Sunday, April 18, 2010

French Witness in Florida

Robert Stevenson, Protestant Church Music in America, p. 3:

Although Jamestown was not founded until 1607, Plymouth until 1620, and Massachusetts Bay until 1630, these seventeenth-century English colonies by no means initiated Protestant forays into North America. As early as the spring of 1564 three shiploads of Huguenots under the command of René de Laudonnière, settled ten miles down St. Johns River from what is now Jacksonville, Florida. Their principal recreation consisted in singing Marot psalms. The sturdy Calvinist tunes to which these were sung caught the immediate fancy of the surrounding Florida Indians, who came from far and near to enjoy the Huguenots' music. Before long the natives were singing the same tunes, learned by rote. After the Spaniards massacred the encroaching French colonists, the Indians for many years continued to sing snatches of these vigorous Huguenot tunes as "codewords" to determine whether any stragglers along the seacoast were friendly French or sullen Spanish.

Nicolas Le Challeux's Brief Discovrs et histoire d'vn voyage de quelques Francois en la Floride, published at Geneva in 1579 as an appendix to Girolamo Benzoni's Histoire novvelle dv Novveav monde, specifies the very tunes that were used as signals -- those for Psalms 128 and 130. He writes that the Florida Indians "yet retain such happy memories that when someone lands on their shore, the most endearing greeting that they know how to offer is Du fons de ma pensee [Ps. 130] or Bienheureux est quiconques [Ps. 128], which they say as if to ask the watchword, are you French or not?" Le Challeux continues that the Indians do so because "the French while there taught them how to pray and how to sing certain psalms, which they heard so frequently that they still retain two or three words of those psalms."

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