The Pilgrims fled from England to Holland in 1607. When Spain threatened to invade Holland, the Pilgrims decided to flee again. They considered sailing to Guyana in South America, as they heard of its tropical climate.
Pilgrim Governor William Bradford wrote in Of Plymouth Plantation: “Some … had thoughts and were earnest for Guiana. … Those for Guiana alleged that the country was rich, fruitful, and blessed with a perpetual spring. …”
Why did the Pilgrims change their minds?
They were reminded of how close Guyana was to the “Spanish Main,” the area of the Caribbean Sea controlled by Spain, and how Spanish soldiers massacred the French settlement of Fort Caroline, Florida.
Spain had claimed Florida since Juan Ponce de León’s exploration in 1512, reputedly looking for the Fountain of Youth. Ponce de León named it La Florida as he explored it during the season of Pascua Florida (“Flowery Easter”). In the following years, Spaniards explored and attempted settlements:
- 1516, Diego Miruelo explored the Tampa Bay area
- 1517, Francisco Hernández de Cordova explored southwest Florida
- 1519, Alonso Álvarez de Pineda mapped the Gulf of Mexico coast
- 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set sail to circumnavigate the globe
- 1521, Ponce de León attempted a settlement near Charlotte Harbor
- 1521, Pedro de Quejo & Francisco Gordillo landed at Winyah Bay
- 1521, Hernán Cortés conquered Aztec Mexico
- 1525, Pedro de Quejo explored Amelia Island to Chesapeake Bay
- 1526, de Ayllón explored the South Carolina coast and attempted the settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape near Sapelo Sound, Georgia. As Dominican friars accompanied them, historians speculate the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in what what would be the United States
- 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez landed near Tampa Bay with 400 settlers. After eight years of long marches through swamps and shipwrecked rafts on the Texas coast, only five survived. Four returned to Mexico and Juan Ortiz was a captive of the Indians for 12 years
- 1532, Francisco Pizarro conquered Peru’s Inca Empire
- 1539, Hernando de Soto, who had helped Pizarro conquer the Inca, landed in Tampa Bay. De Soto found Juan Ortiz, who related rumors of gold in Apalachee. De Soto seized Indians as guides. crossed Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, before dying in 1542 near the Mississippi
- 1540, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado looked for the Seven Cities of Gold, exploring Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, viewing the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River
- 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed up the coast of California
- 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano attempted to settle Pensacola Bay
- 1561, Angel de Villafañe attempted to settle Santa Elena (Port Royal Sound)
Indian attacks, tropical storms, hunger, diseases, and failure to find gold, resulted in the failure of Spanish settlements. Unfortunately, during this period, some Spanish conquistadors raided Indian villages, capturing and enslaving hundreds of natives.
The dominant aspect of these Spanish conquests convinced the Pilgrims not to attempt to settle near Spanish-controlled territories, as Pilgrim Governor William Bradford explained: “… but to this it was answered, that it was out of question. … If they should there live, and do well, the jealous Spaniard would never suffer them long, but would displant or overthrow them, as he did the French in Florida.”
The French had attempted a settlement in Florida in 1564 on the banks of St. John’s River. Though earlier, in 1534, French explorer Jacques Cartier mapped the shores of the Saint Lawrence River, the French Fort Caroline was the first French settlement in area of present-day United States. Fort Caroline was founded by French Protestant Christians known as Huguenots.
Why did the French Huguenots sail to Florida to attempt a settlement? They wanted to escape the Wars of Religion which had been ravaging France for over a century.
During this era in Europe, whatever a king believed, his kingdom had to believe. There was little freedom of conscience, as governments dictated the religious beliefs of citizens and persecuted those believing differently.
Due to his hateful contempt for the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain, France’s King Francis I did the unimaginable – he made an alliance with the Muslim Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. This was the first time a European monarch made such an alliance with a Muslim power, resulting in calls being made for Francis I to be excommunicated.
Francis I was originally tolerant of Protestants, but he soon turned to aggressively persecute them, having thousands killed in the Massacre of the Waldensians of Mérindol in 1545. Religious persecutions increased in France with battles and tragedies such as the Massacre of Wassy in 1562, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572, instigated by the queen consort Catherine de’ Medici. The Edit of Nantes in 1589 provided some relief until it was officially revoked by King Louis XIV who resumed persecution with the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.
Government persecution against Huguenots for their religious beliefs increased after the assassination of King Henry IV on May 4, 1610. When Louis XIII became the French king in 1610, he had as his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. Cardinal Richelieu consolidated State power, crushed dissent, confiscated lands, and laid the groundwork for the creation of an absolute monarchy in France.
Cardinal Richelieu destroyed the castles of the princes, dukes, and lesser aristocrats so they could not rebel. Cardinal Richelieu imposed burdensome taxes, censored the press, and had such a broad network of internal spies spying on citizens that it is considered the origin of the modern secret service. Arresting and executing his political rivals, Cardinal Richelieu was portrayed as a power-hungry villain in Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” (1844).
Cardinal Richelieu’s strengthening of the French state led to the absolute rule of Louis XIV – the “Sun King,” who is credited with saying “It is legal because I wish it”; and “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the state”). Louis XIV reigned over 72 years (1643-1715), longer than any major monarch in European history. France’s power led to the eventual bankrupting and decline of the powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg Dynasty and Holy Roman Empire in Europe.
During the Europe’s religious wars, indefensible injustices were committed by both sides. Though millions tragically died in these wars, the numbers are dwarfed when compared with the hundreds of millions killed in atheistic genocides, socialist/communist purges, racial expulsions, ethnic cleansings, and Islamic jihads.
Commemorating the French Huguenots and their attempt at seeking religious freedom in America, Rep. Charles E. Bennett sponsored a bill on Sept. 21, 1950, to establish the Fort Caroline National Memorial.
In 1989, Rep. Charles E. Bennett recited the history: “The 425th anniversary of the beginning settlements by Europeans … renamed from Fort Caroline to San Mateo, to San Nicolas, to Cowford and finally to Jacksonville in 1822. … Three small ships carrying 300 Frenchmen led by Rene de Laudonniere anchored in the river known today as the St. Johns. …”
Rep. Bennett continued: “On June 30, 1564, construction of a triangular-shaped fort … was begun with the help of a local tribe of Timucuan Indians. … Home for this hardy group of Huguenots … their strong religious … motivations inspired them.”
The French Christian Huguenots in Florida set a day of Thanksgiving and offered the first Protestant prayer in North America on June 30, 1564: “We sang a psalm of Thanksgiving unto God, beseeching Him that it would please Him to continue His accustomed goodness towards us.”
Rep. Bennett related the colony’s unfortunate end: “Fort Caroline existed but for a short time. … Spain … captured … the fort and … slaughtered most of its inhabitants in September of 1565.”
The Spanish Governor of Florida, Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, then founded St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 – the first permanent settlement in North America.
Other early settlements were:
- 1607 – English Colony of Jamestown
- 1608 – French Colony of Quebec
- 1624 – Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam (New York)
- 1638 – Swedish Colony of New Sweden (Delaware & New Jersey)
Adam Smith wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” 1776: “The Spaniards, by virtue of the first discovery, claimed all America as their own, and … such was … the terror of their name, that the greater part of the other nations of Europe were afraid to establish themselves in any other part of that great continent. … But … the defeat … of their Invincible Armada … put it out of their power to obstruct any longer the settlements of the other European nations. In the course of the 17th century … English, French, Dutch, Danes, and Swedes … attempted to make some settlements in the new world.”
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