Colonization, 1562-1753

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Author: Francis Parkman  | Date: 1567

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Dominique De Gourgues

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.

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 luster 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.

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 Verde, 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….

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….

Morning came, and the woods were thronged with warriors. Gourgues and his soldiers landed with martial pomp….

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.

"What!" he cried, "will you fight the Spaniards?"

"I came here," replied Gourgues, "only to reconnoiter 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….

"But you will do your part," pursued the French-man; you will not leave us all the honor.

"We will go," replied Satouriona, "and die with you, if need be."

"Then, if we fight, we ought to fight at once. How soon can you have your warriors ready to march?"

The chief asked three days for preparation….

The day appointed came, and with it the savage army, hideous in warpaint, and plumed for battle….

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!"…. In a moment, the fugitives, sixty in all, were enclosed 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….

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."

Gourgues ordered the prisoners to be led thither.

"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 peace and alliance which you have so perfidiously violated."

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". . .

Thus Spaniards and Frenchmen alike laid their reeking swords on God’s altar.

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….

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Chicago: Francis Parkman, "Dominique De Gourgues," Colonization, 1562-1753 in America, Vol.2, Pp.40-46 Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2021, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ARP1G3ENBXGL1ZM.

MLA: Parkman, Francis. "Dominique De Gourgues." Colonization, 1562-1753, in America, Vol.2, Pp.40-46, Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2021. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ARP1G3ENBXGL1ZM.

Harvard: Parkman, F, 'Dominique De Gourgues' in Colonization, 1562-1753. cited in , America, Vol.2, Pp.40-46. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2021, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ARP1G3ENBXGL1ZM.