If you missed yesterday’s post on the 16th century Huguenot settlement in present-day South Carolina, it’s worthwhile reading before continuing with their story in Florida.
As the Florida story opens, keep in mind that the Huguenots arrived there in 1562 before sailing for what is now the Sea Islands in Port Royal Sound in South Carolina. Jean Ribault and his men did not settle in Florida, although they did explore some of the St John’s River — what he had called the May River — and coastal features whilst sailing northward.
By 1564, Ribault was lying low in England, seeking refuge as a Huguenot. Meanwhile, in his home country, King Charles IX wished to send another ship to Florida. He called on René Goulaine de Laudonnière to lead the expedition.
It is possible he chose Laudonnière because he had been second in command in Charlesfort under Jean Ribault. Therefore, he already knew the region. As Ribault was in England, Laudonnière was the next best choice. In addition to colonisation, part of the objective of the trip was also to give Huguenots safe haven.
Laudonnière was a nobleman and member of the Huguenot merchant class. It is unclear where he was born and raised. Some say it was near the town of Laudonnière, the family seat of the Goulaine family, near the busy port of Nantes. Other historians claim he came from further south in Poitou, near the port of Sables d’Olonne.
Charles IX gave Laudonnière 50,000 crowns, three ships and 300 Huguenot colonists. Laudonnière set sail from Le Havre on April 22, 1564. He and his men arrived at the mouth of the May (St John’s) River on June 22 that year.
Laudonnière first renewed his acquaintance with the Saturiwa Indians — a branch of the larger Timucua tribe. As I said yesterday:
That remained largely true in Florida, until later, when the Indians were angry that the French had demanded too many provisions from them. The settlers also met with an unknown tribe, and tensions quickly appeared.
Fort Caroline, 1564
After befriending the Indians, Laudonnière and his crew then sailed north to what is now Jacksonville, Florida. There they established the colony of Fort Caroline, named for Charles IX.
Life in the new colony was arduous. The Frenchmen went hungry. Some of the men staged a mutiny and destroyed one of the ships. Laudonnière was able to subdue the rebellion by executing the ringleaders.
Interestingly, amongst all he had to do in Florida, Laudonnière had not forgotten an important detail from Charlesfort up north. That was the rescue of the young man Guillermo Rouffi. Laudonnière had found out that Rouffi never sailed back to France with the last of the Charlesfort settlers and decided to bring him back to the new colony in Florida.
In January 1565, Laudonnière sent a ship to Port Royal Sound to search for Rouffi. However, no one knew that Rouffi left the settlement with the invading Spanish six months earlier. One wonders what happened to him.
Meanwhile, Laudonnière and his colonists had expected Jean Ribault to return to France and then Florida, stocked with supplies. However, France’s involvement in wars at home and abroad prevented him from sailing at the appointed time. He did not arrive until August 28, 1565.
During the intervening months, Laudonnière was ready to abandon Fort Caroline. In addition to the aforementioned mutiny, other of his men became pirates and attacked Spanish ships in the Caribbean. On the mainland, another Timucua tribe, the Utina, clashed with the French.
When Ribault arrived, he assumed governorship of Fort Caroline. Laudonnière was unhappy with this arrangement and arranged to return to France. Ribault’s 800 settlers, which included women and children, rebuilt and repaired the fort’s dilapidated buildings.
Spanish attack, 1565
Just weeks later, a Spanish expedition led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived at the behest of Philip II to drive out the French, just as they had further north in Port Royal Sound in 1564. Spain believed they held claim to the lands their explorer Juan Ponce de León — he of the fountain of youth — had discovered in 1513.
Ribault was aware of the Spanish presence and sailed with most of Fort Caroline’s soldiers to Saint Augustine on September 10, 1565. They encountered a strong tropical storm.
On the morning of September 20, Menéndez and his men attacked Fort Caroline. Despite the same raging tropical storm that Ribault encountered, they managed to capture the settlement. One hundred thirty-two Frenchmen died; another 45 escaped. Around 50 women and children were held hostage. Menéndez quickly renamed the colony Fort San Mateo and set out looking for the escapees.
Ribault’s and Laudonniere’s whereabouts
Meanwhile, Ribault and his men were washed ashore near what is now Daytona Beach. The storm had destroyed their ships and many of the men had drowned. The survivors began walking the coastline and soon fell into Spanish hands at Matanzas Inlet. In accordance with Philip II’s edict, all Huguenots who refused to recant their ‘heresy’ were to be executed. The Spanish took them behind a sand dune and killed them using swords. Ribault — a Huguenot — was among those who met their death. The Catholics and a group of musicians on Ribault’s ships were allowed to live.
You might be wondering what happened to Laudonnière, as he was left at Fort Caroline when Ribault set sail for St Augustine. Laudonnière was among the escapees during the Spanish attack. He managed to make his way to the mouth of the May (St John’s) River, where Ribault’s son had anchored three ships.
From there, Laudonnière and Ribault’s son set sail for Europe, however, Laudonnière arrived alone — in Wales. From Wales, it is thought that he travelled overland via Bristol and London to the coast, where he was able to cross the Channel and arrive in Paris around December 1565.
Once back in France, Laudonnière maintained a low profile, although he did write his memoir of Florida, L’histoire notable de la Floride, contenant les trois voyages faits en icelles par des capitaines et pilotes français (‘The notable history of Florida, containing the three voyages made by French captains and pilots’), published in 1586, 12 years after his death in 1574.
What happened to the Huguenots at Fort Caroline
Menéndez killed most of the settlers at Fort Caroline and hanged their bodies from trees. By way of explanation, he erected an inscription which read:
Not as Frenchmen but as Lutherans.
Calling Protestants ‘Lutherans’ — regardless of their religious preference — was still widespread practice at the time on the part of Catholics.
When this news reached France, both Catholics and Huguenots were outraged. The French court complained to the Spanish court. Spain responded by granting Menendez and his men honours and recognition.
Avenging the massacre at Fort Caroline
One French Catholic who was so outraged that he decided to take action against the Spanish was Dominique de Gourgue.
Gourgue came from a prominent family near Bordeaux. He served in several conflicts and had been captured by the Spaniards in 1557. He also travelled to Brazil and the West Indies, although it is unclear whether he was among the Huguenot expeditions there. In any event, once he left his military service and expeditions behind, the Guise family — leaders of the Catholic League — employed him against the Huguenots.
Regardless, Gourgue’s dislike of the Spanish outweighed any animosity he had towards Huguenots.
He sold everything he had and even enlisted the financial help of his brother Antoine to purchase three small ships. He recruited men on the premise that, together, they would sail to Cuba.
This they did. Once they arrived in Cuba, Gourgue revealed his primary intent: to sail to San Mateo (formerly Fort Caroline) and avenge the deaths of their fellow countrymen. He met with no objection.
In 1568, the tiny fleet arrived near San Mateo. Gourgue was quick to first make friends with and enlist the help of the Timacuan tribes the French knew earlier: the Saturiwa and the Tacatacuru.
Gourgue and his men — including the Indians — then attacked San Mateo. They killed the Spanish colonists and — just as Menéndez had with the Huguenots — hanged their bodies from trees with a similar style of inscription:
Not as Spaniards but as murderers.
Upon his return to La Rochelle in 1568, Gourgue met with a mixed reaction. The governor of Bordeaux, his home city, gave him a warm welcome. However, the French court, worried about reprisals from Spain, distanced itself from Gourgue.
He went to live in obscurity and poverty in the northern city of Rouen, until the French court decided to employ him in 1572 by giving him command of a ship. Ironically, he went on to command the largest vessel against the Huguenots at the Siege of La Rochelle.
Later in 1592, the Portuguese claimant to that country’s throne, Don Antonio de Crato, enlisted Gourgue’s help by putting him in charge of that country’s fleet against Philip II of Spain. Whilst on the way to Portugal, Gourgue died. Dom de Crato died in Paris three years later, unable to ever become king of Portugal, a position Philip II continued to hold.
End of the 2013 series on the Huguenots