Ft Caroline and Mendendez

1565—Spanish forces under Pedro Menendez de Aviles capture the French Huguenot settlement of Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida. The French, commanded by René Goulaine de Laudonnière, lost 135 men […]
September 20, 2015

1565—Spanish forces under Pedro Menendez de Aviles capture the French Huguenot settlement of Fort Caroline, near present-day Jacksonville, Florida.

The French, commanded by René Goulaine de Laudonnière, lost 135 men in the first instance of colonial warfare between European powers in America. Most of those killed were massacred on the order of Aviles, who allegedly had the slain hung on trees beside the inscription “Not as Frenchmen, but as heretics.” Laudonniere and some 40 other Huguenots escaped.

In 1564, the French Huguenots (Protestants) had settled on the Banks of May, a strategic point on the Florida coast. King Philip II of Spain was disturbed by this challenge to Spanish authority in the New World and sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to Florida to expel the French heretics and establish a Spanish colony there. In early September 1565, Aviles founded San Augustin on the Florida coast, which would later grow into Saint Augustine–the oldest city in North America.

When King Philip II of Spain learned that the Frenchman Rene de Laudonniére had established Fort Caroline in Florida, he was incensed — the colony sat on land belonging to the Spanish crown. Spanish treasure fleets sailed along the Florida coast on their way to Spain and Fort Caroline provided a perfect base for French attacks. Worst of all to the devoutly Catholic Philip, the settlers were Huguenots (French Protestants). Despite Philip’s protests, Jean Ribault sailed from France in May 1565 with more than 600 soldiers and settlers to resupply Fort Caroline.

General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, charged with removing the French, also sailed in May, arriving at the Saint Johns River in August with some 800 people, shortly after Ribault . After a brief sea chase, the Spanish retired south to a site they had earlier reconnoitered, a Timucuan village called Seloy. The Spanish came ashore on September 8 and established and named their new village “St. Augustine” because land had first been sighted on the Feast Day of St. Augustine, August 28.

Jean Ribault sailed on September 10 to attack and wipe out the Spanish at St. Augustine, but a hurricane carried his ships far to the south, wrecking them on the Florida coast between present-day Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral.

At the same time, Menéndez led a force to attack Fort Caroline. Since most of the soldiers were absent, Menéndez was easily able to capture the French settlement, killing most of the men in the battle. Some of the inhabitants, including de Laudonniére and the artist Jacques LeMoyne, were able to escape to ships and return to France. Menéndez spared the women and children and sent them by ship to Havana.

He then learned from Timucuan Indians that a group of white men were on the beach a few miles south of St. Augustine. He marched with 70 soldiers to where an inlet had blocked 127 of the shipwrecked Frenchmen trying to get back to Fort Caroline.

With a captured Frenchman as translator, Menéndez described how Fort Caroline had been captured and urged the French to surrender. Rumors to the contrary, he made no promises as to sparing them. Having lost most of their food and weapons in the shipwreck, they did surrender. However, when Menéndez then demanded that they give up their Protestant faith and accept Catholicism, they refused. 111 Frenchmen were killed. Only sixteen were spared – a few who professed being Catholic, some impressed Breton sailors, and four artisans needed at St. Augustine.

Two weeks later, on September 20, he attacked and destroyed the French settlement of Fort Caroline. The decisive French defeat encouraged France to refocus its colonial efforts in America far to the north, in what is now Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada.

On October 12 Ribault and his men surrendered and met their fate, again refusing to give up their faith. This time 134 were killed. From that time, the inlet was called Matanzas — meaning “slaughters” in Spanish.

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Kenny

Christian. American. Father. Husband. Friend. Brother. Son. Grandson. Uncle. Cubs Fan. Digital.

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