Theodore de Bry, Grand Voyages to the New World: The French in Florida

The examples below in German, printed 1617

In 1562, Jean Ribault, a French naval officer, was chosen to lead an expedition to the New World to establish a colony for the Huguenots. With a 150 colonists he crossed the Atlantic and explored the mouth of the St. Johns River in modern-day Jacksonville, Florida, before heading to Parris Island, off the coast of present-day South Carolina. Here he established the colony of Charlesfort in honour of the French king, Charles IX.

Ribault himself sailed home for supplies. However, civil war had broken out in France between Roman Catholics backed by Spain and the Protestant Huguenots backed by England. Ribault sought safety in England, but was arrested and detained in the Tower of London.

Meanwhile, Charlesfort was threatened by a lack of supplies and most of the colonists had followed René Laudonnière further south into Spanish territory to establish Fort Caroline at the mouth of the St. Johns River. The fort had some success, although some colonists sailed home and others became pirates. Following his release from prison, Ribault was sent by the French government to save the settlement.

Spanish troops led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés who had already established a fortified position at St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 were sent to stop Ribault at sea. A confrontation was averted by Ribault steering his fleet off course, but Spanish troops had been ordered by Menendez to capture Fort Caroline by land and take the settlers as prisoners. Shortly afterward a storm destroyed Ribault's fleet. The few sailors able to make it ashore near St. Augustine, including Ribault, were killed by waiting Spanish soldiers.

One of few colonists to escape Fort Caroline was Jacques le Moyne. During his time there he had painted scenes of life at the fort and had visited and painted the native inhabitants, the Timucuan Indians. These were the pictures that were later used by de Bry for his books.

The French were to get their revenge. One Dominique de Gourges, who hated the Spaniards, when he heard of the Florida massacre vowed to avenge the death of his countrymen. On 22nd August 1567 he set sail for Florida.

The following is a romanticised version of what happened next.
The Spaniards had repaired the fort and now called it Fort Mateo. They had also built two small forts nearer the mouth of the river to guard the entrance to it. Now one afternoon the men in these forts saw three ships go sailing by. These were the French ships bringing Gourges and his companions. But the men in the forts thought that they were Spanish ships and therefore fired a salute. Gourges did not undeceive them. He fired a salute in reply and, sailing on as if he were going elsewhere, was soon lost to sight. At length, having found a convenient place out of sight of the forts, he drew to the shore. But when he would have landed he saw that the whole beach was crowded with savages armed with bows and arrows and ready for war. For the Indians, too, had taken the strange ships to be Spanish. And as they had grown to hate the Spaniards with a deadly hatred they were prepared to withstand their landing.

Fortunately, however, Gourges had on board a trumpeter who had been in Florida with Laudonnière. So now he sent him on shore to talk with the Indians. And as soon as they recognised him they greeted him with shouts of joy. Then they led him at once to their chief who was no other than Satouriona, Laudonnière's one-time friend.

So amid great rejoicings the Frenchmen landed. Then Satouriona poured into their ears the tale of his wrongs. He told them how the Spaniards stole their corn, drove them from their huts and their hunting grounds, and generally ill-treated them. "Not one peaceful day," he said, "have the Indians known since the Frenchmen went away."

When Gourges heard this he was well pleased. "If you have been ill-treated by the Spaniards," he said, "the French will avenge you". At this Satouriona leaped for joy. "What!" he cried, "will you fight the Spaniards?" "Yes," replied Gourges, "but you must do your part also." "We will die with you," cried Satouriona, "if need be." "That is well," said Gourges. "How soon can you be ready? For if we fight we should fight at once." "In three days we can be ready," said the Indian. "See to it then," said Gourges, "that you are secret in the matter so that the Spaniards suspect nothing." "Have no fear," replied Satouriona; "we wish them more ill than you do."

The third day came and, true to his word, Satouriona appeared surrounded by hundreds of warriors, fearful in paint and feathers. Then some by water, some by land, the French and Indians set forth, and after many hardships and much toil they reached one of the forts which the Spaniards had built near the river's mouth. From the shelter of the surrounding trees they gazed upon it.

"There!" cried Gourges, "there at last are the thieves who have stolen this land from our King. There are the murderers who slew our countrymen." At his words the men were hardly to be restrained. In eager whispers they begged to be led on. So the word was given, and the Frenchmen rushed upon the fort.

The Spaniards had just finished their mid-day meal when a cry was heard from the ramparts. "To arms! to arms! the French are coming!" They were taken quite unawares, and with but short resistance they fled. The French and Indians pursued them and hemmed them in so that not one man escaped. In like manner the second fort was also taken, and every man slain or made prisoner.

The next day was Sunday, and Gourges spent it resting, and making preparations to attack Fort Mateo. When the Spaniards in Fort Mateo saw the French and their great host of yelling, dancing Indians they were filled with fear. And in order to find out how strong the force really was one of them dressed himself as an Indian and crept within the French lines. But almost at once he was seen by a young Indian chief. And his disguise being thus discovered he was seized and questioned. He owned that there were scarce three hundred men in the fort and that, believing the French to number at least two thousand, they were completely terror-stricken. This news delighted Gourges, and next morning he prepared to attack.

The fort was easily taken. When the Spaniards saw the French attack, panic seized them and they fled into the forest. But there the Indians, mad with the desire of blood and vengeance, met them. Many fell before the tomahawks; others turned back choosing rather to die at the hands of the French than of the Indians. But which way they turned there was no escape. Nearly all were slain, a few only were taken prisoner. [27th April 1568]

When the fight was over Gourges brought all the prisoners from the three forts together. He led them to the trees where Menendez had hanged the Frenchmen a few months before. There he spoke to them. Did you think that such foul treachery, such abominable cruelty would go unpunished?" he said. "Nay, I, one of the most lowly of my King's subjects, have taken upon myself to avenge it. There is no name shameful enough with which to brand your deeds, no punishment severe enough to repay them. But though you cannot be made to suffer as you deserve you shall suffer all that an enemy may honourably inflict. Thus your fate shall be an example to teach others to keep the peace and friendly alliance, which you have broken so wickedly."

And having spoken thus sternly to the trembling wretches Gourges ordered his men to hang them on the very same trees upon which Menendez had hanged the Frenchmen. And over their heads he nailed tablets of wood upon which were burned the words "Not as Spaniards or as Mariners, but as Traitors, Robbers and Murderers."

Then at length the vengeance of Gourges was satisfied. But indeed it was scarce complete, for Menendez the chief mover and leader of the Spaniards was safe in Europe, and beyond the reach of any private man's vengeance. The Spaniards, too, were strongly entrenched at St. Augustine, so strongly indeed that Gourges knew he had not force enough to oust them. He had not even men enough to keep the three forts he had won. So he resolved to destroy them.

This delighted the Indians, and they worked with such vigour that in one day all three forts were made level with the ground. Then, having accomplished all that he had come to do, Gourges made ready to depart. Whereupon the Indians set up a wail of grief. With tears they begged the Frenchmen to stay, and when they refused they followed them all the way to the shore, praising them and giving them gifts, and praying them to return.

So leaving the savages weeping upon the shore the Frenchmen sailed away, and little more than a month later they reached home.

This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Grand Voyages Page 203 Re-taking of Fort Caroline

The picture on this page shows the re-taking of Fort Caroline, showing the French and the Indians attacking from the shore and the Spanish starting to run away. This is not taken directly from a painting of Jacques le Moyne since he had returned to Europe after the loss of the fort. However he did make other paintings of the fort which have been incorporated into this engraving. Bear in mind that the colouring of the engraving was done by hand at some indeterminate time after printing and so the colours of the flags, for example, may not be correct. The French flag was probably a red cross on a white background, rather than a white cross on a red background.

Grand Voyages Page 183 Timucan Indians fighting alligators

The German text calls these creatures "crocodilen", but this since this is Florida they must be alligators. The picture on this page and the next one, following, are almost certainly based on le Moyne's paintings and show the Timucan Indians of Florida.

The Indians made a small hut with holes in near the river in which someone could see and hear the alligators from a distance. When these creatures are hungry, they come out of the water onto the islands to hunt but if they could not find anything they made a terrible noise that could be heard for half a mile. Then the guard called ten or twelve other men, who approached the large and terrifying creatures with a long tree trunk. As it crawled towards them with its jaws open they rammed the pointed end down its throat. Because of the roughness of the bark it could not get free so they were able to twist it over and shoot arrows into its soft belly, then club and spear it and cut it open. The hard scales made its back impossible to penetrate, especially if the creature was old.

Grand Voyages Page 184 Timucan Indian princess borne aloft in a wedding procession

When a chief wanted to get married, he made his choice from the more beautiful and tallest of all the noble women. Then they fixed a chair to two long strong poles. The chair was covered with some rare animal skin and decorated with branches from behind, so that they waved above the bride's head when she was seated there. Four strong men lifted the poles onto their shoulders. Each one held a wooden crutch for propping up the pole when they wanted a rest. To either side of the bride walked two more men, carrying beautifully made sunshades, attached to long poles, for protecting her from the heat of the sun. At the front of the procession were others blowing trumpets made from tree-bark. They were narrow at the top and wider towards the bottom, with only two holes - one at the top and the other at the bottom for the breath to come out. These trumpets were hung with small long gold, silver and copper discs to produce a better sound. Following behind were the most beautiful maidens, dressed with pearl necklaces and bracelets, each carrying a basket of selected fruits. They wore a girdle below the navel but above the hip, made from tree-moss to cover their private parts. All the rest of the procession followed on behind.

Early Printed Books - Introduction
1493 Nuremberg Chronicle (Schedel's World History)
1572 The Wittenberg Bible
1588 Michael Eytzinger: Of Leone Belgico, eiusque topographica atque historica..
1617 Theodore de Bry: Grand Voyages to the New World -Introduction and pages on Raleigh, Drake and Pizarro
1617 Theodore de Bry: Grand Voyages to the New World -Florida and the French: le Moyne's pictures [THIS PAGE]
1617 Theodore de Bry: Grand Voyages to the New World -Mexico