1562, 1563. JEAN RIBAUT.
In the year 1562 a cloud of black and deadly portent was thickening over France. Surely and swiftly she glided towards the abyss of the religious wars. None could pierce the future, perhaps none dared to contemplate it: the wild rage of fanaticism and hate, friend grappling with friend, brother with brother, father with son; altars profaned, hearth-stones made desolate, the robes of Justice herself bedrenched with murder. In the gloom without lay Spain, imminent and terrible. As on the hill by the field of Dreux, her veteran bands of pikemen, dark masses of organized ferocity, stood biding their time while the battle surged below, and then swept downward to the slaughter, - so did Spain watch and wait to trample and crush the hope of humanity.
In these days of fear, a second Huguenot colony sailed for the New World. The calm, stern man who represented and led the Protestantism of France felt to his inmost heart the peril of the time. He would fain build up a city of refuge for the persecuted sect. Yet Gaspar de Coligny, too high in power and rank to be openly assailed, was forced to act with caution. He must act, too, in the name of the Crown, and in virtue of his office of Admiral of France. A nobleman and a soldier, - for the Admiral of France was no seaman, - he shared the ideas and habits of his class; nor is there reason to believe him to have been in advance of his time in a knowledge of the principles of successful colonization. His scheme promised a military colony, not a free commonwealth. The Huguenot party was already a political as well as a religious party. At its foundation lay the religious element, represented by Geneva, the martyrs, and the devoted fugitives who sang the psalms of Marot among rocks and caverns. Joined to these were numbers on whom the faith sat lightly, whose hope was in commotion and change. Of the latter, in great part, was the Huguenot noblesse, from Conde, who aspired to the crown,
"Ce petit homme tant joli, Qui toujours chante, toujours rit,"
to the younger son of the impoverished seigneur whose patrimony was his sword. More than this, the restless, the factious, and the discontented, began to link their fortunes to a party whose triumph would involve confiscation of the wealth of the only rich class in France. An element of the great revolution was already mingling in the strife of religions.
America was still a land of wonder. The ancient spell still hung unbroken over the wild, vast world of mystery beyond the sea, - a land of romance, adventure, and gold.
Fifty-eight years later the Puritans landed on the sands of Massachusetts Bay. The illusion was gone, - the ignis fatuus of adventure, the dream of wealth. The rugged wilderness offered only a stern and hard won independence. In their own hearts, and not in the promptings of a great leader or the patronage of an equivocal government, their enterprise found its birth and its achievement. They were of the boldest and most earnest of their sect. There were such among the French disciples of Calvin; but no Mayflower ever sailed from a port of France. Coligny's colonists were of a different stamp, and widely different was their fate.
An excellent seaman and stanch Protestant, Jean Ribaut of Dieppe, commanded the expedition. Under him, besides sailors, were a band of veteran soldiers, and a few young nobles. Embarked in two of those antiquated craft whose high poops and tub-like porportions are preserved in the old engravings of De Bry, they sailed from Havre on the eighteenth of February, 1562. They crossed the Atlantic, and on the thirtieth of April, in the latitude of twenty-nine and a half degrees, saw the long, low line where the wilderness of waves met the wilderness of woods. It was the coast of Florida. They soon descried a jutting point, which they called French Cape, perhaps one of the headlands of Matanzas Inlet. They turned their prows northward, coasting the fringes of that waste of verdure which rolled in shadowy undulation far to the unknown West.
On the next morning, the first of May, they found themselves off the mouth of a great river. Riding at anchor on a sunny sea, they lowered their boats, crossed the bar that obstructed the entrance, and floated on a basin of deep and sheltered water, "boyling and roaring," says Ribaut, "through the multitude of all kind of fish." Indians were running along the beach, and out upon the sand-bars, beckoning them to land. They pushed their boats ashore and disembarked, - sailors, soldiers, and eager young nobles. Corselet and morion, arquebuse and halberd, flashed in the sun that flickered through innumerable leaves, as, kneeling on the ground, they gave thanks to God, who had guided their voyage to an issue full of promise. The Indians, seated gravely under the neighboring trees, looked on in silent respect, thinking that they worshipped the sun. "They be all naked and of a goodly stature, mightie, and as well shapen and proportioned of body as any people in ye world; and the fore part of their body and armes be painted with pretie deuised workes, of Azure, red, and blacke, so well and so properly as the best Painter of Europe could not amende it." With their squaws and children, they presently drew near, and, strewing the earth with laurel boughs, sat down among the Frenchmen. Their visitors were much pleased with them, and Ribaut gave the chief, whom he calls the king, a robe of blue cloth, worked in yellow with the regal fleur-de-lis.