Monday, October 12, 2009

Remember Me, O Lord

The greatest commander in the French navy in the middle of the sixteenth century was the Huguenot, Jean Ribault. He returned to Florida to keep a fledgling Protestant colony alive in August 1565, but as providence would have it, the ruthless Spanish Adelantado Pedro Menéndez arrived at virtually the same time in Florida, founding St. Augustine, and attacking Fort Caroline in the space of mere days that September. Having massacred its inhabitants, a hurricane scattered Ribault's fleet at sea, and the shipwrecked remnants trudged the seashore northward on foot, arriving in separate groups at a place that would become known as "Matanazas" (Spanish for "massacre"). The first contingent of around 150 sailors sought mercy from the Spanish but Menéndez was vague, promising them only whatever mercy God would direct of him. His "mercy" led to the slaughter of most, with only a handful of professed Catholics, artisans and musicians spared. Days later, Ribault and his men arrived at the very same spot. Charles Bennett records what happened next, on October 12, 1565, relying upon the deposition of a Spanish eyewitness for many details of this account, Laudonniere & Fort Caroline: History and Documents, pp. 42-43:

Solis de Meras, a Spanish priest and eyewitness to the scene, described the massacre in the following words:

The Adelantado [Menéndez], 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.27

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."

According to some early accounts, Ribault's beard and a piece of his skin were sent to Philip II and the Frenchman's head was cut into four parts, which were penetrated by lances and raised at each corner of the Spanish fort at St. Augustine. In reporting to King Philip II, Menéndez stated: "I think it great good fortune that this man be dead, for the King of France could accomplish more with him and fifty thousand ducats than with other men and five hundred thousand ducats; and he could more in one year, than another in ten...."

Francis Parkman adds to the account of Ribault's final moments, including the fact that Ribault recited his psalm after the manner of the Huguenots, in French, rather than Latin, thus, Pioneers of France in the New World, pp. 143-144:

At length the transit was finished. With bloodshot eyes and weapons bared, the Spaniards closed around their victims.

"Are you Catholics or Lutherans? and is there any one among you who will go to confession?"

Ribault answered, "I and all here are of the Reformed Faith."

And he recited the Psalm, "Domine, memento mei."1

"We are of the earth," he continued, "and to earth we must return; twenty years more or less can matter little;"2 and, turning to the Adelantado, he bade him do his will.

The stony-hearted bigot gave the signal; and those who will may paint to themselves the horrors of the scene.

1 "L'auteur a voulu dire apparemment, Memento Domine David, D'ailleurs Ribaut la recita sans doute en Francais, a la maniere des Protestas." -- Hist. Gen. des Voyages, XIV, 446.

2 "Dijo; que de Tierra eran, y que en Tierra se avian de bolver; e veinte Anos mas, o menos, todo era una Cuenta." Solis, 89.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this account!! Praise God for the faithful testimonies of His people! Ironic that may today (as then) thought that the Mexica (erronously named Aztecs) were ruthlessly bloody, when the Spainards were so much more! And they should have known better!