Pedro de Menendez Account of Fort Caroline Capture

Portrait of Pedro Menendez

Portrait of Pedro Menendez

Pedro de Menéndez de Avilés to Philip II:

I wrote to Your Majesty from aboard the galleon San Salvador on September llth, this being the day she left Port. The duplicate of the letter goes in this, and later on I will send the other. While I was on the Bar in a sloop with two small boats with artillery and ammunition there came upon us four French galleons which had run us down with two or three small vessels to prevent us from landing here. Taking the artillery and provisions, although the weather was not propitious for crossing the Bar, I preferred to take the chance rather than surrender myself and one hundred and fifty persons, who were with me, into their power. Our Lord miracu­lously saved us. The tide was low, there being only one and a half scant fathoms of water on the Bar, and their vessel required one and a half long fathoms. They saw we had escaped them, as they spoke asking me to surrender, to have no fear. They then turned to search for the galleon, thinking we could not escape them. Two days out a heavy storm and tornado overtook them. It seemed to me they could not return to their Fort, running too great a risk of being lost, and to return to capture us they would have to bring a larger force and of the best they had. Thinking that their Fort would remain weak and it was the right time to capture it, I called a council of the captains, who agreed with me, and decided to attack the Fort by land. I therefore took five hundred men, three hundred arquebusiers, the rest pikemen, and with these few, taking our knapsacks and putting in each six pounds of biscuit and a measure of one and a half gallons of wine, with our arms and am­munition; each Captain and soldier — I was among the first setting the example, carrying this food and arms on my back. Not knowing the way, we hoped to get there in two days, it being distant about eight leagues or so, as we were told by two Indians who went with us as guides. Leaving this Fort of St. Augustine in the order above described and with determination on the eighteenth of September, we found the rivers so swollen from the copious rains that it was impossible to ford them and we were obliged, to take a circuitous route which had never been used before through swamp and un­known roads to avoid the rivers.

After walking until nine or ten o’clock at night, on the morn­ing of the twentieth, which is the feast of San Mateo, we arrived in sight of the Fort. Having offered prayers to the Blessed Lord and His Holy Mother, supplicating them to give us victory over these Lutherans, it was agreed that with twenty ladders, which we carried, we would assail the Fort. His Divine Majesty had mercy upon us and guided us in such a way that without losing one man and with only one injured (who is now well), we took the Fort with all it contained, killing about two hundred and thirty men; the other ten we took as prisoners to the forest. Among them were many noble­men, one who was Governor and Judge, called Monsieur Laudon­nier, a relative of the French Admiral, and who had been his steward. This Laudonnier escaped to the woods and was pursued by one of the soldiers who wounded him, and we know not what has become of him, as he and the others escaped by swimming out to two small boats of the three vessels that were opposite the Fort, with about fifty or sixty persons. I sent them a cannonade and call of the trumpet to surrender themselves, vessels, and arms. They re­fused, so with the artillery found in the Fort we sank one vessel; the others taking up the men went down the river where they had two other vessels anchored laden with provisions, being of the seven sent from France, and which had not yet been unloaded. It did not seem to me right to leave the Fort and pursue them until I had re­paired three boats we found in the Fort. The Indians notified them of our actions. As they were so few they took the two best and strongest vessels and sank the other. In three days they had fled. Being informed of this by the Indians, I did not pursue them. Later from the Fort they wrote me that about twenty Frenchmen had appeared in the forest with no clothing but a shirt, and many of them were wounded. It was believed that Monsieur Laudonnier was among them. I have sent word that they make every effort to cap­ture them and bring them to justice. In the Fort were found, among women, creatures, and children under fifteen years of age, about fifty persons. It causes me deep sorrow to see them among my people on account of their horrid religious sect, and I fear our Lord would punish me should I use cruelty with them. Eight or ten of the boys were born here.

These French have many friends among the Indians, who show much feeling at their loss, especially for two or three teachers of their hateful doctrine which they taught to the Indian chiefs, who followed them as the Apostles did our Lord. It is a thing of admira­tion to see how these Lutherans enchanted the poor savage people. I shall use every means to gain the good will of these Indians who were such friends to the French, and there is no reason, why I should break with them, and if 1 can live with them at peace it will be well; they are such traitors, thieves, and drunkards, that it is almost impossible to do so. These chiefs and the Indians, their enemies, all show friendship towards me, which I return and shall continue, unless their depredations increase that I may have to do otherwise.

On the 28th of September the Indians notified me that many Frenchmen were about six leagues from here on the coast, that they had lost their vessels and escaped by swimming and in boats. Tak­ing fifty soldiers I was with them next morning at daylight, and, leaving my men in ambush, I took one with me to the banks of the river, because they were on one side and I on the other bank. I spoke to them, told them I was Spanish; they said they were French. They asked me to come over to them either alone or with my partner, the river being narrow. I replied that we did not know how to swim, but that they could safely come to us. They agreed to do so, and sent a man of some intellect, master of a boat, who care­fully related to me how they had left their Fort with four galleons and eight small vessels, that each carried twenty-four oars with four hundred picked soldiers and two hundred marines and John Ribault as General and Monsieur LeGrange, who was General of the Infan­try, and other good captains, soldiers, and gentlemen, with the in­tention of finding me on the sea, and if I attempted to land, to land their people on the small boats and capture me. That if they had wanted to land they could easily have done so, but they had not dared and wanted to return to their Fort. That they were over­taken by a hurricane and tempest and were wrecked about twenty or twenty-five leagues from here. That of the four hundred only forty had survived; that the others had perished or were killed by the Indians. That fifty were carried prisoners by the Indians; that John Ribault with his captain were anchored five leagues from there in the swamp without trees, and he had in the vessel with him two hundred persons, more or less, and they believed them to have perished with all the artillery and ammunition, which was a great deal and good. Part of it was with John Ribault and what they had was certainly lost. They were saved, and he asked for himself and companions safe passage to their Fort, since they were not at war with the Spaniards. I then told him how we had taken their Fort and hanged all those we found in it, because they had built it with­out Your Majesty’s permission and because they were scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces, and that I had [to make] war [with] fire and blood, as Governor and Captain-General of these Provinces, against all those who came to sow this hateful doctrine; representing to him that I came by order of Your Maj­esty to place the Gospel in these parts and to enlighten the natives in all that the Holy Church of Rome says and does so as to save their souls. That I would not give them passage; rather would I fol­low them by sea and land until I had taken their lives. He begged to be allowed to go with this embassy and that he would return at night swimming, if I would grant him his life. I did so to show him that I was in earnest and because he would enlighten me on many subjects. Immediately after his return to his companions there came a gentleman, a lieutenant of Monsieur Laudonnier, a man well versed and cunning to tempt me. After much talk he offered to give up their arms if I would grant their lives. I told him he could sur­render the arms and give themselves up to my mercy, that I might do with them that which our Lord ordered. More than this he could not get from me, and that God did not expect more of me. Thus he returned and they came to deliver up their arms. I had their hands tied behind them and had them stabbed to death, leaving only six­teen, twelve being great big men, mariners whom they had stolen, the other four master carpenters and caulkers — people for whom we have much need, and it seemed to me to punish them in this manner would be serving God, our Lord, and Your Majesty. Here­after they will leave us free to plant the Gospel, enlighten the na­tives, and bring them to obedience and submission to Your Maj­esty. The lands being extensive, it will be well to make them work fifty years — besides, a good beginning makes a good end, so I have hopes in our Lord that in all He will grant me prosperity and suc­cess, so that I and my descendants may give to Your Majesty those Kingdoms full and return the people Christians. My particular in­terest as I have written Your Majesty is this: We are gaining great favor with the Indians and will be feared by them, although we make them many gifts.

Considering what John Ribault had done, I find that within ten leagues of where he was anchored, three of the vessels of his company were lost; whether they were lost or not, they would have landed the people, unloaded what supplies they could, employed themselves in getting out the brass artillery and the upright posts and tackle, if not lost, of the three vessels, rig themselves as best they could, and if the vessel he was on was not lost he will make every effort to come by sea. Should he do so I await him, and with the help of God, he will be lost. He might also go inland with one of the Casiques, his friend, who lives thirty leagues from here, and is very powerful. Should this be the case I will seek him there, be­cause it is not convenient that he and his companions should re­main alive. Should he come by sea to the Fort I have the entrance to the Bar mined with two savage cannon and guns, so that should they succeed in making an entrance, we can sink them. A brigantine is kept in readiness to capture the people and I shall do all in my power to prevent his escape. The things found in the Fort were only four pieces of brass of about five tons, the cannon and guns which had come from France were dismounted and carried to the galleons when they went in search of me. There were found besides twenty-five bronze muskets and as much as twenty tons of powder and ammunition for these pieces, about one hundred and sixty bar­rels of flour, twenty casks of wine. The balance of the supplies had not been unloaded, as they were hesitating whether they should fortify this Port, fearing I should land here, which I could easily have done. Since their arrival they had spent most of their time in debaucheries over the joy felt at the news they had received that northeast of Santa Elena was a range of mountains coming from the Zacatecas where there were great mines of silver. The Indians from those parts had brought them many pieces of silver to the amount of five and six thousand ducats. We found to the amount of three thousand ducats, more or less, in clothes and all kinds of valuables; some hogs, male and female; also sheep and asses; all this was ransacked by the soldiers; nothing escaped them. Besides the two vessels found in the Port, we found two near the Bar and two others they had stolen from the Indians, loaded with hides. Of these they had drowned the crews and the cargo had been given to an English vessel to carry it and sell it in England or France, and there remained with them two Englishmen. The French had no mariners by whom to [sail] these vessels. These two Englishmen were hanged when the Fort was captured by us. The Englishmen by whom they sent the cargo arrived in port at the Fort we have taken from them, the early part of August of this year, in a galleon of a thousand tons called the Queen of England, with three heavy tiers of artillery; all who saw her wondered and had never seen a vessel so heavily armed that drew so little water; the other three vessels were smaller. It was agreed between the English and French that as the French awaited help from France Monsieur Ludovic [Laudonniere], who was Governor here, should wait for them until the end of September; failing to return, he, Ludovic, was to go to France in search of them, and that by the month of April they would re­turn with a large fleet, to await and capture the fleet of New Spain, which was forced to pass their Fort; that if aid came, for which they had written to France, they would advise the English who would come to this coast by the month of April. It was for this pur­pose that I found in the Fort a large vessel and seven small ones, and another five, one or two of which had been stolen, and the four they wished to send to France to have them equipped with men and provisions to join the English and themselves by April; that by that time John Ribault would have returned, and with the eight hundred men who remained he wished to go by January to Los Martyres, about twenty-five leagues from Havana, and there built a fort. They had reconnoitered and found it a very desirable port. This was agreed between them, and that before leaving France John Ribault was to obtain the order that they should fortify Los Martyres, a strait by which no vessel could enter or depart without being sighted by them. To keep there always in readiness six vessels, it being the best sea in the world for them. That from there they would take Havana, free all the Negroes; that they would then send to make the same offer to the Spanish of Porto Rico and all other colonies. All this information I gained from the skillful Frenchman to whom I granted life. They had with them six Portuguese pilots whom they hanged when no longer needed; two others had been killed by the Indians, and two were with Ribault. The River San Mateo, running by the Fort we captured, goes seventy leagues inland and turns to the southeast emptying into the bay of Juan Ponce, and from there to New Spain and the port of San Juan de Luca, where there is only upwards of fifty leagues. In the bay of Juan Ponce, they thought next year to build a fort on account of its proximity to New Spain, distant a hundred and fifty leagues and about the same distance from Honduras and as many more from Yucatan, and where with their six vessels they could navigate with ease. On this river are three large Indian towns. The Indians are great friends of the French who have been there three times in search of corn. These French landed there in great need of supplies, having only enough to carry them eight days. Corn they found scarce and took it almost by force. The Indians themselves are great thieves — a poor but brave people. All the Indians are not more friendly to them, than to us, and I will not consent to take a grain of corn from them, but prefer to give them of what I may have. I consider this country so vast and fertile and the danger from enemies and cor­sairs so great that they can appropriate to themselves the land lying north of here near New Foundland, of which they are already lords, and can be sustained by them with ease. Everything should be done to aid me instead of cutting me off, and Your Majesty must be un­deceived and know that I am much better able than Your Majesty to enlarge and aggrandize these your Kingdoms. This Port is 29 1/2 degrees, and the San Mateo which we captured is 31 degrees. The French and their pilots were mistaken. I have had it taken by the sun on land. From here to the Cape of Canaveral there are fifty leagues, three rivers, two ports; between here and Havana, one hundred miles, more or less, which are navigable in boats among the keys of Canaveral and Los Martyres, and from there to Havana. I agree to take the good field pieces which we have captured from the French, and one hundred men [and] go along the borders of the coast, the boats by sea, anchoring at night near land among the keys of Canaveral where the sea is as smooth as a river; with the boats they will be able to discover among the keys the best port and surroundings to build a fort. So that with the one in Havana and this one we can at all times guard against the enemy and their entering to fortify themselves. Nor should we expect fleets or boats of the Indians. With the people of Havana [and] Santo Domingo, and Pedro de la Roda, whom I shall have come to my assistance, I will have until the last of March to build it, then with these vessels [I will] go over to Havana and seek these people. Having dis­covered the Port, and on the arrival of Pedro de la Roda in Hava­na he will find his vessels which I do not propose to take out of that Port, also his men, so that he may return to Spain as strong as when he left there. That I shall place one hundred and fifty Span­iards in possession to guard against the Indians who are great war­riors and whose good will we must gain. Then, by the 1st of April, I shall return to these two Forts, and in six or eight days I shall again take to the sea.

October 15, 1565


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One thought on “Pedro de Menendez Account of Fort Caroline Capture

  1. […] Pedro Menendez was the one responsible for the capture of Fort Caroline. In October 1565 he sent a letter to Spanish King Phillip about the conquest. He […]