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An Historical Sketch.
Of all those great lessons of moral and political truth, in which American history is so fruitful, none, to my mind, are more striking than those examples of religious liberty—those practical rebukes to the bigotry and intolerance of the old world, which adorn the
During the period of our early colonial history, the most enlightened nations of Europe were still rent, by fanatic discord, into relentless and embittered factions; the plains of France and Germany were yet moist with the blood of religious civil wars; the flames of the Inquisition were ascending in Spain and Portugal; and the cries of the tortured or butchered Waldenses echoed through the vallies of Piedmont and Savoy. If in Great Britain, and some other parts of Europe, the progress of reason had put a stop to the more savage excesses of persecution, even
there the cold and heartless tyranny of legal proscription weighed down the vanquished.
At this very time, on this side the Atlantic, the Baptist Roger Williams, the Quaker Penn, and the Roman Catholic Lord Baltimore, had already erected those governments, founded on the basis of religious liberty, which have become the great examples of all American, and we may trust, of universal legislation.
There is another historical incident, teaching, in a different form, the same generous truth; and which, as our own country was also the theatre of it, I have often wondered was not more generally known. I mean the story of the chivalrous De Gourgues. Not that I would place the character and achievements of this gallant Frenchman in the same rank with those of the great fathers of religious freedom.
Theirs was that wisdom from above, that is pure, merciful, and gentle; and they sowed, in humble faith, the enduring fruits of peace. De Gourgues was a soldier, with all the noble sentiments, and many of the prejudices, of the best days of chivalry. His toleration of what he himself considered as error, took the form of a generous but bitter indignation against the tyrant and the persecutor, and was displayed, not in acts of mercy, but of stern and vindictive justice.
His exploits in Florida had their day of widespread fame, and have been celebrated in classical latinity by the great De Thou, as well as by many French and Spanish writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but modern historians have either passed them over in silence, or noticed them very briefly and coldly; nor do I know of any English writer who has deemed them worthy of particular relation. I have, therefore, thought that a brief notice of this remarkable man, drawn from good authorities, and books not generally accessible, might interest and instruct the reader, and not be out of place in this little volume.
During some of those intervals of peace, which suspended the rage of the civil wars of France in the sixteenth century, the Admiral Coligni, the head of the Huguenots, had, from time to time, formed plans of establishing French Protestant colonies in America. His leading motive was doubtless to provide retreats for those of his own religious persuasion, in case of total defeat at home. But though often obliged, as he conscientiously thought himself, to take arms against his sovereign in defence of his religion, the Admiral never forgot his loyalty to his country, or his zeal for her honour and power.
truly and happily said of him, that he loved France, even whilst fighting against her.
“Coligni dans son cæur, a son prince fidele,
He was, therefore, ambitious of enabling her to share in the wealth and power which the other nations of Europe had derived from their American possessions, by founding colonies under the authority of France, and subject to her crown. With these intentions he first, about 1555, fitted out an expedition to Brazil, under the military command of the Chevalier de Villegagnon, and the pastoral charge of two Geneva ministers. In consequence of the folly or the treachery of Villegagnon, this expedition failed entirely. The reader who is curious concerning its history, may find it well told by Southey, in his History of Brazil; and yet more graphically and minutely related in old Huguenot French, by one of the adventurers himself, Jean de Lery.
On the failure of this enterprise, Coligni turned his eyes to that part of Florida which had been originally discovered under the flag of France, forty years before, by John de Verraz
zano, the same bold navigator who in “ the first ship broke the unknown wave” of the widecircling bay and majestic river of New York, almost a century before the arrival of Henry Hudson.
Coligni laid his plan before Charles IX. who gave it his full approbation; justly regarding it not only as the means of extending the power and commerce of France abroad, but as likely to contribute to her peace at home, by serving as an outlet for the zeal and ambition of his Huguenot subjects. Thus the Admiral was empowered to use the whole credit and authority of his high station in establishing his colony.
The first voyage was made in 1562, under the command of Ribauld; which was two years after followed by another under the auspices of René Landonniere; both of them naval officers of rank and distinguished reputation. They encountered the usual difficulties of new colonists, and especially of the colonists of that day, who counted more on discovering gold mines, than on tilling the earth. In consequence they suffered from scarcity of provisions, as well as from insubordination among the men and discord among the chiefs; but they finally succeeded in building a fort, and forming a regular settlement beneath its protection. It was called La Caroline ; and