1565. MASSACRE OF THE HERETICS.
In suspense and fear, hourly looking seaward for the dreaded fleet of Jean Ribaut, the chaplain Mendoza and his brother priests held watch and ward at St. Augustine in the Adelantado's absence. Besides the celestial guardians whom they ceased not to invoke, they had as protectors Bartholomew Menendez, the brother of the Adelantado, and about a hundred soldiers. Day and night they toiled to throw up earthworks and strengthen their position.
A week elapsed, when they saw a man running towards them, shouting as he ran.
Mendoza went to meet him.
"Victory! victory!" gasped the breathless messenger. "The French fort is ours!" And he flung his arms about the chaplain's neck.'
"To-day," writes the priest in his journal, "Monday, the twenty-fourth, came our good general himself, with fifty soldiers, very tired, Like all those who were with him. As soon as they told me he was coming, I ran to my lodging, took a new cassock, the best I had, put on my surplice, and went out to meet him with a crucifix in my hand; whereupon he, like a gentleman and a good Christian, kneeled down with all his followers, and gave the Lord a thousand thanks for the great favors he had received from Him."
In solemn procession, with four priests in front chanting Te Deum, the victors entered St. Augustine in triumph.
On the twenty-eighth, when the weary Adelantado was taking his siesta under the sylvan roof of Seloy, a troop of Indians came in with news that quickly roused him from his slumbers. They had seen a French vessel wrecked on the coast towards the south. Those who escaped from her were four or six leagues off, on the banks of a river or arm of the sea, which they could not cross.
Menendez instantly sent forty or fifty men in boats to reconnoitre. Next, he called the chaplain, - for he would fain have him at his elbow to countenance the deeds he meditated, - and, with him twelve soldiers and two Indian guides, embarked in another boat. They rowed along the channel between Anastasia Island and the main shore; then they landed, struck across the island on foot, traversed plains and marshes, reached the sea towards night, and. searched along shore till ten o'clock to find their comrades who had gone before. At length, with mutual joy, the two parties met, and bivouacked together on the sands. Not far distant they could see lights. These were the camp-fires of the shipwrecked French.
To relate with precision the fortunes of these unhappy men is impossible; for henceforward the French narratives are no longer the narratives of eye-witnesses.
It has been seen how, when on the point of assailing the Spaniards at St. Augustine, Jean Ribaut was thwarted by a gale, which they hailed as a divine interposition. The gale rose to a tempest of strange fury. Within a few days, all the French ships were cast on shore, between Matanzas Inlet and Cape Canaveral. According to a letter of Menendez, many of those on hoard were lost; but others affirm that all escaped but a captain, La Grange, an officer of high merit, who was washed from a floating mast. One of the ships was wrecked at a point farther northward than the rest, and it was her company whose campfires were seen by the Spaniards at their bivouac on the sands of Anastasia Island. They were endeavoring to reach Fort Caroline, of the fate of which they knew nothing, while Ribaut with the remainder was farther southward, struggling through the wilderness towards the same goal. What befell the latter will appear hereafter. Of the fate of the former party there is no French record. What we know of it is due to three Spanish eye-witnesses, Mendoza, Doctor Soils de las Meras, and Menendez himself. Soils was a priest, and brother-in-law to Menendez. Like Mendoza, he minutely describes what he saw, and, like him, was a red-hot zealot, lavishing applause on the darkest deeds of his chief. But the principal witness, though not the most minute or most trustworthy, is Menendez, in his long despatches sent from Florida to the King, and now first brought to light from the archives of Seville, - a cool record of unsurpassed atrocities, inscribed on the back with the royal indorsement, "Say to him that he has done well."
When the Adelantado saw the French fires in the distance, he lay close in his bivouac, and sent two soldiers to reconnoitre. At two o'clock in the morning they came back, and reported that it was impossible to get at the enemy, since they were on the farther side of an arm of the sea (Matanzas Inlet). Menendez, however, gave orders to march, and before daybreak reached the hither bank, where he hid his men in a bushy hollow. Thence, as it grew light, they could discern the enemy, many of whom were searching along the sands and shallows for shell-fish, for they were famishing. A thought struck Menendez, an inspiration, says Mendoza, of the Holy Spirit. He put on the clothes of a sailor, entered a boat which had been brought to the spot, and rowed towards the shipwrecked men, the better to learn their condition. A Frenchman swam out to meet him. Menendez demanded what men they were.
"Followers of Ribaut, Viceroy of the King of France," answered the swimmer.
"Are you Catholics or Lutherans?"