At dawn, the Frenchman recognized the country, and the place where they were, and where stood the fort.
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
About ten at night the last of the troops arrived, very wet indeed, for there had been much rain during the four days; they had passed marshes with the water rising to their waists, and every night there was so great a flood that they were in great danger of losing their powder, their match-fire, and their biscuit; and they became desperate, cursing those who brought them there, and themselves for coming.
Menendez pretended not to hear their complaints, not daring to call a council as to proceeding or returning, for both officers and soldiers went forward very unquietly. Remaining firm in his own resolve, two hours before dawn he called together the Master of the Camp and the captains, to whom he said that during the whole night he had sought of God and his Holy Mother that they would favor and instruct him what he should do most advantageous for their holy service; and he was persuaded that they had all done the same. “But now, gentlemen,” he proceeded, “we must make some determination, finding ourselves exhausted, lost, without ammunition or provisions, and without the hope of relief.”
Some answered very promptly, “Why should they waste their time in giving reasons? for, unless they returned quickly to St. Augustine, they would be reduced to eating palmettos; and the longer they delayed, the greater trouble they would have.”
The Adelantado said to them that what they said seemed very reasonable, but he would ask them to hear some reasons to the contrary, without being offended. He then proceeded–after having smoothed down their somewhat ruffled dispositions, considerably disturbed by their first experience in encountering the hardships of such a march — to show them the danger of retreat was then greater than an advance would be, as they would lose alike the respect of their friends and foes; that if, on the contrary, they attacked the fort, whether they succeeded in taking it or not, they would gain honor and reputation.
Stimulated by the speech of their general, they demanded to be led to the attack, and the arrangements for the assault were at once made. Their French prisoner was placed in the advance; but the darkness of the night and the severity of the storm rendered it impossible to proceed, and they halted in a marsh, with the water up to their knees, to await daylight.
At dawn, the Frenchman recognized the country, and the place where they were, and where stood the fort; upon which the Adelantado ordered them to march, enjoining upon all, at the peril of their lives, to follow him; and coming to a small hill, the Frenchman said that behind that stood the fort, about three bow-shots distant, but lower down, near the river. The General put the Frenchman into the custody of Castaneda. He went up a little higher, and saw the river and one of the houses, but he was not able to discover the fort, although it was adjoining them; and he returned to Castaneda, with whom now stood the Master of the Camp and Ochoa, and said to them that he wished to go lower down, near to the houses which stood behind the hill, to see the fortress and the garrison, for, as the sun was now up, they could not attack the fort without a reconnaissance. This the Master of the Camp would not permit him to do, saying this duty appertained to him; and he went alone with Ochoa near to the houses, from whence they discovered the fort; and, returning with their information, they came to two paths, and leaving the one by which they came, they took the other.
The Master of the Camp discovered his error, coming to a fallen tree, and turned his face to inform Ochoa, who was following him; and as they turned to seek the right path, he stopped in advance, and the sentinel discovered them, who imagined them to be French; but examining them he perceived they were unknown to him. He hailed, “Who goes there?” Ochoa answered, “Frenchmen.” The sentinel was confirmed in his supposition that they were his own people, and approached them; Ochoa did the same; but seeing they were not French, the sentinel retreated. Ochoa closed with him, and with his drawn sword gave him a cut over the head, but did not hurt him much, as the sentinel fended off the blow with his sword; and the Master of the Camp, coming up at that moment, gave him a thrust, from which he fell backward, making a loud outcry. The Master of the Camp, putting his sword to his breast, threatened him with instant death unless he kept silence. They tied him thereupon, and took him to the General, who, hearing the noise, thought the Master of the Camp was being killed, and meeting with the Sergeant-major, Francisco de Recalde, Diego de Maya, and Andres Lopez Patino, with their standards and soldiers, without being able to restrain himself, he cried out, “Santiago! Upon them! Help of God, victory! The French are destroyed. The Master of the Camp is in their fort, and has taken it.” Upon which, all rushed forward in the path without order, the General remaining behind, repeating what he had said many times; himself believing it to be certain that the Master of the Camp had taken with him a considerable force, and had captured the fort.
So great was the joy of the soldiers, and such their speed, that they soon came up with the Master of the Camp and Ochoa, who was hastening to receive the reward of carrying the good news to the General of the capture of the sentinel. But the Master of the Camp, seeing the spirit which animated the soldiery, killed the sentinel, and cried out with a loud voice to those who were pressing forward, “Comrades! do as I do. God is with us;” and turned running toward the fort, and, meeting two Frenchmen on the way, he killed one of them, and Andres Lopez Patino the other. Those in the environs of the fort, seeing this tragedy enacted, set up loud outcries; and in order to know the cause of the alarm, one of the French within opened the postern of the principal gate, which he had no sooner done than it was observed by the Master of the Camp; and, throwing himself upon him, he killed him and entered the gate, followed by the most active of his followers.
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