Two Massacres at Matanzas
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Survivors of Jean Ribault’s fleet staggered onto the beach south of St. Augustine with nothing but their torn clothes. Eventually, the castaways clustered into two groups. One, numbering about a hundred were under the command of Ribault. A smaller group came together on a beach farther south. Neither group had food or water. Apparently, none knew how to catch fish in tidal pools or which coastal plants were edible.
Ribault’s party staggered northward in search of potable water. Eventually, the desperate men encountered a small search party dispatched by Menéndez to look for survivors of the French fleet. Ribault assumed that his group of about 100 men would be treated decently and fed, since René de Laudonniére had treated two ship-wrecked Spaniards as guests. This was not to happen.
As soon as Menéndez heard about the surrender of the Frenchmen, he sent word to have their hands bound behind their backs. They were then individually interrogated. The few Catholics in the group were freed and given food and water. Then following direct orders from King Phillip II, Menéndez gave each Protestant a chance to renounce his faith and convert to Roman Catholicism. Apparently, none did. Ten at a time, they were marched to a river then rowed across to the other side. Their throats were slit behind a sand dune, where the others could not see their pending fate.
A few days later, the Spanish encountered the smaller group of survivors. This time, some of the Protestants did not trust the Spanish. They ran off into the woods to take refuge among the Timucua. The remainder were given the same option and then executed.
There is no document that provides the exact number of French Protestants martyred by the Spanish. Scholars currently estimate the number at about 350. Approximately, 600 more Frenchmen drowned at sea during the storm. The fate of most of the Frenchmen who took their chances among the Indians is not known, but they probably were adopted into these tribes, since there was no way for them to reach home after the Spanish occupied Florida. In 1566 the Spanish attempted to buy some Frenchmen living among the Timucua, but their adopted Native American neighbors refused to betray them.