During the recent wars, as a naval officer, he had fought the French; and later, off his home coasts and off the Canaries, he had defeated French pirate ships.
Menéndez's contract was a typical conquistador's agreement. His chance to serve the King was a certainty. His profits were a gamble. The title of adelantado of Florida granted him was made hereditary. His salary of two thousand ducats yearly was to be collected from rents and products of the colony. He was given a grant of land twenty-five miles square, with the title of Marquis, and two fisheries — one of pearls — wherever he should select them. He was to have a few ships of his own to trade with some of the islands and was absolved from certain import and export duties, and for five years he was to retain whatever spoils he found aboard the pirate vessels he captured. Apart from a loan from Philip of fifteen thousand ducats, which he bound himself to repay, he was to bear all the expenses of the venture — about $1,800,000. His fleet was to contain, besides the San Pelayo of six hundred tons, six sloops of fifty tons each and four smaller vessels for use in the shallow waters of Florida. His colonists were to number five hundred, of which one hundred must be soldiers, one hundred sailors, and the rest artisans, officials, and farmers; and two hundred of them must be married. He was to take four Jesuit priests and ten or twelve friars. He was to parcel out the land to settlers and to build two towns, each to contain one hundred citizens and to be protected by a fort. He was also to take about five hundred negro slaves, half of whom were to be women. Above all he was to see that none of his colonists were Jews or secret heretics. And he was to drive out the French settlers “by what means you see fit.” He must also make a detailed report on the Atlantic coast from the Florida Keys to Newfoundland. The previous success of Menéndez as a chastiser of pirates may be indicated by his possession of nearly two million dollars to spend on this colony. When his entire company was raised, it comprised 2646 persons, “not mendicants and vagabonds . . . but of the best horsemen of Asturias, Galicia, and Vizcaya,” “trustworthy persons, for the security of the enterprise.” Menéndez sailed from Cádiz on July 29, 1565. In the islands thirty of his men and three priests deserted; but neither this circumstance nor the non-arrival of half his ships, which were delayed by storms, prevented him from continuing at once for Florida. On the 28th of August he dropped anchor in a harbor about the mouth of a river and gave to it the name of the saint on whose festival he had discovered it—Saint Augustine (San Agustín). Seven days later he went up the coast, looking for the French. In the afternoon he came upon four of Ribaut's ships lying outside the bar at St. John’s River. Menéndez, ignoring the French fire, which was aimed too high to do any damage, led his vessels in among the foe's.
“Gentlemen, from where does this fleet come?” he demanded, as we are told, “very courteously.” “From France,” came the answer from Ribaut's flagship. “What are you doing here?” “Bringing infantry, artillery, and supplies for a fort which the King of France has in this country, and for others which he is going to make.” “Are you Catholics or Lutherans?” “Lutherans, and our general is Jean Ribaut.” In answer to like questions from the French ship, Menéndez made reply: “I am the General; my name is Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. This is the armada of the King of Spain, who has sent me to this coast and country to burn and hang the Lutheran French who should be found there, and in the morning I will board your ships; and if I find any Catholics they will be well treated.” In the pause which followed this exchange of courtesies – “a stillness such as I have never heard since I came to the world,” says the Spanish chaplain - the French cut their cables and, passing through the midst of the Spanish fleet, made off to sea. Menéndez gave chase. But the French
* This conversation is quoted by Lowery in Florida, pp. 156157.