Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Spanish Florida

Here is my complete draft of my Spanish Florida chapter, submitted for consideration. I may not be able to post other chapters if I'm under contract, but since this was done on spec, I feel free to share it with you.


In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, 
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Perhaps you’ve memorized this little rhyme. It tells how Christopher Columbus sailed west from Europe and found a New World. But he didn’t find all of it. He discovered some large islands and some small islands which he called the West Indies, because he thought he had found a new route to India. From the West Indies he sailed south along the coast of South America, and he sailed west along Central America, but he never sailed to the north.

In the years after Columbus’s great voyages of discovery, stories grew of riches to be found in this unexplored direction. As early as 1502, a map of the New World showed an unnamed land up in the corner, with an edge that jutted out into the ocean, and a little trail of islands curving near the southern tip. If you studied that map, and then you looked at a modern map, you might notice that this mystery land is close to the location and shape of Florida.

[Possible sidebar: Maps; the discovery of the Mississippi, Alonso Alvarez de Pineda, 1519; Americo Vespucci.]

In 1513, three ships, the Santiago, the San Cristobal, and the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, sailed northwest along the string of the Bahama islands. On these ships were Spanish explorers. Their chief, Juan Ponce de Leon, was an adventurer, a soldier, an explorer, the former governor of Puerto Rico, and a wealthy man. But he wanted more gold and more power, and he was sure he could acquire both in this uncharted land to the west.
During Eastertide, Ponce de Leon and his men sighted a beautiful land of flowers.The Spanish name for the Easter season is Pascua Florida — the Feast of Flowers — so Ponce de Leon named this flowery country Florida. Over the course of the next few weeks, the three ships sailed south around the coast of Florida. The Spaniards tried to go ashore several more times, but the native Calusa tribe did not trust these invaders. They knew enough about the Spanish to be able to lure them in with promises of gold. Then they sailed against them in their war canoes and used their spears to drive away the larger ships.

Ponce de Leon and his men had to go back to the West Indies, but he still dreamed of the wealth of Florida. He returned to Spain to tell King Charles of his voyage. The king made him a knight and gave him permission to govern Florida (and to share its wealth with the king). The native Timucuan Indians, however, did not care about the permission of the Spanish king. When Ponce de Leon returned to Florida in 1521, bringing soldiers and settlers and priests, the Timucuan shot him with a poisoned arrow.  His men bore their dying captain to the ship and sailed right back to Cuba.

Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon hoped he would succeed where Ponce de Leon had failed. In 1526 he brought three ships loaded with people, priests, soldiers, and sailors to Sapelo Sound, Georgia. There, in settlement of San Miguel de Guadalupe, priests offered the first Mass to be said in what would one day be the United States of America. But not even the holy missionary priest Fray (Father) de Montesinos could win the trust of the native Guale tribe, who knew that the Spanish killed and took slaves. After a bitter, hungry winter the Spanish colonists abandoned this second settlement. Over and over again, Florida would defeat people who hoped to find a quick and easy way to get rich.

An explorer needs to be brave, but not all brave explorers are also good. Hernando de Soto was such a man. He had done daring deeds in the gory Spanish conquest of Peru, and had grown rich from his share of gold and silver stolen from the Incas. If Peru had such fabulous wealth for the taking, what treasures must be still undiscovered in Florida! In 1539, de Soto led a huge group to explore Florida: over 600 men, with horses and attack dogs, and a whole herd of pigs for food. These men were brave and hardy, but they did much harm too. They went on a rampage through the southeast, seeking for golden cities like those de Soto had plundered in the Andes Mountains of South America. De Soto didn’t care about starting colonies or bringing the good news of Jesus to the natives. Instead, he used the natives he met as if they were his property, stealing their food and wealth and killing them without pity.

De Soto marched men, horses, dogs and pigs through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. They made their way over the Appalachian Mountains into Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Soldiers died of illness or from fighting with natives. Some of the pigs escaped and bred in the wild, becoming the ancestors of the famous razorback hogs that still roam the southeast almost 500 years later. After two years of wandering, de Soto and his men became the first Europeans to gaze across the mile-wide Mississippi River. They finally made their way to Arkansas, where de Soto died from a fever in 1542.

First impressions are hard to forget. Wherever de Soto traveled, he and his men spread violence and germs. The natives had no immunity against European diseases such as smallpox and the measles. They began to die. Entire villages were wiped out by sickness. Even now, we know very little about some native civilizations in the southeast because so few of the people survived contact with European explorers. Those who survived would not forget the evils the white men brought.

Men such as Juan Ponce de Leon and Hernando de Soto acted as if they had a right to take whatever they found. But another kind of men were also sailing to the New World, looking for a different kind of wealth. They were missionary priests, and the wealth they desired was not cities of gold or the fountain of youth, but souls. They dreamed of bringing the Catholic faith to these newly-discovered lands. Many explorers and colonists cared more for riches and glory than for human life, and treated the natives as no better than animals to be worked to death. The priests worked and fought for the natives, and wrote to popes and kings condemning slavery. They argued that the natives should be considered equal to the Spanish.

In 1537, Pope Paul III wrote a bull (decree) stating that the natives were human beings with souls and reason who deserved to be treated with dignity. Although most of the early explorers of North America were Catholics, very few paid much attention to the pope’s teaching. Often the bad actions of the Spanish Catholics made the work of the missionary priests more difficult.

[Possible sidebar: slow communication across the globe in the 16th century, leading into why it took 45 years after Columbus’s first voyage for the Pope to write about Indians and slavery.]

Spain kept trying found a colony in Florida, but fever and famine awaited the settlers. Ships carrying supplies to starving settlements were lost in hurricanes. The natives were often hostile, and not interested in becoming Catholic. Perhaps Spain would have stopped trying to settle Florida, if a new threat hadn’t appeared.

The French.

The French knew a little bit about the New World. They’d sent their own explorer in 1524, an Italian named Giovanni Verrazzano who sailed to North Carolina and along the east coast of North America. Now there was fighting in France between Catholics and a group of Protestants called Huguenots. Some Huguenots sailed to the New World to try their luck at founding a colony. In 1564 the Huguenots built Fort Caroline by the mouth of the Saint Johns River, even though they knew it was in Spanish territory. Although they didn’t grow food, they traded with the natives for fish, corn, and tobacco.

The Spanish Catholics did not want these Protestant Frenchmen moving into their land. They needed their own fort. On August 28, 1565, the feast of St. Augustine, they discovered a harbor that looked like a promising place to settle. The new fort of St. Augustine was constructed quickly and consecrated by the priests. The men chanted the Te Deum (We Praise You, Lord) as priest processed past them carrying a golden cross. The fort was consecrated with a solemn high Mass. The men praying that day didn’t know it, but that Mass would mark the founding of the oldest city in North America.

Then the Spanish marched up to Fort Caroline and massacred the French settlers. That was the end of the French presence on the east coast. They withdrew to their trading posts on the frontier of Canada. We will not see them again until they come paddling down the Mississippi River, more than a hundred years later.

Even though they’d driven out the French, the Spanish struggled to keep a foothold in Florida. They had failed again and again at starting colonies with Spanish settlers. But what if the natives themselves created a colony for Spain? So the Spanish began building a series of missions across the Florida panhandle and up the coast of Georgia. They hoped to make the natives loyal to Spain by making them Catholic.

Many of the priests who worked at these missions were holy men who tried hard to teach the native tribes about God’s love for them. But there were many problems too. The Spanish often treated the natives as children who needed to be made to work and to obey, rather than as adults and equals. Is it any surprise the natives resented that?

Imagine that you were taken from your home, sailed across the sea to a strange new land, and forced to learn a new language, wear uncomfortable clothes, and learn a new religion. Then imagine that you were expected to go back to your native land and teach your people about this religion. This was the Spanish way of of trying to convert the American natives. Although some of these captured natives learned to love God despite this treatment, many escaped to their homes the first chance they got. Sometimes they turned on the Spanish priests and killed them. In 1571 a native named Don Luis, taken from his home in the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, murdered the Jesuit priests who brought him back to help convert his tribesmen. In 1597 a Guale native named Juanillo was angry that Franciscan missionaries in Georgia taught that he should only have one wife. Many unhappy natives joined his rebellion, and five priests were martyred.

Although many natives became Christians and lived in the Spanish missions, they were used as forced labor by both Spanish soldiers and priests. They suffered harsh punishments such as whippings and execution. Some priests protested this cruel treatment, but others said it was the best way to make the natives work. Native boys were made to build Spanish forts and carry heavy burdens, and native girls were expected to be companions for Spanish men.

You are probably not surprised that the Spanish missions in Florida territory did not have enough supplies to feed and support themselves. Sickness and hunger were constant problems, as were revolts by both the Christian and non-Christian natives. But one of the greatest blows to the Spanish empire in America were attacks from a new force: the English. After the English finally established their own permanent colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, English pirates began raiding the Spanish settlements. They joined forces with tribes such as the Cherokee, Creeks, and Yamassee and urged them to attack the missions. The English pushed farther and farther down the east coast, building Charles Town (now Charleston) in South Carolina, less than 300 miles from St. Augustine. The Spanish hold on Florida weakened. The missions began to collapse as natives deserted them. Finally in 1763, 250 years after Juan Ponce de Leon sighted this country of flowers and frustrations, the Spanish ceded their Florida territory to the English. From now on Spain would colonize and evangelize in the American southwest.


Banshee said...

The Te Deum is not translated "We praise you, Lord." More like, "You, O God." But if you are talking hymn translations, it is "Holy God, We Praise Your Name."

mrsdarwin said...

Thank you; I'm sure my editor will flag that.