Sunday, September 04, 2005

Another Storm, 440 Years Ago

No matter where you live in this country, hurricanes are on your mind this week. Most of you are safe from the immediate effects of these ocean storms, but all of us have been affected by one particular storm named Katrina.

Those of us in the hurricane strike zone, from Virginia to Texas, know that the next 3 weeks is historically the most dangerous time. Deadly September…if we can just make it through this peak month, things will calm down…for about 8 months.

Katrina got me thinking about another storm. This one had no name since it happened long before the naming of storms. This storm saved my home town from complete destruction. This is the story of that storm…

For decades after claiming La Florida in 1513, Spain did little with her massive new territory. Exploratory expeditions seeking gold and other natural riches occurred, but no permanent settlement was successful. Then, in 1564 a group of French protestants under Jean Ribault landed in Florida and started a colony near the mouth of the St. Johns River. This they called Fort Caroline.

When the Spanish learned of this “illegal” and to them “heretical” settlement, they sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to remove the trespassing Frenchmen. In September of 1565, Menendez and his colonists located the French and then sailed south to the nearest natural bay. Here they came ashore and established a base camp, which they named Saint Augustine.

The French didn’t mess around and wait for a Spanish attack. They immediately sailed south to wipe out the new Spanish base at St. Augustine. As they neared St. Augustine a powerful storm, probably a hurricane, swept them south and wrecked their ships. The French troops who made it to shore began the long walk north along the beach.

Menendez seized the moment, marched north during the storm and captured Fort Caroline. Next he marched south and met the French troops at an inlet 14 miles south of St. Augustine. The French could not get across the inlet and were stranded on the south bank.

Menendez had his troops take the Frenchmen prisoner and ferried them a few at a time across the inlet…where they were put to the sword out of site of the next boat to come. When the deed was done, the inlet had a new name, Matanzas…Spanish for “slaughter”.

The massacre of the French (who were coming to wipe out St. Augustine) can not be justified. Religious fanaticism was a factor as was the simple fact that Menendez had barely enough food for his own colonists. I don't agree with it, but I also don't use my modern principals to judge people of long ago. I know competition for natural resources and religous warfare sounds uncomfortably like current events.

The tiny colony of St. Augustine would endure to become the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States. It survived other hurricanes, pirate attacks by Drake and Morgan, and British attacks from Georgia and the Carolinas.

Four hundred and forty years ago the people of St. Augustine began building the future United States of America.

The Pilgrims would not arrive in North America for another fifty-five years.


Rexroth's Daughter said...

Thanks for the history lesson. Always very interesting to see how much of it takes place at the point of a sword. Some things never change.

Floridacracker said...

And so it goes...

Hick said...

Pretty interesting stuff. I like your history lessons.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks Hick. We'll talk about pirates in a future post...and there's the barefoot mailman story.