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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Dominique de Gourgues
By Francis Parkman (1823–1893)
 
From ‘The Pioneers of France in the New World’

THERE was a gentleman of Mont-de-Marsan, Dominique de Gourgues, a soldier of ancient birth and high renown. It is not certain that he was a Huguenot. The Spanish annalist calls him a “terrible heretic”; but the French Jesuit, Charlevoix, anxious that the faithful should share the glory of his exploits, affirms that like his ancestors before him, he was a good Catholic. If so, his faith sat lightly upon him; and Catholic or heretic, he hated the Spaniards with a mortal hate. Fighting in the Italian wars,—for from boyhood he was wedded to the sword,—he had been taken prisoner by them near Siena, where he had signalized himself by a fiery and determined bravery. With brutal insult, they chained him to the oar as a galley-slave. After he had long endured this ignominy, the Turks captured the vessel and carried her to Constantinople. It was but a change of tyrants; but soon after, while she was on a cruise, Gourgues still at the oar, a galley of the Knights of Malta hove in sight, bore down on her, recaptured her, and set the prisoner free. For several years after, his restless spirit found employment in voyages to Africa, Brazil, and regions yet more remote. His naval repute rose high, but his grudge against the Spaniards still rankled within him; and when, returned from his rovings, he learned the tidings from Florida, his hot Gascon blood boiled with fury.  1
  The honor of France had been foully stained, and there was none to wipe away the shame. The faction-ridden King was dumb. The nobles who surrounded him were in the Spanish interest. Then, since they proved recreant, he, Dominique de Gourgues, a simple gentleman, would take upon him to avenge the wrong, and restore the dimmed lustre of the French name. He sold his inheritance, borrowed money from his brother, who held a high post in Guienne, and equipped three small vessels, navigable by sail or oar. On board he placed a hundred arquebusiers and eighty sailors, prepared to fight on land if need were. The noted Blaise de Montluc, then lieutenant for the King in Guienne, gave him a commission to make war on the negroes of Benin,—that is, to kidnap them as slaves, an adventure then held honorable.  2
  His true design was locked within his own breast. He mustered his followers,—not a few of whom were of rank equal to his own,—feasted them, and on the twenty-second of August, 1567, sailed from the mouth of the Charente. Off Cape Finisterre, so violent a storm buffeted his ships that his men clamored to return; but Gourgues’s spirit prevailed. He bore away for Africa, and landing at the Rio del Oro, refreshed and cheered them as he best might. Thence he sailed to Cape Blanco, where the jealous Portuguese, who had a fort in the neighborhood, set upon him three negro chiefs. Gourgues beat them off, and remained master of the harbor; whence however he soon voyaged onward to Cape Verd, and steering westward, made for the West Indies. Here, advancing from island to island, he came to Hispaniola, where, between the fury of a hurricane at sea and the jealousy of the Spaniards on shore, he was in no small jeopardy;—“the Spaniards,” exclaims the indignant journalist, “who think that this New World was made for nobody but them, and that no other living man has a right to move or breathe here!” Gourgues landed, however, obtained the water of which he was in need, and steered for Cape San Antonio, at the western end of Cuba. There he gathered his followers about him, and addressed them with his fiery Gascon eloquence. For the first time he told them his true purpose, inveighed against Spanish cruelty, and painted with angry rhetoric the butcheries of Fort Caroline and St. Augustine.  3
  “What disgrace,” he cried, “if such an insult should pass unpunished! What glory to us if we avenge it! To this I have devoted my fortune. I relied on you. I thought you jealous enough of your country’s glory to sacrifice life itself in a cause like this. Was I deceived? I will show you the way; I will be always at your head; I will bear the brunt of the danger. Will you refuse to follow me?”  4
  At first his startled hearers listened in silence; but soon the passions of that adventurous age rose responsive to his words. The combustible French nature burst into flame. The enthusiasm of the soldiers rose to such a pitch that Gourgues had much ado to make them wait till the moon was full, before tempting the perils of the Bahama Channel. His time came at length. The moon rode high above the lonely sea, and, silvered in its light, the ships of the avenger held their course.  5
  Meanwhile it had fared ill with the Spaniards in Florida: the good-will of the Indians had vanished. The French had been obtrusive and vexatious guests; but their worst trespasses had been mercy and tenderness compared to the daily outrage of the new-comers. Friendship had changed to aversion, aversion to hatred, and hatred to open war. The forest paths were beset; stragglers were cut off; and woe to the Spaniard who should venture after nightfall beyond call of the outposts.  6
  Menendez, however, had strengthened himself in his new conquest. St. Augustine was well fortified; Fort Caroline, now Fort San Mateo, was repaired; and two redoubts, or small forts, were thrown up to guard the mouth of the River of May,—one of them near the present lighthouse at Mayport, and the other across the river on Fort George Island. Thence, on an afternoon in early spring, the Spaniards saw three sail steering northward. They suspected no enemy, and their batteries boomed a salute. Gourgues’s ships replied, then stood out to sea, and were lost in the shades of evening.  7
  They kept their course all night, and as day broke, anchored at the mouth of a river, the St. Mary’s or the Santilla, by their reckoning fifteen leagues north of the River of May. Here, as it grew light, Gourgues saw the borders of the sea thronged with savages, armed and plumed for war. They too had mistaken the strangers for Spaniards, and mustered to meet their tyrants at the landing. But in the French ships there was a trumpeter who had been long in Florida, and knew the Indians well. He went towards them in a boat, with many gestures of friendship; and no sooner was he recognized than the naked crowd, with yelps of delight, danced for joy along the sands. Why had he ever left them? they asked; and why had he not returned before? The intercourse thus auspiciously begun was actively kept up. Gourgues told the principal chief—who was no other than Satouriona, once the ally of the French—that he had come to visit them, make friendship with them, and bring them presents. At this last announcement, so grateful to Indian ears, the dancing was renewed with double zeal. The next morning was named for a grand council, and Satouriona sent runners to summon all Indians within call; while Gourgues, for safety, brought his vessels within the mouth of the river.  8
  Morning came, and the woods were thronged with warriors. Gourgues and his soldiers landed with martial pomp. In token of mutual confidence, the French laid aside their arquebuses, and the Indians their bows and arrows. Satouriona came to meet the strangers, and seated their commander at his side, on a wooden stool, draped and cushioned with the gray Spanish moss. Two old Indians cleared the spot of brambles, weeds, and grass; and when their task was finished, the tribesmen took their places, ring within ring, standing, sitting, and crouching on the ground,—a dusky concourse, plumed in festal array, waiting with grave visages and intent eyes. Gourgues was about to speak, when the chief, who, says the narrator, had not learned French manners, anticipated him, and broke into a vehement harangue, denouncing the cruelty of the Spaniards.  9
  Since the French fort was taken, he said, the Indians had not had one happy day. The Spaniards drove them from their cabins, stole their corn, ravished their wives and daughters, and killed their children; and all this they had endured because they loved the French. There was a French boy who had escaped from the massacre at the fort: they had found him in the woods; and though the Spaniards, who wished to kill him, demanded that they should give him up, they had kept him for his friends.  10
  “Look!” pursued the chief, “here he is!” and he brought forward a youth of sixteen, named Pierre Debré, who became at once of the greatest service to the French, his knowledge of the Indian language making him an excellent interpreter.  11
  Delighted as he was at this outburst against the Spaniards, Gourgues did not see fit to display the full extent of his satisfaction. He thanked the Indians for their good-will, exhorted them to continue in it, and pronounced an ill-merited eulogy on the greatness and goodness of his King. As for the Spaniards, he said, their day of reckoning was at hand; and if the Indians had been abused for their love of the French, the French would be their avengers. Here Satouriona forgot his dignity, and leaped up for joy.  12
  “What!” he cried, “will you fight the Spaniards?”  13
  “I came here,” replied Gourgues, “only to reconnoitre the country and make friends with you, and then go back to bring more soldiers; but when I hear what you are suffering from them, I wish to fall upon them this very day, and rescue you from their tyranny.” All around the ring a clamor of applauding voices greeted his words.  14
  “But you will do your part,” pursued the Frenchman; “you will not leave us all the honor.”  15
  “We will go,” replied Satouriona, “and die with you, if need be.”  16
  “Then, if we fight, we ought to fight at once. How soon can you have your warriors ready to march?”  17
  The chief asked three days for preparation. Gourgues cautioned him to secrecy, lest the Spaniards should take alarm.  18
  “Never fear,” was the answer: “we hate them more than you do.”  19
  Then came a distribution of gifts,—knives, hatchets, mirrors, bells, and beads,—while the warrior rabble crowded to receive them, with eager faces and outstretched arms. The distribution over, Gourgues asked the chiefs if there was any other matter in which he could serve them. On this, pointing to his shirt, they expressed a peculiar admiration for that garment, and begged each to have one, to be worn at feasts and councils during life, and in their graves after death. Gourgues complied; and his grateful confederates were soon stalking about him, fluttering in the spoils of his wardrobe.  20
  To learn the strength and position of the Spaniards, Gourgues now sent out three scouts; and with them went Olotoraca, Satouriona’s nephew, a young brave of great renown.  21
  The chief, eager to prove his good faith, gave as hostages his only surviving son and his favorite wife. They were sent on board the ships, while the Indians dispersed to their encampments, with leaping, stamping, dancing, and whoops of jubilation.  22
  The day appointed came, and with it the savage army, hideous in war-paint, and plumed for battle. The woods rang back their songs and yells, as with frantic gesticulation they brandished their war-clubs and vaunted their deeds of prowess. Then they drank the black drink, endowed with mystic virtues against hardship and danger; and Gourgues himself pretended to swallow the nauseous decoction.  23
  These ceremonies consumed the day. It was evening before the allies filed off into their forests, and took the path for the Spanish forts. The French, on their part, were to repair by sea to the rendezvous. Gourgues mustered and addressed his men. It was needless: their ardor was at fever height. They broke in upon his words, and demanded to be led at once against the enemy. François Bourdelais, with twenty sailors, was left with the ships, and Gourgues affectionately bade him farewell.  24
  “If I am slain in this most just enterprise,” he said, “I leave all in your charge, and pray you to carry back my soldiers to France.”  25
  There were many embracings among the excited Frenchmen,—many sympathetic tears from those who were to stay behind,—many messages left with them for wives, children, friends, and mistresses; and then this valiant band pushed their boats from shore. It was a harebrained venture; for as young Debré had assured them, the Spaniards on the River of May were four hundred in number, secure behind their ramparts.  26
  Hour after hour the sailors pulled at the oar. They glided slowly by the sombre shores in the shimmering moonlight, to the sound of the murmuring surf and the moaning pine-trees. In the gray of the morning they came to the mouth of a river, probably the Nassau; and here a northeast wind set in with a violence that almost wrecked their boats. Their Indian allies were waiting on the bank, but for a while the gale delayed their crossing. The bolder French would lose no time, rowed through the tossing waves, and landing safely, left their boats and pushed into the forest. Gourgues took the lead, in breastplate and backpiece. At his side marched the young chief Olotoraca, with a French pike in his hand; and the files of arquebuse-men and armed sailors followed close behind. They plunged through swamps, hewed their way through brambly thickets and the matted intricacies of the forests, and at five in the afternoon, almost spent with fatigue and hunger, came to a river or inlet of the sea, not far from the first Spanish fort. Here they found three hundred Indians waiting for them.  27
  Tired as he was, Gourgues would not rest. He wished to attack at daybreak, and with ten arquebusiers and his Indian guide he set out to reconnoitre. Night closed upon him. It was a vain task to struggle on, in pitchy darkness, among trunks of trees, fallen logs, tangled vines, and swollen streams. Gourgues returned, anxious and gloomy. An Indian chief approached him, read through the darkness his perturbed look, and offered to lead him by a better path along the margin of the sea. Gourgues joyfully assented, and ordered all his men to march. The Indians, better skilled in woodcraft, chose the shorter course through the forest.  28
  The French forgot their weariness, and pressed on with speed. At dawn they and their allies met on the bank of a stream, probably Sister Creek, beyond which, and very near, was the fort. But the tide was in, and they tried in vain to cross. Greatly vexed,—for he had hoped to take the enemy asleep,—Gourgues withdrew his soldiers into the forest, where they were no sooner ensconced than a drenching rain fell, and they had much ado to keep their gun-matches burning. The light grew fast. Gourgues plainly saw the fort, the defenses of which seemed slight and unfinished. He even saw the Spaniards at work within. A feverish interval elapsed, till at length the tide was out,—so far at least that the stream was fordable. A little higher up, a clump of trees lay between it and the fort. Behind this friendly screen the passage was begun. Each man tied his powder-flask to his steel cap, held his arquebuse above his head with one hand, and grasped his sword with the other. The channel was a bed of oysters. The sharp shells cut their feet as they waded through. But the farther bank was gained. They emerged from the water drenched, lacerated, and bleeding, but with unabated mettle. Gourgues set them in array under cover of the trees. They stood with kindling eyes, and hearts throbbing, but not with fear. Gourgues pointed to the Spanish fort, seen by glimpses through the boughs. “Look!” he said, “there are the robbers who have stolen this land from our King; there are the murderers who have butchered our countrymen!” With voices eager, fierce, but half suppressed, they demanded to be led on.  29
  Gourgues gave the word. Cazenove, his lieutenant, with thirty men, pushed for the fort gate; he himself, with the main body, for the glacis. It was near noon; the Spaniards had just finished their meal, and, says the narrative, “were still picking their teeth,” when a startled cry rang in their ears:—  30
  “To arms! to arms! The French are coming! the French are coming!”  31
  It was the voice of a cannoneer who had that moment mounted the rampart, and seen the assailants advancing in unbroken ranks, with heads lowered and weapons at the charge. He fired his cannon among them. He even had time to load and fire again, when the light-limbed Olotoraca bounded forward, ran up the glacis, leaped the unfinished ditch, and drove his pike through the Spaniard from breast to back. Gourgues was now on the glacis, when he heard Cazenove shouting from the gate that the Spaniards were escaping on that side. He turned and led his men thither at a run. In a moment the fugitives, sixty in all, were inclosed between his party and that of his lieutenant. The Indians too came leaping to the spot. Not a Spaniard escaped. All were cut down but a few, reserved by Gourgues for a more inglorious end.  32
  Meanwhile the Spaniards in the other fort, on the opposite shore, cannonaded the victors without ceasing. The latter turned four captured guns against them. One of Gourgues’s boats, a very large one, had been brought along-shore, and entering it with eighty soldiers, he pushed for the farther bank. With loud yells the Indians leaped into the river, which is here about three fourths of a mile wide. Each held his bow and arrows aloft in one hand, while he swam with the other. A panic seized the garrison as they saw the savage multitude. They broke out of the fort and fled into the forest. But the French had already landed; and throwing themselves in the path of the fugitives, they greeted them with a storm of lead. The terrified wretches recoiled; but flight was vain. The Indian whoop rang behind them, and war-clubs and arrows finished the work. Gourgues’s utmost efforts saved but fifteen, not out of mercy, but from a refinement of vengeance.  33
  The next day was Quasimodo Sunday, or the Sunday after Easter. Gourgues and his men remained quiet, making ladders for the assault on Fort San Mateo. Meanwhile the whole forest was in arms, and far and near the Indians were wild with excitement. They beset the Spanish fort till not a soldier could venture out. The garrison, aware of their danger, though ignorant of its extent, devised an expedient to gain information; and one of them, painted and feathered like an Indian, ventured within Gourgues’s outposts. He himself chanced to be at hand, and by his side walked his constant attendant, Olotoraca. The keen-eyed young savage pierced the cheat at a glance. The spy was seized, and being examined, declared that there were two hundred and sixty Spaniards in San Mateo, and that they believed the French to be two thousand, and were so frightened that they did not know what they were doing.  34
  Gourgues, well pleased, pushed on to attack them. On Monday evening he sent forward the Indians to ambush themselves on both sides of the fort. In the morning he followed with his Frenchmen; and as the glittering ranks came into view, defiling between the forest and the river, the Spaniards opened on them with culverins from a projecting bastion. The French took cover in the woods with which the hills below and behind the fort were densely overgrown. Here, himself unseen, Gourgues could survey the whole extent of the defenses; and he presently descried a strong party of Spaniards issuing from their works, crossing the ditch, and advancing to reconnoitre. On this, he sent Cazenove, with a detachment, to station himself at a point well hidden by trees on the flank of the Spaniards, who, with strange infatuation, continued their advance. Gourgues and his followers pushed on through the thickets to meet them. As the Spaniards reached the edge of the open ground, a deadly fire blazed in their faces; and before the smoke cleared, the French were among them, sword in hand. The survivors would have fled; but Cazenove’s detachment fell upon their rear, and all were killed or taken.  35
  When their comrades in the fort beheld their fate, a panic seized them. Conscious of their own deeds, perpetrated on this very spot, they could hope no mercy, and their terror multiplied immeasurably the numbers of their enemy. They abandoned the fort in a body, and fled into the woods most remote from the French. But here a deadlier foe awaited them; for a host of Indians leaped up from ambush. Then rose those hideous war-cries which have curdled the boldest blood and blanched the manliest cheek. The forest warriors, with savage ecstasy, wreaked their long arrears of vengeance, while the French hastened to the spot, and lent their swords to the slaughter. A few prisoners were saved alive; the rest were slain: and thus did the Spaniards make bloody atonement for the butchery of Fort Caroline.  36
  But Gourgues’s vengeance was not yet appeased. Hard by the fort, the trees were pointed out to him on which Menendez had hanged his captives, and placed over them the inscription, “Not as to Frenchmen, but as to Lutherans.”  37
  Gourgues ordered the Spanish prisoners to be led thither.  38
  “Did you think,” he sternly said, as the pallid wretches stood ranged before him, “that so vile a treachery, so detestable a cruelty, against a King so potent and a nation so generous, would go unpunished? I, one of the humblest gentlemen among my King’s subjects, have charged myself with avenging it. Even if the Most Christian and the Most Catholic Kings had been enemies, at deadly war, such perfidy and extreme cruelty would still have been unpardonable. Now that they are friends and close allies, there is no name vile enough to brand your deeds, no punishment sharp enough to requite them. But though you cannot suffer as you deserve, you shall suffer all that an enemy can honorably inflict, that your example may teach others to observe the peace and alliance which you have so perfidiously violated.”  39
  They were hanged where the French had hung before them; and over them was nailed the inscription, burned with a hot iron on a tablet of pine, “Not as to Spaniards, but as to Traitors, Robbers, and Murderers.”  40
  Gourgues’s mission was fulfilled. To occupy the country had never been his intention; nor was it possible, for the Spaniards were still in force at St. Augustine. His was a whirlwind visitation,—to ravage, ruin, and vanish. He harangued the Indians, and exhorted them to demolish the fort. They fell to the work with eagerness, and in less than a day not one stone was left on another.  41
  Gourgues returned to the forts at the mouth of the river, destroyed them also, and took up his march for his ships. It was a triumphal procession. The Indians thronged around the victors with gifts of fish and game; and an old woman declared that she was now ready to die, since she had seen the French once more.  42
  The ships were ready for sea. Gourgues bade his disconsolate allies farewell, and nothing would content them but a promise to return soon. Before embarking, he addressed his own men:—  43
  “My friends, let us give thanks to God for the success he has granted us. It is he who saved us from tempests; it is he who inclined the hearts of the Indians towards us; it is he who blinded the understanding of the Spaniards. They were four to one, in forts well armed and provisioned. Our right was our only strength; and yet we have conquered. Not to our own swords, but to God only, we owe our victory. Then let us thank him, my friends; let us never forget his favors; and let us pray that he may continue them, saving us from dangers, and guiding us safely home. Let us pray too that he may so dispose the hearts of men that our perils and toils may find favor in the eyes of our King and of all France, since all we have done was done for the King’s service and for the honor of our country.”  44
  Thus Spaniards and Frenchmen alike laid their reeking swords on God’s altar.  45
  Gourgues sailed on the third of May, and gazing back along their foaming wake, the adventurers looked their last on the scene of their exploits. Their success had cost its price. A few of their number had fallen, and hardships still awaited the survivors. Gourgues, however, reached Rochelle on the day of Pentecost, and the Huguenot citizens greeted him with all honor. At court it fared worse with him. The King, still obsequious to Spain, looked on him coldly and askance. The Spanish minister demanded his head. It was hinted to him that he was not safe, and he withdrew to Rouen, where he found asylum among his friends. His fortune was gone; debts contracted for his expedition weighed heavily on him; and for years he lived in obscurity, almost in misery.  46
  At length his prospects brightened. Elizabeth of England learned his merits and his misfortunes, and invited him to enter her service. The King, who, says the Jesuit historian, had always at heart been delighted with his achievement, openly restored him to favor; while, some years later, Don Antonio tendered him command of his fleet, to defend his right to the crown of Portugal against Philip the Second. Gourgues, happy once more to cross swords with the Spaniards, gladly embraced this offer; but in 1583, on his way to join the Portuguese prince, he died at Tours of a sudden illness. The French mourned the loss of the man who had wiped a blot from the national scutcheon, and respected his memory as that of one of the best captains of his time. And in truth, if a zealous patriotism, a fiery valor, and skillful leadership are worthy of honor, then is such a tribute due to Dominique de Gourgues, slave-catcher and half pirate as he was, like other naval heroes of that wild age.  47
  Romantic as was his exploit, it lacked the fullness of poetic justice, since the chief offender escaped him. While Gourgues was sailing towards Florida, Menendez was in Spain, high in favor at court, where he told to approving ears how he had butchered the heretics. Borgia, the sainted general of the Jesuits, was his fast friend; and two years later, when he returned to America, the Pope, Paul the Fifth, regarding him as an instrument for the conversion of the Indians, wrote him a letter with his benediction. He re-established his power in Florida, rebuilt Fort San Mateo, and taught the Indians that death or flight was the only refuge from Spanish tyranny. They murdered his missionaries and spurned their doctrine. “The Devil is the best thing in the world,” they cried; “we adore him: he makes men brave.” Even the Jesuits despaired, and abandoned Florida in disgust.  48
  Menendez was summoned home, where fresh honors awaited him from the Crown; though, according to the somewhat doubtful assertion of the heretical Grotius, his deeds had left a stain upon his name among the people. He was given command of the Armada of three hundred sail and twenty thousand men which in 1574 was gathered at Santander against England and Flanders. But now, at the height of his fortunes, his career was abruptly closed. He died suddenly, at the age of fifty-five. Grotius affirms that he killed himself; but in his eagerness to point the moral of his story, he seems to have overstepped the bounds of historic truth. The Spanish bigot was rarely a suicide; for the rites of Christian burial and repose in consecrated ground were denied to the remains of the self-murderer. There is positive evidence, too, in a codicil to the will of Menendez, dated at Santander on the fifteenth of September, 1574, that he was on that day seriously ill, though, as the instrument declares, “of sound mind.” There is reason, then, to believe that this pious cut-throat died a natural death, crowned with honors, and soothed by the consolations of his religion.  49
  It was he who crushed French Protestantism in America. To plant religious freedom on this western soil was not the mission of France. It was for her to rear in northern forests the banner of absolutism and of Rome; while among the rocks of Massachusetts, England and Calvin fronted her in dogged opposition.  50
 
 
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