The Letters of Pedro Menendez Aviles

Letter II (Province of Florida, September 11, 1565)

Your Royal Catholic Majesty. I sailed from Puerto Rico on the IS^.l” of August, for the Havana with the ship that I found with me, to join there the reinforcements from Santo Domingo, and proceed to this province of Florida, and continued to prosecute my voyage, the appearance of the sun and moon seeming to indicate fair weather. Thinking that, if I could succeed in reaching this harbor where the Frenchmen were, before the French fleet should arrive, I had sufficient force to take and hold it until the reinforcements from Santo Domingo and the troops that I required shall reach me, for the reason that they had built their fort five leagues up the river inland, and that there is an island at the mouth of the river of about a league long within, and alongside of the harbor, which they must necessarily enter, and which, whoever holds, is master of the sea, and can easily hold it, so that no ship can enter or go out of that harbor, without leave of the Alcayde who may command there. Hearing this secret from the two Frenchmen with me, (whom Your Majesty ordered to be handed over to me,) and who were the first who had been there, who also told me that, if the Frenchmen should arrive there before me, they would fortify this island so that they should be masters of the sea, it seemed to me the best plan, as I found myself with 800 persons, 500 of them soldiers, who could be landed, with 200 seamen, the other hundred being useless
people, married men, women and children and officials, to sail for this port, and take and fortify this island. And having held a council concerning this with all the captains and officers, both naval and military, and they being unanimously of the same opinion, thinking that, if the French fleet should arrive first, the war was at an end, and that, when the cavalry from Santo Domingo should reach us, we should be masters of the campaign, both by land and by sea, and should have them
surrounded, however strong they might be, and be able to destroy them, without their being able to receive help, either by land or sea ; and so, being of this mind, we pursued our course to this place, and on the 25*^ of August, being Sunday at noon, we -made this land at Cape Canaveral, in latitude of 28 degrees, at the mouth of the Bahama Channel.

We sailed along the coast, seeking this harbor, as far as the 29*?? degree, (for such was the account that I had, that the Frenchmen
were between the 28*.^ and 29*^ degrees.) Not finding it, we went on as far as twenty-nine and a half degrees, and then, seeing fires on the coast, on the second of September I sent ashore a Captain with 20 soldiers, to endeavor to get speech of the Indians, that they might give us news of this harbor ; and so this Captain came up with them and spoke with them, and they told him, by signs, that the harbor was further on, in higher latitude, towards the North ; and having returned the same day with this answer, I determined to go ashore myself the next day in the morning to see these Indians, who seemed to be a noble race, and I took some things for barter with them. They were well pleased with me, assuring me that the harbor was further on, and so we went on our way to seek it, sailing thence on our search on the 4*^ of September, and the same day at two in the afternoon we discovered it, and four ships anchored there, showing the flags of Captain and Admiral. Being thus certain that the succor had come to them, and that by falling suddenly on these four ships we should be able to take them, I decided to attack, and being yet half a league away from them, there came up great thunder and lightning and rain, and then the wind left us becalmed. But about ten at night, it came on to blow again, and, it appearing to me that, in the morning, the ships that might be in the harbor would come out with reinforcements for these four, I resolved to anchor alongside of them, with the intention of attacking them at daybreak. So, I anchored between the Captain and Admiral with my flag ship, and having spoken them, asking, what they were doing there ? And who was their Captain ? They answered that they had Juan Ribas [Jean RibaultJ for Captain General, and that they had come to this country by command of the King of France, and asked what ships were ours, and who was our General ? I answered them, that I, Pero Menendez, by command of Your Majesty, had come to this coast to burn and hang the French Lutherans whom I should find there, and that, in the morning I should board their vessels to see if any of that people were on them, and that, if there were any, I should not fail to execute upon them the justice that Your Majesty commanded.

They answered that it was no use, and that I might come on and not wait till morning. As it appeared to me that this opportunity was not to be lost, although it was night, turning my ship from stem to stern, I ordered cable to be paid out, so as to come alongside of her, but they cut their cables, and hoisted their sails, and all four of them took to flight. We were able to fire five heavy guns at the Admiral, and we suspect that we sank her, for many people abandoned her, getting into
a large boat, a sort of pinnace, of twenty oars and put themselves on board another ship, leaving the boat. I chased the three ships that night, but as my galleon was dismasted by the storm, they sailed faster than I, and so, at dawn finding them five or six leagues distant from me, I returned to the harbor to land 500 soldiers on the island. Being yet half a league off from it, we perceived three ships anchored there with flags and banners flying, and on shore two more flags, and it
appearing to me that there was no reason for wasting time there, as my flag ship could not go in there, and the little ones could enter only with great risk, I decided to turn back to the Bahama Channel to look for a harbor where I could land near them, and eight leagues from that harbor by sea and six by land^ I found one which I had reconnoitered before, on St. Augustine’s Day, being in about twenty nine and a half degrees. There, on the sixth, I landed 200 soldiers, and on the 7*^, three small vessels went in with the other 300, and the married men with -their wives and children, and I discharged most of the artillery and ammunition, and, it being eight o’clock on Our Lady’s Day, while we were engaged landing the other hundred persons who were to go on shore, with some guns and ammunition, and much store of provisions, the flag ship of the French Captain and Admiral came down within a half league of us, sailing round and round us ; we, anchored as we were, making signals to them to come alongside, and, at three in the afternoon, they made ‘sail and went to their harbor, and I went ashore and took possession, in the name of Your Majesty, and took the oaths, before the captains and officers as Captain General and Admiral of this land and coast, in conformity with Your Majesty’s instructions.

Many Indians were present, many of them chiefs, who showed themselves to be very friendly to us, and appear to us to be hostile to the French. They told us that, inside this harbor, and without going to sea, we could come to the river where the Frenchmen were, in front of their fort, by going up the river seven o’r eight leagues, which would be a very good thing, on account of being able to carry up the artillery and camp stores and cavalry, if we should wish to land near their fort,
without being hindered by their island, although they have fortified it ; moreover, we can go by land with horses and artillery. I decided to fortify myself as well as I can till reinforcements shall come, and within three days, I shall send to Havana, by a short route, and with God’s help I hope they will be able to start within eight or ten days, and I shall send pilots so that the reinforcements can come with all despatch to this port, and when they arrive, I shall so manage, by the help of
Our Lord, that I shall take from them the island of this harbor, and plant my guns upon their fort, so that with the cavalry, I shall hold it securely, and be master of the campaign.

The Indians of this harbor, tell us that ten ships came to them here in one month and that many caciques are friendly to them, and so we are sure that they will come upon us with such Indians as are friendly, and also upon this galleon, which, as it is loaded with much stores, artillery and ammunition, it would be our total destruction if they should capture from us. If they attack her, having but a small crew, she is in great danger, as I have been sailing her for fifteen days along this coast, among shoals and currents, so as to get inside the harbor to reconnoitre them, and to discharge what I have discharged. She is on such a coast, that, if any
side winds or bad weather should come, she will be lost. We need at least another fifteen days to finish unloading and to take in ballast, in which time it would be a mystery, in case of a storm, or attack from the enemy, if she could escape with all she contains, so that I have finished landing all the artillery and ammunition that was on board her, and I send her to Hispaniola or Monte Cristo or Port Boyal, that she may be laid up there with a quantity of biscuit and some wine which I cannot unload. I shall also send there the provisions that have come for the month of January, as we have biscuit on hand for the whole month of December, and with the prudent regulations that we shall establish we shall make it last through the whole of January ; and, if it shall be advisable, the galleon may come out armed to this coast in the spring, so that I shall be master of the sea, while in the meantime I make myself stronger on land, and also so as to intercept the supplies that may come to the French, it should be arranged that the Audiencia of St. Domingo shall pay the charges necessary for fitting her up, and pay the crew and provision her, for without this she cannot sail, as there will be no means otherwise of paying her.

It seems to me that what I have most need of is horses, for of those that sailed from Puerto Rico, only one came alive and every soldier should be mounted, to be master of the campaign, and to prevent the Indians from treating with the Frenchmen, and the Frenchmen from sallying out from their fort, for, when the Indians see this and that the Frenchmen fear us, and that we are stronger than they, they will all be our friends, which I shall endeavor to bring about with all possible
diligence, on account of the great importance of gaining reputation with them, and that they should fear us, while, in order that they shall love us, I shall make them all the presents possible. I find myself with two shallops of between 70 and 80 tons each, good vessels, drawing very little water, which I am sending to Havana that each may bring back forty horses, and if orders should be given there to this effect it would be a great thing. I am writing about it to the Governor and I send him a
bond, in case Your Majesty shall not give orders for these payments, that I will pay them myself, and when the vessels have come back with the horses, (or if they come without them,) I shall send them to Puerto de Plata, or Monte Christo, to load horses, and shall write to the Audiencia of St. Domingo to pay for them and hold them in readiness ; and, if they will not, I will send them a bond to pay for them myself. The chief cost of the horses will be for the vessels and crews, for, as
each vessel can carry 40 horses, they will cost, one with another, one thousand ducats ; for they must be good field horses, large boned and
able to do work ; also for drivers ; and a vessel that is to carry them will need carpenter work to be done, the crews must be paid, there must be money and stores, and the vessels must be prepared and strengthened, so they can be careened, and fitted for this coast as they should be with cables, double anchors and tackle, so that each bark must cost in the whole, at least two thousand ducats. As to myself. Your Majesty can be assured, that if it were a million more or less, I would lay out and expend the whole in this enterprise so great in the service of God Our Lord, for the increase of our Holy Catholic Faith, and for the service and authority of Your Majesty, and thus have I offered to Our Lord all that he may give me in this world, all that I may acquire and possess, in order to plant the gospel in this land and enlighten the nations thereof, and so do I promise Your Majesty.

It will be well that Your Majesty should write immediately to the Governor of Puerto Rico, to the Audiencia of St. Domingo, and to the Governor of the Havana, that, whenever my ships shall come into port there, they shall give them all aid and comfort. As to the horses that I shall send to look up there, with the food and water alone, there will not be a horse that will cost less than 25 or 80 ducats, and they shall be the best for the price that there are in the land. As to the saddles
and bridles, which will cost more, I do not wish them to furnish them, for I will send to Spain for them, and in this way, even if it be at the cost of my whole substance, I will soon have a supply of horses in these parts, and Your Majesty will be pleased to do me the favor to direct that I shall be paid for the expenses that may be incurred, as may be required in Your Majesty’s service. And inasmuch as I shall write to Your Majesty in a few days, I have no more to say in this letter, except that the people who have come with me are laboring with great zeal and good-will, and that it appears to me that Our Lord visibly strengthens and encourages them in their work, at which I am greatly contented.

I sent on shore with the first two hundred soldiers, two captains, Juan de San Vicente a brother of the Captain San Vicente, and Andres Lopez Patino, both old soldiers, in order to throw up a trench in the place most fit to fortify themselves in, and to collect there the troops that were landed so as to protect them from the enemy, if he should come upon them. They did this so well, that when I landed on Our Lady’s Day to take possession of the country in Your Majesty’s
name, it seemed as if they had had a month’s time, and if they had had shovels and other iron tools, they could not have done it better; for we have none of these things, the ship laden with them not having yet arrived. I have smiths and iron so that I can make them with despatch, as I shall. When I shall go on shore, we shall look out a more suitable place to fortify ourselves in, as it is not fit where we now are. This we must do with all speed, before the enemy can attack us, and if they give us eight days more time, we think we shall do it.

I have appointed as my Lieutenant and Master of the Camp, Pedro Menendez de Valdes (with- whom I have contracted to marry my daughter) and on whom Your Majesty was pleased to confer the Order of Santiago, who embarked secretly and against my will at Cadiz. He is a soldier of Italy, of five or six years’ service, experienced in vessels, a man of good understanding and of brains, with whom every body is well pleased. I have appointed as Sergeant Major Gonzalo de Villaroel, a good soldier, of good family and a man of brains. I have appointed ten Captains, all men of good family and trustworthy, most of them men of experience ; to those who have not so much I have given for sergeants and ensigns, soldiers of Italy, skilled in war, and each company is of fifty soldiers and no more. When more troops arrive, I shall reform these companies of infantry and cavalry as it is expedient that there should be few men in each company, so as to have good discipline among the soldiers, and that they may be well drilled in arms in a short time ; also that the Indians may be well treated, and that the Captains shall arm themselves with the strong armor of patience to endure labors, humility, and obedience to their General, and whoever does not do this, and understand how to bring it about, I shall take away his office, but shall not, for that reason cease to honor him, and so, not being adapted to these labors, he can hence- forth eat and stretch out his legs and sleep at his ease ; and so I think I shall manage while I am in these parts.

The Captains whom I have appointed, are the following, Bartolome Menendez, my brother, one of Your Majesty’s regular naval captains, Juan de San Vicente, Andres Lopez Patiiio, Diego de Alvarado, Alonso de Medrano, Francisco de Recaldi, Martin Ochoa, Francisco de Moxica. Diego Flores de Valdes I have brought as Admiral of this fleet, and I shall send him back to Havana within three days, with the two shallops, so that he may bring back the fleet that is there, and when he returns, if he brings the ships from Asturias, I shall have a reasonable supply of naval officers, especially, as among them will be Diego Flores de Valdes, Estevan de las Alas, and Pedro Menendez Marques, my cousin, either one of whom is able to command the fleet ; while, in my company, I have Diego de Amaya, to whom I have given a company of infantry, being a most skilful man, a general in every respect, and a great seaman. I brought him out from Spain as Chief Pilot, and he has done good service. I shall always take him with me in the field with his company, for the crossing of the arms of rivers, and the navigation of the brigantines and boats that we must have in order to navigate the river, and take our artillery over, in which he will aid me greatly. There are also among these people, and those
who are to come from Biscay many gentlemen who have not seen service with others, good soldiers, who come with great zeal and love to serve Your Majesty. It would be well if Your Majesty would write, thanking them for undertaking the voyage, and promising them every favor and reward, for this will animate them to endure with the more zeal all sorts of toils and dangers, and as this land is very great, it would be best, in time, to apportion it out among those who may-deserve it, to the end that they may bring out here their kindred and relatives, and that the Gospel shall be planted upon the sure foundation of a noble race.

It will be well that Your Majesty shall order that, with every horse that I shall ship for these provinces, they send me a supply of maize for the first year, for although the whole supply cannot come with the horses, I shall send for it every four months, and for the future, after this year, I shall give orders for the planting of grain and maize, so that they shall have something to eat here, for in no manner, will it be well to take it from the Indians, that they shall not take up enmity
against us. It will be better even that we shall give to eat to those who have not got it, to the end that they shall have love and firm friendship to us.

Seven or eight leagues from this place, when I went on shore on the 2^ of September, to speak with those Indians who gave us information that the harbor of the French was farther north, we found great traces of gold, both ordinary and fine, which the Indians wore on them, on their ears, lips and arms. I did not allow any to be taken from them, that they should not suppose that we coveted it, although they did give to one soldier a small piece of more than 22 carets.

May Our Lord protect and increase the Royal Catholic Person of Your Majesty, giving increase of greater kingdoms and realms as Christendom demands and as we Your Majesty’s servants desire.

In this Province of Florida, the 11*^ of September, in the year 1565,
Your Majesty’s faithful servant, who kisses your Royal hands.

Pero Menendez.

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