Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Huguenot Martyrs

 Who were the martyrs of Matanzas?

They were about 250 Protestant men killed for their faith near 
St. Augustine, Florida in 1565, but sadly after years of research 
I have only been able to identify only the following names:

+ Nicholas Barre +

His previous adventures included a voyage to Brazil in 1555, where 
French Huguenots sought a colony in which they might find religious 
freedom. He was known "as a man of great firmness and intelligence"

+ Francois La Caille +

Served as Sergeant under Rene de Goulaine de Laudonniere 
at Fort Caroline,was apparently known for his shrewdness 

+ (?) Sainte Marie +

A captain --- not much is known about him

+ Jean Ribault +

First explored Florida in 1562 and planted the Charlesfort colony;
returned in August 1565 to save the colonists of Fort Caroline;
considered a great enemy by the Spanish and subsequently killed 

If we were to mark down a cross for every man believed 
to have been killed at Matanzas, this is what we would have:

Brutal, isn't it?

Please read the story below . . .


I think the most compelling thing about the Matanzas story is that it can touch any heart. Although it's the story of French Huguenot (Calvinist Protestant) martyrs, merely reading the tale and thinking of those killed for their convictions can bring a tear to any eye . . . religious, non-religious, those who care about history and those who don't know much about it at all. It all started in 1565, long before most of our ancestors stepped foot in America (save for those with Native American heritage, of course). Spain hadn't been able to settle Florida, and France wanted to try. Since French Protestants had suffered persecution in their homeland, it seemed a double blessing.

As often happened throughout history, things went wrong, and the men, women, and children who had settled at France's Fort Caroline (the location of which is still unknown) awoke on the morning of September 20, 1565, to a Spanish onslaught. Though women and children were taken prisoner, only a few men escaped . . . the rest were murdered. The tragedy didn't stop there. Soldiers who had put to sea in the hopes of checking the Spanish menace, having been shipwrecked, ended up at a place about fourteen miles from St. Augustine. This area would later be called "Matanzas", "slaughters."

There have been people who say the shipwrecked Frenchmen, those who were killed on September 29th and those who met a similar fate on October 12th, were slain for practical reasons . . . too many mouths to feed, belonged to an enemy nation, would have overpowered the Spanish if given the chance, etc. (Not that any of those things justify murder). It has been said they were not martyrs for their faith, yet the truth as I see it is that Catholics and those willing to convert to Catholicism were spared, and those who remained convicted Protestants were put to the sword. Imagine all those men coming to Florida in the hopes of wealth, freedom, and a future, kneeling there with hands tied behind their back. They couldn't deny their God, and so they were silenced by Spanish steel.

Below are three accounts of the Matanzas massacre as written by those who were there:

Father Solis de Meras, brother-in-law of Captain-General Pedro Menendez de Aviles:

"The Adelantado [Menendez], taking Jean Ribault behind the sand hills, among the bushes where the others had their hands tied behind them, he said to these and all others as he had done before, that they had four leagues to go after night, and that he could not permit them to go unbound; and after they were all tied, he asked if they were Catholics or Lutherans, or if any of them desired to make confession.

Jean Ribault replied, "that all who were there of the new religion," and he then began to repeat the psalm, "Domine! Memento Mei"; and having finished, he said, "that from dust they came and to dust they must return, and that in twenty years, more or less, he must render his final account; and that the Adelantado might do with them as he chose." The Adelantado then ordered all to be killed, and in the same order and at the same mark, as had been done to the others. He spared only the fifers, drummers and trumpeters, and four others who said that they were Catholics.

The man who actually killed Ribault first inquired of him whether the French commander did not expect his soldiers to obey orders. Ribault answered, "Yes." Then the Spaniard said, "I propose to obey the orders of my commander also. I am ordered to kill you." The psalm that Ribault recited before the dagger was thrust into his body was the 132nd Psalm which begins, "Lord, remember David"; but Ribault began it, according to an eyewitness, with "Lord, remember me."

Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, speaking of the first massacre at Matanzas: 

"As soon as he had called to them, one of them swam towards and spoke to him; told him of their having been shipwrecked, and the distress they were in; that they had not eaten bread for eight or ten days; and, what is more, stated that all, or at least the greater part of them, were Lutherans. Immediately the general sent him back to his countrymen, to say they must surrender, and give up their arms, or he would put them all to death. A French gentleman, who was a sergeant, brought back the reply that they would surrender on condition their lives should be spared.

"After having parleyed a long time, our brave captain-general answered 'that he would make no promises, that they must surrender unconditionally, and lay down their arms, because, if he spared their lives, he wanted them to be grateful for it, and, if they were put to death, that that there should be no cause for complaint.' Seeing that there was nothing else left for them to do, the sergeant returned to the camp; and soon after he brought all their arms and flags, and gave them up to the general, and surrendered unconditionally.

"Finding they were all Lutherans, the captain-general ordered them all put to death; but, as I was a priest, and had bowels of mercy, I begged him to grant me the favor of sparing those whom we might find to be Christians. He granted it; and I made investigations, and found ten or twelve of the men Roman Catholics, whom we brought back. All the others were executed, because they were Lutherans and enemies of our Holy Catholic faith. All this took place on Saturday (St. Michael's Day), September 29, 1565.

"I, Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, Chaplain of His Lordship, certify that the foregoing is a statement of what actually happened." 

The following is a letter written by Pedro Menendez to King Philip II of Spain just three days after the second Matanzas massacre, explaining a conversion with a French ship-master:

"[I said] that I, as Governor and Captain-General of these provinces, would carry out fire and blood war against all who might come to these parts to settle and plant the evil Lutheran sect, seeing that I had come by order of Your Majesty to plant the Gospel in these parts in order to enlighten the natives about what the Holy Mother Church of Rome says and believes, in order to save their souls. And thus, I would not give them passage; rather, I would follow them on land or at sea until I took their lives.'

"He asked me if he might go with this message, and would return by swimming, at night; and he asked if I would spare his life. And I did it, seeing that he spoke truth and could enlighten me about many things. And then, when he had returned to his companions, there came a gentleman, Lieutenant of Monsieur Laudonnière, very knowledgeable in these parts, to feel me out. And having had a give-and-take with me, he offered me that they turn over their arms and in return I would grant them their lives. I responded to him that they could turn over their arms and put themselves under my mercy in order that I might do with them what Our Lord might order me. And more than this he could not get from me or God Our Lord could expect from me. 

"And thus they went along with this answer, and came and surrendered their arms to me. And I had their hands tied behind them and put them to the knife. There only remained sixteen, of which twelve were Breton seamen, whom they had taken, and the four were craftsmen—carpenters and caulkers—people of whom I have need. And it seemed to me that to punish them in this way would be serving God Our Lord, and Your Majesty. From this point on, they will leave us free of their evil sect in order to plant the Gospel in these parts and enlighten the natives and bring them to the obedience of His Majesty . . ."

Perhaps most interesting is an account shared by Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, who was not present at Matanzas but claimed to know a man, Christophe le Breton, who had survived. This man recounted the following story, as told by de Morgues:

The Spaniards . . .  came in a boat to the other bank of the river, and held a parley with our men. The French asked what had become of the men left in the fort. The Spaniards replied that their commander, who was a humane and clement person, had sent them all to France in a large ship abundantly supplied, and that they might say to Ribaud that he and his men should be used equally well. The French returned with this message. Ribaud, on hearing it, believed too hastily this story about his men having been sent back to France, and summoned another council.

Here most of the soldiers began at once to cry out, "Let us go, let us go! What is to hinder our going over to them at once.  Even if they should put us to death, is it not better to die outright than to endure so many miseries? There is not one of us who has not experienced a hundred deaths while we have been making this journey! " Others, more prudent, said they could never put faith in Spaniards; for, they urged, if there were no other reason than the hatred which they bear to us on account of our religion, they assuredly will not spare us.

Ribaud, however, perceiving that most were of his mind, that it was best to surrender to the Spaniards, decided to send La Caille in to the Spanish commander, with orders, if the latter should seem inclined to clemency, to ask, in the name of the lieutenant of the king of France, for a safe-conduct, and to announce, that, if the Spanish leader would, make oath to spare all their lives, they would come in, and throw themselves at his feet. The greater part of the company assented to this, and La Caille was accordingly sent; who, coming to the fort, was taken before the commander, and, throwing himself at his feet, delivered his message.

Having heard La Caille through, he not only pledged his faith to La Caille in the terms suggested, and confirmed the pledge with many signs of the cross, and by kissing the Evangelists, but made oath in the presence of all his men, and drew up a writing sealed with his seal, repeating the oath, and promising that he would without fraud, faithfully, and like a gentleman and a man of honesty, preserve the lives of Ribaud and his men.

All this was handsomely written out, and given to La Caille; but this fine paper promise was worth just as much as the blank paper. La Caille, however, took back this elegant document with him; which was joyfully received by some, while others did not entertain any great expectations from it. Ribaud, however, having made an excellent speech to his people, and all having joined in offering prayer to God, gave orders to proceed, and with all his company came down to the bank of the river near the fort.

Upon being seen by the Spanish sentinels, they were taken over in boats. Ribaud himself, and D'Ottigny, Laudonnière's lieutenant, were first led into the fort by themselves; the rest were halted about a bowshot from the fort, and were all tied up in fours, back to back; from which, and other indications, they quickly perceived that their lives were lost. Ribaud asked to see the governor, to remind him of his promise; but he spoke to deaf ears.

D'Ottigny, hearing the despairing cries of his men, appealed to the oath which had been taken, but they laughed at him. As Ribaud insisted on his application, a Spanish soldier finally came in, and asked in French if he were the commander, “Ribaud." The answer was "Yes." The man asked again, if Ribaud did not expect, when he gave an order to his soldiers,that they would obey; to which he said again, " Yes." —" I propose to obey the orders of my commander also," replied the Spaniard; " I am ordered to kill you; " and with that he thrust a dagger into his breast; and he killed D'Ottigny in the same way.

When this was done, men were detailed to kill all the rest who had been tied up, by knocking them in the head with clubs and axes; which they proceeded to do without delay, calling them meanwhile Lutherans, and enemies to God and to the Virgin Mary. In this manner they were all most cruelly murdered in violation of an oath, except a drummer from Dieppe named Dronet, a fifer, and another man from Dieppe, a fiddler named. Masselin, who were kept alive to play for dancing; and one sailor escaped in the following manner, being the same who related to me this narrative: He was among those who were pinioned for slaughter, and was knocked in the head. with the rest, but, instead of being killed, was only stunned; and, the three others with whom he was tied falling above him, he was left for dead along with them.

The Spaniards got together a great pile of wood to burn the corpses; but, as it grew late, they put it off until the next day. The sailor, coming to his senses among the dead bodies in the night, bethought himself of a knife which he wore in a wooden sheath, and contrived to work himself about until little by little he got the knife out, and cut the ropes that bound him. He then rose up, and silently departed, journeying all the rest of the night.

This story has always been very near to my heart, and I hope that as the years pass
I will find more information concerning those who died. In the meantime I dedicate this memorial page to hopefully share the story with others who might also keep it in their hearts. Thank you for reading.

(c) 2015 St. Augustine Fridays