Jean Ribault was an experienced mariner of Dieppe and an earnest Protestant. Ribault sailed from Havre de Grace on the 18th of February, 1562, with sailors and soldiers, and a few gentlemen of fortune who were prompted by curiosity, the love of adventure, or the prospect of gain, to accompany him. They arrived off the coast of Anastacia Island (it is supposed) below the site of St. Augustine, at the close of April. Sailing along the "sweet-smelling coast" northward, the two vessels entered the broad mouth of the River St. John, where the company landed and were most kindly received by the natives. The Frenchmen were delighted with everything -- the soft climate; the sweetest blossoms; the magnificent trees festooned from root to top with grape-vines; birds of gay plumage and sweetest notes; and mulberry trees, on "the boughs of which were silkworms in marvelous numbers," and with people of finest forms and kindliest natures. They seemed to have entered a paradise. "It is a thing unspeakable," wrote Captain Ribault, "to consider the things that be seen there, and shall be found more and more in this incomparable land, which, never yet broken with plough irons, bringeth forth all things according to its first nature, wherewith the eternal God endowed it."
Under the shadow of a wide-spreading magnolia tree laden with blossoms at the edge of a green savannah, with half-naked men, women and children, painted and decorated with gold and pearls -- wondering sun-worshippers -- standing a little way off, the Christians knelt upon the soft sward and poured forth thanksgiving to God for his mercy in giving them a safe voyage to such a delightful land. It was a bright May-day. At twilight they returned to their ships, and early the next morning the whole company went ashore again, in small boats, carrying a column of hard stone upon which was carved the arms of the French king. They set it up on a broad grassy knoll surrounded by tall cypress and spreading palmetto trees and sweet flowering shrubs; and with the usual ceremonies, they took possession of the country in the name of Charles the Ninth. They were probably not far from the lowest point to which Verazzani had sailed almost forty years before.
On the 3rd of May the Huguenots went northward, visiting numerous islands and inlets, and toward the end of the month they entered the fine harbor of Port Royal on the coast of South Carolina, passing the high shore of Hilton Head on the left and the low grounds of St. Helena Island on the right. They anchored off Port Royal Island and went in small boats up the Broad River, and into the Coosaw and the Combahee. They were in the land where D'Allyon had committed his atrocities and met retributive justice about half a century before, yet they were kindly received by the natives and secured the friendship of the Indians by giving them kindness in return. Charmed with everything, Ribault, after exploring the surrounding country several days, called his people together on Port Royal Island near the site of the present town of Beaufort. He told them that he thought they were at the best place for a colony he had yet seen. He spoke of the advantages of a settlement there, and the glory they might acquire for themselves and France by planting in that beautiful and fertile land the seed of a great empire. Who will undertake the glorious work? he asked. The result was marvelous even to that hopeful man. So many were anxious to remain, that if all of them had stayed, Ribault would not have had sufficient men to navigate the ship back to France. A colony of thirty persons was organized by the choice of Captain Albert De la Pierria as governor. At the request of the volunteers, Ribault built them a fort and provisioned it before his departure, and named it Fort Charles (Fort Carolus or Carolina) in honor of his king. It was constructed on the eastern bank of Port Royal Island, about a mile and a half from Beaufort, where its remains were yet visible when I visited the spot in the spring of 1866. Near it were magnificent live-oaks draped with the trailing Spanish moss, which were there, probably, when Ribault built the fort.
After completing the little fortress, Ribault said to the men who were to remain: "Be kind to each other, and prudent with your provisions. Let each love God and his neighbor. Your interests are mutual. Let no jealousies grow, nor disputes make you live apart, but cultivate brotherly love and you will prosper. Farewell!" Then he went on board of his vessel, and both ships sailed out of the harbor after exchanging salutes with the fort by firing guns. It was then near the middle of June, and Ribault attempted to explore the coasts northward, but foul weather opposed him and he sailed for France, whence he expected to return immediately with supplies for the colony.
Coligny was delighted with Ribault's report, but he was then unable to do anything for his colony. A civil war was raging in France between the theological factions -- Roman Catholics and Huguenots -- with unrelenting violence. The monarch, the court and Coligni were so involved in the strife that Ribault pleaded in vain for help for the colony in Florida. As soon as it subsided, the admiral renewed his efforts in its behalf. The regent and her son provided him with money and three armed ships -- the Elizabeth of Honfleur, Captain John Lucas; the Petite Britain, Captain Vasseur, and the Falcon, Captain Marchant. The little squadron was placed under the general command of Rene Laudonniere, who accompanied Ribault in the preceding voyage. With him went many young men of family and fortune; mechanics and laborers; Jacob Le Moyne as artist and geographer to the expedition, and two skillful pilots, the brothers Vasseur, of Dieppe. Laudonniere left Havre de Grace on the 22d of April, 1564, and at the end of two months he saw the coast of Florida; but he did not go to the relief of the colony at Port Royal Island. Why?
The colonists at Port Royal cultivated the friendship of the Indians, and were very happy for awhile, but when the provisions began to fail and Ribault did not return, they lamented their folly in not exercising fore-thought. They had not cultivated a rood of land nor made any other provisions for sustenance, and they were soon compelled to look to their Indian neighbors for their daily food. That was then scanty; and being informed of a rich country and a munificent king further south, a part of the company went thither in a little pinnace which they had constructed, and returned with it loaded with corn and beans. They had evidently been to the banks of the Savannah River, and there they had beheld a marvelous vision in the capital of King Ouade. His house was adorned with tapestry formed of richly-colored feathers; white couches finely embroidered and fringed with scarlet; handsome mats made of woven split cane; and the monarch and his young queen richly adorned with golden chains and strings of great pearls. Better than these were his large granaries of food, from which their pinnace was so bountifully supplied; but their treasure was destined to suddenly disappear. Soon after their return to Fort Charles, their house, in which everything was stored, was burned, and they were left desolate. Their Indian neighbors did all in their power to relieve their distress, and the munificent Ouade furnished them with another pinnace full of corn and beans.
Return to Our Country, Vol. I