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When Florida Was French

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Jean Ribault, the leader of France’s Huguenot colonization efforts in America.

2,179 words

Joseph Ford Cotto [2], 1st Baron Cotto, GGGCR
Eye for an Eye: A True Story of Life, Liberty, Murder — and the Pursuit of Revenge — at the Birth of America
Self-published, 2022

In 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther wrote a set of theses [3] condemning corrupt financial practices within the Roman Catholic Church. Before that time, Luther’s theses would have wound up in a file in the Vatican and ignored, but thanks to the printing press, his ideas spread across Europe. In the 1520s, his ideas won many French converts. Then, sometime around 1530, a Frenchman named John Calvin was also inspired to reform the Roman Catholic religion.

Calvin’s ideas became known as Calvinism, and his followers Calvinists — although in France his followers became known by the derisive nickname of “Huguenots [4].” The name came from the legend of King Hugo, whose sprit was said to only come out at night, like the French Protestants were alleged to do.

These Protestant converts tended to be nobility from southern France. They were wealthier, better educated, and well-organized. But they were terribly outnumbered. For its part, the Catholic Church did not address Luther’s ideas for reform in a rational way, instead responding with violence. The Huguenots started to think about leaving. John Calvin himself moved to Geneva, a French-speaking part of Switzerland.

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The Huguenots were primarily found in southern France. They tended to be nobles, better-educated, and wealthier.

One Huguenot leader was Admiral Gaspard de Coligny [6], Seigneur de Châtillon, a prominent nobleman. Coligny’s first venture in 1555 was to settle Huguenots in Brazil. Brazil was ruled by the Portuguese, however, and Portugal was a Catholic empire. The Huguenots were soon cast out of Brazil. After some military adventures in the service of France, Coligny petitioned King Charles IX to allow them to set up a colony in Spanish Florida, in an area that extended as far north as today’s South Carolina.

Coligny hired Jean Ribault [7] to lead the North American colonization project. Ribault’s first colony, Fort Charles, was on what is now Parris Island, South Carolina. Ribault left an officer and some soldiers to hold down the fort while he returned to France for more settlers and supplies. Unfortunately, when he returned, civil war between Huguenots and Catholics had broken out.

Ribault got involved in the fighting and then went to England for help. After meeting with Queen Elizabeth and appealing for aid, he was accused of espionage and imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London.

Ribault made the same mistake as Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage [8]. Columbus should have focused on his goal of circumnavigating the globe instead of taking a detour to help out a Christian garrison besieged in North Africa. Likewise, Ribault should have focused on bringing over more colonists from among the Huguenot war refugees, as well as supplies, weapons, and tools. His efforts would not have changed the outcome of the civil war, which ended in a draw, but could have saved Fort Charles. While Ribault was in Europe, the men at Fort Charles built a boat and began a return voyage to France. Their provisions ran out en route, however, and they were rescued by an English ship. The first colony had failed.

The next colony was in what is now Florida. This project was led by a Huguenot nobleman named René de Laudonnière [9]. In 1564, he and 300 colonists left for the New World, arriving on June 22. They set up a colony named Fort Caroline along the Saint Johns River, in what is now Jacksonville, Florida. They tried to establish a friendly rapport with the local Timucuan Indians. “What can be said beyond doubt,” writes Cotto, “is that the Timucuans treated the Huguenots, whether under Ribault’s or Laudonnière’s command, with utmost decency and respect, as well as remarkable kindness” (p. 38).

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The Huguenots were building a colony in a place where the climate is far different from France’s.

As Fort Caroline developed,

The Huguenots surged with optimism. At long last, they reached the promised land — or so it appeared. Unlike in France, their neighbors were not out to get them. Also different from the motherland was a climate in which food could grow year-round. There was plenty of freshwater, no shortage of wood, fertile soil beyond measure, the prospect for substantial trade with natives, and more breathing room than Europe ever offered. By any rational standard, the Huguenots were in paradise. The New World afforded them opportunity the likes of which colonists at Fort Charles would have killed for. Alas, sometimes people have too much of a good thing and, for whatever reason, they squander their fortunes. Despite being presented every reason to succeed, these folks snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities go up in smoke and failure becomes constant, no less predictable than thunder after lightning. (p. 43)

The Huguenots’ first problems were internal. The crisis began after their large ships returned to France for more supplies and colonists. After the fleet’s departure, the Huguenots got involved in an intra-Indian war on the side of their Indian neighbors. The war went well enough, since the Huguenots were well-equipped with weapons and had been schooled in the ferocious way of European warfare during the Wars of Religion, but it sparked frictions that often come between allies in war.

Then came a more serious crisis: Two of the soldiers led a mutiny against Laudonnière. The mutineers, Roquette and Le Geure, planned to kill Laudonnière through subterfuge and then begin looking for gold. They were aided by a French pirate named Captain Bourdet, who hoped to disband the colony and recruit the settlers for outlawry.

In retrospect, it is clear that seeking easy riches helped doom the colony. The Jamestown [12] colony [13] suffered from internal political tensions as well, and also sought easy riches, but those colonists discovered quickly enough that the best path forward was to focus on agriculture and building towns. It was hard work, but they quickly became too big to be destroyed.

[14]

You can buy Greg Johnson’s Truth, Justice, & a Nice White Country here [15]

Laudonnière defeated the mutiny by exposing the guilty parties and proving to his supporters what they were up to. He sent them on their way, along with Captain Bourdet. Other settlers took to piracy aboard smaller boats that had been built at the colony. They indeed won some loot and then went to Havana, where their ultimate fate is unknown, but they were likely hanged. Meanwhile, the colony suffered because the settlers had not developed any farms. By 1565, supplies were short and relations with the Indians had gone downhill, though not to the point of open warfare.

While the Huguenots were far from French support, they were in close proximity to the Spanish Empire [16] in Cuba. Spanish power manifested in the form of Don Pedro Menendez [17]. He arrived in a fleet of 34 ships and led 3,000 troops. Menendez was ordered to build a city in Florida and destroy the Huguenots.

While the Huguenots were barely hanging on in Fort Caroline, the Spanish were at the height of their power. Gold flowed into their treasury from their conquests in the New World. They were also led by a dynamic king, Philip II. Spanish society at the time was warped, however. The nation had only recently freed itself from Third World Moorish conquerors [18], and the Spanish government was staffed through and through with Jews [19].

Cotto writes,

[t]he ferocious racial and religious strife which ensued lasted for the major part of a millennium . . . making Spanish character what it now is . . . In such a conflict, almost of necessity, piety became bigotry, patriotism but another name for cruelty, and loyalty to friends synonymous with treachery to foes. (p. 113)

To put it in modern terms, the Spanish created a proposition nation centered on Roman Catholicism. They didn’t base their nationhood on European blood. This meant that any European who did not believe in the proposition was seen as a mortal threat. Thus, any deviance from Catholicism was met with force.

Menendez established the colony of Saint Augustine by throwing up some earthen ramparts around an Indian village that his troops had occupied. Jean Ribault had returned to Fort Caroline in September 1565. Ribault had orders to take over in Laudonnière’s place and to attack the Spanish. Laudonnière argued that Ribault should proceed with caution, as conditions in Florida were different from those in Europe. Fort Carline was also in a state of disarray; its wooden ramparts had been knocked down to build boats with which to return to France.

Ribault soon departed in his own ships to attack the Spanish. But in September, North America’s eastern seaboard is always under the threat from hurricanes — and sure enough, one struck. Ribault’s ships were destroyed along the Canaveral coast.

The Spanish were highly disciplined and tough. They were used to the hardships in the colonies. Knowing that most of the French troops were aboard Ribault’s ships, Menendez led his men overland from Saint Augustine to Fort Caroline. Laudonnière had withdrawn the colony’s guards due to the hurricane, thinking that no attack would come in such foul weather. As a result, the Spanish attack was a complete surprise. Most of the Huguenots were killed; those who survived escaped to nearby Indian villages. Some of the women and children were spared by Menendez, but the captive women were raped. Survivors of the Fort Caroline massacre eventually made their way to French ships and returned to Europe.

Ribault’s command fared worse. Menendez received word from some Indians that survivors of the shipwreck were marching northwards along a beach. Menendez moved against them and captured them. He bound them and then took them in small groups to a place where they were beheaded. The few who survived claimed they were Catholics, or were spared because they were useful artisans.

Saint Augustine grew to be a city that still exists today, but it is now far different from its Spanish predecessor. Spanish Saint Augustine quickly became into a slave town, and Sub-Saharans were brought there to work. The women were impregnated by the Spanish men, who made a living selling their mulatto offspring into slavery.

Cotto writes,

[t]he introduction of sub-Saharan African slaves to colonial America was done by Spaniards, not Englishmen. This happened in the 1500s, not during the succeeding century. All of that is sure to be startling news for many readers. Why? (p. 99)

The reason is ideological. While Saint Augustine is part of the United States, it is not part of the United States’ cultural hearth. America’s cultural hearths were the English colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth, which were not multicultural or multi-racial, as one can disingenuously claim about Saint Augustine. Thus, the story that slavery originated in Virginia in 1619 is a false narrative advanced by anti-white activists as part of a moral swindle to procure status and goods from American whites.

Cotto further writes,

the 1619 Project as a story of origin, rather than an assessment of history. One year prior, [sub-Saharan race-activist Nikole Hannah-]Jones wrote the following on Twitter: “I’ve always said that the 1619 Project is not a history. It is a work of journalism that explicitly seeks to challenge the national narrative and, therefore, the national memory. The project has always been as much about the present as it is the past.” Afterwards, she deleted her message. The 1619 Project was well received by many leading media figures, along with no shortage of political activists and black interest advocates. However, it received far less than a warm welcome among academics of history. (p. 101)

The official French reaction to the massacre in Florida was muted, but eventually avenged by a Catholic Frenchman, Captain Dominique du Gourges [20]. He led a party of soldiers and Indian warriors to attack the Spanish garrison at the former site of Fort Caroline. Those Spaniards not killed in the attack were hanged — not as Spaniards, but as murderers.

Despite du Gourges’ ecumenical avenging of his slain countrymen, the relationship between the Huguenots and Catholics in France continued to deteriorate. In 1572, the Catholics massacred Protestants in the streets of Paris on Saint Bartholomew’s Day. Afterwards, many Huguenots left France for England and Holland. From there they would head to the British colonies in America and the Dutch colony of South Africa. In these colonies they would become leading citizens. One such Huguenot was Nicolas Martiau, who immigrated to Virginia in 1620 aboard the Francis Bonaventure. One of his descendants was George Washington.

There is an enormous “what if?” surrounding French Florida. Had either colony survived, the entire history of the American South would be different. There would probably have been less slavery. The Huguenots eventually dropped French for English in America, but a larger population might have created a linguistic divide. From a white ethnonationalist point of view, it is clear that America lost something when the Huguenots were destroyed in Florida.

Cotto writes,

[h]istory produces many ironies. It is a glaring irony of Franco-Florida that intellectual, relatively tolerant, humanistic religious dissidents produced a more ancestrally homogeneous society than the emotionalist, reactionarily intolerant, anti-humanist religious fanatics who persecuted them did. (p.184)

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