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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Commanded by John Ribaut of Dieppe


first expedition had failed, after an attempt on the coasts of Brazil; in 1562, a new flotilla set out from Havre, commanded by John Ribaut of Dieppe. A landing was effected in a beautiful country, sparkling with flowers and verdure; the century-old trees, the vast forests, the unknown birds, the game, which appeared at the entrance of the glades and stood still fearlessly at the unwonted apparition of man--this spectacle, familiar and at the same time new, presented by nature at the commencement of May, caused great joy and profound gratitude amongst the French, who had come so far, through so many perils, to the borders of Florida; they knelt down piously to thank God; the savages, flocking together upon the shore, regarded them with astonishment mingled with respect. Ribaut and his companions took possession of the country in the name of France, and immediately began to construct a fort, which they called Fort Charles, in honor of the young king, Charles IX. Detachments scoured the country, and carried to a distance the name of France: during three years, through a course of continual suffering and intestine strife more dangerous than the hardships of nature and the ambushes of savages, the French maintained themselves in their new settlement, enlarged from time to time by new emigrants. Unhappily they had frequently been recruited from amongst men of no character, importing the contagion of their vices into the little colony which Coligny had intended to found the Reformed
church in the new world. In 1565 a Spanish expedition landed in Florida. Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who commanded it, had received from King Philip II. the title of _adelantado_ (governor) of Florida; he had pledged himself, in return, to conquer for Spain this territory impudently filched from the jurisdiction which His Catholic Majesty claimed over the whole of America. The struggle lasted but a few days, in spite of the despair and courage of the French colonists; a great number were massacred, others crowded on to the little vessels still at their disposal, and carried to France the news of the disaster. Menendez took possession of the ruined forts, of the scarcely cleared fields strewn with the corpses of the unhappy colonists. "Are you Catholics or Lutherans?" he demanded of his prisoners, bound two and two before him. "We all belong to the Reformed faith," replied John Ribaut; and he intoned in a loud voice a psalm: "Dust we are, and to dust we shall return; twenty years more or less upon this earth are of small account;" and, turning towards the _adelantado,_ "Do thy will," he said. All were put to death, "as I judged expedient for the service of God and of your Majesty," wrote the Spanish commander to Philip II.," and I consider it a great piece of luck that this John Ribaut hath died in this place, for the King of France might have done more with him and five hundred ducats than with another man and five thousand, he having been the most able and experienced mariner of the day for knowing the navigation of the coasts of India and Florida." Above the heap of corpses, before committing them to the flames, Menendez placed this inscription: "Not as Frenchmen, but as heretics."

Three years later, on the same spot on which the _adelantado_ had heaped up the victims of his cruelty and his perfidy lay the bodies of the Spanish garrison. A Gascon gentleman, Dominic de Gourgues, had sworn to avenge the wrongs of France; he had sold his patrimony, borrowed money of his friends, and, trusting to his long experience in navigation, put to sea with three small vessels equipped at his expense. The Spaniards were living unsuspectingly, as the French colonists had lately done; they had founded their principal settlement at some distance from the first landing-place, and had named it St. Augustine. De Gourgues attacked unexpectedly the little fort of San-Mateo; a detachment surrounded in the woods the Spaniards who had sought refuge there; all were killed or taken; they were hanged on the same trees which had but lately served for the execution of the French. "This I do not as to Spaniards, but as to traitors, thieves, and murderers," was the inscription placed by De Gourgues above their heads. When he again put to sea, there remained not one stone upon another of the fort of San-Mateo. France was avenged. "All that we have done was done for the service of the king and for the honor of the country," exclaimed the bold Gascon as he re-boarded his ship. Florida, nevertheless, remained in the hands of Spain; the French adventurers went carrying elsewhither their ardent hopes and their indomitable courage.

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