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I.5. 1564-1565: Conspiracy

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In the little world of Fort Caroline, a miniature France, cliques and parties, conspiracy and sedition, were fast stirring into life. Hopes had been dashed, and wild expectations had come to naught. The adventurers had found, not conquest and gold, but a dull exile in a petty fort by a hot and sickly river, with hard labor, bad fare, prospective famine, and nothing to break the weary sameness but some passing canoe or floating alligator. Gathered in knots, they nursed each other's wrath, and inveighed against the commandant. Why are we put on half-rations, when he told us that provision should be made for a full year? Where are the reinforcements and supplies that he said should follow us from France? And why is he always closeted with Ottigny, Arlac, and this and that favorite, when we, men of blood as good as theirs, cannot gain his ear for a moment?

The young nobles, of whom there were many, were volunteers, who had paid their own expenses in expectation of a golden harvest, and they chafed in impatience and disgust. The religious element in the colony--unlike the former Huguenot emigration to Brazil--was evidently subordinate. The adventurers thought more of their fortunes than of their faith; yet there were not a few earnest enough in the doctrine of Geneva to complain loudly and bitterly that no ministers had been sent with them. The burden of all grievances was thrown upon Laudonniere, whose greatest errors seem to have arisen from weakness and a lack of judgment,--fatal defects in his position.

The growing discontent was brought to a partial head by one La Roquette, who gave out that, high up the river, he had discovered by magic a mine of gold and silver, which would give each of them a share of ten thousand crowns, besides fifteen hundred thousand for the King. But for Laudonniere, he said, their fortunes would all be made. He found an ally in a gentleman named Genre, one of Laudonniere's confidants, who, while still professing fast adherence to his interests, is charged by him with plotting against his life. "This Genre," he says, "secretly enfourmed the Souldiers that were already suborned by La Roquette, that I would deprive them of this great game, in that I did set them dayly on worke, not sending them on every side to discover the Countreys; therefore that it were a good deede to dispatch mee out of the way, and to choose another Captaine in my place." The soldiers listened too well. They made a flag of an old shirt, which they carried with them to the rampart when they went to their work, at the same time wearing their arms; and, pursues Laudonniere, "these gentle Souldiers did the same for none other ende but to have killed mee and my Lieutenant also, if by chance I had given them any hard speeches." About this time, overheating himself, he fell ill, and was confined to his quarters. On this, Genre made advances to the apothecary, urging him to put arsenic into his medicine; but the apothecary shrugged his shoulders. They next devised a scheme to blow him up by hiding a keg of gunpowder under his bed; but here, too, they failed. Hints of Genre's machinations reaching the ears of Laudonniere, the culprit fled to the woods, whence he wrote repentant letters, with full confession, to his commander.

Two of the ships meanwhile returned to France, the third, the "Breton," remaining at anchor opposite the fort. The malcontents took the opportunity to send home charges against Laudonniere of peculation, favoritism, and tyranny.

On the fourth of September, Captain Bourdet, apparently a private adventurer, had arrived from France with a small vessel. When he returned, about the tenth of November, Laudonniere persuaded him to carry home seven or eight of the malcontent soldiers. Bourdet left some of his sailors in their place. The exchange proved most disastrous. These pirates joined with others whom they had won over, stole Laudonniere's two pinnaces, and set forth on a plundering excursion to the West Indies. They took a small Spanish vessel off the coast of Cuba, but were soon compelled by famine to put into Havana and give themselves up. Here, to make their peace with the authorities, they told all they knew of the position and purposes of their countrymen at Fort Caroline, and thus was forged the thunderbolt soon to be hurled against the wretched little colony.

On a Sunday morning, Francois de la Caille[FN#13] came to Laudonniere's quarters, and, in the name of the whole company, requested him to come to the parade ground. He complied, and issuing forth, his inseparable Ottigny at his side, he saw some thirty of his officers, soldiers, and gentlemen volunteers waiting before the building with fixed and sombre countenances. La Caille, advancing, begged leave to read, in behalf of the rest, a paper which he held in his hand. It opened with protestations of duty and obedience; next came complaints of hard work, starvation, and broken promises, and a request that the petitioners should be allowed to embark in the vessel lying in the river, and cruise along the Spanish Main, in order to procure provisions by purchase "or otherwise." In short, the flower of the company wished to turn buccaneers.

Laudonniere refused, but assured them that, as soon as the defences of the fort should be completed, a search should be begun in earnest for the Appalachian gold mine, and that meanwhile two small vessels then building on the river should be sent along the coast to barter for provisions with the Indians. With this answer they were forced to content themselves; but the fermentation continued, and the plot thickened. Their spokesman, La Caille, however, seeing whither the affair tended, broke with them, and, except Ottigny, Yasseur, and the brave Swiss Arlac, was the only officer who held to his duty.

 

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Pioneers of France in the New World -by- Francis Parkman

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