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CHAPTER THE FIFTH.
HISTORICAL SKETCH CONTINUED.-GRAND PROJECT OF COLIGNY._SETTLEMENT IN FRENCH FLORIDA -ROMANTIC STORY OF
GOURGUES.-VOYAGE OF LA ROCHE-PONTGRAVE'.
The gallant and enterprising spirit of Francis I. no longer predominated in the French Court and councils. That monarch died in 1547, two months after the death of his friend and rival, Henry VIII., of England. He was succeeded by Henry the II., in whose reign commenced the civil and religious troubles arising from the persecution of the Huguenots. Domestic convulsion is always favorable to maritime exploit ; and owing to the internal condition of France, America continued to be regarded with attention. Checked, however, by the ill-success of the adventurers in the north, the French began to direct their views towards a more southern latitude, influenced by the reports of some French sailors, who had made a voyage to Brazil, the riches, beauty and fertility of which country they greatly vaunted. The celebrated GASPARD DE Coligny, early attached to the Huguenot doctrines, had been appointed Admiral of France, by Henry II., in 1552. With the political view of aggrandizing the power of France, and of extending her name and institutions abroad, he combined a patriotic desire to secure her tranquillity at home. He saw no readier means of accomplishing both these ends, than to found a series of colonies
composed entirely of persons of his own persuasion, where the doctrines of the Reformed Church, proscribed and persecuted in France, might be perpetuated in a new world ;—and where a place of refuge might be secured, should the political persecution of the age compel him to relinquish his native land. There is every reason to believe that this grand scheme extended to the projected colonization of the shores of the St. Lawrence on the one hand, and of the Missisippi on the other. The political effects of such a plan, if it were possible to carry it into execution, might have been well anticipated by Coligny : a single glance at the map of North America will show with what a gigantic grasp a colonization, gradually extending itself along the banks of those two great rivers, would have hemmed in all the future settlements on the Atlantic shores, between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and that of Mexico.
Giving way to the prejudice in favor of Brazil, Coligny at first proposed to the King the establishment of a colony upon that coast. The project was approved, and Nicholas Durand de Villegagnon, Knight of St. John of Jerusalem, and Vice Admiral of Brittany, was appointed to the command. This expedition entirely failed ; but amidst the raging of the civil wars of France under the reigns of Francis II, and Charles IX., Coligny, who had put himself at the head of the Calvinists, found leisure to resume his project of a settlement in America. He now turned his attention to Florida, which had been seen by Verazzano ; and where the fertility of the soil, and the goodness of the climate held out every prospect of success. The River Mississippi had been discovered by Ferdinand de Soto, about the period of the last voyage of Jacques Cartier ; and the Spa
niards claimed the territory. Coligny, however, about the year 1562, obtained permission from Charles IX. to make an attempt towards establishing a colony in Florida, which the King was the more ready' to grant, inasmuch as the Huguenots were his bitterest enemies ; and he hoped thus to free himself from some of the turbulent spirits of the age. Accordingly, on the 18th February, 1562, Jean de Ribaut, a zealous Huguenot, sailed from Dieppe with two vessels, and a chosen crew. Having arrived on the coast of Florida, about St. Mary's River, he succeeded in establishing a settlement, and built a fort. Two years afterwards, Coligny sent out a reinforcement under the command of René de Laudonnière, in which Charlevoix takes care to record, there was not a single catholic. It appears from different authorities that Coligny had the great project we have alluded to much at heart; but although the settlement in Florida was the only part of the scheme which was carried into effect, it was after a few years abandoned, perhaps in consequence of Coligny's death. The survivors of this colony, after sanguinary wars with the Spaniards, accompanied by various romantic incidents, finally returned to France in 1568. Although no attempt was made to colonize any part of Canada during nearly fifty years after the loss of Roberval, in 1550,—with the exception of the fishing voyages to the banks of Newfoundland, and that of the two grand nephews of Jacques Cartier in 1588—there can be no doubt that the project of Coligny outlived that distinguished patriot, that it had been communicated to the principal Calvinists of France, and was by no means lost in oblivion. We shall find that several of the leaders of the subsequent expeditions of trade and discovery, both to Canada and Acadie,
were Huguenots, up to the time of Champlain. A different policy was then adopted, by the advice of that zealous Catholic; and the French determined to lay the foundation of their dominion over the Indians in the influence of the European priesthood. A part of that system was necessarily to exclude the Huguenots, and not to allow in any form a division in the influence of the white man over the red man, by showing that the former were not altogether agreed in all points of the religion, which their red brethren were called to adopt. The consequence was that, in 1627, the Huguenots in Canada were not allowed the free exercise of their religion, as stipulated by the convention entered into with Coligny by Charles IX.
The fate of GASPARD DE COLIGNY, and the horrid massacre of St. Bartholomew's day, 1572, are too well known. The base, unnatural treachery of the King, who at the moment when he was plotting the assassination of the Admiral, had the execrable hypocrisy to address him by the name of father, has covered the memory of that prince with an immortality of infamy! Coligny fell basely murdered by a menial hand in his own house. His corpse was cast out of the window, the head struck off, and the body suspended by the feet from a gibbet. Such, in times of passion and religious persecution, now happily unknown, was the end of a man who was in advance of his age—who sought only to obtain liberty of conscience for himself, and for those who professed the same tenets. It was with the reluctance of a patriot, that he was compelled to seek it amidst the horrors of civil war. Well might it have been said at the time
Excidat illa dies ævo, ne postera credant
ROMANTIC STORY OF THE CHEVALIER DE
Although an account of the settlements made by the French, under the encouragement of Coligny, on the coast of Florida, does not strictly belong to the present subject, it would be unpardonable, in our historical recollections, to pass over the singular and chivalrous story of the CHEVALIER DE GOURGUES: which is much less generally known than it deserves, as exhibiting all the devotion of ancient heroism, and as a striking example of the ruling passion surviving the softening operation of time, and triumphing finally over every impediment.
The French and Spaniards had been long at bitter enmity; and the wars between them were carried on with all the exasperation of ancient rivalry and mutual hatred. The encroachments of the former upon the territories claimed by the Spaniards in Florida, raised the liveliest indignation in the minds of a people not less martial and chivalrous than the French ;-and when we add that these encroachments had been chiefly made by the Huguenots, a race held in sovereign detestation by the Catholic Spaniard, and persecuted to a degree of intensity by Philip II., the height of animosity to which they were excited can easily be conceived. Nor were the French less susceptible of angry and vindictive feelings ; to which may be added the poignant stings of offended national pride. They had never forgiven the captivity