Menendez had ascertained from the Indians that a large number of the French troops had embarked on board of the vessels which he had seen off the harbor.
Continuing Spain’s First Settlements in Florida,
our selection from The Spaniards in Florida by George R. Fairbanks published in 1868. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Spain’s First Settlements in Florida.
Place: St. Augustine, Florida
The Spaniards numbered about six hundred combatants, and the French about the same; but arrangements had been made for further accessions to the Spanish force, to be drawn from Santo Domingo and Havana, and these were daily expected.
It was the habit of those days to devolve almost every event upon the ordering of a special providence; and each nation had come to look upon itself almost in the light of a peculiar people, led like the Israelites of old by signs and wonders; and as in their own view all their actions were directed by the design of advancing God’s glory as well as their own purposes, so the blessing of Heaven would surely accompany them in all their undertakings.
So believed the crusaders on the plains of Palestine; so believed the conquerors of Mexico and Peru; so believed the Puritan settlers of New England — alike in their Indian wars and their oppressive social polity — and so believed, also, the followers of Menendez and of Ribault; and in this simple and trusting faith, the worthy chaplain gives us the following account of the miraculous escape and deliverance of a portion of the Spanish fleet:
“God and his Holy Mother have performed another great miracle in our favor. The day following the landing of the General in the fort he said to us that he was very uneasy, because his galley and another vessel were at anchor, isolated and a league at sea, being unable to enter the port on account of the shallowness of the water, and that he feared that the French might come and capture or maltreat them. As soon as this idea came to him he departed, with fifty men, to go on board of his galleon. He gave orders to three shallops which were moored in the river to go out and take on board the provisions and troops which were on board the galleon. The next day, a shallop having gone out thither, they took on board as much of the provisions as they could, and more than a hundred men who were in the vessel, and returned toward shore; but half a league before arriving at the bar they were overtaken by so complete a calm that they were unable to proceed farther, and thereupon cast anchor and passed the night in that place.
“The day following, at break of day, they raised anchor as ordered by the pilot, as the rising of the tide began to be felt. When it was fully light they saw astern of them, at the poop of the vessel, two French ships which during the night had been in search of them. The enemy arrived with the intention of making an attack upon them. The French made all haste in their movements, for our men had no arms on board, and had only embarked the provisions. When day appeared, and our people discovered the French, they addressed their prayers to Our Lady of Bon Secours d’Utrera, and supplicated her to grant them a little wind, for the French were already close up to them. They say that Our Lady descended herself upon the vessel; for the wind freshened and blew fair for the bar, so that the shallop could enter it. The French followed it; but as the bar had but little depth and their vessels were large, they were not able to go over it, so that our men and the provisions made a safe harbor.
“When it became still clearer they perceived, besides the two vessels of the enemy, four others at a distance, being the same which we had seen in the port the evening of our arrival. They were well furnished with troops and artillery, and had directed themselves for our galleon and the other ship, which were alone at sea. In this circumstance God afforded us two favors: the first was, that the same evening after they had discharged the provisions and the troops I have spoken of, at midnight the galleon and the other vessel put to sea without being perceived by the enemy; the one for Spain, and the other for Havana for the purpose of seeking the fleet which was there; and in this way neither was taken.
“The second favor, by which God rendered us a still greater service, was that on the day following the one I have described there arose a great storm, and so great a tempest that certainly the greater part of the French vessels must have been lost at sea; for they were overtaken upon the most dangerous coast I have ever seen, and were very close to the shore; and if our vessels, that is, the galleon and its consort, are not shipwrecked, it is because they were already more than twelve leagues off the coast, which gave them the facility of maneuvering as well as they could, relying upon the aid of God to preserve them.”
Menendez had ascertained from the Indians that a large number of the French troops had embarked on board of the vessels which he had seen off the harbor, and he had good ground for believing that these vessels would either be cast helpless upon the shore, or be driven off by the tempest to such a distance as would render their return for some days impossible. He at once conceived the project of attacking the French fort upon the river May by land.
The troops, having heard mass, marched out in order, preceded by twenty Biscayans and Asturians, having as their captain Martin de Ochoa, a leader of great fidelity and bravery, furnished with axes to open a road where they could not get along. At this moment there arrived two Indians, who said that they had been at the French six days before, and who “seemed like angels” to the soldiers, sent to guide their march. Halting for refreshment and rest wherever suitable places could be found, and the Adelantado always with the vanguard, in four days they reached the vicinity of the fort, and came up within a quarter of a league of it, concealed by a grove of pine trees. It rained heavily, and a severe storm prevailed. The place where they had halted was a very bad one and very marshy; but he decided to stop there, and went back to seek the rear-guard, lest they might lose their way.
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