1564, 1565. FAMINE. WAR. SUCCOR.
On the third of August, Laudonniere, perturbed and oppressed, was walking on the hill, when, looking seaward, he saw a sight that sent a thrill through his exhausted frame. A great ship was standing towards the river's mouth. Then another came in sight, and another, and another. He despatched a messenger with the tidings to the fort below. The languid forms of his sick and despairing men rose and danced for joy, and voices shrill with weakness joined in wild laughter and acclamation, insomuch, he says, "that one would have thought them to bee out of their wittes."
A doubt soon mingled with their joy. Who were the strangers? Were they the friends so long hoped for in vain? or were they Spaniards, their dreaded enemies? They were neither. The foremost ship was a stately one, of seven hundred tons, a great burden at that day. She was named the "Jesus;" and with her were three smaller vessels, the "Solomon," the "Tiger," and the "Swallow." Their commander was "a right worshipful and valiant knight," - for so the record styles him, - a pious man and a prudent, to judge him by the orders he gave his crew when, ten months before, he sailed out of Plymouth: "Serve God daily, love one another, preserve your victuals, beware of fire, and keepe good companie." Nor were the crew unworthy the graces of their chief; for the devout chronicler of the voyage ascribes their deliverance from the perils of the sea to "the Almightie God, who never suffereth his Elect to perish."
Who then were they, this chosen band, serenely conscious of a special Providential care? They were the pioneers of that detested traffic destined to inoculate with its infection nations yet unborn, the parent of discord and death, filling half a continent with the tramp of armies and the clash of fratricidal swords. Their chief was Sir John Hawkins, father of the English slave-trade.
He had been to the coast of Guinea, where he bought and kidnapped a cargo of slaves. These he had sold to the jealous Spaniards of Hispaniola, forcing them, with sword, matchlock, and culverin, to grant him free trade, and then to sign testimonials that he had borne himself as became a peaceful merchant. Prospering greatly by this summary commerce, but distressed by the want of water, he had put into the River of May to obtain a supply.
Among the rugged heroes of the British marine, Sir John stood in the front rank, and along with Drake, his relative, is extolled as "a man borne for the honour of the English name. . . . Neither did the West of England yeeld such an Indian Neptunian paire as were these two Ocean peeres, Hawkins and Drake." So writes the old chronicler, Purchas, and all England was of his thinking. A hardy and skilful seaman, a bold fighter, a loyal friend and a stern enemy, overbearing towards equals, but kind, in his bluff way, to those beneath him, rude in speech, somewhat crafty withal and avaricious, he buffeted his way to riches and fame, and died at last full of years and honor. As for the abject humanity stowed between the reeking decks of the ship "Jesus," they were merely in his eyes so many black cattle tethered for the market.[FN#18]
Hawkins came up the river in a pinnace, and landed at Fort Caroline, accompanied, says Laudonniere, "with gentlemen honorably apparelled, yet unarmed." Between the Huguenots and the English Puritans there was a double tie of sympathy. Both hated priests, and both hated Spaniards. Wakening from their apathetic misery, the starveling garrison hailed him as a deliverer. Yet Hawkins secretly rejoiced when he learned their purpose to abandon Florida; for although, not to tempt his cupidity, they hid from him the secret of their Appalachian gold mine, he coveted for his royal mistress the possession of this rich domain. He shook his head, however, when he saw the vessels in which they proposed to embark, and offered them all a free passage to France in his own ships. This, from obvious motives of honor and prudence, Laudonniere declined, upon which Hawkins offered to lend or sell to him one of his smaller vessels.
Laudonniere hesitated, and hereupon arose a great clamor. A mob of soldiers and artisans beset his chamber, threatening loudly to desert him, and take passage with Hawkins, unless the offer were accepted. The commandant accordingly resolved to buy the vessel. The generous slaver, whose reputed avarice nowhere appears in the transaction, desired him to set his own price; and, in place of money, took the cannon of the fort, with other articles now useless to their late owners. He sent them, too, a gift of wine and biscuit, and supplied them with provisions for the voyage, receiving in payment Laudonniere's note; "for which," adds the latter, "untill this present I am indebted to him." With a friendly leave taking, he returned to his ships and stood out to sea, leaving golden opinions among the grateful inmates of Fort Caroline.
Before the English top-sails had sunk beneath the horizon, the colonists bestirred themselves to depart. In a few days their preparations were made. They waited only for a fair wind. It was long in coming, and meanwhile their troubled fortunes assumed a new phase.