1565: Jean Ribault and the Huguenot colonists of Fort Caroline

1 comment October 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1565, the French Huguenot New World settlement plan was nipped in the bud when Spaniards executed en masse the inhabitants of Fort Caroline in present-day Jacksonville, Fla.

Jean Ribault.

During the late 16th century’s fractious French Wars of Religion, far-sighted Protestant admiral Gaspard de Coligny sponsored this like-minded colony in Florida — a sort of side bet on a satellite Protestant presence overseas, while the party in the mother country fought for its life.*

Jean Ribault (or Ribaut) was the loyal naval aide chosen to lead this colony. After an abortive attempt to plant a settlement in Charlestown, S.C., Ribault set up Fort Caroline and claimed greater Jacksonville for France.


Historical marker of Jean Ribaut/Ribault’s landing place, in Jacksonville, Fla. (cc) image from POsrUs.

French colonial projects further north enjoyed better success.

Down in Florida, both geopolitical and religious rivalry set Fort Caroline up for trouble. Ponce de Leon, questing for the Fountain of Youth, had planted the Spanish flag in Florida half a century before, and that country was none too pleased to find its continental rival jumping its claim. That it was Calvinist Frenchmen doing the usurping would prove downright intolerable to more-Catholic-than-the-Pope Spanish ruler Philip II.

The Spaniards attacked [Fort Caroline], hanged the colonists, and fastened above the heads of the corpses a placard on which was written, “Not because they were Frenchmen, but because they were heretics.” A French Catholic, de Gourgues, moved with righteous indignation, fitted out a ship and avenged this act by hanging their murderers, over whose bodies he put a similar placard, bearing the inscription, “Not because they were Spaniards, but because they were assassins.” But Coligny’s efforts failed, and he had to leave to the English race the realization of his dream of a great American Protestant state. (Source)

That great Protestant state, of course, eventually gobbled up Florida, and still owns it today.

There, it maintains Fort Matanzas National Monument, which takes its name for the Spanish term for what went down there on this date: matanzas, or slaughter.**

* It’s another country, another creed, and another century, but it reminds of the traffic between English New World settlements and England proper during the English Revolution.

** A different historical monument commemorates the failed South Carolina colony.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Cycle of Violence,Execution,France,God,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions

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