06 October 2008

Matanzas Revisited

Ok, so today's Memorial Monday is something of a flashback, thanks to the article found here. Those who have followed this blog from the begining may remember some of my first posts including Fort Caroline and Fort Matanzas. To quickly recap, the Spanish discovered Florida in 1513, but the French were the first to settle it in 1562, creating Fort Caroline near modern day Jacksonville. In 1566, the Spanish founded St Augustine with the intention of driving out the French. While exact details vary, what is known is that the French sailed from Fort Caroline south to attack the Spanish but were caught by a hurricane that left them stranded with no weapons or supplies. The Spanish then killed the stranded French south of St Augustine, and those that had remained at Fort Caroline, returning Florida to Spanish control.
Well, this recent article, which I pasted below, talks about how underwater Archaeologists are hoping to find the wrecks of the French fleet. So today's post is dedicatedto all of those brave men and women who sailed the ocean and braved the wilderness to settle the new world, and those who lost their lives in the struggle not only against nature, but each other. Read on for more:
Archaeologists hold out hope of finding lost French fleet By RONALD WILLIAMSON SENSE OF PLACE
Four hundred Septembers past, and more, the first recorded hurricane in Northeast Florida raked the coast where we live, leaving violent death and crushed hopes of empires scattered along the sandy beaches where we play.
It's an old story of a terrible storm that some believed was the hand of God. It scattered and sank a French fleet led by Jean Ribault as it bore down on a handful of Spanish ships sheltering with Pedro Menendez in a harbor at today's St. Augustine.
Hundreds of Frenchmen, mostly Protestants, died either in the tempest, or of starvation and exposure, or at the hands of Catholic Spaniards who hunted down survivors in a bloody autumn genocide.
Despite the passing of 443 years, archaeologists say the remains of those galleons still lie beneath the sand and water, a cultural holy grail waiting to be found.
"Oh, yeah. They're there," John de Bry told me. "Absolutely. No doubt. North of the cape and not too far from shore."
As director of the Center for Historical Archaeology in Melbourne, de Bry has worked with numerous institutions and governments to find and investigate dozens of historic ships. He researched Ribault's fleet for the Lighthouse Archaeology Maritime Program based in St. Augustine, an institution dedicated to better understanding of the maritime history and archaeology of the city and this coast.
Ribault's flagship, La Trinite, is on the institution's list of ships it hopes to find one day.
"It's safe to say that finding La Trinite would be more significant to North America than finding Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria," said de Bry. "Columbus never set foot on this continent."
Ribault's ships, if discovered, would be the oldest French wrecks in North America and a significant find.
"Not only were they representative of the greatest exploration technology of their time, but they also represent a period of U.S. history that lies almost completely forgotten," said David Brewer, a former National Park Service archaeologist who's the Virgin Islands' senior territorial archaeologist.
History was in the balance when the storm struck Sept. 10-13, 1565. King Charles of France sent Ribault with hundreds of Huguenot troops to resupply his fledgling colony near the mouth of the St. Johns River. King Philip of Spain sent Menendez with hundreds of troops to expel the interlopers.
By extraordinary circumstance, they arrived at almost the same time, some 80 miles north of Daytona Beach. They skirmished southward. The Spanish retreated to a harbor and, despite a growing storm, the French sailed after them.
La Trinite, a 32-gun galleon, is believed to have been driven ashore on the north side of Cape Canaveral. Other ships, including the 29-gun royal galleon Emerillon, were wrecked along miles of coast north of La Trinite.
French survivors struggled up the beach for weeks until they reached an inlet we know today as Matanzas -- which means slaughter or massacre in Spanish. Some 250 Frenchmen surrendered to the Spanish at the inlet. Almost every one was disarmed, bound and slain.
Ribault died on the sand with his men. His red beard was sent to the Spanish king.
Some 200 Frenchmen refused to surrender and fled south, back toward the cape where they salvaged some of La Trinite's cannon and built a sand fort. When Menendez found them in November, most were taken prisoner, but others fled inland to take their chances.
The next year, a Frenchman or two were found at a village on the Tomoka River. Years later, a few were found in South Florida. Others are believed to have lived out the rest of their lives with Indians, but traces of them and their fleet remained a mystery.
In 1990, Brewer was part of a National Park Service team that investigated a site where Mosquito Lagoon's shallows merge with the tough, impenetrable thickets of Cape Canaveral and there, in the furrowed sand, found evidence of the lost Frenchmen. The site has yielded coins, ceramics, personal articles and ship's iron spikes worked with a hot forge, a technology not possessed by the Indians.
"Examining the artifacts . . . was the closest thing to time travel that I have ever experienced," Brewer said. "Here were the remains of what might be best described as a survival kit from the mid-1500s." Hunted by the Spanish, the survivors probably placated the Indians by making both delicate trinkets and difficult, hot iron-forged tools, he said.
"I am convinced that it represents a camp established by some of the surviving Huguenots," de Bry said.
He knows of no scientific search ever made for Ribault's ships, but such a discovery would "capture the attention of many underwater archaeologists, and its excavation would be given top priority. Personally, I would not hesitate to drop everything that I might be doing at that time to participate in the excavation and subsequent analysis of the material culture."
Brewer believes the bones of the ships and, perhaps, the men still lie nearby. "They may be scattered under the palmetto-forest floor and dunes. They may lie under the beach-face or right in the surf zone, possibly to rise again one day after one of our major storms."
It's a remarkable and exciting notion that the hand of God would lift these lost wrecks from their graves. But, given the history of this storm-brushed coast, it's only a matter of time.

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